09/24/17 “Manuscripts as Data” @Heidelberg DH Summer School

On 09/24/17, Syriaca.org General Editor David Michelson will present on “Manuscripts as Data” as part of the “1st Summer School of Digital Humanities: Distant Reading – Potentials and Applications” held at Heidelberg University.

The presentation is available here.

Links and projects mentioned in the talk are listed below for reference of those attending the presentation. An additional list of the illustrations used in the presentation is also appended at the bottom.

Links

“Campā Inscriptions ” http://isaw.nyu.edu/publications/inscriptions/campa/index.html “Sanskrit Manuscripts Project.” http://sanskrit.lib.cam.ac.uk/ “International Dunhuang Project.” http://idp.bl.uk/ “HMML Returns to Mali to Digitize Manuscripts from Timbuktu Library.” HMML. http://www.hmml.org/1/post/2013/12/hmml-returns-to-mali-to-digitize-manuscripts-from-timbuktu-library.html “Ethiopia Study Center at HMML.” HMML. http://www.hmml.org/ethiopia-study-center.html Michelson, David Allen. “Mixed Up by Time and Chance? Using Digital Methods to ‘Re-Orient’ the Syriac Religious Literature of Late Antiquity.” The Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture 5, no. 1 (May 3, 2016): 136–82. https://www.jrmdc.com/journal/article/view/80 “The Digital Walters – Digitized Walters Manuscripts.” http://www.thedigitalwalters.org/01_ACCESS_WALTERS_MANUSCRIPTS.html “HMML’s Global Work.” HMML. http://www.hmml.org/our-global-work.html “Gallica.” http://gallica.bnf.fr/html/und/manuscrits/manuscrits “Manuscript Reading Room (Library of Congress).” https://www.loc.gov/rr/mss/ “Digital Public Library of America.” https://dp.la/ “Digitised Manuscripts.” https://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/ “Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek – Kultur Und Wissen Online.” https://www.deutsche-digitale-bibliothek.de/ “DCMI: Home.” http://dublincore.org/ “EAD: Encoded Archival Description (EAD Official Site, Library of Congress).” https://www.loc.gov/ead/ “TEI: Guidelines.” http://www.tei-c.org/Guidelines/ “Fihrist – About.” http://www.fihrist.org.uk/about “E-Codices – Virtual Manuscript Library of Switzerland.” http://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/about/metadata “Handschriftencensus.” http://www.handschriftencensus.de/ “Handschriftenkataloge Online.” http://bilder.manuscripta-mediaevalia.de/hs//kataloge-online.htm “Biblissima.” http://www.biblissima-condorcet.fr “Papyri.info.” http://papyri.info/ “EAGLE Portal |.” https://www.eagle-network.eu/ “T‑PEN.” http://www.t-pen.org “DFG-Viewer: DFG-Viewer.” https://dfg-viewer.de/ “Trismegistos.” http://www.trismegistos.org/ “FAQs | Pelagios Commons.” http://commons.pelagios.org/faqs/ “Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts.” https://sdbm.library.upenn.edu/ “Syriaca.org: The Syriac Reference Portal.” http://syriaca.org/ “Europeana Collections.” Europeana Collections. http://www.europeana.eu/portal/?locale=en “MESA.” http://www.mesa-medieval.org/ Turnator, Ece, Alexandra Bolintineanu, Tamsyn Rose-Steel, Bridget Whearty, and Michael Widner. “Summary of the Proceedings of the ‘Linking the Middle Ages’ Workshop (May 11-12) at the University of Texas at Austin,” July 6, 2015. doi:10.15781/T2MW2C https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/handle/2152/30220?show=full

Illustrations:

Tavernier, Jean Le. Portrait of Jean Miélot, after 1456. Bibliothèque nationale de France. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Escribano.jpg.
Unknown. Cassiodor in Vivarium, Codex Amiatinus. Nach Häufiger Interpretation Basiert Das Bilde Auf Einer Vorlage Aus Vivarium Die Cassiodor Zeigte. Codex Amiatinus, “Esra Arbeitet an Der Bibel”. Anfang 8. Jahrhundert., September 15, 2009. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cassiodor_in_Vivarium.jpg#metadata.
“Model of XML Encoding for Syriac Manuscripts.” https://gallery.library.vanderbilt.edu/exhibits/show/syriaca/item/2562.
Rabulla Gospels Canon Table. Public Domain. Reproduced from “Evangeliarii Syriaci · Gallery.” https://gallery.library.vanderbilt.edu/exhibits/show/syriaca/item/2561.

Article in Journal of Data Mining and Digital Humanities

An article by Syriaca.org editors Nathan P. Gibson, David A. Michelson, and Daniel L. Schwartz titled “From Manuscript Catalogues to a Handbook of Syriac Literature: Modeling an Infrastructure for Syriaca.org” has been published in the peer-reviewed, open-access Journal of Data Mining and Digital Humanities (ISSN 2416-­5999). The article explores the goals and standards of The New Handbook of Syriac Literature. It is part of the Special Issue on Computer-Aided Processing of Intertextuality in Ancient Languages, and is free to read, reuse, and redistribute with attribution under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) 4.0 International License.

View article web page: http://jdmdh.episciences.org/1395

Read and download the article for free in PDF format: JDMDH | arXiv.org

Cite the article (Chicago-style, bibliography):

Gibson, Nathan P., David A. Michelson, and Daniel L. Schwartz. “From Manuscript Catalogues to a Handbook of Syriac Literature: Modeling an Infrastructure for Syriaca.org.” Journal of Data Mining and Digital Humanities Special Issue on Computer-Aided Processing of Intertextuality in Ancient Languages (May 30, 2017): 1–15. http://jdmdh.episciences.org/1395.

 

Abstract

Despite increasing interest in Syriac studies and growing digital availability of Syriac texts, there is currently no up-to-date infrastructure for discovering, identifying, classifying, and referencing works of Syriac literature. The standard reference work (Baumstark’s Geschichte) is over ninety years old, and the perhaps 20,000 Syriac manuscripts extant worldwide can be accessed only through disparate catalogues and databases. The present article proposes a tentative data model for Syriaca.org’s New Handbook of Syriac Literature, an open-access digital publication that will serve as both an authority file for Syriac works and a guide to accessing their manuscript representations, editions, and translations. The authors hope that by publishing a draft data model they can receive feedback and incorporate suggestions into the next stage of the project.


05/27/2017 “Robust Digital Approaches to Literary History” @NAPS 2017

Dr. Nathan P. Gibson, postdoctoral scholar at Vanderbilt University and co-editor of Syriaca.org’s New Handbook of Syriac Literature and Guide to Syriac Authors presented a paper titled “Robust Digital Approaches to Literary History: The Case of Syriac” on May 27, 2017 at the North American Patristics Society (NAPS) Annual Meeting.

