Yemen (Revised Edition)

Paul Auchterlonie (1998)
The World Bibliographic Series, 50. Oxford: Clio Press, xxii, 348, map, indexes.

Reviewed by Daniel Martin Varisco

Yemen Update 40 (1998):#2

This is a two-part review: first, a review in the standard sense of a valuable revised resource in Yemeni bibliography; second, a general broadside on the dangers of print bibliographies after the internet.

The World Bibliographic Series, published by CLIO Press, is a monumental exercise. The overall goal is to provide book-length bibliographies on every country (including major cities)in the world. The current listing is a little over 200 titles. The editors assure us that each volume "seeks to achieve, by use of careful selectivity and critical assessment of the literature, an expression of the country and an appreciation of its nature and national aspirations, to guide the reader towards an understanding of its importance" (v). Volume number 50 in the series is on Yemen. The present volume is a revised edition of the 1984 original compiled by Prof. G. Rex Smith, a noted British historian of Yemen. The revision was carried out by Paul Auchterlonie and is quite extensive,reflecting the fact that a lot of quality material has been published since the early 1980s.

Auchterlonie provides a succinct summary of Yemeni history in the "Introduction" (pp. xv-xxii), including the results of the April, 1997 election. The bibliography itself consists of 938 items, all of which are annotated (most in 3-4lines). The pithy annotations make this a very handy guide. This is a topical listing, but indexes are provided of authors and editors,titles, and subjects. The specific topics include: The Country and Its People; Geography and Geology; Travel Guides; Traveller's Accounts and Exploration; Flora and Fauna; Prehistory and Archaeology; History, Population and Demography; Minorities; Overseas Populations; Languages and Dialects; Religion; Social Conditions and Organization; Social Services, Health and Welface; Politics; Law and Constitution; Administration; Foreign Relations; Economics, Finance and Banking; Trade and Industry; Agriculture, Irrigation and Fisheries; Employment, Manpower and Trade Unions; Statistics;Architecture; Education and Culture; Science and Technology;Literature; Visual Arts; Music and Dance; Folklore; Libraries and Archives; Mass Media, Publishing and the Press; Periodicals; and,Bibliographies. These categories are fairly straightforward,although it is not clear what "Education and Culture" is for, apart from education; you will find nothing on Yemeni culture there. Also,note that you will find articles about Yemeni emigration under the technocratic topic of "Employment, Manpower and Trade Unions" as well as under "Overseas Populations." Not a lot published on Yemeni trade unions, I think it is fair to say. Under each topic, the articles are arranged in alphabetical order.

This series emphasizes publications in English, although the compiler has included a number of references in French, German, and Italian. This is fortunate, since English is by no means the only language for serious work in Yemeni Studies. There is no attempt to cover publications in Arabic. A few dissertations,as well as items appearing in more recent editions of The Encyclopedia of Islam, are included. The work of AIYS members is well represented. Even Yemen Update gets mention in the list of periodicals. I am particularly humbled by inclusion of about 18 of my own publications.

Overall, the compiler has done an admirable job in choosing a cross-section of references, from the obvious to the obscure. This is a useful resource that deserves a place on a reference shelf in major libraries. The list price of $91 will, of course, greatly limit its distribution among most academics' personal libraries.

So, thank you, CLIO Press for this 1/200thof your series devoted to Yemen. But, with all the good things that can be said about this particular bibliography, I also feel the need to interject a note of caution. Published bibliographies are increasingly the dinosaurs of post-internet modern research. Think of this particular bibliography, first published in 1984. It sat on library shelves for 14 years before a revised edition appeared. Given tight library budgets, there are probably any number of university libraries which will not order the revised edition. So virtually all recent publications, which for Yemen is rather critical, in effect go unreferenced for those who consult volumes like this. And the problem continues. For example, also published this year, but not in time to be referenced in the present volume,are several seminal articles by Najwa Adra on Yemeni dancing,including major entries in the International Encyclopedia of Dance. So, if you want to know what is out there on Yemeni dance, this volume missed the boat (through no fault of the compiler). And such a volume will continue not helping you, even though it will undoubtedly sit on that same library shelf for another 14 years or more.

Whither (or Wither?) Print Bibliographies

There are myriad ways of finding references. Locating a specific title or author is a breeze these days. Now that major library holdings are archived on the web, librarians no doubt have fewer and fewer personal queries to deal with. Most printed bibliographies are subject and topic oriented; the majority attempt to survey useful sources rather than struggling to be comprehensive. The main problem for print bibliographies is that they quickly go out of date. If you have been around libraries for more than a decade or so, then you will remember the volumes and volumes of annual bibliographic indices for the social sciences,sciences and humanities -- with fascicles fostered on sagging shelves as quick (in the archaeic sense of quick) as the presses could spew them out. The point is that such paper-consuming approaches to bibliography are pretty much passé with the electronic media available.

About twenty-five years ago, as a beginning graduate student, I entered into the seemingly bottomless pit of bibliographies. In 1977 I even published a (hand-typed and pain-stakingly indexed) Bibliography of Reprints in Archaeology for something called the Anthropology Curriculum Project at the University of Georgia. Over the years I haphazardly collected a bibliography of bibliographies on the Middle East and Islam. But most of my time was spent in the trenches hauling down dusty volumes and then going off to find some delightfully obscure journal for the chance "find" of a rare or potentially useful article. A major part of my bibliographic references are devoted to Yemen, although I gave up trying to update it quite a few years ago. Most of the major sources are there, including those frightfully amateurish and often inaccurate volumes ground out by Henry Field and company. Among my earliest finds was reference to an 8-page document published by the Library of Congress Legislative Reference Service in1965 by Manfred W. Wenner, who had managed to fill 8 pages with aselect annotated bibliography of literature between 1960 and 1965. In ever actually saw the document, but my faith in its existence has not wavered over the years.

