Why should I ever buy another reference book? Give me a PDF!

Recently I needed to consult a translation of an ancient author.  I don’t own paper copies of very many translations, and I never knowingly buy books that I will not read and reread.  But unusually for me, I did own a copy of this volume in printed form.

However when I searched for it, it was nowhere to be found.  I had to make do with translating some French version of the original that I found online.

Where could it be?  After some searching, I discovered a faint memory of including it in a batch of academic books that I donated to someone, in order to free up some shelf-space.  I dispose of unwanted books all the time, as anyone with any sanity must; and in fairness this is only the second book whose loss I have subsequently regretted, so I shan’t change my habit.  All the same, it made me realise that I did need access to this particular volume.

Today I borrowed a library copy, and spent a couple of hours creating a PDF of the page images, with searchable text.  Abbyy Finereader 12 did its usual job of scanning the pages, and Adobe Acrobat Pro 9 created the PDF and made it searchable.

It’s expensive to borrow by interlibrary loan, mind you.  And I had to go into a library to collect them.  A recent foot injury made the walk from the car park, and then the wait in a queue for service, particularly uncomfortable.  Paper reference books are simply not what any of us need any more.

This sort of process – of conversion of books into PDF – must be repeated up and down the world. Students with no money, and academics with no shelf space, must convert the same reference volumes into PDFs again and again and again.  Surely there ought to be a mechanism whereby this could be avoided?  After all, nobody is at all likely to buy copies of this work personally, except by a fluke (as I did).


TES article calls for translation of Latin, Greek, to be valid research goals

An important article by Dr Emma Gee of St Andrews University has appeared in the Times Higher Education supplement here.

Recently, an audience of “disadvantaged” 16-year-olds listened with rapt attention when I read from my translation of Lucretius’ On the Nature of the Universe.

Written around 55BC, this is the first surviving full-scale account of a cosmology based on atoms and void, dispensing with an active role for the gods. Lucretius’ hallucinogenic poem unpacks every aspect of the world, from the physics of colour to the anatomy of love. It is not a fossil: it is startlingly modern.

Any translation of it, therefore, must be punchy and immediate. In mine, Lucretius’ Latin hexameters play out in the rhythms of rap; the Roman goddess of love morphs into Richard Dawkins’ “selfish gene”; birds rain down from the sky like satellite debris; and the catastrophic collapse of the structures of the universe leaves us stumbling around the ground zero of our exploded certainties.

At no stage did the kids listening seem patronised or alienated. Their questions showed a keen awareness that many ideas we might consider “modern” in fact have a long history.

Last year, Edith Hall, professor of Classics at King’s College London, complained in a newspaper article about the “apartheid system in British Classics”: the subject’s enduring role as an instrument of social differentiation, based on proficiency in ancient Greek and Latin. Yet translation can make powerful classical texts available to people well beyond traditional elite audiences.

You might expect, therefore, translation to enjoy high status among classicists. But you would be wrong. The Classics subpanel in the 2014 research excellence framework, for instance, offered no separate submission category for translations. They fell under the “other” category, which accounted for only 0.5 per cent of total submissions –and no stand-alone translations were submitted at all.

Furthermore, the REF guidelines were applied in a way that militated against translation. Universities played it safe, to the extent of introducing their own supplementary limiting criteria that actively discouraged translation. A former director of research for one of the UK’s larger Classics departments commented: “We worked on the assumption that translations…simply would not be deemed to constitute research.” Perhaps more surprising, translation was marginalised even under the banner of impact. Of the 65 case studies submitted, none obviously involves translation.

Nor does the problem appear to be confined to Classics. Modern languages too had no separate REF category for translations. Among the 4,943 submissions to the modern languages sub-panel, just nine were “other assessable outputs”, which may have included translations. Many colleagues around the country have told me that they either did not produce translations or did not submit them to the REF because they didn’t think they would be valued.

The unavoidable conclusion is that humanities research has become almost exclusively inward-looking in its privileging of academic discourse for academics. Of course, those of us at the coalface knew this anyway: research is a game not about truth. But it is a shame that classicists are failing to use one of the key tools for breaking down class barriers and giving people access to many of the life-changing documents that their discipline has spent millennia preserving.

This is very well said.  I hope that important ears are listening.


When will the librarians start to throw offline literature away?

