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The History of the Suda On Line

In mid-January 1998 William Hutton suggested on the "Classics-l" e-mail list that interested scholars might collaborate on an on-line translation of the Suda lexicon. This suggestion generated great interest and a lively discussion on the list over the next several days, with seminal contributions by Patrick Rourke, Ross Scaife, Steven Willett, David Meadows, James Butrica, Joe Farrell, Tom Jenkins, Don Fowler, Gabriel Bodard, Michael Chase, Sean Redmond, Malcolm Heath, Anne Mahoney and many others. People began volunteering to translate entries, debating the virtues of various file formats and delivery systems and discussing the problems inherent in organizing such a massive task. David Meadows proposed naming the project S.O.L., and the acronym stuck. You can read this flurry of e-mails here. All of this brainstorming occurred over the period of less than two weeks.

In the absence of other volunteers for the task, Hutton and Elizabeth Vandiver offered themselves as overall coordinators of the effort. Hutton produced and made available a simple html test-site (HELIOS) to enable participants to visualize what the eventual SOL might look like and to aid in the forecasting of potential problems and obstacles. That test site can still be seen in all its naive and primitive glory. At about the same time, Patrick Rourke began compiling an on-line volunteer list, SOLVL (Suda On Line Volunteer List), to keep track of the many people who had expressed an interest in participating in the project in various capacities.

Soon thereafter, Ross Scaife contacted Hutton and Vandiver and offered to help develop the project under the aegis of his newly-formed Stoa Consortium for Electronic Publication in the Classics. This involved hosting the project at the Center for Computing in the Humanities at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY, which remains SOL's home to this day. Scaife also secured permission of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae for the use of their electronic text of the Suda, and opened communications with Gregory Crane and his colleagues at the Perseus Digital Library about integrating the new project with the many resources available at the Perseus site.

Design and programming of the database and the user interface commenced under the supervision of Scaife and Raphael Finkel of the Center for Computing in the Humanities. The initial programmer was Desmond Huar En Ng, then a graduate student in Computer Science at UKy. Ng is responsible for creating the bulk of the SOL system as it exists today, though maintenance and important refinements were carried out by his student-programmer successors, Mukund Chandak, Shahid Saleem Mohammed and Kamal Shah. Additional programming wisdom was provided at frequent intervals by Rourke and by Anne Mahoney. By late 1998 the system was ready, and the submission of translated entries was begun. By 2002 10,000 translated entries had been submitted and in October 2006 the 20,000 mark was reached.

On the editorial side, various schemes for coordinating the efforts of the many contributors SOL were hatched and tentatively implemented. Eventually a board of Managing Editors was created, the initial members of which were Hutton, Vandiver, Scaife and Patrick Rourke. Soon Raphael Finkel was added as a fifth member for his computing and organizational expertise. Finkel also contributed his knowledge of Hebrew language and literature toward the improvement of sevral entries.

In 2000 two important new contributors joined the SOL team: Catharine Roth and David Whitehead. For her energetic activities as a translator and editor, Roth was asked to join the board of Managing Editors in 2001. For his equally enthusiatic participation, and also in recognition of his vast erudition and lofty standing in the field of Classics, the post of Senior Editor was created for Whitehead. The two of them continue to this day as the most productive contributors to the contents of SOL. Whitehead has the unique distinction of having vetted personally nearly all of the 25,000+ translated entries in the SOL database.

In March of 2008 the project suffered a grievous loss with the untimely death of Ross Scaife, whose vision, initiative, expertise and persistence turned the SOL from a disorderly collection of translations into a groundbreaking model of computer-mediated collaborative scholarship. Those of us who continue work on the project hope that the SOL will be turn out to be a lasting monument to Ross’s pioneering efforts in the application of information technologies to the study of the ancient world.

The SOL has been the focus of numerous articles and conference presentations. In 2000 the Managing Editors jointly published an article in Syllecta Classica. Papers about SOL were delivered about the project at international conferences in Hawaii and Aberdeen, Scotland (by Scaife in 1999 and 2000) and in Newport, RI (by Hutton in 2000). In 2002 a panel about SOL was held at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South in Austin, TX. The panel, entitled "On to 10,000: The Inexorable March of the Suda On Line" was organized by Hutton and Vandiver. The other participants were Whitehead, Mahoney, and contributors Oliver Phillips and Jennifer Benedict. In 2007 Catharine Roth won a Titus Fellowship at the Blegen Library at the University of Cincinnati to study early editions of the Suda. In 2009 Anne Mahoney published an article, "Tachypedia Byzantina: The Suda On Line as Collaborative Encyclopedia," in a special issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly (vol. 3, 2009) dedicated to the memory of Ross Scaife.

The family of SOL contributors has been an eclectic group. In addition to active professors with PhD's, our roster includes retired professors, scholars in countries where the internet provides an invaluable supplement to meager local resources, and talented classicists who for one reason or another have ended up in careers other than university teaching. One of the great benefits of SOL, and a source of great pride to its creators, is the opportunity the project gives to such scholars to make a valuable contribution to classical scholarship. SOL has also been used to good effect in the classroom. Professors at several colleges and universities have assigned students in graduate and advanced undergraduate classes entries to translate and submit. Those assignments are now a permanent part of our database and can be listed as published scholarly works by these students on their CV's. One of our most prolific contributors, Jennifer Benedict (over 4500 translations), did most of her work on the SOL as an undergraduate at William & Mary. Several scholars, including Peter Green, Malcolm Heath and John Melville-Jones, donated to SOL translations of entries that they had done previously for other purposes and other publications.

At our current (April, 2009) pace we are on track to have translations of every single entry of the Suda within the next few years. But even when we reach that goal our work will be far from over. A crucial element of our philosophy and of the design of the system is that the process of improving and annotating our translations be ongoing and open-ended. We are also continuously at work to improve SOL's infrastructure and to add new tools and features.

If you would like to be part of that future, please register as a contributor today.

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This document was last updated Thursday April 30, 2009.


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