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Past, Present, and Future


The Southeast Asian Archaeological Bibliography was first created by the Ban Chiang Project at the Penn Museum and was first put online and made publicly available in 2002. Since then the project has collected over 17,000 bibliographic citations on all aspects of SEAsian archaeology, with many related citations on the archaeology of China and India, along with general references to archaeological theory. Most references are to English-language material, but also includes French, Dutch, and Thai-language references. The bibliographic project is now run by ISEAA (the Institute for Southeast Asian Archaeology).

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This is a story about a lengthy and ongoing effort to enhance accessibility to background literature for the field of Southeast Asian archaeology.

First Steps

Scholarly references pertinent to Southeast Asian archaeology are often in obscure and difficult-to-access journals, edited volumes with small print-runs, and remote libraries. Yet there are gems of knowledge tucked away in these hard-to-find papers and books. As a grad student at the University of Pennsylvania and an advisee of Chester Gorman, Joyce White in the 1970s began to compile index cards of references pertinent to Southeast Asian archaeology, resulting in a box with several hundred, mostly typed, reference cards.

Like most grad students, she was introduced to one of the big bibliographic challenges beyond the task of finding obscure references, namely the preparation of the ‘references cited’ for publication in different journals. With each journal and editing house requiring idiosyncratic bibliographic styles, the creation of the References Cited portion of manuscripts headed for publication is usually a frustrating and enormously time-consuming task, even after word processing software came into use in the 1980s.

These challenges motivated White to find means to simplify and support the task of bibliography development and preparation, first for the Ban Chiang Project, and secondly for the community of Southeast Asian archaeologists generally. Sometime in the mid-1990s, Joyce saw in the exhibits at a Society for American Archaeology annual meeting a demonstration of an early bibliography database program called Citation for use on a personal computer. It was a “must have” product with which one could enter the basic information of a reference once, and then be able to output that bibliographic data in different ways, depending on the publication. Purchasing that program and starting to enter references was the beginning of the digitized “Southeast Asian Archaeology Bibliography.”

Luckily at that time, Ruth Brown, a retired librarian from Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences, came to volunteer for the Ban Chiang Project at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Among her efforts was the initial computerization of a working bibliography for the Ban Chiang Project using the Citation software.

Word got out about the bibliography and other scholars asked how they could access it. In the late 1990s Joyce’s bibliography came to the attention of Christopher King, then a grad student in Anthropology at the University of Hawaii. He also had begun a bibliography using Citation software. He reached out to Joyce about combining their efforts and floated the idea of trying to find a way to put this bibliography on the World Wide Web for use by Southeast Asian archaeological community globally.

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How the Web-based Bibliography Was First Constructed

In the late 1990s and early 2000s a confluence of circumstances helped bring the dream of a web-accessible Southeast Asian Archaeology bibliography to reality. The Henry Luce Foundation generously supported the Ban Chiang Project’s efforts to produce monographs as well as the Project’s interest in posting the bibliography and other data on a website to facilitate the spread of scholarly information in the field of Southeast Asian archaeology. Funds to support a website developer were included and enabled the hiring of Christopher King as a consultant web developer. He began in 2000 to figure out how to first combine our two Citation bibliographic databases and then how to develop from that start a web-based bibliography of references dealing primarily with the archaeology of mainland and island Southeast Asia.

Christopher began to search the internet for online bibliographic database programs and he discovered Biblioscape/Biblioweb. Biblioscape was the bibliographic database, while Biblioweb was the back-end software allowing access online to the bibliographic database. It was the only suitable software available for online posting of our envisioned scholarly bibliography.

The web-based bibliography was designed and installed in several steps. First Joyce periodically sent sets of 100 references in Citation format to Christopher, who uploaded them into his Citation database. Duplicates were removed, entry irregularities systematized, errors expunged. Joyce also created an indexed list of keywords and coded each set of 100 references before sending them. The keyword list is a “controlled vocabulary” that provided a highly defined structure for coding all references in a systematic manner as to their pertinence to any number of topics.

After much back-and-forth communicating over the course of ten months, in June 2001, the final set from White's initial 2500 Citation references was brought into King’s Citation database. The final combined set of more than 4000 Citation references could then be imported into Biblioscape.

Another important part of this effort involved creating bibliographic output styles following the style guides of journals commonly used by Southeast Asian archaeologists. Given how time-consuming it is to prepare “references cited” for a publication, with each journal having its own idiosyncratic formatting, Christopher and Joyce saw that an important contribution of the digitized bibliography would be the ability to output selections of references in different ways. This would help, for example, if one journal rejects a manuscript, the same or similar article could be resubmitted elsewhere, and the references easily reformatted to match the new style.

Because one of our highest priorities is accessibility and ease of use for a diverse group of international scholars, we wanted to create a way that researchers without the means to electronically download references to their own personal bibliographic databases could perform searches and save their results in their own personal lists, as well as output the lists in desired formats as a text document that could be inserted into their research papers and publications or save for future reference. This is a simple process if someone owns personal bibliographic software, as they can just download the references and import them into their own database software. However, our informal canvassing of our colleagues has shown that few own such software and many, particularly our Southeast Asian colleagues, cannot afford this type of software. But most have access to the internet.

Once Christopher programmed ten key journal styles, the web-based bibliography was installed onto a server at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in the summer of 2002.

Screenshot of retired biblioscape home page.

