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H-Cervantes and the Cervantes Society of America: A Powerful Alliance
by Fred Jehle [jehle@ipfw.edu], Webmaster, H-Cervantes and the Cervantes Society of America

There are times when organizations must erect defenses, defend their turf, and protect themselves from others to accomplish their goals. In other cases, it can be far more profitable for groups with similar goals to join together and share their resources, achieving far more with cooperation than would be possible otherwise. The latter instance has proven to be the case for H-Cervantes and the Cervantes Society of America (CSA).

According to its constitution, the purpose of the CSA is to "advance the study of the life and works of Miguel de Cervantes through the promotion of communication and cooperation among its members, through the publication of reviews of books and articles and reports on pedagogical approaches to Cervantes' work, through descriptions of research currently in progress by members, through discussions at annual meetings, and through such other means as may tend to deepen and broaden understanding of Cervantes and his works" (http://www.h-net.org/~cervantes/csa/artics86/constitu.htm). The wording is slightly different for the purpose and means as expressed in the H-Cervantes welcome letter (http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/welcomeletter?list=h?cervantes), but the basics are extraordinarily similar except that the listserv itself becomes the mechanism for the communication and discussion rather than annual conferences. In view of the common goals and interests, a substantial number of individuals are members of both organizations, and several have served as officers or board members in both. Informal cooperation has also been evident, for example, in the posting of announcements pertinent to one of the organizations in the other's forum.

The most visible and beneficial collaboration between the two organizations is found in the web pages of H-Net (Humanities-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online). H-Cervantes (http://www.h-net.org/~cervantes/) made its debut as a listserv and a web site in 1998, founded by Daniel Eisenberg; the following year the CSA was able to take advantage of H-Net's resources by having a web site installed (http://www.h-net.org/~cervantes/csapage.htm) and subsequently expanded in an H-Cervantes subdirectory. The CSA was founded some two decades earlier, in 1979; in 1981 it published the first issue of its journal, Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America, which is published bi-annually.

The 42 issues of Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America printed to date represent 21 years of Cervantine scholarship and a gift to H-Cervantes. The work of converting the journal contents to digital form began in 1998 and is now almost two-thirds complete. Of the 500 pieces that have appeared, 323 -- including all 42 tables of contents and abstracts of all articles -- are available through the H-Cervantes/CSA web pages (http://www.h-net.org/~cervantes/bcsalist.htm). Most are in HTML form (with occasional graphics included), making downloading, copying/pasting and in-article searches a fast and easy task for users; on the other hand, the conversion process has been a laborious one due to the formatting and proofreading involved. The latest issues are composed in Portable Document Format (PDF) graphic format, making the material much easier to post. In these cases the PDF files are created not by the publisher but by the current editor of the journal, Daniel Eisenberg, as he assembles and formats the contents of the individual issues.

Proof of the profitability of the relationship for H-Cervantes is provided by H-Net's own statistics (http://www.h-net.org/stats/index.html) for the web pages of its more than100 affiliates. As a literary site dedicated primarily to a "foreign" writer from the16-17th centuries, H-Cervantes will probably never be in first place for the number of "hits." However, for every week in the month of September H-Cervantes was the leading H-Net affiliate web site in terms of the size of material downloaded, measured in gigabytes. In each of these weeks, CSA was the top H-Cervantes subdirectory both in terms of the number of hits and the size of downloads.

H-Cervantes provides other pages/subdirectories for its users, including hundreds of famous engravings that have graced the pages of Cervantes' masterpiece, Don Quixote. These public domain images and other offerings attract users to the sites, but the CSA subdirectory with its journal has become the single most important draw. There are several important factors contributing to the success of the H-Cervantes/CSA partnership, some of them directly resulting from the third partner in the relationship, H-Net itself:

1. MSU and the H-Net directors have kept the same domain name(s) for the organization and its affiliates over the course of several years, a virtual "lifetime" on the Internet. It is hard to overemphasize the importance of this permanence when the average user finds so many links to discontinued, renamed, or otherwise lost sites all over the Internet, even when using search engines which supposedly update records regularly.

2. Given H-Cervantes' and CSA's relative permanence as websites and their status as producers of Cervantine web documents, the documents themselves have become increasingly visible on search engines around the world, resulting in increased traffic. A recent post on the H-Cervantes listserv noted that if one goes to a search site such as Google and enters such combinations as "Cervantes" and "Persiles," or "Cervantes" and "Wasserman," there immediately appear references to articles from the CSA journal.

3. In keeping with H-Net tradition, and in contrast to commercialized sites dealing with the dissemination of specialty journals, CSA publications are free to the world: no fees, passwords, subscriptions, or restrictions other than observance of copyright notices. This makes the journal pieces part of the WWW public library.

4. The search engine used for H-Net web pages (http://www.h-net.org/htdig/) provides users with a powerful tool. The feature is apparently not as well known as it should be among H-Cervantes/CSA users, but once they discover it, it should prove to be a feature that will bring back them back in the future. As mentioned earlier, the program normally searches for words and phrases, not parts of words. It recognizes inverted Spanish punctuation (( and ?) as punctuation or word boundary delimiters, characters which can be problematic for less competent search engine

The CSA's relationship with H-Net has helped the society gain vastly increased name recognition, extending its scholarly influence more than possible with the somewhat limited distribution of its printed publications. Additionally, the relationship fosters communication among members and non-member users, as H-Net provides fast and free access. Members, the same as other researchers or aficionados, thus have at their disposal not only electronic versions of journal pieces, but H-Net search tools and special on-line indices: a chronological one (a master table of contents), an alphabetical one by author (including reviewers), and an index of books reviewed, by book author. The CSA requires annual dues from members to finance society activities, one of the costliest being the publication of the journal in paper-and-ink form. There were concerns that the electronic publication of both new and back issues of the journal, as well as the society's newsletters, would result in reduced membership and finances. Theresa Sears, CSA's secretary-treasurer, reports that such is not the case: members are being added at a steady rate, just as with H-Cervantes, according to listserv editor Matt Wyszynski.

In short, viva the cooperation between H-Cervantes and the Cervantes Society of America, and bravo for H-Net's help in making the relationship an even more positive and powerful one. Perhaps similar alliances are possible for other H-Net affiliates, enabling them to increase their offerings, usefulness, and spheres of influence.

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