Digital Projects (ISAW Newsletter January 2008)

Since the ISAW Newsletter is only available online as a monolithic PDF, I thought I'd make the text of my contribution (about our "digital programs") available here in HTML form:

ISAW’s digital programs are fundamental to the Institute’s mission. Convinced that the transformation of the media and information landscape now underway offers scholars unparalleled opportunities to make new discoveries, collaborate with distant colleagues, engage public interests, and tackle previously intractable problems, we have committed ourselves to an ambitious slate of digital initiatives that extend far beyond the walls of the Institute. As the examples below illustrate, we emphasize the creation and delivery of core resources such as primary and secondary texts and images, as well as geographic and archaeological reference information. We seek to serve the entire field of ancient studies by working for the durability of digital publications–and the sustainability of the projects that create and maintain them–through promotion of standards, creation of reusable free software, use of open-access licenses, and decentralization of authorial, editorial, and peer-review activities.

In early 2008, ISAW became a partner in the Pleiades Project. Together with the Ancient World Mapping Center (AWMC), we are digitizing the most comprehensive register of geographical data for the ancient Greek and Roman world, collected by the American Philological Association’s Classical Atlas Project to support the preparation of the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World (R. Talbert, ed., Princeton 2000). All of the coordinates, historical names, and other information in this rich collection are being placed online so scholars, students, and enthusiasts worldwide can browse, search, and map it, as well as offer suggestions for updates and additions. The Pleiades effort has recently expanded with funding from a Transatlantic Digitization Grant, awarded to ISAW and King’s College London, by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the U.K. Joint Information Systems Committee. It supports the prototyping of mechanisms to tie Pleiades into important digital collections of epigraphic and papyrological texts from Egypt and coastal North Africa (see further: the Concordia Project and the Graph of Ancient World Data group). This effort will lay the foundation for extensive, automated cross-linking between Pleiades and other web-based scholarly resources for the entire Greek and Roman world. We are currently seeking funding for a second, two-year development period for Pleiades/Concordia that will accelerate the digitization of content and bring users together for a series of workshops to identify needed improvements to the system and to facilitate more effective collaboration.

Over the past year ISAW has also assumed a leadership role in a group of interrelated digital papyrology projects (see One of these, funded by a grant to Duke University from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has successfully upgraded and effectively integrated two of the key digital resources for study of ancient documents on papyrus: the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri (DDbDP) and the Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis der griechischen Papyrusurkunden Ägyptens (HGV). Both resources will soon be provided to users via a search and display environment prototyped by the digital libraries team at Columbia University. This system, dubbed the Papyrological Navigator, combines DDbDP and HGV content with images and database records drawn from the 22 museum and university papyrus collections that constitute the Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS). It also links them to the extensive Trismegistos databases in Leuven. Under new funding provided to APIS by the NEH, work on this interface will move to the Digital Libraries team at NYU where, with collaboration from ISAW and APIS team members at Columbia, it will see extensive improvements. ISAW is currently working with partners to secure funding for a second major upgrade to the DDbDP and HGV: a collaborative, online editing environment that will speed the addition and revision of content by granting papyrologists worldwide direct authorial capabilities under a distributed system of editorial oversight.

A number of other exciting projects are in work for 2009 and beyond. We hope to expand the utility of Pleiades by linking it to a number of other systems and digital gazetteers under development at a variety of institutions around the world. Plans are being formulated for a collaborative digital encyclopedia of Coptic archaeology, an extensive database of digital images, an online calendar of museum exhibitions, a major book and journal digitization program, and a multi-institutional publication series comprising open-access primary texts and research data.