Monthly Archives: August 2013

Photographing the Squeeze Collection

We had the opportunity recently to watch the process of photographing a squeeze.

Digital Initiatives has a number of projects under way at any given time, so we were lucky that Chris was able to fit in photography of some squeezes over the summer. He has photographed about 30 – 40 squeezes which we hope will go live on the Digital Initiatives website in early September.

The process is fairly simple. Using a Sinar camera the squeeze is laid on a vacuum table about 6′ by 4′. The vacuum table is useful for their standard projects with 2D images, but because they don’t want to flatten the inscription on the squeeze, it isn’t used for our project.


Some of the squeezes are quite large and were folded in the drawers for years, so they have to be spread out and weighted down on the corners to allow the folds to relax so there is no shadow on the print. Even this does not always relax the paper enough for a clear photo; the squeeze can be weighted down on the vacuum table and positioned sideways to minimize the shadow in the folds. It is a time-consuming process to lay out all the squeezes, give them time to relax and find the optimum layout so the entire inscription is clear in the photograph. It can take 1.5 – 2 hours to photograph a single inscription; many of them are from fragments of stone so there are multiple squeezes to most of the inscriptions.


Once the squeeze is placed on the table, Chris is able to adjust the height and focus of the camera. The camera image is live on a computer screen beside the table so he can see exactly what the photo will look like and make adjustments accordingly.  In addition to the squeeze, Chris includes a grey scale gradient and a ruler – both for scale and for ease of identifying whether or not the image has been flipped. Flipping the image is one benefit of having a digital image that can be easily manipulated; in this case it means we can read the inscriptions from left to right instead of attempting to read the Greek script backwards without any word breaks or punctuation. Trained epigraphists are used to reading this way, but for most of us it is a hurdle we are happy to avoid.

The photography set up has a light array on either side. Generally photos are taken with both light arrays lit, but for the squeezes photos are lit from one side to maximize the shadow on the page. The photos are 6000 x 4000 pixels which allows the viewer to zoom in and examine the text in minute detail.

DI lights

Once  Chris is satisfied with the set up he will take 4 photos, each shifted by 1 pixel and with a different exposure. Once those 4 images are opened in Photoshop, as long as there are no major discrepancies between them, they can be merged automatically. Merging multiple images brings out the shadows and makes the inscription clearer. In some cases, especially where a squeeze is too large to be photographed in a single shot, the photos may need to be merged manually. Chris works directly with the RAW files because the wider dynamic range provides a better exposure value.

Live image cropped

Some adjustments have to be made depending on the state of the squeeze – some papers photograph with a yellow, pink or green tinge, and some are slightly water damaged. At this point, Chris removes the black background of the vacuum table and replaces it with a light neutral grey, so not to distract from the squeeze, and adds a drop shadow so the edges are clear.

Photoshop DI

Once satisfied with the final adjustments, the file is converted to a TIFF file that users will be able to download from the website to be used for research anywhere in the world. TIFF files are smaller and more manageable than RAW files, but still provide  an amount of detail which allows very precise study of the inscription.

Thanks to our partnership with Digital Initiatives and Chris Pugh’s hard work over the summer, we have about 10% of our collection ready for study. Over the coming school year we will be fundraising and applying for grants to fund the digitization of the rest of the collection.


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Filed under Digital Classics, Epigraphy, Greek Inscriptions, Squeeze, Squeeze Collection

My Interview with Andrei


Andrei Mihailiuk is a 2nd year MA student at UBC and for his digital humanities project this spring, he created an interactive map of the theorized routes of the Roman Triumphal Procession. Take it away, Andrei.


As always, let’s start with a brief description of your project.

My project is a database-in-progress recording the ancient literary references, archaeological traces and modern scholarly reconstructions of the Roman triumphal procession. The website takes the form of an interactive map of ancient Rome, derived from Platner and Ashby’s now-public domain Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (1929), which allows users to compare the evidence with the various reconstructions.


What lead you to this particular topic? Did you have a prior interest in the subject or did you choose the topic based on what could best be presented digitally?

I knew from the get-go that I wanted to create some sort of digital map for my project.  As for the subject, I was initially attracted to the Roman triumph after reading Diane Favro’s fantastic article “The Street Triumphant”, which discusses the ways in which wealthy Roman patrons implicated themselves with Rome’s military narrative through their building projects along the triumphal route. One problem, alluded to in the article, is that the route of the procession is hazy, broken and contested.

What resources did you use? Did you have prior knowledge of these resources?

In the end, I used the site hosting server Wix, and an interactive mapping program called MapsAlive. While I had some rudimentary previous experience with site hosting servers using WordPress, I had never used either of these programs before.

