Digital Programs

This article first appeared in ISAW Newsletter 13, Fall 2015.

Tom Elliott
Associate Director for Digital Programs

A report on three significant developments in ISAW’s digital programs.

Delmas Foundation Funds The AWOL Index

With generous support from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, ISAW has recently published The AWOL Index ( A new, structured bibliography of ancient-world resources on the world-wide web, this experimental digital publication is co-authored by ISAW Senior Fellow Charles E. Jones and myself. The Index is programmatically extracted from the contents of The Ancient World Online, a blog that Jones has been authoring since 2009. The work is part of a much larger collaboration with the ISAW Library and the NYU Digital Library Technology Services team. It will be used to inform and supply a variety of discovery and digital preservation initiatives now in incubation.

The AWOL Index is published under an open license to facilitate the widest possible application and reuse of the data, a policy that has already borne fruit. The open license encouraged and permitted Ryan Baumann (a Digital Humanities Developer with the Duke Collaboratory for Classics and Computing) to write a computer program to check the Internet Archive for resources listed in the Index and add them where they were missing. You can read more about it on his blog at

Website Upgrades

Over the past year, we have been engaged in a significant effort to improve the Institute’s website ( In August we reached an important milestone in that effort: the rollout of a new visual design. More than just a fresh look, the new design is now responsive: page layout is automatically reconfigured to provide an optimal viewing experience on tablets and phones. Visitors will notice other enhancements as well. We’ve made it easier to find information they are looking for: the four most popular sections of the site (graduate studies, visiting scholars, exhibitions, and events) are colorfully emphasized at the top of each page. Gallery and library hours appear in the footer on each page. Navigation menus have been made easier to understand and use, particularly on mobile devices. Search result listings have been streamlined and improved. The events section is now more than a simple list; users have the option of viewing events on a weekly or monthly calendar. The news blog has been given a more modern layout. We have also made it possible for individual departments to create their own blogs on the site. The Library blog is the first example of this new capability. See page 16 for a screen shot of the new website.

Behind the scenes, several other improvements have been made. The website is now running on a new, up-to-date server. The software framework we use (an open-source content management system called Plone) has also been upgraded. These upgrades will deliver better performance, reliability, and security. Internally, ISAW personnel have better tools for creating, revising, and reviewing the content that appears on the website.

A completely overhauled “Employee Guide” presents new ISAW students and scholars as well as ISAW veterans with better, easier-to-find information about policies, procedures, community resources, and more. New mechanisms for including images and streaming video have been added as well, so watch for more visual content on the site in coming months.

We invite comments and suggestions about the new website design at

Major Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities

At the beginning of August, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced the award of a $322,615 grant for major upgrades and improvements to the Pleiades gazetteer of ancient places ( Hosted and operated by ISAW in collaboration with the Ancient World Mapping Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Pleiades provides free and open access to the most comprehensive geospatial dataset for antiquity available today. It serves as an indispensable component of at least 40 other important digital humanities projects, ranging from online editions of primary sources for students to expert systems supporting advanced research in fields like archaeology, epigraphy, and numismatics. It also constitutes a core resource for classroom activities — at ISAW and beyond — focused on ancient geography.

Over the next three years, ISAW will use these funds to retool the software that now underpins Pleiades to provide consistent performance at faster speeds, to make it easier to use with tablet and mobile devices, and to accelerate and enable support for the broader ancient and early medieval worlds. Additional enhancements will make it easier for us to expand Pleiades content in a manner consistent with ISAW’s connective and comparative mission: extending cultural and geographic coverage to the Ancient Near East and Central Asia and temporal coverage through the Byzantine and Early Islamic Empires.

We are grateful for the support of the NEH, its Office of Digital Humanities, and its scholarly reviewers. With this new grant, total NEH support since 2006 for Pleiades and closely allied projects at ISAW, AWMC, and other institutions totals $1.2 million.

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