Web the meeting room for global seminar

By Sonia B. Glover

Conducting seminars or participating in them is an every day occurrence -people gather in a meeting room and go about their business on a chosen topic. Religious studies professor Dr. Hans Rollmann is no stranger to seminars. But these days his research on the Restoration Movement has him involved in a seminar that is quite different from those of the past - he doesn't have to leave his office to participate.

It's called On-Line Seminar, which Dr. Rollmann initiated about a year ago when he developed a home page devoted to the Restoration Movement - a 19th-Century religious unity effort. This Web page is where scholarly discussions take place that assist in his research, entitled "Online Seminar on an Early 19th Century Religious Document Advocating Unity Among the Churches of North America."

Dr. Rollmann said scholars from different parts of North America come on-line for a seminar that discusses a religious document called The Declaration and Address.

"This document was written by a Presbyterian by the name of Thomas Campbell and was published in 1809," he said. "Twenty-one scholars participate with papers on that document and discussion takes place via an e-mail list that discusses historical topics, and via the World Wide Web. The scholars come from Alaska to Texas, and from California to Newfoundland."

Dr. Rollmann said the collaborative research, which started this past summer, is being carried out to understand the 19th-Century document in its own time and the effect it had on ecumenical discussion, as well as to put a critical edition of The Declaration and Address on-line. (A critical edition is the best possible version of a document on the basis of all manuscripts and prints.)

According to Dr. Rollmann, this project is unique because it is a "research enterprise" that is based on electronic collaboration and communication. He also said this project proves that you don't always need a lot of money to conduct good research and that geographic location doesn't mean anything anymore.

"You see, we didn't have to come to any place. All that we needed here was computer disk space, which was made available by Memorial, and the collaboration of people, and that was possible because people are excited about the topic, exploring and knowing what can be done electronically. This is fairly economical and we do it all on the Web we are in cyberspace. So, the hub or the place where this physically takes place is in St. John's in a computer in the Henrietta Harvey Building but, virtually, it takes place all over the world because instantaneously you get responses from Alaska and Texas and so on."

Gaining knowledge about the Restoration Movement is not the only thing that Dr. Rollmann hopes to gain from this collaborative effort.

"An additional gain from this is how such an on-line seminar can be applied to other situations," he explained. "What I am also interested in is to see what can be gained for university settings, particularly the graduate seminars and undergrad seminars that can essentially be carried on-line...globally."

When the on-line seminar ends in April 1998, Dr. Rollmann said the papers presented by the various scholars will be published and put on a CD-Rom that will furnish all the materials that were prepared for the seminar, as well as the critical edition.

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