Category Archives: Greek Inscriptions

Finding the Answers in the Squeezes: When We Discovered that Graduate Students Haven’t Changed in 80 years

B1TwJrNCEAAUlhh.jpg-largeWe have a very extensive squeeze collection here at From Stone to Screen.  1051 squeezes, to be exact – although about 200-300 of them are duplicates.  The point of this entire project has been to digitize the squeezes, which we have diligently been doing, and to put them up on an online database.  This hits a snag sometimes when we can’t identify where exactly the squeeze is from.  Such as last Friday when Lisa came across this gorgeous squeeze while she was working at the Digital Initiatives lab.

Normally, we identify our squeezes by an index that was written up by Professor Nigel Kennell in the ’70s or by the handwritten notes by Professor McGregor that has the IG (Inscriptiones Graecae) number or the EM (Epigraphic Museum) number somewhere on the squeeze.  With the delicate state of some of our squeezes, we are very grateful for these references.  When Lisa couldn’t identify this stunning squeeze, though, she decided to try and take it to social media.  She sent out a tweet on Friday afternoon calling all Greek epigraphists to help identify the squeeze which was quickly retweeted around the small but active epigraphic community.

Monday morning we tweeted out the image again hoping to catch some more scholars who hadn’t seen it before the weekend (because, in all honesty, it was late Friday afternoon).  Within a couple of hours we had a very helpful reply that identified the squeeze as a stelae from Aixone.

Comparing our squeeze (right) to an image of the inscription on the stelae (left)

Comparing our squeeze (right) to an image of the inscription on the stelae (left).

Lisa compared the two images and agreed- they’re a match!  We’re thrilled to have an answer to our mystery so quickly, through the wonders of the internet.  This is one of the first times that we have gone to the public like this for help and it was fun to see how many people were thinking about the squeeze, proof that what we’re working towards will be used by other scholars in our field.

We are also deeply amused by how much simpler this process was than the debates that took place in the 1930s.  One of our favourite parts of our squeeze collection is actually a letter between ‘Mac’ (Malcolm McGregor) and ‘Gene’ (Eugene Schweigert) from 1935 arguing over certain transliterations from a fragment of the Athenian Tribute Lists.  Considering Mac was at the University of Cincinnati and Gene was at Johns Hopkins, the debates must have taken quite a while to come to a resolution.  With how difficult squeezes are to read, it’s understandable that there was a lot to discuss.  Plus, if you’ve read our previous posts about the process of digitizing squeezes, you know that one advantage to our new images of them is that epigraphists no longer needs to be able to read Greek backwards.  Don’t forget, too, that epigraphic Greek was written in all capitals with no spaces or punctuation, it’s no surprise that sometimes the arguments came down to a single letter.  Which was backwards.  Today’s accessibility to images enables us to quickly compare images instead of relying on other peoples’ squeezes and readings of the inscriptions.

Beyond that, this letter also gives us an amazing insight into a man who is a legend in our department and a key player in the research on the Tribute Lists.  When this letter was written he would have been finishing up his doctorate at the University of Cincinnati and only 25, around the same age as most of us who are working on this project.  The two men are obviously friends and Gene begins the letter with “Short but violent spell of nostalgia now over.  Its reoccurrence after some… puzzled famous Johns Hopkins physicians.  Nature finally performed her cure.”  Then he goes on to refute some of Mac’s theories and cheekily writes in the middle “Don’t worry about ἐξ ἀπογραφῆς or ἐδήμευΓαν etc. Your guess is just as likely.”   Whether or not Mac was reassured that his guess was just as likely we’ll never know, but this conversation is reminiscent of ones heard around our department all the time.

This letter was written four years before the first volume on the Athenian Tribute List was published by McGregor, Merritt and Wade-Gery.  Both men are mentioned in the letter and at the end Gene says that he wishes he could spend more time with Mac and West.  Allen Brown West, though, died in a car accident in 1936 and the first volume was dedicated to his memory.  The forward in the volume makes it quite clear that his work was invaluable to their research and that his friends missed him very much.  Reading the letter, it’s not hard to see the similarities between these men who were at the beginning of their academic career 80 years ago and those of use who are working on this project today.  It’s comforting, and entertaining, to see that they had to adapt to having long distance friends (which anyone in academia can tell you is a occupational hazard).  In our department, working on a project at this magnitude is only possible because we rely on each as friends as well as colleagues, and it was nowhere near the scale as the ATLs.  Who knows?  It could always keep growing.