When I started my projects, in 1997, there was little online.  To get access to books, I had to visit a major research library.  I cadged a reader’s ticket, sans borrowing privileges, and made day trips.  Once there, I browsed the stacks and photocopied and photocopied whatever I could, for an exaggerated price.  Some items – many items – were confined to the rare books room, and so could only be photocopied by the staff.  This cost twice as much, and invariably involved a delay of a week.  Always the copies were very bad quality.

In less than twenty years, everything has changed.  Books are available in vast amounts online.  Access is still a thorny issue, but this will change.  We are in a period of transition.

Things once unthinkable are now routine.  I remember, in the late 90s, going to the British Library in London and asking innocently if I might photograph a manuscript.  The keeper whom I asked became very rude, almost as if I had asked for the casual use of her daughter for the night.  Today you can stroll in with your mobile phone and builtin camera.

I’ve spent much of today scanning a book containing a modern English translation of a patristic biblical commentary.  It’s hard, time-consuming work.  But I don’t actually want a paper copy.  A PDF will be far more useful to me, especially once I make it searchable.  So I am converting my three volume paper copy into PDFs.  Naturally I am somewhat irked at spending my time thus, when I know that the paper copies were printed from an electronic PDF!!  But no matter … this too is a matter of transition.  Already translations are being offered in PDF, at ridiculous prices, and these too will fall.

I don’t scan very much these days.  My days are shorter than they once were, and I am more tired.  I can’t put the output from this task online either.  But I just want the floor space.  Still, it brought back a memory or two, turning the volume on the scanner and working over the images in FineReader.  What I would have given in 1997 for the hardware and software I have today!!

But once everything is online, or at least in electronic form, what becomes of the offline material?

But while scanning, my mind drifted to a Sci-Fi novel, in which this future is envisaged.  The work is Archform Beauty, by L.E.Modesitt.  The work is written from the perspective of the heroine, a professional singer and academic in a world with a diminishing need for art music.

I was buried in the southwest corner of the lowest level of the university library. My eyes burned as I flicked past image after image in the reader, hurrying through decades of information quickly, trying to locate old photos and stories not in the link archives–or even fragments of stories …

On Monday, I’d done what I could. I awakened early and gotten in a good two hours of practice, plus some exercise, and managed to get to the university a good twenty minutes before my lesson with Abdullah. The lesson had been good.

I’d gone to the library to browse through the closed stacks and try to discover some more older sheet music that had never been scanned into the system–in hopes of finding something unique. I didn’t. Back in November, I had found a “lost” song cycle of a twentieth-century composer named Britten, called “On This Island”–very haunting and beautiful. I wasn’t that lucky on Monday.

I decided not to go back home, but to check my office. It was old-fashioned, but I’d never linked the office and my conapt. I still felt that unless the university wanted to make me full contract, they didn’t deserve instant, around-the-clock access. I really felt that way at that moment.

The first message was from Mahmed. He was smiling, but it wasn’t a condescending expression. “Luara, I just wanted to confirm that we’re on for three-thirty on Tuesday. If that’s a problem, let me know. It will be a long session. Cannon has some new ads he wants to record. We may have to schedule another session on Wednesday. I hope you can do that.” …

The second message was from a tall blonde woman.

“This is SuEllen Crayno of the Crayno Agency. Mahmed Solyman of Crescent Productions provided your codes. We’d be very much interested in talking to you. If you’re interested, please let me know.”

Was I interested? How could I not be interested, with Dean Donald suggesting that he was just dying to throw me out once he could figure out a way? …

After that, I checked the system for memos and documents. The only thing of interest was a note from the library to inform me that the section I’d been searching manually was scheduled for purging in June. Purging? Just because no one wanted to take the time to scan the information or read through it? There was no way I could search it all by June. How many other songs or song cycles were there, like the Britten cycle, that would be lost forever? There might not be any, but I had no way to know.

Still, I had to try. So I went back to the stacks and spent three hours. I found nothing. Then, I got a sandwich from the student center and ate it before I walked to the shuttle station to head home.

Will it be thus?  Administrators “purging” offline archives, once everything of importance is online?  I think that it will.

Libraries cost money.  Do we need large buildings, heavily staffed, full of paper, if “everything of importance” is online, in databases, collections, and so forth?  For a university accountant, the answer is self-evidently not.  A generation may be needed, but those volumes will be sold, the staff dismissed, and the building repurposed.

