Posts Tagged ‘papyrology’

Reflecting on our (first ever) Digital Classicist Wiki Sprint

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

From (Print) Encyclopedia to (Digital) Wiki

According to Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert the purpose of an encyclopedia in the 18th century was ‘to collect knowledge disseminated around the globe; to set forth its general system to the people with whom we live, and transmit it to those who will come after us, so that the work of preceding centuries will not become useless to the centuries to come’.  Encyclopedias have existed for around 2,000 years; the oldest is in fact a classical text, Naturalis Historia, written ca 77 CE by Pliny the Elder.

Following the (recent) digitalization of raw data, new, digital forms of encyclopedia have emerged. In our very own, digital era, a Wiki is a wider, electronic encyclopedia that is open to contributions and edits by interesting parties. It contains concept analyses, images, media, and so on, and it is freely available, thus making the creation, recording, and dissemination of knowledge a democratised process, open to everyone who wishes to contribute.


A Sprint for Digital Classicists

For us, Digital Classicists, scholars and students interested in the application of humanities computing to research in the ancient and Byzantine worlds, the Digital Classicist Wiki is composed and edited by a hub for scholars and students. This wiki collects guidelines and suggestions of major technical issues, and catalogues digital projects and tools of relevance to classicists. The wiki also lists events, bibliographies and publications (print and electronic), and other developments in the field. A discussion group serves as grist for a list of FAQs. As members of the community provide answers and other suggestions, some of these may evolve into independent wiki articles providing work-in-progress guidelines and reports. The scope of the Wiki follows the interests and expertise of collaborators, in general, and of the editors, in particular. The Digital Classicist is hosted by the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London, and the Stoa Consortium, University of Kentucky.

So how did we end up editing this massive piece of work? On Tuesday July 1, 2014 and around 16:00 GMT (or 17:00 CET) a group of interested parties gathered up in several digital platforms. The idea was that most of the action will take place in the DigiClass chatroom on IRC, our very own channel called #digiclass. Alongside the traditional chat window, there was also a Skype voice call to get us started and discuss approaches before editing. On the side, we had a GoogleDoc where people simultaneously added what they thought should be improved or created. I was very excited to interact with old members and new. It was a fun break during my mini trip to the Netherlands, and as it proved, very focused on the general attitude of the Digital Classicists team; knowledge is open to everyone who wishes to learn and can be the outcome of a joyful collaborative process.


The Technology Factor

As a researcher of digital history, and I suppose most information system scholars would agree, technology is never neutral in the process of ‘making’. The magic of the Wiki consists on the fact that it is a rather simple platform that can be easily tweaked. All users were invited to edit any page to create new pages within the wiki Web site, using only a regular web browser without any extra add-ons. Wiki makes page link creation easy by showing whether an intended target page exists or not. A wiki enables communities to write documents collaboratively, using a simple markup language and a web browser. A single page in a wiki website is referred to as a wiki page, while the entire collection of pages, which are usually well interconnected by hyperlinks, is ‘the wiki’. A wiki is essentially a database for creating, browsing, and searching through information. A wiki allows non-linear, evolving, complex and networked text, argument and interaction. Edits can be made in real time and appear almost instantly online. This can facilitate abuse of the system. Private wiki servers (such as the Digital Classicist one) require user identification to edit pages, thus making the process somewhat mildly controlled. Most importantly, as researchers of the digital we understood in practice that a wiki is not a carefully crafted site for casual visitors. Instead, it seeks to involve the visitor in an ongoing process of creation and collaboration that constantly changes the Web site landscape.


Where Technology Shapes the Future of Humanities

In terms of Human resources some with little involvement in the Digital Classicist community before this, got themselves involved in several tasks including correcting pages, suggesting new projects, adding pages to the wiki, helping others with information and background, approaching project-owners and leaders in order to suggest adding or improving information. Collaboration, a practice usually reserved for science scholars, made the process easier and intellectually stimulating.  Moreover, within these overt cyber-spaces of ubiquitous interaction one could identify a strong sense of productive diversity within our own scholarly community; it was visible both in the IRC chat channel as well as over skype. Several different accents and spellings, British, American English, and several continental scholars were gathering up to expand this incredibly fast-pacing process. There was a need to address research projects, categories, and tools found in non-english speaking academic cultures.  As a consequence of this multivocal procedure, more interesting questions arose, not lest methodological. ‘What projects are defined as digital, really’, ‘Isn’t everything a database?’ ‘What is a prototype?’. ‘Shouldn’t there be a special category for dissertations, or visualisations?’.  The beauty of collaboration in all its glory, plus expanding our horizons with technology! And so much fun!

MediaWiki recorded almost 250 changes made in the 1st of July 2014!

