Two years ago, a few graduate students in our department came up with the ambitious, and almost foolhardy, plan of cataloging and digitizing the over-1000 epigraphic squeezes that were locked away in the slide room. The story has been told a dozen times, reworded at every conference we present at, every post we write for the website. And yes, while the original logistics and ambition of the project are impressive, they have nothing on what we have accomplished during this past year. What started as a small project for graduate students to gain experience in Digital Humanities (and, let’s be honest, pad their tiny CV’s) has become an internationally recognized tour de force.
Last fall we began working with Digital Initiatives to develop a process to photograph the squeezes, a difficult feat but one that we found a solution to. In January, our focus turned to the Fuller Artifact Collection. We were still working on a non-existent budgets so we did what graduate students do best. We found a way to do it ourselves – at a fraction of the cost. Patricia Taylor built her own cardboard light box and a friend, Jessica Matteazzi who was studying Digital Graphic Design at Vancouver Community College, came in to photograph them. Patricia then began the long task of cataloging, labelling and storing the artifacts where they now live. With uncanny speed (for academia) the two women managed to have the artifacts photographed in five hours and labelled in about a month.
We then began the first of many talks that we have given on the project this year. In February, we were given the wonderful opportunity to present the project at one of our departmental seminars which is usually reserved for faculty who are presenting this research. This was the first time that many of them had heard about the project, and our volunteers were able to stand proud in front of them and show them everything we’ve been working on. In March, we presented at UBC’s Archaeology Day, the first time we have been able to speak to about the project to anyone outside the department. We also presented our project at the UBC CNERS Annual Graduate Conference in May.
What really set us in motion, though, was the fact that in March we discovered that we had been awarded the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund – Flexible Learning which finally allowed us to start moving forward with the project. We were able to hire our students over the summer to work on the metadata, photographing and cataloging of both the squeeze and artifact collections. The first test site for the project went up and we began to see the first version of our open access of the squeezes. With funding, the project could move forward and we could start doing everything we had been promising for over a year.
This summer, the students disperse as they do every year. The archaeologists went off on digs and the philologists worked away at the digitization. Lisa went to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria in June where she learned about the Omeka website platform. Dave uploaded our artifact images to the site and it is now up and running, giving anyone access to Jessica’s beautiful photos of the collection. We began selling products with images of our squeezes and artifacts to raise money (and of course spread the love for epigraphic squeezes). Then the archaeologists returned, along with Chelsea who was back from her year in Athens and full of excitement to be back working on the project.
We began to see that people were noticing our project. Our poster submission for the 2014 EAGLE Conference had been accepted, and through our twitter account we were contacted by the Biblical Archaeological Review to write a blog post for them on our artifact collection. Andrei and Kat wrote guest posts on their dig experiences which combined garnered over 400 views on our blog, and Kat’s was featured on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed which brought in a significant amount of non-Classics attention to our project.
With the new school year, we took the newfound status of the project and ran with it. The project now has two official TAs – as one of them, Kat has now become the voice of the project and is responsible for all social media accounts, the blog-turned-website and any communications with the outside world. Heather and Haley presented for the Vancouver branch of the AIA, an unprecedented opportunity for lowly graduate students. We found out that our poster submission for the AIA’s Annual General Meeting in New Orleans was accepted. Lisa and Maude went to Paris to present our poster to the EAGLE 2014 Conference (they were the lucky ones this year). Lisa also participated in the I3 Challenge at UBC and won a chance to work with MAGIC Lab – we are slowly but surely working on developing an app for the project because hey! We’re students and it’s the digital age. Let’s put everything on our phones. Lisa’s post on the challenge was then reposted by the GRAND website.
We hosted another workshop on archaeology day, working with one of UBC’s professors, Dr. Kevin Fisher, on photogrammetry (Confession: we had an ulterior motive – we wanted to learn everything he had to teach us). Lisa presented at UBC’s Open Access Week and Chelsea at UBC’s FIREtalks.
One of the biggest public changes was one that Lisa and Kat were working on in the background all fall. In November, we launched our new website complete with our own domain name. We wanted a site that featured not only our work on the project, but one that showcased the project and what we believe it can do for others in our field. Watching two Classicists try to design and launch a website was amusing, but through many online tutorials and UBC workshops, the two finally managed to launch it and it has gotten very positive feedback.
This is just a short list of what we have accomplished this year, and it is by no means complete. It doesn’t show the student turnover from one cohort to the next, or the extra time that we all put in beyond our schoolwork. It doesn’t show that we have created a Digital Humanities project that is garnering international attention and is being featured on other websites within the field, such as the AWOL. Our blog has received 2,600 visitors from over 80 countries, we have over 350 followers on Twitter, almost 200 likes on Facebook, and 1000 hits on our new website. These numbers are by no means the millions that are possible and that other sites in Digital Humanities are pulling in, but we are so proud of them. All I can say is, if we did that in 2014, what can we do in 2015?