The question is, are our letters to each other just as entertaining at the one below?  I think you’ll have to wait 80 years and accidentally find a copy of our e-mails in a drawer to find out.  Until then, here is the sign-off from Gene’s letter.

I often think if I possessed Aladdin’s lamp I would wear it out wishing that I could transport you and West here.  Merritt would like that, too.  He said he would like a month’s session of pow-wow with West… Merritt is a jolly fellow.  You should have been here this afternoon when he brought me – well, I haven’t enough room. Another time.

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 1

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 1

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 2

Letter from Gene to Mac, pg. 2


If you would like to read more about the adventures of Mac, Gene, West, Merritt and Wade-Gery, the forward of the first volume of the Athenian Tribute List has some more details on their journey to publish the ATLS.

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

Keep Thinking Forward: EAGLE Conference 2014

If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you may have heard that we were presenting a poster at the International Conference on Information Technologies for Epigraphy and Digital Cultural Heritage in the Ancient World in Paris at the end of September. I can’t think of a conference more tailored to our specific project aims, and we were thrilled both with the chance to present our work to the epigraphic community and to be able to travel to Paris for a week.

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The conference was organized by the Europeana Eagle Project and hosted by the École Normale Supérieure and the Collège de France Chaire Religion, institutions et société de la Rome antique.

EAGLE, The Europeana network of Ancient Greek and Latin Epigraphy is a best-practice network co-funded by the European Commission, under its Information and Communication Technologies Policy Support Programme. EAGLE will provide a single user-friendly portal to the inscriptions of the Ancient World, a massive resource for both the curious and for the scholarly.

It was, in the words of keynote speaker Tom Elliott, an opportunity to “bring together people with unknown projects for collaboration and exchange” but also a chance to “recognize the valuable traits we all share; respect for the past and inquisitiveness” as we work on the “resurrection and reintegration of ancient texts into active memory”. There were some incredibly exciting projects shared over the three day conference, many of which I will share in subsequent posts, but for now I’d like to try to impart a little of the excitement Dr. Elliott started us off with.

If the name is not familiar, Dr. Elliott is the Associate Director for Digital Programs and Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. He began his adventures in digital epigraphy in 1995 at UNC Chapel Hill in North Carolina as a graduate student digitizing 35mm slides, a project which quickly evolved into EpiDoc.

epidoc

EpiDoc is an international, collaborative effort that provides guidelines and tools for encoding scholarly and educational editions of ancient documents. It uses a subset of the Text Encoding Initiative‘s standard for the representation of texts in digital form and was developed initially for the publication of digital editions of ancient inscriptions (e.g. Inscriptions of Aphrodisias, Vindolanda Tablets). Its domain has expanded to include the publication of papyri and manuscripts (e.g. Papyri.info). It addresses not only the transcription and editorial treatment of texts themselves, but also the history and materiality of the objects on which the texts appear (i.e., manuscripts, monuments, tablets, papyri, and other text-bearing objects).

We have to remember that it is impossible to become an expert in all fields; few historians, archaeologists or epigraphists graduate from their program of study having also obtained a computer programming degree. At times, it seems the humanities field is destined to always lag behind in terms of technological advancement. The EAGLE Conference, however, quickly put this false idea to rest. As digital media becomes more and more integrated in our daily lives, more and more are we able to pick up the basics and begin the process of digital cultural heritage management, which is going to be vital to the long term preservation of our shared history. Part of this success is due to the technological community’s commitment to open access software and generosity in creating tutorials, sharing information and trying to create a level playing field. One of the most inspiring things that came out of the EAGLE conference was the almost unanimous commitment from all scholars to openly share their methods and results. The greatest thing the internet can provide is the democratization of education and it is thrilling to know that our project can play a small role in bringing information out of the locked storerooms of academia.

Our poster detailing our digitization process

Our poster detailing our digitization process

Dr. Elliott’s speech encouraged us all to “keep thinking forward; plenty remains to be done,” and reminded us that we are “the antidote to the destruction of cultural heritage”. Put that way poking around old storerooms, writing funding grants and toiling away teaching ourselves coding seems much more exciting.


