August 2010

Jack Sasson draws my attention to the website of Factum Arte, an organization working with museums and other institutions on the production of 3D facsimiles of artifacts, structures, etc. that can be used for conservation and documentation purposes. They also prepare facsimiles for exhibitions. Especially interesting are their archaeological projects:

Wallada's box
SETI I Seti I Thutmose III
A facsimile of Princess Wallada’s Box
Madrid 2010

Commission by
The Conjunto Arqueológico
Madinat al-Zahra

Work in the tomb of Tutankhamun
Madrid 2009

Recorded in Luxor,
Valley of the Kings

pdf report available

Facsimile of a section of Burial chamber from
the tomb of Seti I

Madrid 2003

Recorded in Luxor,
Valley of the Kings

pdf report available

2nd pdf report available

Facsimile of
Thutmose III´s tomb

Madrid 2004

National Gallery of Art in Washington and other venues in USA & Europe

Asurnasirpal II
Dama de Elche
Facsimile of the Asurnasirpal II´s
Throne Room
Madrid 2006
The British Museum, Pergamon Museum, Princeton Art Museum, Harvard Scakler Art Museum and Dresden Museum
Facsimile of the
Dama de Elche

Madrid 2004

Commission by
Museo Arqueologico Nacional
and MARQ

pdf report available

One of the Neo-Assyrian winged lions from Nimrud at the British Museum assembled prior to moulding. The winged human headed lion is over 3 meters tall. It has been assembled with the carved carpet piece, also from the British museum.

There is an interesting article on how “Scholars Test Web Alternative to Peer Review” in the New York Times.

The Shakespeare Quarterly trial, along with a handful of other trailblazing digital experiments, goes to the very nature of the scholarly enterprise. Traditional peer review has shaped the way new research has been screened for quality and then how it is communicated; it has defined the border between the public and an exclusive group of specialized experts. Today a small vanguard of digitally adept scholars is rethinking how knowledge is understood and judged by inviting online readers to comment on books in progress, compiling journals from blog posts and sometimes successfully petitioning their universities to grant promotions and tenure on the basis of non-peer-reviewed projects. The quarterly’s experiment has so far inspired at least one other journal — Postmedieval — to plan a similar trial for next year.

In some respects scientists and economists who have created online repositories for unpublished working papers, like, have more quickly adapted to digital life. Just this month, mathematicians used blogs and wikis to evaluate a supposed mathematical proof in the space of a week — the scholarly equivalent of warp speed. In the humanities, in which the monograph has been king, there is more inertia. “We have never done it that way before,” should be academia’s motto, said Kathleen Fitzpatrick, a professor of media studies at Pomona College.

The potential drawbacks are of course easy to find. I remember how open-to-all discussion lists such as the University of Chicago’s ANE (Ancient Near East; it later morphed into ANE2) had many problems with crazy theories and ideological mayhem at times propagated by the less academic side of the membership. Academic moderators succeeded in bringing down the level of noise.

This Summer, Bill Caraher (University of North Dakota) is digitizing old field inventory cards from the Ohio State Excavations at Isthmia (Greece). He shares his thoughts on his The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World blog: “First off, this was incredibly boring work.  It involved taking pictures of roughly 5  7 inch inventory cards for about 6 hours straight.  I managed to photograph about 1500 of them.  It reminded me that most of academic life is, in fact, tedious and archaeology – despite its somewhat exotic image (and genuinely exotic locales) – mostly involves a level of unparalleled tedium.” (blog post) Yep, been there, done that, got the t-shirt…

“The cards were hand written (mostly) and included a photograph of the inventoried object, pasted, generally onto the card itself.  I was translating these images into a digital image, which would eventually form the basis for a textual image of the object in a relational database.  The transition from one media to the next always constitutes unique challenges in any discipline and it is particularly challenging to translate physical objects like cards – which are as much artifacts as documents of the artifacts collected – from one form to the next.  The most obvious loss is the physical appearance of emendations, additions, and corrections (inscribed in each instance in different hands, colors, pen types, and styles) and the attendant humanizing of the interpretative process over generations.”

