Category Archives: Squeeze Collection

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

Getting the Ball Rolling: Who Started This All, Anyway?

The first in our series of graduate student profiles concentrates on PhD student Chelsea Gardner, one of the founders of the project.


One of the best things about From Stone to Screen, in our humble opinion, is that it’s a project started by, propelled forward and maintained by graduate students.  Anyone who has ever met a grad student knows that we tend to be overworked, overtired and overstressed students who are overenthusiastic about one thing in particular, which is what we happen to be researching.  So the fact that we are voluntarily taking on extra work for a project is something that, while not exactly understandable, proves how much we all believe in it and how much we are willing to put into it.  To that end, we at From Stone to Screen have decided to showcase one student a month to demonstrate how much we are all pulling for the project to succeed and what we have done to bring it there.

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Chelsea Gardner showing off her squeeze making skills

This month’s student profile is on Chelsea Gardner, a fourth year PhD student in Classical Archaeology at UBC.  As our story goes (which you can find elsewhere in our various blogs), in the fall of 2012 there were a group of students in one of Dr. Lisa Cooper’s Near Eastern archaeology seminars – Chelsea was one of them.  Unlike most of the students involved in the project, though, Chelsea had an awareness not only of the Fuller artifact collection but also of the squeeze collection.  The day that Dr. Cooper brought the artifacts to class, Chelsea approached her immediately after the class was done to discuss the possibility of work with the artifacts in some capacity.  This coupled with Dr. McElduff’s seminar, Digital Antiquity, inspired several of the CNRS grad students to become involved in the project and pushed it in the direction of digital humanities.  As a group, Chelsea and the other students wrote proposals to the department in spring of 2013 and with that propulsion the project began to gain traction.

One of Chelsea’s goals from the beginning was to make it an open-access resource for anyone in the field, whether they studied at UBC or not.  “The beauty of any digitization project is that it makes it… as available as you make it.  The vision right from the start was to make this an open-access, universally accessible source for anybody who was interested in it.”  With that in mind, funding was a priority for the fledgling project.  They needed to get enough to be able to have a platform that was accessible to all.  What Chelsea and the others planned, though, and what actually happened were quite different.   She is both proud and impressed with the support both within and outside of not only the CNERS department, but UBC as well.  “I never would have imagined how successful it has become with the digitizing techniques and the grant funding we have gotten.”  Especially since it was worked on primarily by graduate students, the progress is even more impressive.

It was always a conscious decision to make it for grad students only.  There was the possibility of faculty advisement, but Chelsea wanted a graduate student project in order to make it solely student-run.  She wanted it to be valuable for each individual student who is involved as a means of professional development, something that can sometimes be difficult for multiple students to have the chance for.  “That was the impetus behind this entire project, was creating an opportunity for graduate students that didn’t exist before.”  From Stone to Screen has definitely delivered on that front; along with presenting for the local Vancouver branch of the AIA, our students have been able to present at the EAGLE conference in Paris, learn digitization methods that our field usually does not teach and create connections with other professions interested in Digital Humanities.

A hiccup in her plans for From Stone to Screen arrived, though, in the form of an amazing opportunity.  Chelsea learned that she was the Philip Lockhart Fellow at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens for the 2013-2014 academic year.  This was, needless to say, an opportunity she was unwilling to pass up but it also meant that she had to leave everything in Vancouver behind for a year.  It was hard for her to leave the project when it was only just getting on its feet, and she knew that bIMG_4411y going to Athens she would have to leave the project in the hands of others and watch it from afar. “It was very personally rewarding to watch this project develop that I’ve seen since its inception and just kind of explode.”  She still worked with Lisa Tweten over e-mail, giving advice and links when she came across them, but it was still a risk to leave it behind for a year. Watching it flourish from afar was something that she thoroughly enjoyed.

Now she is back in Vancouver, though, and enthusiastically finding new opportunities for the project to expand.  When I asked her if she thought the project would be able to grow past its current collections, her excitement was contagious.  She hopes that as From Stone to Screen grows and gains a larger public presence, private collectors would step forward and allow us access to their collections to incorporate into our database.  There is, obviously, the problem of trying to obtain private artifacts for our own collection that were collected before 1970.  The other problem is that many museums in Greece rarely allow scholars to make squeezes because it can cause some damage, plus many of the inscriptions have already had multiple squeezes made so it is unlikely that we will be able to enlarge our collection.  Chelsea hopes, though, that we can somehow borrow other collections, digitize it safely and then add it into our online collection to hopefully have the entire Athenian Tribute List on our database.

