Tag Archives: 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

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

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.

IMAG0603

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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Filed under Epigraphy, Greek Inscriptions, Project Planning, Squeeze

Squeeze Making in the Athenian Agora

Have you ever wondered how an epigraphic squeeze is made? This summer we got a first-hand demonstration right in the heart of ancient Athens. A scholar from Berlin, Sebastian Prignitz, was visiting to take a squeeze of an inscription near the Royal Stoa in the ancient Agora of Athens – this happened to be only a few metres from where myself and another project member are excavating this summer. Sebastian was kind enough to not only allow us to take photos of the process, but showed us the steps necessary to create a squeeze from an ancient inscription. First, he cut the filter paper to fit the words, then wet the paper and placed it directly on the rock on top of the inscription. Then came the hard part: using a special brush, we carefully hammered the paper into the cuttings in the rock, trying not to rip the paper or leave any air bubbles between the stone and the squeeze. This is a short video which shows this process.

After letting it dry in the sun for about an hour, we returned to the inscription and slowly peeled off the paper, revealing our very own (beautiful, might I add!) squeeze:

Now our squeeze is safely stored and ready to be brought back to the collection in Vancouver.

Thanks to Sebastian Prignitz from Inscriptiones Graecae , Laura Gawlinski, and John Camp for giving us the permission to record this inscription and retain it for our collection.

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by | July 15, 2013 · 7:22 am