What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

Perhaps the most challenging part of the project was cementing what exactly I wanted to do, and finding the corresponding toolset through which to accomplish it. My initial plans for the project were far more abstract, and were something to the effect of creating a map that conveyed the geographical and chronological expanse that the Roman triumphal procession condensed and narrativized in its route. This required a toolset that would allow not just hotspots with popup information, but the ability to zoom out and in over incredible resolutions. Simply put, such a program did not exist in my budget range. As my goals became far more modest – and arguably more fruitful – I finally came upon a program that could display exactly the information I wanted to display. The limitations of your presentation medium in effect become the limitations of your project.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of the project?

There is no greater joy in learning how a new toy works and taking the first steps to make it bend to your will. Coding JavaScript for MapsAlive was a unique kind of high, at least after the initial few hours of confusion and frustration.

Would you undertake a similar project again, now that you are familiar with the process?

Now that I have a basic knowledge of coding, and a deep understanding of this particular mapping program, I would absolutely undertake similar mapping projects, though perhaps with different research goals – just to see what other data can be effectively displayed in this medium.

Do you intent to maintain the site you created, or add content in the future?

I most certainly intend to maintain my website, and have even taken steps towards communicating with other scholars who have done work on the triumphal procession. Currently I feel that the archaeological aspects of this topic are underrepresented, and so I want more input from Roman urban archaeologists in particular.


Do you think this project was an effective way to study/teach about your topic?

Given that the top-down perspective of visualizing space has been favoured by humankind for thousands of years, I am confident that my two-dimensional map is an effective first step in highlighting some of scholarly problems surrounding the triumphal route. The ability to see how scant the evidence of the route is in direct comparison with the leaps in logic that scholars take in order to fill in the gaps, I feel, should incite a more careful and critical look at how we reconstruct the past, and should even bring the most fruitful methodologies to light.

Any final thoughts or comments?

Woo questionnaires!

Just for fun:

What is your favorite word?


What is your least favorite word?


What turns you on?

Certain eye movements

What turns you off?

Feet, in all forms

What sound or noise do you love?

That stock foley sound of someone typing on a computer keyboard

What sound or noise do you hate?

Squeaky brakes

What is your favorite curse word?

A close tie between fucknuggets and fuckdoodles

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Foley artist; session musician; career fop

What profession would you not like to do?

Surgeon; real estate agent; chartered accountant; any desk job

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

So…what’d you think?

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Mondays are hard.

Ease yourself into the week by checking out some of the more amusing classics and archaeology related sites around the internet. Try to get some work done after lunch.

Reddit has some excellent archaeology threads; my favourite is the conversation about archaeology and “alternative theories”, i.e. any of the nonsense you come across on The “History” Channel. Be careful out there – once you go down the reddit rabbithole, it is very hard to climb out.


Stuck at home for the summer while all your friends are working on an amazing dig? Archaeology TV’s youtube channel will let you tour archaeological sites around the world.


what should we call me classics 

When people don’t like to label different kinds of ablatives and datives

& there’s more:

what should we call me grad school

what should we call me egyptology

& for anyone thinking of joining us at the beautiful UBC campus, check out

what should we call me ubc 

The first thing you buy when you arrive at UBC Vancouver.

Check back tomorrow when we’ll have an interview with UBC’s Andrei Mihailiuk and he’ll tell us all about the challenges of digitally mapping the Roman Triumph.

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Get Your Freak On with Chelsea Gardner

Spectacular Antiquity screenshot 1

This is our second interview with one of the graduate students involved in Prof. Siobhán McElduff’s class on Roman Spectacle. Chelsea is  a third-year Ph.D. student in Classical Archaeology at UBC, and is actually responsible for getting the ball rolling on our current efforts to digitize the artifact and squeeze collections  in the Department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies.

Chelsea Gardner

For her project she created a website, Spectacular Antiquity, to look at how the human body was used “as a spectacle in and of itself and the psychological aspects involved in exploiting individual persons for visual display.”

Spectacular Antiquity screenshot 4

First, can you give a brief description of your project?

My project looked at the exploitation of human beings in antiquity, specifically people who were put on a form of display solely on the basis of their physical anomalies. Basically, I was exploring the idea of an ancient freak show: how, why, and in what circumstances ancient Romans stared at and reacted to the unusual, the deformed, the ‘other’. The questions I was interested in were: how were individual persons made into spectacles, and what is the psychological motivation for visually exploiting a fellow human being on the basis of physical deformity? I applied these questions to the Roman world and used evidence from ancient literature and modern psychological studies. My results were presented in the form of a website – an easily replicable, open-access format available to anyone interested in the topic!

Did you have a prior interest in the subject or did you choose the topic based on what could best be presented digitally?