The best news, however is that this, first ever wiki sprint was not the last.  In the words of the Organisers, Gabriel Boddard and Simon Mahony,

‘We have recently started a programme of short intensive work-sprints to
improve the content of the Digital Classicist Wiki
( A small group of us this week made
about 250 edits in a couple of hours in the afternoon, and added dozens
of new projects, tools, and other information pages.

We would like to invite other members of the Digital Classicist community to
join us for future “sprints” of this kind, which will be held on the
first Tuesday of every month, at 16h00 London time (usually =17:00
Central Europe; =11:00 Eastern US).

To take part in a sprint:

1. Join us in the DigiClass chatroom (instructions at
<>) during the
scheduled slot, and we’ll decide what to do there;

2. You will need an account on the Wiki–if you don’t already have one,
please email one of the admins to be invited;

3. You do not need to have taken part before, or to come along every
month; occasional contributors are most welcome!’

The next few sprints are scheduled for:
* August 5th
* September 2nd
* October 7th
* November 4th
* December 2nd

Please, do join us, whenever you can!



Digital Technology at Congrès Internationale de Papyrologie

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

As noted here a few weeks ago, there is a remarkable number of panels on Digital Technology and the Tools of the Trade at the 26e Congrès international de papyrologie, which takes place this week in Geneva, Switzerland. Earlier this week I wrote to both the Digital Classicist and Papyrology lists asking if anyone was planning to blog or live-tweet these sessions. So far all that I’ve come across is:

If anyone else has or intends to blog the conference, or has notes on any of the technology sessions that could be turned into a short report, please post a link in the comments or get in touch.

Digitizing Cultural Heritage (British Museum, Sept 4, 2010)

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Digitising Cultural Heritage

British Museum: Stevenson Lecture Theatre.
Saturday 4th September 2010, 09:55 – 16:30

Digital technology has revolutionised modern work- and social life. It is also transforming cultural heritage management. The power to store, organise and distribute vast quantities of complex data makes possible today things that only 20 years ago were dreams. This study day brings together a selection of projects that embrace the potential of the digital world to broaden and enrich access to mankind’s shared cultural heritage.

The British Museum’s founding philosophy–free access for ‘all studious and curious Persons’–today means not just free entry to the museum in Bloomsbury, but also free access to the collection online. An increasing community of institutions and projects share this philosophy, and the past is no longer such a foreign country.


Papyrology and technology

Monday, July 5th, 2010

(Thanks to Gregg Schwendner for posting the papyrological congress programme at What’s New in Papyrology.)

Thursday August 19th, morning
88. DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY AND TOOLS OF THE TRADE I Adam Bülow-Jacobsen  presiding
89. Herwig Maehler Die Zukunft der griechischen Papyrologie
90. Bart Van Beek Papyri in bits & bytes – electronic texts and how to use them
91. Marius Gerhardt Papyrus Portal Deutschland

101. Reinhold Scholl Textmining  und Papyri
102. Herbert Verreth Topography of Egypt online

107. Joshua Sosin / James Cowey Digital papyrology : a new platform for collaborative control of DDbDP, HGV, and APIS data Plenary session in Room MR080 (1 hour)

Friday August 20th, morning
133. Giovanna Menci Utilità di un database di alfabeti per lo studio della scrittura greca dei papiri
134. Marie-Hélène Marganne Les extensions du fichier Mertens-Pack3 du CEDOP AL
135. Robert Kraft Imaging the papyri collection at the University of Pennsylvania Museum (Philadelphia PA, USA)

146. Roger T. Macfarlane / Stephen M. Bay Multi-Spectral Imaging and Papyrology : Advantages and Limitations
147. Adam Bülow-Jacobsen Digital infrared photography of papyri and ostraca

So this astonishingly rich programme of digital topics at the International Papyrological Congress this year makes me wonder: what would it take to get this much digital interest at a major epigraphic meeting, or the annual Classics meetings, for that matter? (A couple of Digital Classicist panels at recent APA/AIA and CA conferences notwithstanding–there’s nothing as diverse and in-the-wild as the above at any Classics conference I’ve been to in recent years.) Can we do anything about this with top-down encouragement, or does it have to be a natural ground-swell? Or is papyrology just a naturally more technical subdiscipline than the rest of Classics?

Postdoc position: Imaging and Ancient Documents (Oxford)

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Forwarded for Charles Crowther:

Post-doctoral Research Assistant – Reflectance Transformation Imaging Systems for Ancient Documentary Artefacts (RTISAD)
Academic-related Grade 7, Salary: £28,983.00 – £35,646.00 pro rata per annum

The Reflectance Transformation Imaging Systems for Ancient Documentary Artefacts (RTISAD) project is seeking to appoint a Post-doctoral Research Assistant for a three-quarter-time, nine-month fixed term post from 1 June 2010 or as soon as possible thereafter. The project is funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Grant, under the Digital Equipment and Database Enhancement for Impact scheme. The person appointed will be responsible for organising a trial programme of photographing ancient documentary material using the Reflectance Transformance Imaging systems built by the project. Applicants should have a completed D.Phil, Ph.D or equivalent, together with a competence in cuneiform studies, and/or Greek and Latin papyrology and epigraphy, or another related discipline, and have proven IT skills.