View the slideshow: https://goo.gl/4MYc2X

Abstract

For generations, Syriac scholars have relied on literature histories (such as Baumstark’s) and manuscript catalogues (such as Wright’s) to identify, access, and describe Syriac works. Yet these tools are outdated, limited in scope, and laborious to use. In recent years, the scanning of Syriac texts and catalogues has made Syriac literature more accessible than ever before. Still, the lack of any infrastructure for this digitization means that it is the discoverability and accessibility of texts (or lack thereof) that continue to set research agendas. This dual crisis of outdated reference tools and unstructured digitization raises the question: What kind of digital approaches can go beyond perpetuating current research strategies in order to enable solutions to problems in literary history that were previously intractable? Such problems might include identifying the most promising unedited texts, surveying the entire corpus of Syriac literature by genre, or tracing a particular work through its Greek, Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic expressions. In this presentation, I will argue that progress in this area requires a strategy of creating open-access datasets which (1) are interoperable with other datasets and (2) serve as an infrastructure for digital research and cataloguing. Tangible examples of this strategy include two digital reference tools related to Syriac literary history: The New Handbook of Syriac Literature and A Guide to Syriac Authors. The New Handbook is planned to be the most comprehensive and easiest to access Syriac literature guide to date. It complements A Guide to Syriac Authors, which provides names, dates, and other identifying information for over 800 authors of primary texts related to Syriac. This presentation will (1) demonstrate the major features of these works, (2) suggest new research directions they will catalyze, and (3) explain how scholars of patristics and late antiquity can contribute their expertise to these ongoing projects.


Interview with Syriaca.org Editors on Milwaukee Public Radio

Syriaca.org editors Drs. Daniel Schwartz, Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, and Nathan Gibson were interviewed May 24, 2017 on WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio by Mitch Teich of the Lake Effect show.

Listen to the interview: MP3 or click on “Listen” at http://wuwm.com/post/turmoil-displaces-middle-eastern-christians-scholars-work-preserve-syriac-culture.

Read the article: As Turmoil Displaces Middle Eastern Christians, Scholars Work to Preserve Syriac Culture


05/23/17-05/24/17 Syriaca.org Workshop “Mapping Ancient Lives & Social Networks: A Digital Workshop” @Marquette University

The Syriaca.org team is pleased to host thirty scholars for a workshop at Marquette University, May 23-24, 2017. Senior scholars and graduate students from the U.S., Canada, France, and Germany will be trained in digital research methods for scholars interested in social history, hagiography, prosopography, Syriac studies, and the application of digital humanities to the study of late antiquity.

Using a biographical text as a test case, participants will:

  • collaboratively publish a social network graph based on John of Ephesus’ Lives of the Eastern Saints
  • methodologically engage with current trends in digital prosopography, hagiography, and social history in the study of Late Antiquity
  • become familiar with the core digital humanities technologies of TEI XML and Linked Open Data
  • receive technical training in using and contributing to the digital tools of Syriaca.org

Instructors include: Nathan Gibson (Vanderbilt/LMU Munich), Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent (Marquette), David A. Michelson (Vanderbilt), Dan Schwartz (Texas A&M), and Kathy Torabi (Texas A&M). Muriel Debié (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris/Institute for Advance Study, Princeton) will serve as senior respondent to the workshop and offer a closing keynote address.

Topics include: linked-open data, basic TEI XML, the Syriaca.org data model, authoring through Syriaca.org (including XForms), understanding professional credit for digital scholarship. Participants who complete the workshop will also be invited to join in a collaboratively authored encode data from a hagiographical text over the summer.


Interview with Peter Brown and David Michelson about Syriaca.org: Il mondo siriaco ritrovato

Balzan.org recently spoke with Professor PETER BROWN, 2011 Balzan Prizewinner for Ancient History (Graeco-Roman World), about the Project he undertook with the half of the Prize devoted to research. Since 1986, Peter Brown has been the Phillip and Beulah Rollins Professor of History, at Princeton University. Previously he was Professor of Modern History at Royal Holloway College, University of London, and Professor of Classics and History at the University of California, Berkeley. Balzan.org also interviewed Professor DAVID A. MICHELSON, Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity, Vanderbilt University. Professor Michelson was a graduate student of Professor Brown’s at Princeton and came up with the idea for the Syriaca.org portal that is the nexus of the project.

The full interview (in English)  is posted here: Il mondo siriaco ritrovato


02/22/2017 “Challenges of Polyvalent Infrastructures” @Global Philology Open Conference

Dr. Nathan P. Gibson, co-editor of Syriaca.org’s New Handbook of Syriac Literature, will present a paper titled “Challenges of Polyvalent Infrastructures: The Case of Syriac Studies and Syriaca.org” at the Global Philology Open Conference on February 22, 2017.

Slides | Video | Conference Program

Abstract

Syriaca.org: The Syriac Reference Portal is a project started in 2010 to provide digital infrastructures for the field of Syriac studies. This paper surveys the digital services and methods of Syriaca.org in order to present a case study that is relevant to other digital philology infrastructures in two ways. First, these services and methods provide a model for other projects dealing with classical languages and cultures. Second, the project’s experiences illustrate the fundamental challenges and long-term issues that digital infrastructures face when they are built to serve the needs of a wide variety of users.

At the center of Syriaca.org’s digital services is creating URIs that define core entities related to Syriac studies: persons (including authors), places, classical texts, manuscripts, and scholarly literature. URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers) are a technology for structuring linked data. By carefully curating URIs for core entities, Syriaca.org provides an infrastructure for shared datasets that use a linked-open data format. The goal of Syriaca.org is to provide a common authority file which enables libraries to catalogue materials, students and researchers to discover resources, Syriac communities to digitally document their cultural heritage, and digital humanists from diverse fields to connect historical datasets across disciplinary and linguistic boundaries. As a case study, this paper describes both Syriaca.org’s current reference publications (e.g., guides to authors, works, and manuscripts), but also its long-term goals and desiderata.

In examining the work of Syriaca.org to date, this paper identifies three methodological challenges the project has faced in designing and implementing a polyvalent infrastructure capable of serving a diverse user base. First, Syriaca.org serves both librarians and historical researchers. While archivists need stable universal identifiers and definitive authority files, researchers want particular and nuanced data that can accurately reflect primary sources and preserve evidential trains. Negotiating the tension between these needs is a one of the major obstacles to collaboration between projects based in libraries and projects developing out of academic research. A second challenge arose from the need for Syriaca.org to demonstrate that its datasets meet the rigorous scholarly standards developed for traditional print publications, even though its digital workflows for producing, reviewing, and publishing these datasets are non-traditional. A third methodological challenge arose in the need to balance deliverables between those of short- and long-term benefit to a field of scholarship. For example, Syriaca.org has often had to choose between between simply providing better access to existing resources, which is both straightforward and productive, and pioneering new research methodologies, which is arduous but has the potential to generate field-transforming paradigm shifts. In explaining the project’s experience with these challenges, this paper offers one model for how similar work in historical digital philology might proceed and invites discussion regarding how projects of this kind can more effectively overcome these barriers.


01/24/2017 “Toward a Cyberinfrastructure for Syriac Literature” @Digital Classicist Berlin

Dr. Nathan P. Gibson, co-editor of Syriaca.org’s New Handbook of Syriac Literature, will present a paper titled “Toward a Cyberinfrastructure for Syriac Literature: Mapping a Text Corpus using TEI and RDF” at the Digital Classicist Berlin seminar on January 24, 2017.

Abstract

A few years ago, scholars of Greek and Latin literature called for a “cyberinfrastructure” that would facilitate a new generation of digital collections––an infrastructure that uses linked open data approaches to organize the myriad of web resources related to classical studies. Already such frameworks are being built on the basis of existing claves, digital transcriptions of texts, and other tools that comprise standards in the fields of Greek and Latin.