I had my topic in mind before I chose a digital means for the presentation of the research: I read a passage from Lucian’s ‘Literary Prometheus’ in which a man and a camel are put on display in front of a crowd of people in a theatre because of their unusual appearances; the audience reacts with horror and the spectacle is a complete failure. This passage provided the impetus to research the notion of ‘freaks’ in antiquity…that, and the fact that I’ve had a slight fascination/obsession with sideshows and all things circus-related since I was little kid. I mean…who doesn’t love a good freak show?

What resources did you use? Did you have prior knowledge of these resources?

Having just admitted inclination towards freak-shows, I (not-surprisingly) knew where to find a good amount of material related to the early modern sideshow. And, like so many other starry-eyed teenagers, I began my academic career as a psychology major, so I knew exactly where to look for recent studies on the topic of psychological motivation. The ancient Latin sources proved a bit more challenging, as I am staunchly a Greek archaeologist, but I had lots of helpful advice and direction finding relevant sources to analyze.

What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

Definitely deciding how to present this very traditional academic research in a way that was visually appealing and accessible to a wide audience. I still have very little concept of whether I was successful in this aspect, but I like to think that the website isn’t a terrible eyesore and is somewhat fun to click around!

What was the most enjoyable aspect of the project?

Is it cliché to say that the most challenging aspect was also the most enjoyable? Because I was dealing with literary sources, I had a serious lack of visual resources to use on the website – as someone who deals primarily with material culture elsewhere in my research, this was an unfamiliar problem for me to have to face. One of the best parts of this project for me was sifting through open-access images and selecting the most appropriate photos and drawings to illustrate various aspects of the research. I even went so far as to contact a friend of mine who is an artist and commissioned drawings of some of the ‘freaks’ described in the literature – the piebald man, the ostrich-headed man, and one of the unfortunate prisoners from the monster-market. Visualizing these images and then having them become reality was an awesome and extremely satisfying experience.


Commissioned artwork

Would you undertake a similar project again, now that you are familiar with the process?

Unless I find a topic that would, indisputably, ideally be presented in this format, I think my answer would have to be probably not – the reason isn’t because the project was unfulfilling or unsuccessful (at least, I hope it was successful!), but because I think that creating this website as a digital venue for presenting information will function as a stepping stone for me into the larger world of the Digital Humanities. I loved this project, but now that it is complete it’s time for me to move on, to keep pushing myself to confront new challenges and to learn new skills. I look at the creation of this website as a baby step over the threshold of digital information sharing and am eager to see what lies ahead.

Do you intent to maintain the site you created, or add content in the future?

Absolutely. I feel strongly about the responsibility we all have to our digital projects – far too often websites and other digital media are created and subsequently neglected, resulting in irrelevant and out-of-date information that is still very much in existence on the web. I created this website so that it would require minimal maintenance, but I plan to add information and links to it as appropriate. I am very aware that this website will be attached to my name for as long as it exists on the internet, and therefore I have a vested interest and responsibility not only to maintain it, but to ensure that it remains something that I am proud of!

Do you think this project was an effective way to study/teach about your topic?

I hope so! The primary motivating goal of this project was to create something that would be accessible to everyone who might be interested, rather than restricting academic research to an academic audience. I was also focused on encouraging others to brave the world of Digital Humanities and as part of the website I included a How-To Guide, so that anyone interested in replicating the presentation of my website would be able to do so in its entirety. The acquisition of knowledge shouldn’t be competitive – through honest information sharing we do not put ourselves at a disadvantage, but we create invaluable networks and make ourselves open to infinite possibilities.

Any final thoughts or comments?

I love quotes so much (almost as much as freak shows and the circus!) that I’ll end with a quote pulled from a study on why the human brain becomes fixated on things that are ‘different’ – it just so happens to double as what I think is perfect advice to anyone hesitant to try something new:

“You may not always like novelty, but your brain does.” – G. Berns, 2006


What is your favorite word? Conglomerate. Just say it, it’s the best.

What is your least favorite word? Let’s just say it is NOT appropriate to type here…so my least favourite ‘PC’ word would have to be ‘nice’. Or ‘interesting’. My fourth-grade teacher Mr. Lyons once taught me that only lazy people use the descriptors ‘nice’ and ‘interesting’. I hope I’m never described as either.

What turns you on? The Ocean. Water. Novelty. Adventure. Singing. Dancing. Being Outside. Everything?

What turns you off? Monotony.

What sound or noise do you love? The ocean! Double points for using this answer twice?

What sound or noise do you hate? Any two sounds at once. Wait, that makes me sound crazy! Two different music sources playing at the same time.

What is your favorite curse word? Can I type this? Fuck, of course I can!

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Movie star. I’d be such a good famous person. But, realistically, I probably should have been a lawyer.

What profession would you not like to do? Anything in a cubicle without a window.

And finally, 

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