Lisa Tweten

 

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Filed under Digital Classics, Digital Cultural Heritage, Epigraphy, Greek Inscriptions

Digitizing Squeezes for All to See – Presenting for the AIA in Vancouver, BC

Haley (left) and Heather (right) compare a squeeze to the epigraphic chart.

Haley (left) and Heather (right) compare a squeeze to the epigraphic chart.

If you are passionate about Classics and the ancient world in Vancouver, British Columbia, you might find yourself at the University of British Columbia once a month attending a lecture hosted by the local branch of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA).  This week, From Stone to Screen had the amazing opportunity to present at one of these public lectures.  This was unprecedented – no graduate student had spoken at a Vancouver AIA talk in over six years.  Two of our own, Haley Bertram and Heather Odell, were asked to present on the project and its goals.  And so, after weeks of preparing, they found themselves at the front of a classroom in Buchanan building presenting the project to the Vancouver community for the first time.

The room was full; whether or not that relieved any of the pressure is difficult to say.  We were excited to see that that so many people not directly involved with the department were interested in the project— something we hadn’t been able to gauge before—but this also meant that Haley and Heather also had a bigger audience than they expected to speak in front of.  For someone who fears public speaking, having a packed room can be almost terrifying.

These two budding academics, though, kept it cool and pulled strength from each other.  “It’s like having a built-in person who has to listen to your ideas,” Haley joked.

Haley (left) and Heather (right) joke while working on the lecture.

Haley (left) and Heather (right) joke while working on the lecture.

While the two agreed that it may have been less efficient to work with another person, having the support and sharing the workload made the entire process easier.  They split the workload evenly between themselves and also decided to hand off different sections to one another during the talk.

Ultimately, they appreciated that the audience was composed of members of the public.  Until now, while From Stone to Screen has had several opportunities to write about the project, the presentation opportunities have been limited to department seminars, undergraduate classes and the UBC CNERS Graduate Conference this past May.  Haley and Heather were approached by several people in the audience after the talk who were interested in the new digitization methods and who wanted to speak about the uses for the new databases.  Having the feedback made all of the stress worth it in the end.

Heather Odell (left) and Haley Bertram (right) triumphant after their AIA talk last Tuesday.

Heather Odell (left) and Haley Bertram (right) triumphant after their AIA talk last Tuesday.

Despite the fact that they have both presented on From Stone to Screen before, Haley and Heather wanted to expand on the previous talks.  The work with Digital Initiatives this summer has catapulted the project forward significantly and they had a score of new images and techniques that they were able to share.  Working on a lecture that had already been presented several times, though, was more difficult than they had anticipated, especially since the first full-length version of it had been written by several of the graduate students involved in the project last year.  Writing this lecture, though, gave them the opportunity to gain new appreciation for the project and what it can do not only for the CNRS department but also others in the field.  Haley equated it to forgetting the thrill of finding artifacts on your first ever dig.  “You forget how super exciting that is… It’s cool to everyone else who hasn’t encountered it,” she mused, “you’ve just acclimated to it.”  Heather, who has worked on the project since its inception, agreed.  Talking to the audience members gave it new light again.  “You get a chance to step back and remember that what you’re doing is cool,” she added.

When I asked them if they felt the pressure of speaking to members of the public instead of members of the CNRS department, Heather said that it wasn’t so much the pressure to speak in front of strangers but the new information they needed to discuss.  So much has happened since the last talk in May that a large amount of it was still unfamiliar to them.  For the first time, the theme changed from ‘this is what we’re planning to do’ to ‘this is what we have done.’  Haley, on the other hand, was more concerned with the pressure of speaking at the AIA.  “Generally the people presenting are very respected in the field, they’re visiting scholars,” she explained.  The project is a collective work which helped, but there was still the pressure of presenting graduate-level work.

Members of the audience talk with the speakers about the squeezes following the talk.

Members of the audience talk with the speakers about the squeezes following the talk.

