Ancient World and e-Science (report)

On Saturday April 4, 2009, a panel on “Ancient World and e-Science”, organized by the Digital Classicist, was held at the Classical Association Annual Meeting at the University of Glasgow (full abstracts in GoogleDoc). The speakers and titles listed were:

  • Ryan Baumann & Gabriel Bodard, 3D Visualization and Digitization of Epigraphic Materials
  • Stuart Dunn, Seeing into the Past: Visualization, the ancient world, and the e-Science programme
  • Brian Fuchs, Rashmi Singhal, Jazz Mack Smith, & Gregory Crane, PhiloGrid: A Web Toolkit for the Ancient World
  • Caroline Macé, Ilse deVos, & Philippe Baret, Can phylogenetics methods help to cure contaminated textual traditions?

There was a slight change to the line-up on the day as Stuart Dunn’s attempts to reach Glasgow were scuppered by the incompetence of a budget airline: the three remaining papers were followed by 20 minutes open discussion, and then slightly early adjournment to the hotel bar.

Baumann spoke about the difficulties of reading, photographing, and visualizing curse tablets in general, and the steatite fragments from Amathous in Cyprus especially, which are translucent and therefore resistent to both normal photography and even the laser imaging used to take high-resolution 3-D images of inscribed objects. He then showed examples of a lead tablet (DT 25) which has degraded further in the century since it was transcribed, and argued that the high quality imaging this project is piloting is an important conservation exercise as well as having potential for improving the interpretation and transcription of the texts. The remainder of the presentation was a demonstration of some of the techniques for taking and manipulating 3-D readings using the laser scanner.

Fuchs gave a detailed history of and report on the PhiloGrid services, created by Imperial College London and the Perseus Project as part of a JISC/NEH Transatlantic collaborative digitization grant from 2008-09. He summarised the objectives and achievements of the project, including the mounting of Perseus web services such as lexical and morphological tools, the construction of a citation framework based on FRBR, and the digitization of new content. He also gave an introduction to and invited all present to attend a workshop on Arabic web services to be held at Imperial College London on Wednesday May 13 (further details to be announced here soon).

Macé and de Vos introduced the work carried out by classicists and generic biologists at the Université Catholique de Louvain on using statistical and probabilistic phylogenetic software to try and reconstruct the stemma of a contaminated manuscript tradition. They tested the phylogenetic algorithms for fitness for this task by creating a fictional manuscript tradition for a small section of the text of Proclus, including both horizontal and vertical contamination. Two phylogenetic methods—parsimony analysis and bootstrap analysis—were applied to the data, with mixed results. Vertical contamination in particular still defeats the generic technologies, but further work may improve the accuracy of such tools. (This work, needless to say, will also result in more robust algorithms and methodologies for the biologists, so this is a true e-Science interdisciplinary collaboration that really does have research interest for both fields.)

Many thanks to all who contributed to this panel, including the audience members who took part in the lively discussion afterward. Clearly there is a call for discussion of e-Science issues at Classics venues.

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