Such changes in information technology have happened before.  When the codex replaced the roll, whatever was not copied into the snazzy new book format was lost.  And only materials of interest at that time were likely to make the transition.  We probably lost half of Tacitus at that time, for instance.  Likewise when printing replaced hand-copying, we lost vast numbers of manuscripts, many irreplaceable.  Now a new gateway is at hand through which the knowledge of the human race must pass.

Perhaps we’d all better get scanning.


Photographs online about Mithras by Michael Fuller

Archaeologist Michael Fuller, who has worked at Dura Europos, has been collecting photographs of Mithraic monuments.  He modestly writes to say:

Here are a few of my webpages with images of Mithraic reliefs, altars, etc… Most of these duplicate images you already have, but a few maybe new to you.


You are welcome to add any of my images to your data base as long as I am given credit. I am pretty sure that I have some more images of Mithraic reliefs and will look. I might also be able to track down images of the lamps from the Dura mithraeum.

I shall be delighted to make use of some of these, and it is a very generous offer.


New edition of Cyril of Alexandria’s “Against Julian” is soon to appear – offline, and very pricey

In the early 5th century, Cyril of Alexandria found it necessary to write a large apologetic work.  The book was in response to Julian the Apostate’s anti-Christian work Against the Galileans. This was written some 50 years earlier by the then emperor, but must have continued to circulate. Cyril made a series of extensive quotations from the work, reorganised them into a logical sequence (as he tells us at the start of book 2),  and wrote his own reply to each.  No doubt secretaries performed much of the manual labour, and Cyril dictated replies.

10 books of Contra Julianum have reached us, and a handful of fragments of the next 10 books also.  The work is little known in English, since no translation has been made into that language.  Indeed no complete translation has ever been made into any modern language.  The Sources Chretiennes began an edition, with a splendid French translation, but only a single volume, containing books 1 and 2, ever appeared.  No modern critical edition, even, existed.  Readers have been forced to rely on reprints of the 17th century Aubert edition.

For some years Christoph Riedweg and his team have been labouring at the task of making a critical edition of the text of this huge work.  An email today advises me that the first volume, containing the text – no translation – of books 1-5, will very soon be available in the GCS series, and published by De Gruyter.  The publisher’s information page is here.  It informs us that the work will be published in November 2015, and priced at $168.  De Gruyer kindly make a PDF available also, at precisely the same price.

Everyone should welcome this publication.  Contra Julianum contains any amount of useful information about antiquity and Christian thinking.  I look forward to the second volume also!

But … what a price!  And … I say that I look forward to a second volume, but there is no chance that I will ever own a copy of either; or even be able to use it, unless I come across a pirate copy.  It will, most likely, be most used in this manner.  This seems wrong.  But then, these books are not made for you or I.

Today there was an article in the Guardian on this very subject that every academic should read.  Here are some extracts, but it is worth reading in full.

Academics are being hoodwinked into writing books nobody can buy

An editor called me up to ask me if I’d like to write a book. I smelled a rat, but I played along…

A few months ago, an editor from an academic publisher got in touch to ask if I was interested in writing a book for them. …

“How much would the book be sold for?” I inquired, aware this might not be his favourite question. “£80,” he replied in a low voice.

“So there won’t be a cheaper paperback edition?” I asked, pretending to sound disappointed.

“No, I’m afraid not,” he said, “we only really sell to libraries. But we do have great sales reps that get the books into universities all across the world.”

“So how many copies do you usually sell?” I inquired.

“About 300.”

“For all your books?”

“Yes, unless you would assign your book on your own modules.”

I was growing fascinated by the numbers so I asked how many of these books they published each year.

“I have to…” he started (inadvertently revealing that this was a target that had been set) “…I have to publish around 75 of these.” … And he’s just one of their commissioning editors. …

Another colleague, on discovering his published book was getting widespread attention but was too expensive to buy, tried to get the publishers to rush out a cheaper paperback version. They ignored his request.

These may sound like stories of concern to academics alone. But the problem is this: much of the time that goes into writing these books is made possible through taxpayers’ money. And who buys these books? Well, university libraries – and they, too, are paid for by taxpayers. Meanwhile, the books are not available for taxpayers to read – unless they have a university library card.

In the US, taxpayers are said to be spending $139bn a year on research, and in the UK, £4.7bn. Too much of that money is disappearing into big pockets.

So what are the alternatives? We could stop publishing these books altogether – which may be advisable in a time of hysterical mass publication. Or we publish only with decent publishers, who believe that books are meant to be read and not simply profited from. And if it’s only a matter of making research available, then of course there’s open source publishing, which most academics are aware of by now.