But what would it look like to build a cyberinfrastructure for a field that substantially lacks such standard tools? Scholars have pointed out the necessity of this kind of digital framework for literature written in Syriac, an Aramaic language used widely in the Middle East from late antiquity through the middle ages, and still used by minority communities from India to Lebanon and California. On the one hand, unlike the situation of Greek and Latin texts, there are no comprehensive finding aids and few digital transcriptions for the Syriac works represented in tens of thousands of manuscripts worldwide, despite several centuries of scholarly research and cataloguing. On the other hand, online Syriac resources are spontaneously proliferating as more and more repositories post their collections online and users contribute PDFs to crowd-sourced initiatives. The New Handbook of Syriac Literature, a born-digital reference tool being produced by the Syriaca.org project, attempts to address both of these infrastructural challenges. This seminar will confront the question of how TEI-XML can be used to model metadata about works in a way that supports a larger cyberinfrastructure (including RDF serialization).

Further, the presentation will explore the opportunities such an endeavor has to reorient an entire field. How might such a cyberinfrastructure help reevaluate research priorities, which for centuries have been driven largely by the uneven extent to which certain texts are more discoverable and available than others? And how might it enable scholars to map the entire Syriac literary corpus by subject, time period, or genre––something that has never before been possible? The initial findings and examples presented here may point the way forward not only for Syriac studies, but also for the study of other literary corpora that so far lack standard reference tools and classification schemes.


David Michelson and Daniel Schwartz essay, “Syriaca.org: New Digital Tools for the Study of the Medieval Middle East”

David Michelson (General Editor of Syriaca.org) and Dan Schwartz (Director of Syriaca.org) have recently published an essay,  “Syriaca.org: New Digital Tools for the Study of the Medieval Middle East,”  in Istoričeskij Opyt Mirovyh Civilizacij I Rossiâ: Materialy IV Meždunarodnoj Naučno-Praktičeskoj Konferencii 13 Noâbrâ 2015 G., edited by I. K. Lapšina and O. V. Zaharova, 19–23. Vladimir: Vladimirskij Gosudarstvennyj Universitet, 2016.

Full text of this essay is freely available here: http://hdl.handle.net/1969.1/158440

 


01/11/2017 “Named Concepts Between Reality and Imagination: Syriaca.org’s Approaches to Historical Places and Persons”

Lead co-editor of The Syriac Gazetteer Prof. Thomas A. Calrson will present a paper, “Named concepts Between Reality and Imagination: Syriaca.org’s Approaches to Historical Places and Persons”, at the conference Global Philology – Digital Infrastructure for Named Entities Data, held at Leipzig University on January 11, 2017.

Click here for the full text of this paper.


New Publication: A Guide to Syriac Authors

Syriaca.org is pleased to announce the release of a new online publication:

A Guide to Syriac Authors

A Guide To Syriac Authors Flyer

Photo Credit: “The Evangelists, St. Luke and St. John,” CFMM 37, f. 6r, Church of the Forty Martyrs, Mardin MS 37 (13th c.). Image provided by Syriac Orthodox Diocese of Mardin and the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minn. under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Editors:
David A. Michelson, Vanderbilt University
Nathan P. Gibson, Vanderbilt University

A Guide to Syriac Authors is a scholarly manual with entries on nearly 1,000 authors who wrote in Syriac or otherwise had an influence on Syriac literature. A dialect of Aramaic, Syriac flourished as a lingua franca of the Middle East in antiquity and the Middle Ages. Today more than 20,000 manuscripts preserve texts in Syriac pertaining to theology, philosophy, commerce, science, and medicine. As a digital reference work, A Guide to Syriac Authors employs linked data technology to meet the needs of manuscript cataloguers and historical researchers interested in Syriac authors. Relationships between authors and texts, places, or other persons are documented through links to related information in The Syriac Gazetteer and The New Handbook of Syriac Literature.

A Guide to Syriac Authors is freely available online as the second volume of The Syriac Biographical Dictionary. Readers can browse entries online, download the entire publication in TEI XML, create permanent links to other digital publications, and offer editorial revisions at http://syriaca.org/authors

“This is the first Who’s Who in Syriac Studies, a pioneering tool in a whole range of ancient and modern languages providing information about the individuals through time who created and were part of Syriac culture and still keep it alive today.”
—Muriel Debié, Directeur d’études (Sciences Religieuses), École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris

An informational flyer about this publication may be downloaded here: Guide to Syriac Authors Flyer 2016


New Publication: Qadishe: A Guide to the Syriac Saints

Syriaca.org is pleased to announce the release of a new online publication:

Qadishe: A Guide to the Syriac Saints

Photo Credit: “Three Patriarchs in Paradise in the Monastery of St Moses (Syria).” Paul van Moorsel Centre for Christian Art and Culture. Image provided by Paul van Moorsel Centre for Christian Art and Culture, VU Universiteit Amsterdam under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Editors:
Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, Marquette University
David A. Michelson, Vanderbilt University

Qadishe (from the Syriac word meaning “saints”) is a scholarly catalogue of over one thousand persons venerated in the Syriac Christian traditions. Qadishe includes entries for saints native to the Syriac-speaking milieu as well as for biblical figures and saints from other linguistic or cultural traditions who were appropriated into Syriac religious memory. Individual descriptions of each saint include name variants (in Syriac as well as translation), biographical information such as death dates and related persons, and bibliographies of primary and secondary literature including accounts of the saint’s life. For places and texts associated with a saint, Qadishe provides references to related information in The Syriac Gazetteer and the Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica.

Qadishe is freely available online as the first volume of The Syriac Biographical Dictionary. Readers can browse entries online, download the entire publication in TEI XML, create permanent links to other digital publications, and offer editorial revisions through Gateway to the Syriac Saints: http://syriaca.org/saints

“With its focus on the cult of saints and its literary expression in hagiography, this database offers a new perspective on the richly textured world of Syriac Christianity.”
—Claudia Rapp, Vorstand, Institut für Byzantinistik und Neogräzistik, Universität Wien

An information flyer may be downloaded here: Qadishe: Guide to Syriac Saints Flyer 2016


New Publication: Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica

Syriaca.org is pleased to announce the release of a new online publication:

Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica

Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica Cover Image

Photo Credit: DFM 13, f. 61r, from Dominican Friars of Mosul MS 13 (1723 CE). Image provided by Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Editors:
Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, Marquette University
David A. Michelson, Vanderbilt University
P. Ugo Zanetti, Monastère de Chevetogne
Claude Detienne, Pontificia Universidade Catolica de Goias

The Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica (BHSE) is a guide to over one thousand Syriac stories, hymns, and homilies on Christian saints. These texts blossomed alongside the cult of the saints in late antiquity and the Middle Ages. While traditions in Greek and Latin are well known to scholars, the stories of the saints of the Middle East are only just being discovered. The BHSE makes Syriac hagiography available to scholars and the wider public, with information about these texts including: authors, opening and closing lines, manuscripts, translations, and bibliography. The BHSE is the result of a partnership between Syriaca.org and the Jesuit scholarly society, La société des Bollandistes. The BHSE combines digital scholarship with the methods for the study of hagiography developed by the Bollandists since 1643.

