We Built It and the Coin People Came

Over at the American Numismatic Society, Sebastian Heath and his colleagues have been working on a new search interface to the ANS Collection Database. It's a friend of Pleiades.

Sebastian explains:

users can plot the location of the cities that issued [coins] on the basis of geospatial data drawn automatically from Pleiades .... An example is numismatics.org:1997.9.200, a coin issued by the Lycian city of Xanthos. By clicking on the ‘[show map]’ link a user sees an embedded map from Google as well as a link to the Pleiades source. It is important to stress that the process by which the ANS incorporates Pleiades data is entirely open. We draw upon the Atom/GeoRSS feed at http://pleiades.stoa.org/places/639166.atom to populate our database of geographic entities.

They've hooked up all the mints in Lycia and Cyrenaica, pretty much the limits of our online content at present:

The age of Pleiades interoperability has begun. Thanks ANS! Sean and I have been looking forward to this day for a long time.

Epigraphy Unveiled

It's been a true pleasure over the past few days to watch a public display of collaborative epigraphic text editing unfold over at Current Epigraphy. If you've ever wondered how experts work together to try to sort out problematic aspects of ancient inscribed documents, this is a rare glimpse into a process usually conducted privately at one's home institution, via email or at conferences.

Does this exchange mark the dawn of digital epigraphy as something more than static online publication?

TEI P5 Hits the Streets, What's EpiDoc Doing?

That substantial seismic WHOMP! you felt last Friday was the 1.0 release of the Text Encoding Initiative, version P5 making its official entry into the light of day. A hearty congratulations to the editors, the TEI Technical Council, and everyone else who worked so hard to make this major revision a reality.

As a sizable percentage of my legions of readers will know, the TEI underpins the work of the EpiDoc Community, which aims to provide guidance and tools for the XML markup of ancient primary sources -- especially documentary ones -- preserved in inscriptions, on papyri and the like. Right now, EpiDoc depends on the previous (P4) version of the TEI, but incorporates a number of P5 structures that are especially useful (or economical) for our needs. We'll hold at this point until sometime at least in mid-2008, when we'll look at revising EpiDoc to full P5 compliance. This delay recognizes that key members of the community will be pretty busy in the meantime on a number of projects that shouldn't be slowed down for a major revision.

A particularly important current project in this regard is the conversion of the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri (description somewhat out of date) to full EpiDoc conformance. This conversion underpins an effort to establish better interoperability with the Advanced Papyrological Information System and the Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis der griechischen Papyrusurkunden Ägyptens. This APIS/Duke/HGV work is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and it's driving major improvements to the EpiDoc Guidelines and software tools.

There's also an interesting, and rapidly growing, list of other EpiDoc projects.

Methodological approaches to Historical GIS

A session just announced for the 2008 meeting of the Association of American Geographers (April 15-19, 2008 in Boston):

The emergence of Historical GIS projects over the last decade has provided us with a variety of datasets and data models to use in our research. In some cases the HGIS projects are focused on providing a basic infrastructure for the historical geography of a particular region, in other cases the HGIS projects developed innovative tools for spatiotemporal analysis. This session will focus on practical approaches to Historical GIS with four case studies: first, how to develop applications for the study of change over time that makes use of existing Historical GIS data. Second, the representation of historical enumeration districts and how to use and interpret measures of spatial segregation. Third, the examination of cartographic uncertainty in georeferencing ancient maps. And fourth, an examination of the structural content of both Print Historical Atlases and Historical GIS.
You can also read the full panel description for Methodological approaches to Historical GIS, complete with individual paper abstracts.

The Mark Twain Project

I'll point in admiration at the Mark Twain Project, released in beta today. I stumbled across this little quote from a letter of October 1865, in a mere 10 minutes of browsing:

P. S. You had better shove this in the stove—for if we strike a bargain I don’t want any absurd “literary remains” & “unpublished letters of Mark Twain” published after I am planted.

Oh, well.

The least interesting thing

I always find that it's the most provocative assertions of others that help me get started writing something. Take, for example, this proposition from John Unsworth's oft-cited paper "Scholarly Primitives: what methods do humanities researchers have in common, and how might our tools reflect this?":

the most interesting things that you can do with standalone tools and standalone resources is less interesting and less important than the least interesting thing you can do with networked tools and networked resources

Citations =? links

I've been thinking a lot about scholarly citation and hyperlinking lately. I've been struggling to test mentally the degree to which the latter can support what I see as the distinct functions of the former:

  • attribution of argument or idea
  • source of fact or quotation
  • pointer to further information not directly germane to the issue at hand
  • disambiguation
  • classification
I'd be grateful for suggested additions to, and refinements of, the list of functions. It would also be helpful to learn of any literature on the subject.

Of course the goal is "computationally actionable citation."

Plone R-Tree Spatial Index

It's especially gratifying to be part of a humanities computing project that is doing more than just helping out the humanities. We're actually succeeding -- through collaboration with others and careful decisions about what to invent and when -- in identifying areas where we can contribute software that helps both humanistic and extra-humanistic endeavors alike.

Case in point: Sean's work with others across the Plone and geo-python spectrum to produce a spatial index for Plone. This mechanism takes spatial content in Plone (like that in our Pleiades site) and does some pre-processing to set up a data structure that's optimized for doing geographical search. This version focuses on the ability to find a subset of spatially referenced Plone content that intersects with a bounding box (a rectangle on the earth's surface).

The test results Sean showed me yesterday were impressive. As compared with a brute-force, live intersection query of our existing Pleiades data, the spatial index did the job more quickly ... by 4 orders of magnitude (brute force took about 12 seconds; index-aided less than 0.1 second).

We're continuing testing and development toward upgrades that will allow Pleiades users to exploit this new code as they try to find items of interest on our site. Stay tuned for the rollout!

Sean's participation in this work was funded by our grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Publication and Study of Inscriptions in the Age of the Computer

And here's another call for papers, this one for a panel co-organized by Paul Iversen and myself for the ASGLE Panel at the 2009 (sic) APA/AIA meeting in Philadelphia (8-11 January 2009):

The computer age has unleashed powerful new technologies that enhance the study of Greek and Latin inscriptions, yet most scholars, academic institutions and publishing houses are still not comfortable with the idea of publishing inscriptions in a form that takes full advantage of the new possibilities. The Society, therefore, welcomes papers that discuss current or possible future computer-enhanced initiatives in the areas of Greek and Latin Epigraphy. We are particularly interested in papers that discuss theoretical applications of new technologies to the field of epigraphy and the formulation of international standards and protocols of publication and institutional credit, especially digital projects that go well beyond the mere encoding of the appearance of epigraphical sigla and indicia (which is akin to putting old wine into new wineskins) to include the encoding of semantic and/or observational distinctions.

Abstracts will be adjudicated anonymously by a committee of ASGLE and should not be longer than one page. Please follow the instructions for the format of individual abstracts that will appear in the October issue of the APA Newsletter. Abstracts should be sent to: Paul A. Iversen, ASGLE Secretary-Treasurer, Department of Classics, Case Western Reserve University, 11201 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106-7111 or paul.iversen (at) cwru.edu. The deadline is February 1, 2008.