So why don’t academics simply stay away from the greedy publishers? The only answer I can think of is vanity.

Of course the last bit is rather unfair.  An academic career requires publication in reputable format, and nobody can be blamed for doing what the system requires in order to feed their families.  But it raises disturbing questions of integrity and sustainability.

An edition of Contra Julianum serves a real need.  But the high prices and closed access compromise the entire system of academic publication.

All the same, let us congratulate Dr R. and his team.  Well done!  This was work of permanent value.


Works of Fulgentius the Mythographer now online in English

I learn via AWOL that the Ohio State University Press is sensibly placing online older volumes, of no conceivable commercial value.  Among these is the 1971 translation of the complete works of the 5th century Roman author Fulgentius Mythographicus.  He lived in Vandal Africa and composed a handbook of ancient mythology and other works.  The translation is in PDF and is here.  Well done, OSUP.


Playing with a 1905 Russian book, Finereader 12, and Google Translate

This morning I decided to see what I could find out about a 1905 Russian edition of the works of Methodius of Olympus (d.311 AD), which I obtained in PDF form from a library in Chicago a year or so back.

Now I don’t know any Russian … not even the alphabet.  But I have tools at my disposal to help me!

First of all, we have Google Translate.  This will give us something, and we can even enter corrections as we go along.  We also have the ability to enter unicode using Charmap.  Finally modern software like Abbyy Finereader 12 does a remarkable job.

I started with the title page.  I didn’t actually get much from this, except for a reference to “complete” and “Greek”.  So it’s probably an edition of the complete works, translated from Greek or something.

On the reverse of the title page, I got this:

Отъ С.-Петербургскаго Духовнаго Цензурнаго Комитета печатать дозволяется. С.-Петербургъ, 27-го іюля 1904 г.

Цензоръ, Іеромонахъ Александръ.

Сиб. Типолитографія М. II. Фроловой. І’алерная, 6.

Erm, yes.

So I popped it into Google Translate.  I got this:

Ot St. Peterburgskago of spiritual Tsenzurnago Committee is permitted to print. St. Peterburg, 27th іyulya 1904
Tsenzor, Іeromonah Alexandre.
Sib. Tipolitografіya M. II. Frolova. І’alernaya <5.

OK…  But hang on…

Surely “Ieromonah” is “Hieromonk”?  And I wonder, O I wonder, what “Tsenzor” could mean?  It must be pronounced “Censor”!  Which means that “Tsenzurnago”, combined with “Committee of spiritual Tsenzurnago” is probably “Committe of spiritual censorship”!

So the notice must mean that this is permission to print, issued by the St Petersburg committee for spiritual censorship, signed by the Hieromonk Alexander, Censor.

The text has not scanned perfectly.  “I'” should actually be Г, and “<5” is actually “6”.  That makes the last line:

Sib. Tipolitografіya M. II. Frolova. Galernaya 6.

Which is probably something to do with the address of the printer.

Now this is a little thing, in a way: except consider what it means.  All we need to make progress is some industry.  If I started looking words up, and learning a bit about the language, I would soon learn even more.  All I need is time and industry.

And … candidly … it’s quite fun!


From my diary

I’m still working on my post on the use of Matt.27:25.  It is really interesting, looking up all these unfamiliar passages in patristic writers.  Today I translated most of a question by Ambrosiaster; and several sections of homilies found in the Patrologia Graeca.  I can’t translate from Greek – my training as a scientist did not give me that – but I can translate the Latin side alright.

In fact I’ve been bring up the PG in PDF form, and then using Abby Finereader 12’s “Screen reader” utility to mark up a section of text and OCR it.  These days Finereader supports Latin – what I would have given for that, 15 years ago! – and does a reasonable job except when the quality of print is just atrocious.  Then I can pop the result into QuickLatin, and into Google Translate (which also does Latin, quite reasonably); and between the two I can produce a rather decent translation of modern Latin into English.

I’m still seeing the same pattern in the quotes; that the anti-Jewish edge only really appears in the post-Nicene period.  In fact it doesn’t appear much.  When we consider that the Ante-Nicene Fathers library consists of 5,000 pages; that the selected Nicene and Post-Nicene writers in the same series are twice that, and that the total volume as far as 500 is probably ten times that, then we come up with around 50-60,000 large, double-column pages of text.  Out of which immense volume, the total number of references to this passage – I have not counted – is perhaps 20-30?