The BHSE is freely available online as the first volume of The New Handbook of Syriac Literature. Readers can browse entries online, download the entire publication in TEI XML, create permanent links to other digital publications, and offer editorial revisions through The Gateway to the Syriac Saints: http://syriaca.org/saints

“An indispensable free resource for anyone interested in Christian martyrs, saints, biblical figures, and monastics at the crossroads of major empires. Multilingual and multipurpose in design, with a window on the diversity of Christianity in the Middle East and a springboard for original research.” —Georgia Frank, Colgate University

An informational flyer about BHSE may be downloaded here: Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica Flyer 2016


9/29/2016 “Modeling a Body of Literature in TEI” @TEI Conference & Members’ Meeting

Syriaca.org editor Dr. Nathan P. Gibson will present a poster coauthored with Prof. David A. Michelson, “Modeling a Body of Literature in TEI: The New Handbook of Syriac Literature”, at the TEI Conference & Members’ Meeting in Vienna, Austria on September 29, 2016. The poster and poster text, not including the schema and commentary, is below:

Poster: “Modeling a Body of Literature in TEI” @TEI Conference & Members’ Meeting 2016

Abstract

The New Handbook of Syriac Literature (NHSL) is a born-digital TEI-encoded reference work for the study of Syriac literature. The first volume, Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica, was published by Syriaca.org in 2016 using a simple TEI schema to describe a single genre (hagiography).[1] In preparation for expanding the NHSL to include other genres, Syriaca.org is revising this TEI schema. The authors actively seek feedback, suggestions, and criticism concerning this revised schema.

Rationale

Syriac is a language which once flourished on the Mesopotamian plateau. A dialect of Aramaic, Syriac was widely used during much of the first millennium of the common era and continues to be used today by a world-wide diaspora. There is currently no comprehensive inventory of Syriac literature. Syriaca.org is a research collaborative building digital tools to “re-sort” and “re-orient” the field of Syriac literature.[2] One such tool is NHSL. Each NHSL entry uniquely identifies a “work” (see below) and links to related digital and print resources if possible. The NHSL also seeks to describe works even if they have never been edited or published, by providing titles and excerpts, author information, manuscript attestations, bibliography, and descriptions of language, genre, and/or subject. The NHSL also documents the relationships between works, authors, manuscripts, and the geographic places with which they are associated.

Although there is a long scholarly precedent for using TEI to encode ancient and medieval texts, past practice has focused on describing specific manuscripts (or text-­bearing objects) or creating editions of works. We found that the use of TEI to encode born-­digital metadata about works was less common. Similarly, in the TEI community at large the <bibl> element and its sibling <biblStruct> are often used to represent bibliographic information for specific publications of a work, but rarely for “works” in the abstract or conceptual sense. This poster presents our approach to modeling such a body of literature in TEI.

The Work Entity

The core entity being modeled in the NHSL is a “work”, which is “a distinct intellectual or artistic creation” as defined by FRBR.[3] In NHSL each work is encoded within a <bibl> element comprising the entire <body> of the TEI document. FRBR work entities are abstract concepts distinct from any historical exemplar. Thus Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” would be a “work” distinct from any extant individual manuscript copies or printed editions of it. The benefit of the FRBR model for NHSL is its capability for grouping related manuscript items, editions, and translations around a conceptual work. For practical reasons, NHSL has simplified the FRBR model into two entities: “works” and “citations”. This two-fold organization is useful because it renders the NHSL easily compatible with de facto descriptive practices (as reflected in RDF vocabularies) of major online catalogues such as worldcat.org, openlibrary.org, dnb.de, and catalog.perseus.org.[4] Such compatibility is necessitated by our goal of linking each “work” to related digital, print, and manuscript citations. Theoretically, our work could be expanded in the future to include the full FRBR taxonomy.

TEI as Metadata Format

Given our project goals, we found a number of advantages in using TEI over other metadata and bibliographic formats such as MARC XML, Dublin Core, MADS, and EAD. In methodological terms, NHSLfollows the documentation norms of the discipline of History, requiring extensive use of footnotes to indicate the provenance of information. Of the above data formats, only TEI’s @source attribute combined with the TEI’s model.biblLike class of elements provided the comprehensive provenance mechanism needed to meet this standard. While other formats do have some ability to indicate sourcing (including @source in EAD), their sourcing mechanisms are not universally available throughout the data model nor able to reproduce a bibliography of citations.  Because TEI permits customization such that @source could be used in a standard way with any element, we are able to record and attribute multiple and even contradictory historical claims to serve our scholarly users. A second benefit to using TEI comes from the relative compatibility of the TEI data model with our project specific needs for RDF serialization. TEI customization provided the simplest method of embedding URIs directly in the data (via <idno>, @ref, <relation>, etc.). While other metadata formats are also capable of serialization into RDF, the extensibility and flexibility of TEI was a particular fit. Third, we found that the generic nature of the TEI offered advantages over more domain-specific data models for metadata. MARC XML, Dublin Core, MADS and EAD are primarily designed with the needs of library or archive use in mind, specifically the creation of standards or “authority” fields. Because in many cases the historical methodology of our project explicitly precludes privileging a uniform title or attributed author for a work above others, we needed the ability to record multiple valid titles and authors for scholarly purposes without having to designate one as authoritative or preferred. Only the TEI allowed such a neutral approach. (We do also recognize the need of catalogues for authority files. By using TEI as a base format, we are able to serialize MADS records with uniform titles for such use. The reverse would not, however, be possible had we begun with MADS. In sum, the granularity of our data in TEI makes crosswalks possible to other, less-granular bibliographic formats.) Finally, TEI’s flexible <note> and <bibl> mechanisms allow us to include a variety of semi-structured textual, descriptive, and bibliographic information including excerpts from the texts of the works (“incipits”, “explicits”, “colophons”, etc.).

  1. See also Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, “Gateway to the Syriac Saints: A Database Project,” The Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture 5, no. 1 (May 3, 2016): 183–204 [https://www.jrmdc.com/journal/article/view/78].
  2. David Allen Michelson, “Mixed Up by Time and Chance? Using Digital Methods to ‘Re-Orient’ the Syriac Religious Literature of Late Antiquity,” The Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture 5, no. 1 (May 3, 2016): 136–82 [https://www.jrmdc.com/journal/article/view/80]; “Syriaca.org as a Test Case for Digitally Re-Sorting the Ancient World,” in Ancient Worlds in Digital Culture, ed. Claire Clivaz, Paul Dilley, and David Hamidović (Leiden: Brill, 2016).
  3. IFLA Study Group on the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records, “Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records: Final Report,” International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, 1998 (revised 26 December 2007), [http://archive.ifla.org/VII/s13/frbr/frbr_current3.htm#3.2].
  4. Nathan P. Gibson, David A. Michelson, and Daniel L. Schwartz, “From Manuscript Catalogues to a Handbook of Syriac Literature: Modeling an Infrastructure for Syriaca.org,” Journal of Data Mining and Digital Humanities (forthcoming), https://arxiv.org/abs/1603.01207.

Poster is copyright Nathan P. Gibson and David A. Michelson, 2016, and licensed for publication under a CC BY 4.0 unported license.


