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Digitally Publishing Literary Papyri

By Tom Elliott
04/27/2015

In 2013, ISAW and the Papyrological Institute at the University of Heidelberg in Germany were recipients of parallel grants from the US National Endowment for the Humanities and the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft or DFG). The funding request had been designed to unite researchers not only at ISAW and Heidelberg, but at other institutions around the world, in extending the existing digital publication infrastructure for ancient works written on papyrus in order to address the particular and challenging needs of literary and sub-literary texts like medical treatises, philosophical and scientific works, fiction, poetry, drama, and scripture.  The project team, therefore, is refining and extending the software and practices developed for Papyri.info — the largest on-line publication of ancient documentary texts — to provide for the extended lengths, unique structural features, and greater variety of symbols found in the literary papyri, as well as variations in scholarly apparatus and analytical encoding mechanisms necessary for the associated genres. This work involves not only software changes, but also the preparation of descriptive records and digital editions using the EpiDoc conventions for text encoding, a standard format maintained by an international collaborative in which ISAW participates.

Significant progress has been made. Teams at Heidelberg and Leuven University's Trismegistos project have worked together to create descriptive records for over 14,000 literary and sub-literary papyri, drawing on data from the Leuven Database of Ancient Books and other resources. The Würzburg team has concentrated its efforts on the Herculaneum papyri, creating additional descriptive records for over 250 of these uniquely complex and difficult objects. These teams have also been working together to prepare texts, of which nearly 200 have been prepared, including 99 of the Herculaneum papyri.

Both the descriptive data and the digital texts necessitate changes to the user interface, search engine, and editorial components of the software. This work has been the principal concern of the NYU team, which is led by ISAW's Tom Elliott and includes computer science graduate students from the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering and Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. We have been assisted, under the terms of a grant subaward, by Hugh Cayless and Ryan Baumann of the Duke Collaboratory for Classics Computing (DC3), developers and maintainers of the production Papyri.info system and its underlying software.

The following links provide some examples of individual documents (all fragmentary) as presented in the ever-improving test development environment.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.