It’s not a hugely important part of patristic commentary, clearly.

One text that is resisting my efforts rather well, tho, is the Commentary on Isaiah by Eusebius.  This was only rediscovered in the last 50 years, and so is not found in Migne.  In fact only one translation exists in any language, made into English by IVP Academic very recently indeed.  And I have been trying to obtain a copy, without actually ponying up the money to buy it.  I try not to buy translations, for my house is small and already full of books.  Translations and texts are reference items, and I want them in PDF, not on paper.

It seems that the IVP salesmen have not managed to get their series into many UK libraries.  This means that few copies exist for interlibrary loans.  Nevertheless, I found one at Aberdeen using COPAC.  This morning I trotted down to my local library in Suffolk, and placed an order.  Then I learned the price – they want almost £15 (around $22) to lend me the book for two weeks.  I was assured that this price was subsidised; which may be so, but is plainly nonsense when a book may be posted from the US for $5.  I shall carry on; but it will be the last book I borrow.

It is very sad to see Suffolk Libraries degenerate in this way.  Nobody can afford such prices to borrow a book.  Effectively the service has been priced out of existence.  Which is very sad, because I owe much of my education to books obtained this way.  The library service is now merely a service for elementary readers: those needing textbooks must buy them.

I find, actually, that I can borrow the book via Cambridge University Library for £6 (around $8), who certainly are not subsidising it.  But I can’t borrow books from there.

In this light, I found it curious that this week a consortium of publishers obtained a judgement from the High Court in London, to force ISPs to bar access to pirate book sites.  Those sites are used mainly by people who simply cannot afford to purchase academic books at the fantastic prices demanded.  To these will now be added those who cannot afford to borrow them from public libraries.  It is a short-sighted, unpleasant business, to obstruct access to learning.

I do wonder what will happen to the next generation.  I was fortunate enough to have access to books, and articles, by means of ILL.  This, plainly, is no longer the case.  The internet compensates to some extent; but not enough, because of the predatory instincts of book publishers.  If I were to be interested in patristics today, would I be able to even obtain a copy of Quasten, whose 4 volumes opened a world of interest to me?  I rather doubt it.

These are sad thoughts.  But change is the rule of life.  We live in bad times, with bad rulers.  But times change, and what these worthless men have tried so hard to kill, we will rebuild.


From my diary

This week I went to Cambridge University Library to obtain translations of some patristic quotations of Matthew 27:25 and Acts 4:10 for the post on the subject.  Instead of photocopying them, I used my smartphone and took pictures.

I wasn’t sorry to avoid the charge of 15c per page!  On the other hand, trying to balance open a tightly-bound volume of the Sources Chretiennes with Hilary of Poitiers’ Commentary on Matthew distracted me so much that I photographed the wrong pages!  Also I had turned off the “click” sound, so as not to distract my fellow students, with the result that some pages that I thought I photographed were, in fact, not copied.  Finally, instead of a few photocopies, I ended up with 500mb of photos, which is a little rich even for my hard disk.  So … an experiment with mixed results.

I also noted that my library card was about to expire.  Renewing it involves going to the office, queuing, presenting various testimonials, evidence of identity, etc.  Which, considering that I have kept renewing the ticket every year or six months for almost 20 years, is rather silly.  It’s also a burden: I can find a lot of material online with a couple of clicks; but to access this offline material, I have to jump through hoops.

One news story I saw this week, which is rather less welcome, is that UK publishers have obtained a High Court order to force ISPs to block access to 9 book-pirate sites.  These contain a lot of academic books, and, for those of us without university access, they are invaluable.  The practical effect of this order, made in order to safeguard supposed lost publishing industry profits, is to decrease the access to learning for UK citizens.

In the UK the public in general is hardly aware of the riches available online, because so much of it is inaccessible as a result of such litigation.  Nor do the politicians seem to know either.  It is sad to see useful material being lost.  After all, what academic book is less than $80?  How many non-scholars ever buy them?


A useful paper on Eutychius of Alexandria (Sa`id ibn Batriq); and some rueful reflections on why a useful tax-funded book has been made copyright of Brill

A little while ago I came across an article, online in PDF format, which contained much the most useful overview known to me of the life and works of the 10th century Melkite patriarch of Alexandria, Eutychius, known to the Arabs as Sa`id ibn Bitriq.  The author is Uriel Simonsohn, an Israeli academic, and the paper appears in Christian-Muslim Relations: A bibliographical history, ed. David Thomas &c, Brill, 2010, vol. 2 (900-1050), p.224.  This series of volumes gives details of the writers and their works, and is incredibly useful, or would be if anyone could access it (of which more anon).