8/20/2016 “Syriac Persons, Events, and Relations (SPEAR)” @Symposium Syriacum XII, Pontificio Instituto Orientale

Syriaca.org editor Prof. Daniel L. Schwartz will present a paper, “Syriac Persons, Events, and Relations (SPEAR)”, at the Symposium Syriacum XII, held at the Pontificio Instituto Orientale in Rome, Italy on August 20, 2016. The abstract for the paper is below:

Recent prosopographical work within the fields of Late Antique, Byzantine, and Anglo-Saxon studies have produced powerful research tools for studying a wide range of historical actors. Nevertheless, the treatment of Syriac persons in these databases remains far from comprehensive. This paper will present the early phase of Syriac Persons, Events, and Relations (SPEAR), a digital database of named and unnamed persons currently based on the Chronicle of Edessa and the letters of Severus of Antioch but soon to expand rapidly. It will demonstrate the value of producing a prosopography comprised of linked open data. Traditional print prosopographies face limits of scale and great difficulty incorporating data from new research. The digital nature of SPEAR allows for theoretically unlimited data from ongoing and future research projects. Encoding the prosopography in TEI (an XML markup language) produces a powerful tool that enables links to other datasets in Syriaca.org dealing with places, manuscripts, hagiography, etc. The presentation will highlight the ability of SPEAR to offer researchers visualizations of these social networks.


8/20/2016 “The New Handbook of Syriac Literature: Bringing Syriac Literature into the Digital Landscape” @Symposium Syriacum XII, Pontificio Instituto Orientale

Syriaca.org editor Dr. Nathan Gibson will present a paper, “Syriaca.org: Frameworks for Digital Research in Syriac Studies”, at the Symposium Syriacum XII, held at the Pontificio Instituto Orientale in Rome, Italy on August 20, 2016. The abstract for the paper is below:

For generations, Syriac scholars have relied on literature histories (such as Baumstark’s) and manuscript catalogues (such as Wright’s) to identify, access, and describe Syriac works. Yet these tools are outdated, limited in scope, and laborious to use. The New Handbook of Syriac Literature is planned to be the most comprehensive and easiest to access Syriac literature guide to date. It will complement A Guide to Syriac Authors, which provides names, dates, and other identifying information for over 800 authors of primary texts related to Syriac. These digital reference tools will not only enable scholars to conduct their research more effectively, but also help them engage in new types of research. This presentation introducing the New Handbook and the Guide to Syriac Authors will (1) demonstrate the major features of these works, (2) suggest new research directions they will catalyze, and (3) explain how Syriac scholars can contribute their expertise to these ongoing projects.


8/20/2016 “Syriaca.org: Frameworks for Digital Research in Syriac Studies” @Symposium Syriacum XII, Pontificio Instituto Orientale

Syriaca.org editor Prof. David A. Michelson will present a paper, “Syriaca.org: Frameworks for Digital Research in Syriac Studies”, at the Symposium Syriacum XII, held at the Pontificio Instituto Orientale in Rome, Italy on August 20, 2016. The abstract for the paper is below:

Syriaca.org is a set of digital tools and reference resources designed to help scholars overcome access and discovery problems which currently impede research on Syriac language, cultures, and history. This paper will introduce the aims and methodology of Syriaca.org, particularly how it is designed to use digital humanities methods, such as Linked Open Data to connect Syriac studies to emerging digital research in other disciplines such as Classical Studies or Museum and Library Science. This paper will discuss as a case study Syriaca.org’s revised digital catalogue of Syriac manuscripts from the British Library. In addition, this presentation will demonstrate a variety of ways that scholars can engage with the resources of Syriaca.org both to further their own research and to collaborate with Syriaca.org.


8/19/2016 “Prologues in Syriac Hagiographies” @Symposium Syriacum XII, Pontificio Instituto Orientale

Syriaca.org editor Prof. Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent will present a paper, “Prologues in Syriac Hagiographies”, at the Symposium Syriacum XII, held at the Pontificio Instituto Orientale in Rome, Italy on August 19, 2016. The paper draws on research in Syriac hagiographical prologues undertaken using Syriaca.org’s newly published Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica of which she is an editor.


6/20/2016 “A Guide to Syriaca.org Reference Tools and Desiderata for Central and East Asia” 5th International Conference on the Church of the East in China and Central Asia @ Universiẗät Salzburg

Syriaca.org editor Nathan Gibson will present “A Guide to Syriaca.org Reference Tools and Desiderata for Central and East Asia” at the 5th International Conference on the Church of the East in China and Central Asia: June 19-22, 2016, Universität Salzburg (Austria).

Persons, places, and hagiographic works relevant to Central and East Asia may be found here: http://syriaca.org/blog/central-east-asia/.

An abstract of the paper is as follows:

Syriaca.org publishes online reference works about places, persons, texts, and events relating to the Syriac communities. As an open-access platform that interfaces with a variety of other online resources (including library catalogues, manuscript repositories, bibliographic databases, and other digital humanities projects), it has the potential to serve as a hub for Syriac scholarship that includes Central and East Asia. However, the data relating to these regions need more development. The present paper will consist of two parts:

  1. a walkthrough of both published and pre-publication Syriaca.org reference tools; and
  2. a discussion of the desiderata for Central and East Asia, including the specific ways that Syriac scholars working on these regions can benefit from and contribute their research to these reference works.

The editors are, in turn, interested in feedback from the conference participants on the most useful directions for developing reference information relating to Central and East Asia.


6/7/2016 “Syriaca.org: Bridging the digital gap between libraries, specialists, and the public” Big Ancient Mediterranean #BAM2016 @ U of Iowa

Syriaca.org editor David Michelson will present “Syriaca.org: Bridging the digital gap between libraries, specialists, and the public” as part of the workshop: Linking the Big Ancient Mediterranean held at the University of Iowa: June 6-8, 2016 (#BAM2016).

An abstract of the paper is as follows and a full link to the presentation is posted below:

Presentation: BAM-Michelson-Syriaca

Abstract: Syriaca.org: The Syriac Reference Portal is a research project publishing online reference works and collaborative digital frameworks for the study of Syriac culture, history, and literature. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic which was once the lingua franca of the medieval middle east. Syriac sources from the ancient world are plentiful, but there is no single national library, university, or research institute which has the resources or long-term mandate to maintain authority files or curate data derived from Syriac materials. Because this void is not likely to be remedied, Syriaca.org has created a linked open data infrastructure that enables disparate digital projects to bridge this institutional gap. At its core, Syriaca.org is a well defined system of URIs for use by three types of end users. For libraries and linked data aggregators, it provides authority files, disambiguation, and federated search. For specialists and those creating digital projects, it makes available open source software customized for representing Syriac-related materials in TEI and RDF and the opportunity for data federation with other projects. Finally, for a general audience (including members of the Syriac heritage communities, students, and researchers in other fields), Syriaca.org publishes core reference works which also serve as an entry point to exploring the linked data it has fostered.


6/2/2016 “Syriaca.org: Meeting Digital Infrastructure Needs for Endangered Cultural Heritage” @ Vanderbilt U. “Cultural Heritage at Scale” #CHAS16

Note: Updated with links.

