Summer 2016 ISAW Library Research Digest

By David Ratzan

The ISAW Library is first and foremost a place where the ISAW and wider ancient studies communities can find support for their research and teaching--including the ISAW Library staff! This summer was a particularly busy one for the ISAW Library team members, and we hope to make reporting on our own work a regular feature on the ISAW Library Blog. Here is a brief update as to what our staff and students have been working on since the end of the last academic year.

Growing up Motherless in Antiquity

Head Librarian David Ratzan kicked off his summer of research in May by delivering a paper at a conference in Basel on mother absence in the ancient world, which he co-organized with former ISAW VRS and now Professor of Ancient History at Basel Sabine Huebner. In his paper David drew together what we know about ancient demography and prices for nursing and childcare in order to calculate the social cost of motherlessness from Roman Egypt. There was one further ISAW connection at the conference: former VRS Maria Doerlfer (Yale) delivered an absolutely brilliant paper, entitled "Wayward mothers, saintly children: Late ancient reading strategies in pursuit of the absent parent." The proceedings of the conference will be published in the next two years.

Shortly after returning, David participated in a new series of workshops focused on the materiality of Roman book culture, started by Stephanie Frampton (MIT) and Joseph Howley (Columbia), entitled MATERIA. It was a fascinating program and David's paper was on power, form, genre, and the material presentation of a curious literature known as the Acta Alexandrinorum, which survives only on papyrus from Roman Egypt.

Just two weeks later at the end of June David went to Belgium to participate in a conference on dispute resolution in Ptolemaic, Roman, and Late Antique Egypt organized by Katholieke Universiteit Leuven called "Two Sides of the Same Coin." There in his paper ("Vandalism and the Weapons of the Weak in Roman Egypt") David applied a particular legal-anthropological lens to crimes of malicious property destruction as a way of understanding self-help in Roman Egypt and the ways in which we might be able to sift acts of local protest from the "crimes" in our surviving petitions.

David Ratzan and Peter van Minnen at the 28th International Congress of Papyrologists, Barcelona, 2016

In August David attended the 28th International Congress of Papyrologists in Barcelona. His talk "Honoring Debt in Roman Egypt" was a contribution to the social and economic history of the ancient world, tracing the development of a particular thread in the discourse of economic reputation in the ancient world, following it as it moved from a purely subjective, ethical realm of "respect" in personal relationships to a more abstract one communicating creditworthiness, or "honoring" debt.

This spring also saw the publication of the first scientific paper of the Ancient Ink Laboratory, a joint, interdisciplinary project between Columbia and ISAW, dedicated to exploring the chemistry, archaeology, and history of inks in antiquity. The first paper (Characterizing the Age of Ancient Egyptian Manuscripts through Micro-Raman Spectroscopy), to which both David and Roger Bagnall contributed, demonstrated that there is a correlation between systematic changes in Raman spectra gathered from dated papyri and the date at which the papyrus was written. In other words, we argue that the spectra change systematically over time with respect to the age of the document, which in theory opens up the possibilty that we might be able to use Raman spectroscopy as a way of dating undated papyri by ink analysis. But we will report more on this research in the next ISAW Library research digest.

... Flying Saucers are Real! By Jack Womack. Introduction by William Gibson. Edited by Michael O. Daley, Johan Kugelberg, and Gabriel Mckee. Published by Anthology Editions, 2016.

Librarian for Collections & Services Gabriel Mckee's recent research has been primarily bibliographical. He assisted with the preparations for "The Enigmatic Edgar A. Poe in Baltimore and Beyond," an exhibition of books and manuscriptsat the George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University, and also contributed an essay on Poe's literary friendships and feuds to Edgar Allan Poe in 20 Objects, a book to be published in conjunction with the exhibition. This past September also saw the publication of a book Gabriel co-edited, Flying Saucers Are Real! The UFO Library of Jack Womack. The book catalogs a rare book collection recently acquired by Georgetown University Library and exhibited this August at Milk Studios in New York.

Last but certainly not least, our Assistant Research Scholar Patrick J. Burns. Patrick successfully completed work on his Google Summer of Code project: the addition of a backoff lemmatizer for Latin texts to the Classical Language Toolkit. What's a "backoff lemmatizer for Latin texts"? We had a feeling you might ask us this: a summary of the project work is available here: has also co-written an article about the project, "The Future of Ancient Literacy: Classical Language Toolkit and Google Summer of Code," which is under review for a special issue on ancient literacies in the journal Classics@. Patrick's Summer of Code work has also led to a new research project that uses the CLTK to generate readability scores for Latin literature based on features such as word length, sentence length, and word frequency. The preliminary results of this research will be presented at upcoming talks at Drew University and Ohio University.