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Chelsea making a squeeze

Squeezes are still being made on site, though, and she hopes that we can gain some of those for our collection.  She recently made a squeeze at the site that she excavates at and once she has finished her research and work with it, she fully intends to donate it to the From Stone to Screen collection.  “I hope that is something that’s on everyone’s radar who is an archaeologist in this department who are going on projects and have the ability to do so,” she admitted.

As an archaeologist, though, it may seem confusing as to why she is so involved with a project to digitize epigraphic squeezes.  She works in the ancient historic period in Greece which means that there are epigraphic sources from the time period in the region where she digs – the value of the project for Chelsea is that is have given her the opportunity to handle squeezes first hand which is indispensable since she needs to make squeezes for her own research.  The squeeze that she made was also digitized using the same methods that we use at the project which gives her high quality images to work with.

Chelsea has two years left for her PChelsea GardnerhD, meaning that she can continue to closely work on the project and help see it through to the end of our current goals, but as we have seen in the last year it is already growing so much bigger than we had ever planned.  As with anyone in our field, though, she will go to wherever the jobs are when she’s finished and that most likely means leaving UBC.  This also means, though, that she will have to leave From Stone to Screen behind and give it off to the next generation, something that Chelsea regrets and wishes she could see it through to its completion. “The goal of Stone to Screen,” she admitted,” is for it not to ever be completed.”  She plans to follow it from wherever she is in the future and send whatever squeezes or support she can.  She vehemently believes that it is a resource that can grow indefinitely and she will be there to support it from afar.  Considering how much the project has grown, which just two years ago was just a random idea after a seminar, what will happen in the next two years before she graduates is impossible to tell.  You can see the pride whenever she speaks about the project, though, and I think it’s safe to say that wherever she ends up she will always support and help the current generation of students who are working on it.


Check out Chelsea’s blog posts!

Squeeze Making in the Athenian Agora

The Athens Epigraphical Museum: Where it all began…

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Filed under Archaeology, Digital Classics, Digital Cultural Heritage, Epigraphy, Project Planning, Squeeze Collection

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

EAGLE 2014 International Conference

We’ve had a poster submission accepted for the 2014 Eagle Conference in Paris this fall. This is an exciting opportunity not only because we get to send one or two lucky team members to Paris for a couple of days, but since the conference is for epigraphists, we get a chance to talk about the technical details of digitizing the collection and our work with Digital Initiatives. It will be a completely new experience to talk about the collection with specialists, as most of our presentations to date have been to audiences unfamiliar with epigraphy.

We are hoping that our process of photographing the squeezes will help other universities realize the potential of digitizing their own collections, and look forward to learning more about digital epigraphy from the conference, as well has having a couple days to explore Paris.

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From their website, the Eagle Project is dedicated to creating a digital library of epigraphy:

Co-funded by the European Commission under its Information and Communication Technologies Policy Support Programme, EAGLE aims to create an e-library for Digital Epigraphy of unprecedented scale and quality for ingestion to Europeana.

EAGLE is also aiming at creating a network of experts and people interested in Epigraphy and Cultural Heritage. This event is intended to be a forum for anyone willing to share and discuss experiences and current general best practices for digital editions. It is open to researchers, archivists, industry professionals, museum curators and others seeking to create a forum in which individuals and institutions can find a place to collaborate.

And for those who have an interest in epigraphy, you can check out the following Eagle Project collections on their site, including Arachne (from the German Archaeological Institute), the Epigraphic Database Bari (Epigraphic Documents of Christian Patronage), and discover the rich epigraphic collections out of Spain and Portugal at Hispania Epigraphica Online.

 

 

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Filed under Conferences, Digital Classics, Epigraphy, Squeeze Collection

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

Quick up date on the progress so far:

We met with Dr. Phillip Harding at the end of June, and he spoke to us about the history of the collection and epigraphy in general – look for a post on that soon.

Squeeze sample 

We’ve begun going through the squeeze collection to determine how many of them are legible and intact enough to scan for the website. So far, the majority of the collection is in very good condition, considering their age.

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UBC graduate students Chelsea Gardner and David Assaf, who are excavating in Greece this summer, had an opportunity to make a squeeze. They have a short video of the process which will be posted soon.

And finally, we have dates set at the end of August to photograph our artifact collection with LoA, and look forward to having the translation and transliteration of our cuneiform tablet available soon.

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Filed under Artifacts, Cuneiform, Epigraphy, Project Planning, Squeeze Collection