Epigraphy and the Information Technology Revolution

Prof. S. Panciera (Rome) in his introductory remarks expresses his willingness and enthusiasm in embracing the IT Revolution and applying it to the study of inscriptions. At the same time, however, he shows frustration and disappointment for the slowness with which the work proceeds and for the lack of agreement in aims and methods to follow. In fact, while it is appreciable that there are many individual projects, it is nonetheless essential to work in collaboration with each other. Standardisation is needed!

Elaine Matthews (Oxford) in her paper reproduces a general tracing of the development of IT in many of its applications and explains the introduction of it in epigraphy. The IT revolution is nothing new; it is at least sixty years old and classicists’ use of it has a history of some forty years. Individual projects are a reliable testimony of certain activity in the field. Some early projects are mentioned, such as the David W. Packard’s 1968 Concordance to Livy and the TLG online. More recent exploitations of technology applied for in the Classical world include EpiDoc and LGPN. At the end of her reconstruction of the history of the IT Revolution, E. Matthews stresses the importance of IT in the future of epigraphy. This, she explains, does not mean that every single epigrapher has to have technical knowledge, but it does mean that someone must engage with the technology!

John Bodel (Brown University) is the second and last speaker of this plenary session. In tune with Prof. Panciera and Elaine Matthews, he emphasises the importance of embracing the IT Revolution in the study of inscriptions. It is not a matter of it being necessary or worth it but inevitable! The IT Revolution has indeed already touched the world of epigraphy. A pioneer in digital epigraphy was D. Packard (Concordance to Livy, 1968). Packard’s mark-up system, known as Beta Code, was then adopted by the TLG in 1981 and quickly established itself as the standard means of encoding polytonic Greek. These early initiatives were important for raising general awareness of the potentials of computers. J. Bodel defines our days as “the age of digital epigraphy”. There have been many important advances in digital epigraphy during the last decade that can lead us towards a more optimistic vision of the future. Three broad areas have been particularly touched: 1) Databases. – EAGLE (Collaboration among three projects: Heidelberg, Rome, Bari). The federation is open and recently a fourth initiative has been welcomed into the community, namely HISPANIA EPIGRAPHICA ONLINE. 2) Images. The use of technology can provide high quality at relatively low cost images. – X ray fluorescence imaging. – Polynomial texture mapping. – GRAVA. 3) Editing. – EpiDoc. Two pilot projects are “The Vindolanda Tablets online” and “Inscriptions of Aphrodisias”. Recently the EpiDoc system has been adopted in papyrology and numismatics as well. We now have all the tools we need to perform efficiently and the potential benefits to epigraphers of the new information technology are widely recognised!

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One Response to Epigraphy and the Information Technology Revolution

  1. Thanks for this useful summary of the IT plenary session.

    One thing that struck me in particular about Elaine’s useful talk was her summary of the history of LGPN, in which she identified two phases: (1) the “inward phase”, in which technology, conventions, and so forth were designed and built in-house, with the only goal that of taking forward and publishing the project data; (2) the “outward phase” with more focus on the use of interoperability and international standards, the need for their data to “make sense to the rest of the world”. So for example the use of TEI XML as a data format makes the database compatible with many digital humanities projects in our field and beyond. Equally, while LGPN can consider themselves an authority on Greek names, they are not an authority on places, and so look to a project like Pleiades for guidance on geographical matters.

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