Virtual Communities

The Internet has created new possibilities for the exchange of information, and in so doing it has opened up new possibilities for social interaction. Expert communities need no longer rely on conferences and journals alone to sustain their activities, but can share, comment and collaborate in virtual spaces too. Scholarship is changing. The idea of the lonely scholar labouring in the isolation of the study or library seems remote. In the digital age, information can be shared with ease, collaboration with distant colleagues can be sustained, and new ideas can be published at 'the speed of thought'.

The virtual communities emerging in archaeology are more diverse than in many other disciplines. As well as cross-institutional partnerships, cross-sectoral communities are also emerging. This newsletter explores some of these communities through the links ADS has built with others. The development of a map-based gateway to distributed information about sites, monuments, and finds - the CIE demonstrator - is the best example of this. Contacts with partners in Europe and other external bodies to deliver heritage data provide a similar insight, as does our invitation to collaborate on PhD theses and archaeology journals.

The value of this work stretches across the public sector. The work of ADS recently received strong support from All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group of peers and MPs. The group recommends that the work of the ADS in making available excavation archives online and in archiving this material digitally needs to be supported.

The views of the archaeological community were represented in From the Ground Up the CBA's survey of user needs for the publication of research projects in archaeology. This report makes a series of important recommendations, the most significant of which for ADS are that detailed structural and specialist reports be published on the Internet and 'archives be made available on the the Internet'. It continues 'The Survey found strong support for the mounting of all archives on the Internet, supported by well-indexed and queryable databases. Funding agencies and local authorities should consider making this mandatory for projects within their remit'.

These important recommendations have our whole-hearted support. They show the value of the ADS to the community: a virtual community of research and teaching where digital resources are in demand.

Julian Richards

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