Better, Faster, Stronger: Our Work is Never Over

Spring is an odd time for students. The rhythm of the year is ingrained over the years; spring is crunch time, deadlines, essays, exams, and finishing up. It’s graduation and goodbyes. It stands in sharp contrast to the outside world, which is blossoming forth and just warming up to summer adventures while you’re stuck inside, buried in your books.

This spring is especially poignant as my partners in crime are scattering to the winds at the end of the semester. This is the unfortunate reality of academia, and its even worse when you make friends with archaeologists who insist on spending their summers squatting in a hole in the Mediterranean rather than lounging on Wreck beach like a reasonable historian (I know there are beaches in the Mediterranean; I’m making the best of being left behind).

SPlanningo this spring we are coming to terms with endings. No more meeting at the pub to discuss our conference abstracts, fundraising initiatives, frustrations and ambitions. No more coffee shop poster planning sessions. And while it’s silly to pretend in this day and age that physical distance is any barrier to communication, there really is no substitute for meeting your friends and colleagues in person.

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Cuneiform Tablets waiting to be scanned.

If you hadn’t noticed, I’m a little maudlin about the slew of changes coming my way in the next month. To top it off, I’ve also come across an article recently that addresses the reality of digital humanities project  afterlives; one of the more alarming points in the article is that many projects die out or fall by the wayside when project members graduate or move on. This is something we’re going to have to address soon, as Kat and I (knock on wood) are graduating, Chelsea is moving across the country and Gwynaeth has accepted a tenure track job in New Zealand. (NEW ZEALAND, for Pete’s sake!)

The good news is that projects hosted through a university library tend to be maintained longer than those that are solely student-run. Another point in our favour is the fact that our project is focused on making research material globally available rather than answering a particular question; we are creating a digital library of artifacts and inscriptions rather than completing a digital project as part of a course. And finally, while we’ve nearly accomplished what we originally set out to do – digitize the teaching collections of the CNERS Department and create open access online resources – we’ve expanded our goals considerably and we’re thrilled to announce that we’ve received a second year of TLEF funding that will support our new initiatives.

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The things you find hiding in your library…

First,  we are planning to provide up to date bibliographies for the inscriptions in our squeeze collections, and to create ready-to-go teaching assignments for Greek language, history and archaeology classes. Secondly, the librarians in Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC have recently come across a papyrus that we’ve just recently scanned, and a small collection of cuneiform tablets that will be scanned and submitted to the CDLI.

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Tiny enigma

The other new project we have in the works is digitizing the recently donated Harvey F. Blackmore Collection. Harvey Blackmore worked for the Bahrain Petroleum Company in the 1960’s and supervised a number of amateur excavations with the permission of the Bahraini government. The collection of 200 artifacts contains ceramics, metal and stone objects dating from the 2nd millenium BCE to 600 CE. Once digitized, these artifacts will be hosted on Omeka with the George Fuller Collection.

And as always, there are the weird and wonderful surprises that come up when you start opening up archived boxes. For example, we’ve got this tiny metal object that was hidden in one of the ceramics of the George Fuller collection. Maybe it’s a Roman coin, maybe it’s a Byzantine seal. Maybe we need a numismatist.

We’ve also run up against some difficulties in photographing black cylinder seals in the Blackmore collection that we’re pretty excited about solving.

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You have no idea how much work that represents.

We have big plans for testing some new digitization and photographic techniques and have some new blood joining the team this summer; these exciting developments should keep us busy for at least another year. And there’s always papers, posters and panels to prepare for. Chelsea is off to the Society for American Archaeology’s Annual Meeting this week with our poster “From Stone to Screen: Squeezing into the World of Digital Archaeology” (the epigraphy puns never get old). Next month, Chelsea and Gwynaeth have put together a panel for the Classical Association of Canada’s Annual Meeting in Toronto called “Let’s Get Digital” that will showcase digital projects on graffiti, mapping and multimedia collections. There’s a project over the summer at the Athens Epigraphic Museum that I’ll let Chelsea tell you about, a possible trip to Grenoble (pending funding), and about a thousand other things we want to do with From Stone to Screen. I think we can set aside any (immediate) fears of falling victim to digital decay.

 

 

About Lisa Tweten

As one of the project mangers, Lisa is the heart of the project. She works with Digital Humanities to photograph the MacGregor squeeze collection.

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