Syriaca.org General Editor David Michelson will present on “Syriaca.org: Meeting Digital Infrastructure Needs for Endangered Cultural Heritage” as part of “A Semantic Web Symposium: Cultural Heritage at Scale,” June 2-3, 2016, Vanderbilt University · Nashville, Tennessee (http://heritage-at-scale.info/).

Those attending the conference may use the following link (with caveats!) to view the development server for Syriaca.org: http://wwwb.library.vanderbilt.edu/

A brief abstract and outline for the presentation is as follows:

Abstract:
Syriaca.org: The Syriac Reference Portal is a research project publishing
online reference works and collaborative digital frameworks for the study
of Syriac culture, history, and literature. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic
which was once the lingua franca of the medieval middle east. Syriac
sources from the ancient world are plentiful, but there is no single
national library, university, or research institute which has the
resources or long-term mandate to maintain authority files or curate data
derived from Syriac materials. Because this void is not likely to be
remedied, Syriaca.org has created a linked open data infrastructure that
enables disparate digital projects to bridge this institutional gap. At
its core, Syriaca.org is a well defined system of URIs for use by three
types of end users. For libraries and linked data aggregators, it provides
authority files, disambiguation, and federated search. For specialists and
those creating digital projects, it makes available open source software
customized for representing Syriac-related materials in TEI and RDF and
the opportunity for data federation with other projects. Finally, for a
general audience (including members of the Syriac heritage communities,
students, and researchers in other fields), Syriaca.org publishes core
reference works which also serve as an entry point to exploring the linked
data it has fostered.

Outline:

  • What is Syriac? (Images)

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Middle_East_topographic_map-blank.svg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabbula_Gospels#mediaviewer/File:Meister_des_Rabula-Evangeliums_002.jpg

http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Yang_Wengshe_1314.jpg

  • Cultural Preservation Needs of Syriac Heritage Communities

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Middle_East_topographic_map-blank.svg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_State_of_Iraq_and_the_Levant#/media/File:Syria_and_Iraq_2014-onward_War_map.png

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/news/special/2016/newsspec_13854/img/iraq_syria/iraq_syria_976map_27_04_16.png?cb=2

  • Information Infrastructure

 

  • Conceptual “Entities”

persons
places
textual works
manuscripts
modern bibliography
“factoids” (events, biographical data, relations between entities)
subject headings*
physical objects*             *future development

The Emperor Constantine
Baghdad
The Gospel of Matthew
British Library Add. 14451
J. Segal, Edessa (1970)
In 526 an earthquake struck near the city of Antioch.
Monasticism
Orpheus Mosaic (Dallas Museum of Art, DEACC.1999.305)

 

  • Database Design

Each entity type has a database “module” published as an academic reference work.
Each item in the database has a URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) which serves both as a unique identifier and also as a resolvable URL that points to an entry in the database defining that item. Entries in any module can reference items in any other module.

 

  • Technical Standards

Exist-DB Database
-XML native database
-Use of XQuery to manipulate the database
-Open source
TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) XML documents
-TEI XML as the native format
-Strong academic support community

  • Technical Standards

RDF (Resource Description Framework) Serialization
-Ability to share data with partner projects
-Build linked open data (LOD) across projects
-Allow some semantic querying across modules in the database
HTML (Web pages for Humans)
-Standard academic prose for human readers

  • Adopting Best Practices from Cognate Fields

Pleiades Ancient World Gazetteer: http://pleiades.stoa.org
Pelagios Commons: http://commons.pelagios.org/
Fihrist Islamic Manuscript Union Catalogue: http://fihrist.org.uk
Perseus Digital Library: www.perseus.tufts.edu
VIAF: The Virtual International Authority File: https://viaf.org/

  • Fostering Collaboration

Changes to technical standards (ISO Language Codes, TEI guidelines, Library of Congress Transliteration Guidelines)
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (http://www.hmml.org), St. John’s University (Columba Stewart)
Cult of Saints (http://cultofsaints.history.ox.ac.uk), University of Oxford (Sergey Minov)
Monastica (http://monastica.ht.lu.se/), Lund University (Samuel Rubenson)
eKtobe (http://www.mss-syriaques.org/) & Pinakes (http://pinakes.irht.cnrs.fr), Institut de recherche et d’histoire des textes, Le Centre national de la recherche scientifique (André Binggeli)
Trismegistos (http://www.trismegistos.org/), KU Leuven (Tom Gheldof)
Novel Saints (http://www.novelsaints.ugent.be/), University of Ghent (Flavia Ruhani)
Late Antique Historiography (http://www.late-antique-historiography.ugent.be/), University of Ghent (Maria Conterno)
Beth Mardutho (www.bethmardutho.org/), Rutgers University (George Kiraz)

  • Sharing Our Code

LOGAR: Linked  Open Gazetteer of the Andean Region (http://wwwb.library.vanderbilt.edu/exist/apps/logar/index.html), Vanderbilt University (Steve Wernke)
Beta Masaheft (https://www.betamasaheft.uni-hamburg.de), University of Hamburg (Pietro Liuzzo)
Biblia Arabica (http://biblia-arabica.com), Ludwig Maximilian University Munich & Tel Aviv University (Ronny Vollandt)

  • d3js Visualization of RDF

At the end of the talk, we attempted to load this link:

http://wwwb.library.vanderbilt.edu/exist/apps/srophe/modules/d3sparql/index.html

To see the visualization work more clearly, please change the parameter LIMIT 25 to “LIMIT 100″

prefix rdf: <http://www.w3.org/1999/02/22-rdf-syntax-ns#>
prefix owl: <http://www.w3.org/2002/07/owl#>
prefix xsd: <http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema#>
prefix rdfs: <http://www.w3.org/2000/01/rdf-schema#>

SELECT DISTINCT *
WHERE {
?uri a lawd:Place; rdfs:label ?label; dcterms:isPartOf ?rel . ?rel rdfs:label ?relName .
}
LIMIT 100


4/19/2016 Syriaca.org Developing Linked Open Dataset

During the spring 2016 semester, Syriaca.org received support from Vanderbilt University’s Jean & Alexander Heard Library for the project “Linked Data from the Medieval Middle East.” The project was funded as part of the Library Dean’s Fellows Program (http://library.vanderbilt.edu/about/deans_fellows/df_projects.php). The goal of the project was to enhance the digital data of Syriaca.org by serializing (rendering) it into “Linked Open Data”. This dataset can be used for new research methods and to share Syriaca.org’s data with research partners. The results of this project will be integrated into the main Syriaca.org site in the fall of 2016; a draft version is already available for testing.

The basic building block of Linked Data is RDF or “Resource Description Framework.” RDF is a “standard model for data interchange” over the internet and can be used to encode and connect digital data across multiple online databases (https://www.w3.org/RDF/). What makes RDF useful is that it is a semantic language, one that has meaning for both computers and humans readers of the data. This semantic aspect of Linked Data was Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision for the World Wide Web, one in which data from different sites is connected to encourage and facilitate discovery across datasets (https://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/LinkedData.html). Semantic languages can also be used for reasoning, in this case allowing machines to draw logical conclusions from Syriaca.org’s data.

In short, the project “Linked Data from the Medieval Middle East” helps Syriaca.org to breakdown the walls between databases (the so-called “silo effect”) so that Syriaca.org can connect its own findings to multiple databases. These connections (federation) will allow for the growth of digital knowledge about the past.