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Reference Entry with Penn’s Work-study Program

Once established, although Joyce and Christopher continued to add references, most data entry has been undertaken by undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania who had work-study grants. The Ban Chiang Project could hire one or two students with work-study grants per year at a low cost to the project, which only had to pay a portion of their wages. Each was trained in bibliographic data entry and worked 6-8 hours a week during the academic year. We have been fortunate to have had numerous bright and diligent students available to enter references by hand. This was more than a simple copy-and-paste operation; it required tracking down and checking the accuracy of thousands of references, some quite obscure, using library catalogs ranging from the University of Pennsylvania system to the Bibliotèque nationale de France and the Australian National University, WorldCat, physical library searching, and if need be, Interlibrary Loan for many volumes. All references entered needed to be checked against the original publication for accuracy, even if the original citation came from a published bibliography. Our students became very good at tracking down the most recondite references in English and other languages that were written in a Roman alphabet, using the Internet and the physical library. Our students gained valuable skills in academic research and several went on to distinguished graduate schools and have pursued careers in academic settings. In addition, they brought a youthful vibe to the lab and kept us up-to-date on the latest slang.

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A New Incarnation

For many years the Biblioscape/Biblioweb platform worked reasonably well, although with some tendency to crashing. Many students and scholars told us that they had come to rely on this online bibliography for their dissertations and publications. Younger scholars in particular often lack knowledge of the literature outside of recent publications, and the online bibliography assisted this usergroup in gaining familiarity with foundational research in the discipline.

In 2016, the Biblioscape developers stopped responding to queries and it became clear that the software was no longer being supported. The search was on for a substitute, with no obvious candidates. A software platform that offered the adaptability of Biblioscape/Biblioweb did not appear to exist. We were forced to consider creating our own as we did not want the years of work and thousands of digitized references to disappear into the ether.

In a fortuitous turn of events, an experienced web application developer was near at hand and already familiar with our bibliography. Sasha Renninger is a former Penn work-study student who entered references into our Biblioscape/Biblioweb platform from 2005 to 2008. After graduating from Penn she developed a skill set in developing archaeological web-based databases and she worked for several projects at the Penn Museum, including the Museum library. She is currently an application developer for the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 2018 Sasha began to design an online bibliographic platform that replicated the useful features of Biblioscape, using a web published platform that she suggested called Omeka. Omeka is an open source platform which was designed to display museum, library, archival and other scholarly collections, so its mission was related to ours, but the platform would still need considerable adapting/customizing for our needs. Sasha, in her spare time, created the current Archaeobib, migrated the 17,000+ references over from Biblioscape, and found/created bibliographic output style guides for some of the major journals that publish Southeast Asian archaeological content, such as Antiquity and Asian Perspectives. This simple description belies the complexity of the task. The Biblioscape entries had been made over an almost 20-year period, by many different workers. It was riddled with errors and inconsistencies, all of which had to be regularized. We also wanted to retain the most useful features of Biblioscape/Biblioweb, such as the ability to search on numerous fields and the easily accessible list of keywords, authors, and journals.

Screenshot of current archaeobib home page.

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Transition to the Omeka Platform

To adapt Omeka to function like the original Southeast Asian Archaeological Bibliography, Sasha designed a custom theme and plugin for Omeka Classic. The theme, Archaeobib, reinvents the Omeka “Item” as a bibliographic record and takes advantage of Omeka’s extensive advanced search capabilities to replicate and improve on the functionality of the original Biblioscape database. One feature Sasha added to Archaeobib is the ability for users to maintain more than one list of references, such as for separate papers. To provide users with a way to create their own bibliographies, Sasha adapted the Omeka Classic Posters plugin to enable users to save bibliographic records to named lists and output those lists in a variety of formats. The format output is generated using Citation Style Language and Cite.js. Both the theme and plugin are freely available for public use on Github.

Get the theme

Get the plugin

Archaeobib Launch

In 2021, the new Archaeobib Southeast Asian Archaeological Bibliography program was released to the world. Although new references ceased to be added to the Biblioweb version of the bibliography in the fall of 2019, work-study students have been entering recent references into the Archaeobib version while it was being developed offline. Corrections and improvements are still ongoing, and we have so far just six output styles: American Antiquity, American Anthropologist, Antiquity, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Asian Perspectives, and World Archaeology.

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New Features in Archaeobib

Although the website has an updated design, most of the useful features of the original Biblioscape/Biblioweb bibliography have been retained. The user can still search on numerous fields such as author/editor, title, source, date, reference type, and keyword. One great advantage of both the old and new programs is the ability not just to search on authors and sources, but to click on the author or source field and see a list of all references with that author or from that source. This feature facilitates finding other citations of that author or source that are in the bibliography.

Controlled vocabulary keyword searching is continued in Archaeobib: Users are encouraged to peruse the table of all keywords arranged by subject matter; the user can find if a certain site or topic is in the controlled vocabulary by looking at the subject index to find all the sites listed for Central Thailand, for instance, or the exact phrase used as a keyword for bioarchaeological subjects.

The new Archaeobib database has some differences from the old Southeast Asian Archaeological Bibliography. Unlike the old program, a user can search for references as a guest user, without logging in as a registered user. However, guest searches do not have full functionality. For example, the guest user will not be able to create personal Lists (formerly called Marked Collections) that are preserved from session to session, nor can the guest user output a reference in a publication style. In the old program, a registered user could create only one Marked Collection. One big advantage of the new Archaeobib is that the user can create numerous lists ("My Lists") simultaneously, so that, for example, separate lists can be created for different publications on which the user is working. New lists are also easily created by clicking on the down arrow next to a reference found in a search.

Like the old database, the contents of a My List can be output in any of the currently 6 available bibliographic styles, but it is not yet possible, unlike the old program, to download into a bibliographic program such as RefWorks or Zotero.

We have added a means for users to provide input for the bibliography. A link to a contact form is provided in the footer on the Search page where users can send us information about errors they have noticed, broken links, and new references that they would like added.

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