There is as yet no definitive bibliography of Yemeni bibliographies. Those interested in getting a head start on this should consult the first section of Tom Stevenson's Studies on Yemen, 1975-1990, published by AIYS. [Paul Auchterlonie, by the way, cites Stevenson's work as "a model of its kind and the single most useful bibliography concentrating on the Yemen" (p. 290).] There are all kinds of topical bibliographies, including Joke Buringa's 1992 Bibliography on Women in Yemen,also published by AIYS. Some are unpublished, sitting in office files of development agencies. Some are by language (e.g., Landau's1974 "Soviet books on the Yemen" in Middle Eastern Studies,10:234-237). There are also several important bibliographies in Arabic, most notably from the inimitable Abdullah al-Hibshi, Yemen's indigenous bibliographer par excellence. Then there are the broader sources, such as the very useful Index Islamicus.

The point is why do we need detailed and specialized bibliographies in print? The drawbacks have always been there: most volumes are too expensive or oriented almost exclusively for university libraries; all rapidly go out of date. Plus the user is always at the mercy of the ability of the compiler. This is particularly acute when the compiler has no first-hand experience with the material being referenced. The main danger is that a particular bibliography sets the stage and items not referenced are then not consulted.

The obvious response is to go on the web. You can now access most major library card catalogs from your home computer. Many have sophisticated search engines to double check that odd reference before publication. There are any number of budding bibliographies out there. This spring I adapted Yemen Update's Index Yemenicus (Yes, indeed, the title is chosen out of admiration for the granddaddy of all Islamic bibliographies.) to our new website, Yemen Webdate. The idea is to update and correct annoying typographical errors continually. I now look at all viewers of the site as my extended family of proofreaders. This will serve only as a basic database of what was published annually. It is nowhere near complete, but it will improve because it can be improved without waiting for a new edition.

Bibliographilia referencius

Serious scholars need good bibliographies. Bibliography is to academic research what adrenelin is to the athlete; if you don't have it, you will rarely excel. The best research is thoroughly informed by the best previous research. Even if the previous research is lousy, at best, you still have to know what has been done. But no bibliography should be an end in itself or a mere taxonomic trope. It is possible, although certainly not advisable, to anally pursue every reference on a given subject, to leave no dusty library shelf unturned. And with the internet archiving now begun, such a goal may actually be achievable in the near future. If scientists can decode DNA, then scholars with far less acumen could come rather close to tracking down all references on , for example, Yemen. But while plotting the human genome has ready relevance to the human condition, plodding along to produce a virtual librome probably does not.

Even if all references ever published could be assembled in one giant file, what good what it serve? I am prone to say absolutely none, save the knowledge of having done so. Yes,it would be nice to have an authoritative source at one's fingertips to double check references in publications and papers, but I worry about the damage that might result. One danger of using bibliographies is to cite references which are never in fact read or consulted: reference padding is more than a periodical crime among academics. I know, because I succumbed myself in the youthful enthusiasm of my own dissertation writing. Another argument,seductive to the academic core, is the goal of documenting sources so that other scholars will know where to go. Well, as long as academic tenure is a sure thing, such scholars know, of course, where to go;and that well is indeed getting dryer and dryer. But I suspect that most bibliographies rarely serve this function, except for beginning graduate students with time on their hands. And it would appear that many are simply lists copied from earlier lists, usually with the addition of errors.

If the preceding has not bedeviled you enough, let me continue as a devilish advocate of what I see as an unhealthy reliance on existing bibliographies. I happen to think that the process of compiling references, preferably ones you actually look at to see if they could be useful, is essential for a scholar. What makes it good is that it gets you to references you would otherwise not find. But if you never in fact consult these resources, what is the value? If what you end up with is a list of sources rather than useful notes compiled from those sources, there is obviously little value. Even less, if you come to think that finding the references deserves an academic award. References are the necessary map of our research, but if we never take our car out of the garage we will never get anywhere.

In my youth I was seduced by a viral,seemingly vital at the time, past time best disguised asBibliographilia referencius. I would spend long hours in the Van Pelt Library at Penn, glorying in the open stacks even as I zigzagged between old Dewey files and newer LC stacks. Like a frenetic archaeologist set loose inside a royal tomb, I would work the aisles in those sections that held promise for my passionate interest in the Middle East (and an occasional odd interest in things like Lunatic Archaeology). In the process I took notes, at least copying down the references, and filed them away in notebooks that now cover a couple of bookshelves floor to ceiling. The notes are still there, somewhat yellowed around the corners, but their potential value (which diminishes annually) pales in comparison to the process itself. It was the absorption in books, periodicals and proceedings that was important. Throughout I had to fight the penchant to record and record references ad nauseum. I somehow survived.

Bibliographies, of course, are not the problem. Such guides are useful, even when imperfect. In fact the problem is not so much in finding sources, even a little old-fashioned hard work in a fairly decent library can accomplish that; the problem is what to do with the knowledge that is there, what to make of it,where to go with it. Good bibliographies need serious scholars.

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