The specific task of the project was to use the data of Syriaca.org to create a new linked dataset in RDF. The data in Syriaca.org was originally encoded in TEI/XML. However, that is not what the human user sees when they go to the site; they see the “front end.” These HTML pages are easily readable so that a human can quickly glean information and hyperlinks are supplied so that the user can explore other resources. Underneath the HTML pages of Syriaca.org though is very complex digital data in TEI/XML. TEI/XML is ideally suited to represent complex humanities data, but this complexity also makes it difficult to share the data. In order for us to share our data, we needed to create a simplified version using Linked Open Data. Hence the need to transform into RDF. We used a specific RDF syntax known as “Turtle” (TTL), which is relatively simple to read. In addition, we drew on a number of commonly used semantic ontologies (dcterms, rdf, rdfs, lawd, geo, skos), meaning that the resulting Linked Open Data could be queried by machines and partner projects.

One of the desired outcomes of this project is the sharing of Syriaca.org data, and during the fellowship we worked toward partnerships with other scholarly websites. The first of these was with Pelagios (http://commons.pelagios.org/) and its partner, Pleiades (http://pleiades.stoa.org/). Pelagios is a collaborative effort of over thirty scholarly websites who hold geographic data related to ancient art, archaeology, history, and literature. Participants are able to connect their data geographically using URIs from the Pleiades gazetteer. Syriaca.org data will now appear as part of this linked data set.

Another significant accomplishment of the project was successfully hosting this linked data on a Vanderbilt Library server (http://dev-rdf.library.vanderbilt.edu/#/databases/syriaca).  For this we had to set up a new database, an instance of the Stardog platform (http://stardog.com/). Stardog is a tool for exploring large RDF datasets to find relationships in data that may not be visible to the human eye (using SPARQL queries). Because our Stardog database is available through an API on the web, our collaborators can now explore or download the Syriaca.org dataset for their own research and in whatever ways best fit their needs. Moreover, because this same data is linked with Pelagios, scholars searching through Pelagios also be able to discover the Syriaca.org data.

Another project goal was to visualize the data in a more intuitive way to enhance research. Building on the Stardog SPARQL endpoint, we also created visualization module (using d3.js). Using the new visualization tool at Syriaca.org, scholars  can see in a dynamic way the relationships within the data that they may not have otherwise been able to find (http://wwwb.library.vanderbilt.edu/exist/apps/srophe/modules/d3sparql/index.html). For example the following visual graph depicts related places:

skos.related.query.results.png

 

To sum up, the project “Linked Data from the Medieval Middle East” significantly enhanced the data of Syriaca.org by creating new datasets and tools using Linked Open Data. We created a dataset in RDF, set up a Stardog database to hold and query it, shared our data with partner projects, and even created ways to visualize the data. This project made scholarly information freely available and greatly enhanced the ability of scholars to make new connections between historical datasets.

This project was only possible because of a diverse team of academic collaborators with a variety of talents and skills. The team would like to thank Dean Joseph Combs and the Vanderbilt Jean & Alexander Heard Library for their financial and logistical support. In addition, Ranier Simon, Elton Barker, and Leif Isaksen of the Pelagios Project provided helpful input.

Team:

  • Alex Ayris (Library Dean’s Fellow, Graduate Department of Religion)

  • Dr. David Michelson (Project Mentor, Graduate Department of Religion)

  • Winona Salesky (Lead Programmer, Independent Consultant)

  • Dr. Cliff Anderson (Project Mentor, Jean & Alexander Heard Library)

  • Suellen Stringer-Hye (Project Mentor, Jean & Alexander Heard Library)

  • Chris Benda (Project Mentor, Jean & Alexander Heard Library)

This report was prepared by Alex Ayris with the assistance from David Michelson.


3/8/2016 “The Social Context of Religious Change in Late Antique Syria” @ New Europe College, Bucharest, Romania

Syriaca.org director Daniel L. Schwartz will present on “The Social Context of Religious Change in Late Antique Syria” at the conference Faith and Community around the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages at the New Europe College in Bucharest, Romania.

Abstract of the paper is as follows:

The unprecedented scale allowed by recent developments in digital prosopography make possible for the first time the integration of a broad set of data on elite and subaltern actors. Syriaca.org’s SPEAR project (Syriac Persons, Events, and Relations) provides an important tool for analyzing the social context of historical change that extends beyond merely the elite actors who appear most frequently in our narrative histories. This paper will introduce SPEAR and use data from the letters of Severus of Antioch to demonstrate the utility of the project for understanding religious developments in Late Antiquity.


12/3/2015 “The Social Context of Religious Change in Late Antique Syria” @ UC Davis

Syriaca.org director Daniel L. Schwartz will present on “The Social Context of Religious Change in Late Antique Syria” at a workshop on Open Sourcing Religion organized by the Center for Science and Innovation Studies at the University of California, Davis.

Abstract of the paper is as follows:

Best practices in digital religion and cultural heritage preservation urge an approach to data curation that serves the needs of both scholars and the heritage communities. Syriaca.org’s SPEAR project (Syriac Persons, Events, and Relations) draws on developments in the study of social history and popular religion in order to achieve this goal. SPEAR seeks to capture data from the broad range of literary genres preserved by Syriac communities, some of which have been marginalized in modern scholarly practice. The unprecedented scale allowed by recent developments in digital prosopography make possible for the first time this level of integration of data on a broad range of elite and subaltern actors. Principles of linked open data allow the collection and querying of material from chronicles, saint’s lives, and episcopal letter collections so that scholars and members of the heritage communities might better understanding the social context of developments critical to the formation of Syriac history and theology.


11/18/2015 “Lightning Talk” Digital Humanities Working Group, Texas A&M University

Syriaca.org director, Dr. Daniel L. Schwartz gave a lightning talk on Syriaca.org to the Digital Humanities Working Group, part of the Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities Research at Texas A&M University. The meeting included presentations on ten additional Digital Humanities projects at Texas A&M University.


11/13/2015 “New Digital Tools” @Vladimir State University / “Новые цифровые средства для исследования средневекового Ближнего Востока” @Владимирский государственный университет

On November 13, 2015, Syriaca.org general editor Dr. David A. Michelson and director Daniel L. Schwartz presented in absentia a paper titled “Syriaca.org: New Digital Tools for the Study of the Medieval Middle East” at the International Conference on Scholarship and Practice: Russia and the Historical Experience of World Civilizations, Vladimir State University, Vladimir, Russia.

Майклсон Дэвид Аллен и Шварц Дэниэл Л., “Syriaca.org: новые цифровые средства для исследования средневекового Ближнего Востока,” МЕЖДУНАРОДНАЯ НАУЧНО-ПРАКТИЧЕСКАЯ КОНФЕРЕНЦИЯ: ИСТОРИЧЕСКИЙ ОПЫТ МИРОВЫХ ЦИВИЛИЗАЦИЙ И РОССИЯ, Владимирский государственный университет, Владимир, Россия, 13 ноября 2015 г.


10/01/2015 Dr. Nathan Gibson Appointed as Postdoctoral Scholar @ Vanderbilt University & Syriaca.org

Vanderbilt University and Syriaca.org are pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Nathan P. Gibson as a Postdoctoral Scholar in Syriac Studies and Digital Humanities, effective October 1, 2015.

