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After Integrating Digital Papyrology

Ryan Baumann, Hugh Cayless, Joshua D. Sosin

Duke University recently completed Integrating Digital Papyrology, a five-year project supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, aimed at (1) uniting the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri, the Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis der griechischen Papyrusurkunden Ägyptens, and the Advanced Papyrological Information System under common, standards-based, sustainable technical control, and (2) erecting a technological framework for open and transparent, peer-reviewed, version-controlled, community-based, scholarly curation of these projects. Since its launch in 2010, more than 600 users have registered as contributors. More than 5500 new texts have been entered. More than 20,000 discrete edits have been committed.

Three IDP team-members propose to offer insights into lessons learned (through both success and failure), with a view to framing principles and expectations for prospective digital classics projects.

  • Plan your attack carefully; attack your plan constantly.
  • There is no silver bullet. The ‘perfect’ solution, cannot be built, and could not survive.
  • Complexity is irreducible—it can be moved, even hidden, but must be faced.
  • Redundancy and duplication are not always the enemy; not every efficiency is your friend.
  • Use standards wherever possible; work to change them wherever necessary.
  • Product is process; there is no product without careful management of scholarly workflows.
  • Start at the end: user expectations and interface design must not be an afterthought.
  • Sometimes it pays to ‘think small.’ Thoughtful infrastructure development can have profound higher-order impact.

These principles are not unique to digital projects. That is the point. Many challenges in the digital arena have clear correlates in the non-digital realm.

We shall close with a pressing challenge facing digital classics—as much social and cultural as it is technological. Digital classics is at a stage in which many of the most urgent needs seem to replicate activities that the field treats as already done: editions, translations, citation schemes, structured information around geography, prosopography, chronology, bibliography etc. Mere migration of existing resources to the digital space won’t suffice; we must reimagine what such infrastructure can be and do under a twin regime of human- and machine-actionability. In that process, the discipline cannot afford to outsource the ‘tech’ or deprecate it as ‘services rendered.’ It must plot a research path in which ‘digital’ and ‘classics’ are equal partners.

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Getting Started with Digital Classics

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