The following is a lightly edited version of a talk that I delivered at the 26th Congress of the International Association of Papyrologists, 19 August 2010, in Geneva (program), posted here upon nudging of G. Bodard.
Colleagues. It is a great honor and a privilege to be able to speak with you today. An honor and a privilege that, I hasten to add, I did not seek, but which a number of our colleagues insisted some months back the members of this research team must try to live up to. If I approach this distinguished body with some trepidation it is perhaps because my training as an epigraphist has conditioned me to a tone less attuned to collegiality than that which informs the papyrologists’ discipline. I should add also that am here not to present my own work, but the fruits of a team whose members are in Heidelberg, London, New York, North Carolina, Alabama, and Kentucky, and who have been working heroically for more than three years now.
I shall aim to speak for no more than 40 minutes so that we may at least start discussions, which I know the rest of the team and I will be more than happy to carry on via email, Skype, phone, and separate face to face meetings. I will add also that, since the matters arising from this talk are highly technical in nature, we shall be more than happy to field questions as a team (I and my colleagues Rodney Ast, James Cowey, Tom Elliott, and Paul Heilporn) and in any of the languages within our competence.
First some background. I don’t need to tell you very much about the history of the Duke Data Bank of Documentary Papyri. It was founded in 1983, as a collaboration between William Willis and John Oates of Duke University, and the Packard Humanities Institute. A decade and a half later, around the time, as it happens, that APIS was also starting, the DDbDP decided to migrate from the old CD platform and to the web. John in particular was committed to making the data available for free, to anyone who wanted access. The Perseus Project, from Tufts University, very kindly agreed to host the new online DDbDP, to develop a search interface, to convert the data from old Beta code to a markup language called SGML–all at no cost to us. The DDbDP added a few thousand texts after switching from the Packard CD ROM to Perseus. But the landscape changed dramatically from this point onward, and the DDbDP began to fall behind. The end of the CD ROM meant the end of regular revenues to support data entry and proofreading. And of course, ongoing development of the search interface was not without cost to Perseus, whose generous efforts on our behalf were, as I mention, unremunerated. Within a few years the DDbDP was behind in data entry and the search interface was not able to grow and mature in the ways that papyrologists wanted.