Tag Archives: epigraphy

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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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

Products Available

Everyone has always wanted their very own squeeze, right? In response to demand (and to help raise funds for our upcoming conference in Paris we have opened a store on Zazzle.ca to sell posters, mugs & other products featuring some of the artifacts and squeezes in our collection.

MugWe’ve chosen Zazzle for a number of reasons. Their product quality is well-reviewed, and all products are print-on-demand, which means we do not have to purchase the merchandise up front. Instead, each product is created as it is ordered by the customer. Zazzle has worldwide shipping and dedicated customer service which means we can keep our focus on the project rather than on merchandising. All of the products can be customized – right or left-hand mugs, poster size and paper options are up to you. We recommend reading this paper review before purchasing a poster to ensure you are happy with the quality of your purchase. Please note that changing options (travel mug vs basic coffee mug / matte paper vs semi-gloss) will change the price of the item. All of our products are priced so we receive an average profit of $1.50.

poster 1

 

Products can take up to 24 hours to appear on the main storefront, so here are links directly to products:

Mug – Epigraphic Chart

Poster – Epigraphic Chart

Poster – Squeeze IG I2 24

Poster – IG I2 124

T-shirt IG I2 124 (this can be customized for mens, womens, childrens or infants clothing items)

t-shirt1

 

We will update as soon as more products are available – keep an eye out for the cuneiform tablet!

 

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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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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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The Athens Epigraphical Museum: Where it all began…

While the folks at CNERS and Digital Initiatives are hard at work digitizing the departmental squeeze collection, I have had the fortunate opportunity to visit the Athens Epigraphical Museum during my year abroad in Greece. As a member of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, one of our first activities was a tour of the museum with the delightful Dr. Molly Richardson. IMG_0220

Molly Richardson and the Hekatompedon inscription

The Museum is truly one-of-a-kind: according to Molly, it is actually the only epigraphic museum in the world. Its collections include the earliest inscribed gravestone from Athens, a copy of Drakon’s Law Code, the sacred law concerning the Acropolis and the Hekatompedon, and the Themistoklean decree, which was used as a cutting board in the kitchen of a restaurant until an epigraphy enthusiast noticed it, rescued it, and brought it to its new home here in Athens! In spite of this impressive collection, the museum is rarely visited – often only by archaeologists, ancient historians, classicists and the occasional stray tourist looking for the nearby National Archaeological Museum!

 

In addition to these pieces (and of interest to the CNERS digitization project), the museum contains the Athenian Tribute Lists, dedications to Athena which once stood on the Acropolis of Athens. These inscribed records listed the quota given to Athens by members of the Delian League, a group of cities who joined forces to thwart the Persians in the 5th century BCE. These lists are often studied as a way to understand the development of the so-called Athenian Empire, and it is these inscriptions which form a large part of the CNERS squeeze collection: by making squeezes (copies) of the original stone inscriptions, Malcolm McGregor was able to ‘transport’ the ancient records overseas and conduct his definitive research. As you can see from the photos, the Athenian Tribute Lists are inscribed on massive blocks of marble and remain to this day, as they would have in antiquity, an imposing sight.

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It is difficult, if not impossible, for scholars to study the original inscriptions today – their monumental height reduces visibility, and there is a ban on the creation of additional squeezes for fear of damaging the stone. This makes the CNERS squeeze collection and the digitization project even more significant: we hold one of the few copies of these inscriptions and creating a digital record of these important historical documents will allow for them to be studied for many generations to come.IMG_0207

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