But it’s not all dry relics of excavations past: “One great thing about photographing all the inventoried cards is you discover remarkable finds, many of which are unfortunately unpublished. Amidst ordinary inventory cards was the following:

It is a tragedy that the camera was ‘broken’ than day.”

… that is, according to the [San Jose, CA] Mercury News:

But how did the hundreds of lesser-known Victorian writers regard the world around them? This question and many others in fields like literature, philosophy and history may finally find an answer in the vast database of more than 12 million digital books that Google has scanned and archived. Google, scholars say, could boost the new and emerging field of digital humanities, …

Google recently named a dozen winners of its first-ever “Digital Humanities Awards,” setting aside about $1 million over two years to help teams of English professors, historians, bibliographers and other humanities scholars harness the Mountain View search giant’s algorithms and its unique database of digital books. Among the winners was Dan Cohen, a professor of history and new media at George Mason University, who hopes to come up with a much broader insight into the Victorian mind, overcoming what he calls “this problem of anecdotal history.” ”What’s incredible about the Google database is that they are really approaching a complete database of Victorian books,” Cohen said. “So we have the possibility, for the first time, of going to something that’s less anecdotal, less based on a chosen few authors; to saying, ‘Does that jibe with what the majority of authors were saying at that time?’”

Besides the Victorian study, the winning teams include a partnership between UC Riverside and Eastern Connecticut State University to improve the identification of books published before 1801 in Google’s digital archive, and a team including UC Berkeley and two British universities to develop a “Google Ancient Places” index. It would allow anyone to query Google Books to find titles related to a geographic location and time period, and then visualize the results on digital maps. ”We have the ability to harness vast amounts of information collected from different places,” said Eric Kansa, a UC Berkeley researcher working on the ancient places project, “and put them together to get a whole new picture of ancient cultures.”

Maybe our own Eric Kansa can explain a bit more about the Google Ancient Places project? The announcement stated: “Elton Barker, The Open University, Eric C. Kansa, University of California-Berkeley, Leif Isaksen, University of Southampton, United Kingdom. Google Ancient Places (GAP): Discovering historic geographical entities in the Google Books corpus.” They further wrote:

Google’s Digital Humanities Research Awards will support 12 university research groups with unrestricted grants for one year, with the possibility of renewal for an additional year. The recipients will receive some access to Google tools, technologies and expertise. Over the next year, we’ll provide selected subsets of the Google Books corpus—scans, text and derived data such as word histograms—to both the researchers and the rest of the world as laws permit. (Our collection of ancient Greek and Latin books is a taste of corpora to come.)

The Center for History and New Media (CHNM)  at George Mason University organized One Week, One Tool. A Digital Humanities Barn Raising during the last week of July.

… a unique summer institute, one that aims to teach participants how to build an open source digital tool for humanities scholarship by actually building a tool, from inception to launch, in a week. … A short course of training in principles of open source software development will be followed by an intense five days of doing and a year of continued remote engagement, development, testing, dissemination, and evaluation. Comprising designers and developers as well as scholars, project managers, outreach specialists, and other non-technical participants, the group will conceive a tool, outline a roadmap, develop and disseminate an initial prototype, lay the ground work for building an open source community, and make first steps toward securing the project’s long-term sustainability. One Week | One Tool is inspired by both longstanding and cutting-edge models of rapid community development. For centuries rural communities throughout the United States have come together for ‘barn raisings’ when one of their number required the diverse set of skills and enormous effort required to build a barn—skills and effort no one member of the community alone could possess. In recent years, Internet entrepreneurs have likewise joined forces for crash ‘startup’ or ‘blitz weekends’ that bring diverse groups of developers, designers, marketers, and financiers together to launch a new technology company in the span of just two days. One Week | One Tool will build on these old and new traditions of community development and the natural collaborative strengths of the digital humanities community to produce something useful for humanities work and to help balance learning and doing in digital humanities training.

How did it turn out? Find out more at these blogs:

O yeah, the project result was Anthologize: “a free, open-source, plugin that transforms WordPress 3.0 into a platform for publishing electronic texts. Grab posts from your WordPress blog, import feeds from external sites, or create new content directly within Anthologize. Then outline, order, and edit your work, crafting it into a single volume for export in several formats, including—in this release—PDF, ePUB, TEI.”