Dr Simonsohn has, thankfully, made his article available, and from it we can judge the quality of the work done.  A couple of excerpts:

Little can be established with certainty about the life and career of Saʿīd ibn Batṛīq, a 10th-century Melkite patriarch of Alexandria. The earliest source to provide some detail is a 13th- or 14th-century copy of Ibn Batṛīq’s historiographical treatise, allegedly written by the patriarch himself (Ibn Batṛīq, Eutychii, ed. Cheikho, Carra de Vaux and Zayyat, ii, pp. 69-70, 86-87). It is here that we are informed for the first time that Ibn Batṛīq, the mutatạbbib, i.e. a practitioner of medicine, was born in Fustạ̄t ̣ in the eighth year of the caliphate of al-Muʿtamid (r. 870-92), i.e. 877, and was appointed in 933 as patriarch of Alexandria by the Caliph al-Qāhir (r. 932-34), whereupon he was named Eutychius; he died in 940.  …

The Arabic historiographical treatise known as the Annales, following its Latin translation by E. Pococke in 1658-59, is also known as Kitāb naẓm al-jawhar, ‘String of pearls’ and Kitāb al-taʾrīkh al-majmūʿ ʿalāl-taḥqīq wa-l-taṣdīq, ‘The book of history, compiled through investigation and verification’. Although the work has often been referred to as a Byzantine universal history, nothing in the composition suggests its classification within a particular category of historiographical works. Rather, the work reflects a mixture of diverse historiographical traditions, among which one can list Eusebian chronography, Sasanian and Muslim historiographies, Palestinian hagiography, and legendary tales of various sorts. It was completed, according to al-Antạ̄kī, in 938.

The oldest manuscript copy of the work, MS Sinai, Monastery of St Catherine – Ar. 582 (163 folios), represents the oldest known text of the Annales. Indeed, Michel Breydy, who has presented the most detailed study of the manuscript, has argued that the text is the autograph of Ibn Batṛīq himself. The manuscript has the dimensions of a notebook and consists of 163 folios. According to Breydy, it lacks roughly two parts of the beginning of the original work and six of its end. Furthermore, the part referring to the caliphs al-Qāhir (r. 932-34) and al-Rāḍī (r. 934-40), could not have been composed by Ibn Batṛīq himself. The original manuscript may have consisted of 242 folios, of which 23 are missing at the beginning and about 56 at the end. A comparison of the text of MS Sinai Ar. 582 with the texts conserved in later manuscripts, reveals evident traces of successive manipulations, as well as divergences of the later texts from the earliest (and possibly original) version.  …

 Finally, a particular work from which Ibn Batṛīq drew much of his narrative is the Arabic translation of the history of the Sasanid kings, prepared by the Muslim convert ʿAbdallāh ibn al-Muqaffaʿ (d. c. 756). A strikingly literal correspondence between the last section of MS Sinai Ar. 582 and Muslim sources that conserve a textual transmission that had originated with the Egyptian muḥaddith ʿUthmān ibn Ṣāliḥ (d. 834) regarding the conquest of Egypt, allows us to believe that Ibn Batṛīq had similarly transcribed extracts from other Muslim authors as well. …

The Annales are currently extant in some 30 manuscripts, copied both in the Near East and in the West. …

It’s all excellent stuff, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Eutychius or the works of Christian Arabic historiography.

But there is a snag.  Looking at the preview (p.iv), I see that “This project was supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council” – that sounds like taxpayers money -, which makes it all the more odd that the copyright has been given away to Brill, a commercial publisher, and the output is not open-access.  Shame on you, AHRC!

The volume has a couple of introductory papers, and then, starting on p.74, a series of entries on literary figures who wrote in Arabic on the subject of relations between Christians and Muslims, complete with bibliography.  This material is of the highest value, when we consider how difficult it is to access anything in English, and it is really a scandal that it is offline and inaccessible.

I see that eBooks of the volumes do exist – doubtless made available on subscription only to university libraries.  But what use is that to those of us who pay for them?

I have nothing against Brill; but if we paid for this, and it seems likely that we did, then it should not be the property of a commercial company, to be exploited by selling it back to the universities that produced it.