In the end, the talk ran a little over forty-five minutes (a relief to them both since they tend to speak rather quickly) and was hiccup-free.  Haley spoke about the background of the Athenian Tribute Lists and their importance to scholarship.  The high resolution images of our squeezes are allowing us to see details to the inscriptions that have never been seen before, and the timing of this with the reassembling of the original stone lists is perfect.  Ultimately our project wants to allow anyone to see copies of the inscriptions without needing to be in their physical presence, and having the information readily available to the public in an online database will help anyone wishing to work on the lists.  This is especially helpful since, by the very nature of how a squeeze is made, you have to read them backwards which adds more work to working on them.

Some of the artifacts from the Fuller collection were brought out for the audience to see, such as this Phoenician lamp.

Some of the artifacts from the Fuller collection were brought out for the audience to see, such as this Phoenician lamp.

In the end they were incredibly proud that the first talk of the season was on UBC work.  That and the interest at the end made them very proud of their talk – all of the feedback at the end reiterated that one of the project’s main goals, that is helping the public gain access to the artifact collection and the information on the squeezes, is something that is wanted.  The audience was enthusiastic about the information that can be gleaned from the squeezes and were even more thrilled at the chance to study the samples that Heather and Haley had brought with them to the talk.

Since our presentation to the Vancouver branch of the AIA, we have learned that our poster submission to the 2015 Annual Meeting has been accepted.  We are very excited to continue our AIA experience in New Orleans!

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Guest Post by Bram ten Berge: New Research on the Athenian Tribute Lists

From Stone to Screen’s latest blog post features a guest author, Bram ten Berge, writing on the ATL’s from Athens, Greece. Enjoy!

 

Hello all,

My name is Bram ten Berge. I’m a PhD candidate in the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Michigan, and am currently living in Athens as a regular member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). In this short blog I would like to share with you some of the new developments in the scholarship on the Athenian Tribute Lists about which I learned in a recent tour in the Epigraphical Museum; this new research shows that the digitization project at UBC coincides with an exciting time for Greek epigraphy.

Reading inscription

Bram investigating an inscription at the Epigraphy Museum, Athens

 

First some background information. The ‘Athenian Tribute Lists’ (ATLs) are inscriptions that record tribute payments made annually by Athens’ allies – the members of the Delian League – after 454 BC, when the League Treasury was moved to Athens from the island of Delos. What these inscriptions record are not the actual tribute lists (of which not a single fragment survives today), but rather a 1/60th part of each ally’s total assessed tribute, which was dedicated to the goddess Athena as ‘first-fruits’ (aparchai). These amounts are commonly referred to as the ‘tribute quota’ and the inscriptions that record them as the ‘tribute quota lists’. These amounts were annually inscribed on stone slabs (stelai), some of which have survived from antiquity. For the first fifteen years, from 454/3 to 440/39 BC, the tribute quota lists were inscribed on the four sides of a massive stele of Pentelic marble, the so-called Lapis Primus (‘First Stone’). For the following eight years, from 439/38 – 432/31 BC, the lists were inscribed on a smaller stele of Pentelic marble, the so-called Lapis Secundus (‘Second Stone’). In all subsequent years, down to 415/14 BC, each list was inscribed on its own marble stele and on one side only. The tribute quota lists were recorded annually after representatives of the allied cities delivered their tribute during the City Dionysia, a large festival in honor of the god Dionysus. The stones on which they were inscribed stood on the Acropolis, where visitors and allied representatives could witness them, a physical representation, if you will, of Athenian power. Some of these stones eventually made their way down to the Athenian Agora. Most of the fragments of these stones are now in the Epigraphical Museum in Athens, where they have been stored since their discovery. Many of the squeezes in the McGregor collection come from the above stones and allowed him to continue studying the evidence while away from Athens.

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The Lapis Primus (Photo courtesy of M. Miles)

The tribute quota lists form crucial evidence for our conception of fifth century Athenian financial, political, and military history. They are commonly used by modern scholars, together with other major inscriptions and the principal historical events, to reconstruct the nature and development of Athenian power in the Aegean throughout the fifth century. There are many other concerns, especially economic in nature, that are connected with the lists as well, such as the financial details of the building program on the Acropolis, for which we know part of the tribute surplus was used, the financial upkeep of the Athenian democratic institutions and judiciary system, supplied in part by the incoming tribute, the economic vitality of allied cities, and the location and identification of lesser-known cities based on the lists.

