Tag Archives: digital humanities

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

We’ve Been Published! Bible History Daily’s Digital Humanities Issue

At the end of July, we were contacted by the Biblical Archaeology Review about doing a post for their blog, Bible History Daily, as they were planning to do features on digital humanities in August. Our article, Bringing 21st-century access to ancient artifacts, focuses on our artifact collection and the work we’ve done this past year to create an online gallery with Omeka.net.

Medieval glazed pottery

Medieval glazed pottery

UBC CNERS Artifact Colleciton

UBC CNERS Artifact Colleciton

It’s an honour to be included with the other fascinating posts on digital humanities work being done in our field. I really enjoyed Map Quests: Geography, Digital Humanities and the Ancient World by Sarah Bond from the University of Iowa on the various mapping projects happening in classical, biblical and archaeological studies. These projects really do bring the ancient world to life again, and make it accessible to everyone without sacrificing scholastic integrity (ahem, “History” Channel).

And for those interested in the technological side of the work, BAR has a page devoted to archaeological technologies with articles on GIS, photogrammetry and even a free e-book on cyber-archaeology. It’s a fascinating fusion of past and future, well worth a read, as we try to keep up with the technology that makes our work possible.

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Funding update

Our project has just been awarded funding from UBC’s Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund – Flexible Learning. The funding will enable us to photograph the McGregor squeeze collection and create an online database accessible to scholars around the world. A huge thanks to Maude Côté-Landry,  Larissa Ringham (Digital Projects Librarian, UBC Library), and Gwynaeth McIntyre who put the proposal together.

Our test website is up and running, with 15 inscriptions available for study.

 

website

 

With funding for the next 2 years from TLEF, we will be able to digitize the collection and create a resource that we hope will be used to instruct Classics students around the world about the study of epigraphy. Part of our work will be providing transliterations and translations of the squeezes:

metadata

Translation by Natalie MacDougall, UBC

 

This is very exciting news and a great way to end the first year of our project!

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Archaeology Day 2014

UBC’s  Archaeology Day Symposium, “Digital Perspectives on the Past: New Methods and Research in Digital Archaeology” is coming up on Saturday March 15:
Digital methods are revolutionizing the way most archaeologists do their work.  New geospatial technologies, including ground-based and airborne methods of remote sensing (e.g., laser scanning, or the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or “drones”) now allow for the rapid and accurate 3D recording of archaeological phenomena from single artifacts to excavation units and even entire landscapes.  Analog data from earlier projects are being digitized, providing fresh insights and re-interpretations as they are analyzed in new ways.  Geographical Information Systems have become increasingly important as a means of integrating these digital data streams and have moved beyond traditional uses in predictive modeling to more nuanced ways of looking at human-environment interactions.  The visualization of data in 3D is allowing the virtual exploration of various archaeological discoveries, providing not just an important means of public engagement, but allowing us to ask new questions of the things we find.  Archaeologists are only beginning to come to terms with the practical and ethical implications of this rapid digital transformation.  This symposium explores some of this new terrain, while showcasing current work in the digital realm by archaeologists working at UBC, SFU, University of Victoria, and beyond.
We are delighted to have been asked to present on our efforts to digitize the CNERS Department teaching collections, and Maude Côté-Landry will be speaking on behalf of the team. It is also a great chance to see Dr. Kevin Fisher present his work on Bronze Age Cyprus, where he is using some exciting cutting edge technology, including the “octocopter” below.
Cinestar_UAV-naymed
Please check out the program below, and if you’re local, we hope to see you there!
poster archy day

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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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Fundraising update

The book sale raised $327.10 over two days and the bake sale raised $427.05. Clearly, the students and professors at UBC have their priorities in order, and food trumps learning. After expenses, we’ve raised $700.00 of the $8,000.00 needed to digitize the collection!

Chocolate cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing. courtesy of Heather Odell

Chocolate cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing. courtesy of Heather Odell

A huge thank you to Shalini Tandon and Heather Odell for organizing the book sale & bake sale respectively. We are also hugely indebted to the graduate students and professors of the Classics, Near Eastern & Religious Studies department for their generous donations of books and baked goods.

Special thanks to:

Shalini Tandon

Heather Odell

Andrei Mihailiuk

David Assaf

Miranda Iddon

Alexandra Cruz

Ana Goland

Sandra Cervantes

Natalie MacDougall

Patricia Taylor

Brad Morrison

Maude Côté-Landry

Kat Solberg

Haley Bertram

Christian Brady

Gwynaeth McIntyre

Kevin Pasman

for all their hard work putting the sales together & manning tables. Your hard work is appreciated!

Stay tuned for more fundraisers and project updates.

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Filed under Digital Classics, fundraising, Project Planning

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.

squeeze1

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