Monday, October 5th, 2009

As Gregg Schwendner pointed out a few weeks ago on the What’s New in Papyrology blog, Brill have brought out a new CD-ROM version of the Berichtigungsliste der Griechischen Papyrusurkunden aus Ägypten (vol I-XI). From the publisher’s website:

With the advent of the CD-ROM edition of the great Berichtigungsliste der Griechisen Papyruskunden aus Ägypten, all the scholarship in the field, meticulously assembled over eighty years, is instantly accessible using a wide range of quick-search criteria. There is no better, faster, more satisfactory way to ensure a solid grounding in the corrections of readings and datings, as well as supplementary information, as this work has appeared in a wide spectrum of publications.

A license for the CD-Rom costs €149.00 / US$209.00 for an individual user; €395.00 / US$549.00 for an institutional license (1-3 users). I’m not entirely clear whether the purchase of one license lasts for life, or whether it needs to be renewed periodically as with the TLG (if the former, then presumably updated CD-ROMs would need to be purchased anew in future).

I’m curious to know, from anyone who has seen this resource, or who has access to it in their institutional library, what sorts of research question one can ask of the BL database that could not also be answered by Open Access resources such the Papyrological Navigator, for example (or the various other papyrological metadata databases at Heidelberg, Leuven, etc.). The Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri includes some readings and corrections from BL, although presumably not all. I’d be interested if any papyrologist could give us a brief review of the value of this new resource.

Diamond Synchrotron used to read ancient texts

Sunday, September 16th, 2007

(Spotted by Gregg Schwender and seen in a Diamond Lab press release.)

The ultra-powerful I22 Non-crystalline Diffraction beamline (as best as I understand it an application of the laser particle accellerator that produces highly concentrated pure light for scanning at nanoscopic resolutions) is being applied to the reading of damaged parchment and other ancient and at-risk documents. The synchrotron can analyse the condition of collagen in paper or vellum and determine the patterns of any potentially corrosive ink; this is particularly valuable in cases of very fragile texts, such as those partially eaten away by iron gall ink, or ancient dessicated manuscripts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I first heard about this story–albeit in very vague terms–at a party last night, and I have to say that my first reaction was disbelief. I assumed that the speaker (neither a digital humanist nor a manuscript scholar) had misunderstood or misrepresented the story of a particle accellerator the size of four football pitches being used to read the Dead Sea Scrolls. Surely the expense involved would just never be spent on something as niche as manuscript studies? (Not to mention that I know excellent results are already being achieved using standard medical imaging technology.) I apologise to my nameless source for my lack of faith. I guess I need reminding occasionally that even people with big and expensive fish to fry can share our obsession with digital and humanistic concerns.

BASP licensing

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

In a post yesterday I complained that I couldn’t find a license statement associated with the newly announced online version of the Bulletin of the American Society of Papyrologists. Gregg Schwendner had a look and found it.

The table-of-contents view for each issue (e.g., no. 25 2006) includes the following statement:

Permission must be received for any subsequent distribution in print or electronically. Please contact for more information.

I still think that this information should also appear at the level of the individual article (e.g., John Oates, “Sale of a Donkey”), and that the sitewide text access policy page should include some general guidance.

Computers in Papyrology and Paleography

Friday, April 20th, 2007

A message from Professor Roger Boyle [], Head of the School of Computing, University of Leeds.

Dear all -

I have been asked by the British Machine Vision Association to consider running a day on “Computers in Papyrology and Paleography” – specifically the use of computer imaging and image processing. The definitions for the day can be interpreted very broadly.

Such a day would probably run in Leeds, probably in late 07/early 08.

This message goes to a provisional list of those who may be interested (full list follows this message). Can I ask

  1. Might you be interested?
  2. If so, might you be prepared to contribute a paper?
  3. Might you be able to nominate a keynote speaker [perhaps yourself :-)]?

I would be grateful if you could forward this message to anyone you feel might like to receive it, and to let me know of any gross omissions.

New blog for Papyrology news

Monday, September 25th, 2006

A message from G. Schwendner (Wichita State University):

I am putting up a weblog to keep track of new publications, announcements etc. in papyrology (my field). We see these, for the most part, on the Papy-list, but the archives are resticted to list members, and so its news does not flow very far. Most important, it does not get into the seach engines. Anyway, below is the url; let me know what you think. I have not had the time to reformat the Greek that appears in the tables of contents, but the publishers’ pdf versions are linked, and few, I think, are searching the web for unicode Greek text at this point.