The major edition of the lists consists of four monumental volumes edited by Malcolm McGregor and his colleagues Benjamin Meritt and Henry Wade-Gery, titled The Athenian Tribute Lists and published over 14 years from 1939-1953. The volumes were a truly massive accomplishment on the part of the authors and still constitute the authoritative edition. Their reconstructions of the lists as well as their historical conclusions soon became orthodoxy and they remain the starting-point for any examination of the finances, history, and geography of the Athenian empire. All this is not to say, however, that the last word on these topics has been spoken, much less that our evidence is final or fixed. On the contrary, recent developments have left the field wide open to new interpretation.

 

As part of the ASCSA regular program, I have had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Epigraphical Museum several times this year, and the last time under the guidance of well-known epigrapher Angelos P. Matthaiou. Judging from what our group discussed with him that morning I can tell you this is a great time for Greek epigraphy. First off, new discoveries of fragments constantly encourage us to reconsider the current configuration of the tribute lists as reconstructed by McGregor, Wade-Gery, and Meritt. Professor Matthaiou showed us a number of recently discovered (and still unpublished) fragments of the lists as well as a new fragment of the so-called “Thoudippos Decree” on tribute reassessment (425/4 BC) that proved that some of the seemingly secure restorations of the editors are in fact incorrect. Such new evidence reminds us of the risks inherent in restoring words (especially large chunks of text) that are not in fact present on the stone. Since the tribute lists and texts like the Thoudippos decree are crucial sources for any reconstruction of 5th century Athenian history, any changes in the lists’ configuration can have far-reaching implications for the historical conclusions that depend on them.

In addition to the discovery of new fragments, the resolution of the so-called “three-barred sigma controversy” is leading to the re-dating of many important 5th century inscriptions that are highly relevant to the tribute lists. Some of these will have their date shifted from the 440s to the 420s BC and vice versa, with significant implications for our reconstruction of the nature and development of Athenian power throughout the fifth century. Until about 15-20 years ago, there existed among epigraphers an orthodoxy (challenged early on by Harold Mattingly: see esp. The Athenian Empire Restored, 1996) whereby inscriptions containing a so-called “three-barred sigma” had to pre-date 448/7 BC, the year in which, according to this ‘rule’, sigmas with three bars went out of use and were replaced by sigmas with four bars. It has now, with the help of laser-beam technology, been sufficiently proven that three-barred sigmas did in fact continue to be used after 448/7, vindicating Mattingly, questioning letterforms as a secure dating-criterion, and opening up many 5th century inscriptions to re-dating and re-interpretation. A great place to see some of the new directions taken in the scholarship as a result of these developments is the recent volume edited by John Ma, Nikolaos Papazarkadas, and Robert Parker (Interpreting the Athenian Empire, 2009).

But perhaps the most exciting development, and certainly the one that will have the biggest impact on future scholarship on the ATLs, is the proposed dismantling and reassembling of the Lapis Primus, with its 180 fragments of ancient white marble. The interior rods of this massive stone (at c. 3.5 meters high it easily rises above all other inscriptions in the museum) have slowly deteriorated over time and, as Professor Matthaiou and the current director of the Museum told us, will soon (pending financial support) be replaced by titanium rods. When this happens (and we all hope it will be soon), it will give scholars the opportunity, for the first time since 1927, to reexamine the inscribed fragments from every side, to re-measure them, and, ultimately, to reassemble them again. Matthaiou and the director further told us there are plans for similar projects for the Lapis Secundus and the stele of the Thoudippos Decree, although I believe these plans are much less formalized for the time being. In addition to the above developments, careful searches through the storerooms of the Agora and Acropolis museums may yield further fragments of the lists that as of yet have remained undiscovered (Matthaiou recently found one such fragment in the storeroom of the Acropolis Museum). All of the above developments make for an amazing time in Greek epigraphy and the study of ancient Greece more generally. Given the projected dismantling and reassembling of the Lapis Primus it is all the more significant that the McGregor squeeze collection as well as McGregor’s personal charts be preserved online. It will preserve for posterity copies of the stone’s fragments as McGregor and his colleagues studied and configured them.

