Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ancient Papyrus Documents to be Available Online

A Duke University-led research team will use an $814,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop collaborative online editing tools for ancient documents preserved on papyrus.

The new electronic editing environment, when completed, will enable scholars –- regardless of their location -- to research, retrieve and display ancient texts, supplementary data and digital images of papyri.

The research team is led by Duke professor Joshua Sosin and university librarian Deborah Jakubs.

Sosin, associate professor of classical studies and history, co-directs the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri, an online repository of ancient Greek and Latin documents preserved on papyrus, pottery and wood. The collection contains more than 50,000 published texts that can be searched electronically through the Papyrological Navigator (PN), a new interface that merges data from different scholarly projects to allow simultaneous searching of texts, translations and images. The PN, whose development was also funded by Mellon, is online at http://papyri.info.

The Mellon grant will support the integration of the Duke Databank with collections at Columbia University and the University of Heidelberg, Germany. The integration will allow researchers to search, retrieve and display Greek texts, supplementary metadata and digital images of the papyri themselves. The Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments at the University of Kentucky will be building the distributed editing system and New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World is supporting technological developments to the PN interface.

“This is yet another significant vote of confidence in the cutting-edge research of individual Duke faculty,” said Gregson Davis, Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in Classical Studies and dean of the humanities at Duke. “Classics departments are, and have been from the beginning, leaders in harnessing new information technology instruments and resources to the study of the past.”

Sosin said the collaborative editing environment will “vest responsibility for maintenance of core disciplinary data in the wider scholarly community, rather than a small and exclusive group of editors.

“It will also be the first step toward building a future in which scholarship in this important subfield of Classical Studies takes place entirely online,” he said. “The project’s environment should be deployable in a variety of other fields: from Latin epigraphy, or Greek, or Chinese, to manuscript studies, to numismatics, to bibliographical controls, to any domain of textual data over which a community would exert collaborative and transparent scholarly control.”

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