Lapis Primus2

The Lapis Primus (Photo courtesy of M. Miles)

 

I would like to congratulate the graduate students at UBC for initiating this wonderful project of digitizing the McGregor squeeze collection, including squeezes of the Athenian Tribute Lists and McGregor’s personal charts. These are truly remarkable resources that I’m confident many around the world cannot wait to be able to consult online. Congratulations also on the recent acquisition of additional funds from the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund at UBC. The project could not be happening in a more exciting context for Greek epigraphy!

 

All the best,

 

Bram ten Berge (bltenber@umich.edu)

 

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History of the McGregor Squeeze Collection

Earlier this summer, Lisa Tweten and I met with Professor Philip Harding, a former University of British Columbia faculty member, to learn more about the history of our unique squeeze collection.  He confirmed that all of UBC’s squeezes are from the private collection of Professor Malcolm McGregor, who was the head of our department for many years. Prof. McGregor donated the squeezes around the time of his retirement, and ordered the seven-foot-tall  cabinet which currently houses the collection.

Prof. Harding described Prof. McGregor as “a very colourful character … big in all ways,” and explained that the squeezes were taken during his scholarly travels through Greece.  He was mainly concerned with fifth century Athens, and particularly those documents related to the Athenian Tribute Lists, as they were the basis of one of his great works.  Prof. McGregor co-wrote the definitive volumes on the Athenian Tribute Lists, together with H. T. Wade-Gery and B. D. Merritt, which includes texts and translations of the lists.

Malcolm McGregor, 1954

Malcolm McGregor, 1954

Prof. Harding had some colourful asides for us about epigraphy in general: “The days of the hostility between epigraphists is sort of past and people have moved on, but squeeze taking is now highly monitored.  If you went to the epigraphic museum, you’d have to go through hoops to take a squeeze.  In Malcolm’s day, they were just doing it and walking off with it, and people would come along and say, ‘Well, there was a letter there when I looked at it and you knocked it off,’ and they would tear each other apart in print!”

McGregor, 1966

McGregor, 1966

We also had the chance to discuss the advantages of epigraphic squeezes: they provide ready access to the inscription after a scholar has returned to his or her home university for the school year, and they preserve physical details that a drawing cannot capture.  Sometimes a squeeze will even reveal a detail invisible in the stone fragment because of dirt or discolouration.  Prof. Harding was interested to hear that our images are digitally reversed to read forwards; because of the convenience of squeezes, epigraphists like Prof. McGregor simply learned to read Greek backwards (in all capitals with no spaces or punctuation, I might add).  Overall, it was an enlightening way to spend an afternoon!

McGregor receiving Order of Phoenix from John Vavvas, 1979

McGregor receiving Order of Phoenix from John Vavvas, 1979

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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.

Camera

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.

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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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Project update and new features

When we began the project, we had no idea how many squeezes were in the collection, and we really did not know what condition they were in. One of the first steps has been to determine exactly what we have in the collection, and how many of the squeezes should be scanned. As we sorted through the collection, we realized that there are multiple copies of most of the squeezes.

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We have come up with scanning criteria that greatly reduces the number of squeezes we will initially scan, which also hopefully reduces the cost. We  have decided to scan only the clearest examples for each inscription, rather than the entire collection. This makes the most sense both financially and in terms of time – we can provide a digital library of the clearest squeezes in the collection, and will not be spending our time scanning multiple copies of the same inscription. In most cases, there are only minor differences in the copies. Where there is a great discrepancy, we are choosing the inscription that is the most intact. For the squeeze pictured below, we decided not to scan it because thought the letters are clear, the squeeze itself is very fragile and there was another copy of the same inscription that did not have holes in it.

photo 2We also chose not to scan squeezes that are discoloured or where the inscription is very faint, as below.

photo 1The majority of our work on the project at the moment is both dull and repetitive; we spend one afternoon a week sorting through the squeezes to determine which ones are clear and intact enough to be scanned, and typing metadata into an Excel spreadsheet. In light of that, we have decided to use this space to highlight other interesting work in digital humanities, starting with a series of interviews with UBC students who created their own digital classics projects this past spring. The projects included websites, interactive mapping, text analysis and podcasts. We look forward to sharing their innovative work with you.

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