Dr. Gibson will undertake a two-year research project at Vanderbilt University under the direction of Prof. David A. Michelson as part of the Syriaca.org research group. Syriaca.org is a project to document Syriac culture, history, and literature. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic which was once used widely across the middle east and is still used by religious and ethnic minority communities in the region.

Dr. Gibson is trained as a scholar of Classical Syriac and Arabic culture and literature and received his Ph.D. in Semitic and Egyptian Languages and Literatures from The Catholic University of America in 2015. He also holds an M.A. in Biblical History and Geography from Jerusalem University College. His research interests include intellectual and cultural history, particularly as they appear in personal and rhetorical encounters among diverse religious communities of the Middle East. His dissertation, directed by Prof. Sidney Griffith, examined the acclaimed Arabic prose writer al-Jahiz of ninth-century Iraq.

Dr. Gibson’s work for Syriaca.org will involve co-editing several reference works including The Syriac Biographical Dictionary and the New Handbook of Syriac Literature. These resources will enable scholars to better navigate the vast corpus of Syriac literature which survives from antiquity and the middle ages.

As part of Dr. Gibson’s research collaboration, he will also be hosted as a Gastwissenschaftler at the Institute of Near and Middle Eastern Studies of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, Germany.


09/06/2015 “Doktoranden-Workshop Syrologie” an der Universität Konstanz

Syriaca.org assistant director Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent will present a workshop on the two volumes of Gateway to the Syriac Saints (Volume I: Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica or BHSE on hymns, homilies, and lives of Syriac saints, and Volume II: Qadishe on the persons or the saints themselves). The workshop is part of a symposium held at the Universität Konstanz, Germany, for PhD students in Syriac Studies from the German-speaking regions of Europe.

A demo link for this presentation is found here.


8/12/2015 “Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica- Syriac Saints Lives” @Oxford University

Syriaca.org assistant director Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent will present a paper “Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica-Syriac Saints Lives ” as part of the  XVII. International Conference on Patristic Studies at Oxford University on 8/11/2015. This is part of a two panel session on Digital Humanities and the Study of Patristics.

A demo link for this presentation is found here.

The abstract of the paper is as follows:

Syriac literature contains a large corpus of saints’ lives, both from the Syriac milieu and the Greek-speaking world.  Syriac hagiography is an important and underused resource for the study of Early Christianity, bridging the Latin, Greek, Syriac, Arabic, and Sasanian cultures of late antiquity.  This presentation will show how linked data and TEI have enabled the creation of a database of Syriac saints’ lives: Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica.  Scholars and students can now have access to over a thousand Syriac saints’ lives in this database, along with their prologues, incipits, and decipits.  This presentation will show the projects of Syriaca.org which are making hagiographic texts and manuscripts accessible to a wide audience of specialists and non-specialists.

8/11/2015 “Quid ergo Silicon Valley et Hierosolymis? Potential and Perils of the Digital Humanities for Patristic Studies” #oxpats15 @Oxford University

Syriaca.org general editor David A. Michelson will present a paper “Quid ergo Silicon Valley et Hierosolymis? Potential and Perils of the Digital Humanities for Patristic Studies” as part of the  XVII. International Conference on Patristic Studies at Oxford University on 8/11/2015. This is part of a two panel session on Digital Humanities and the Study of Patristics.

A pdf of the handout is here.

The abstract of the paper is as follows:

Over the last half century, scholars studying the history of Christianity have enjoyed an ever-increasing number of electronic research tools, such as text corpora and manuscript catalogues (e.g. Thesaurus Lingua Graeca, Cetedoc, OLIVER). Many of these resources now serve an essential role for research on Christianity in late antiquity. In contrast to this proliferation of databases, there has been surprisingly less methodological reflection among scholars of late antiquity about how digital research has both opened new possibilities and created new blind spots. Fortunately, these are questions of wide academic interest now being addressed beyond Patristic studies by a number of disciplines under the rubric of the “digital humanities”.  This paper brings Patristic studies into this emerging conversation by surveying the current state of digital work in Patristic studies and offering theoretical proposals for its future direction. This paper first surveys existing theoretical work in the digital humanities. Next, this paper brings these debates into conversation with Patristic studies and related disciplines. The paper then concludes a discussion of how new digital projects on Christianity in Late Antiquity could benefit from the methodological reflection occurring in other fields active in digital humanities. Because digital humanities and Patristic studies are both interdisciplinary umbrellas where scholars from multiple fields collaborate there are many fruitful prospects for overlap between the two fields.

The text of the handout is here:

Global Information Capacity 1986 2007
Digital Communication 99% Analogue (34% Print) 51% Digital (13% Print)
Digital Storage (+10,000%) 99% Analogue (.33% Paper) 94% Digital (.007% Paper)
Digital Text N/A 20% Digital Text
Computing Power Increase of 58% per year

Source: Hilbert & López, Science, 2011

 

Recent Theoretical Reflections on the Nature of Digital Scholarship

  1. Theorizing in response to the ubiquity of digital scholarship (M. Terras)
  2. Valuing the organization of knowledge as interpretive work (T. Scheinfeldt)
  3. Re-considering the role of “data” in the humanities (M. Posner)
  4. Promoting public, collaborative, and democrativ humanities scholarship (L. Spiro, A. Koh)
  5. Disrupting knowledge systems (M. Posner, J. Drucker)
  6. Doubting digital salvation (J. Drucker, A. Koh)

 

On Cassiodorus as a Model for DH

“He did not despise the new; he used it wholeheartedly. He did not reject old social institutions, but rather found new ways to adapt them. He did not tarry to prophesy a new age of learning and wisdom. Most of all, he did things. The larger scheme within which he did them was not widely imitated, nor was it imitable…. In Cassiodorus, I find not a patron saint, but a colleague, a practitioner who innovated, failed, and innovated again. He did so on a scale and with a modesty of purpose that guaranteed he would eventually suffer the indignity of a debunking at the hands of a young whippersnapper; but an older practitioner of the new would at last recognize him as a colleague. Cassiodorus solved nothing: that is his virtue. I mean by this construction no disrespect for theory, but perhaps a repositioning.”

Source: O’Donnell, Avatars of the Word, 1998

 

Bibliography

Busa, Roberto. “Foreword: Perspectives on the Digital Humanities.” In A Companion to Digital Humanities, edited by Susan Schreibman, John Unsworth, and Ray Siemens, xvi – xxi. 2004.

Clivaz, Claire. “Common Era 2.0: Reading Digital Culture from Antiquity to Modernity.” In Lire Demain. Des Manuscrits Antiques à L’ère Digitale., edited by Claire Clivaz, Jérôme Meizoz, François Vallotton, and Joseph Verheyden, 23–60. 2012.

Gold, Matthew K. “Facts, Patterns, Methods, Meaning: Public Knowledge Building in the Digital Humanities.” Lecture given at Digital Humanities Plus Art: Going Public, University of Wisconsin – Madison, April 17, 2015. Text published online at http://blog.mkgold.net/2015/04/20/facts-patterns-methods-meaning-public-knowledge-building-in-the-digital-humanities/.

_____, ed. Debates in the Digital Humanities. 2012. (Several essays in this work were consulted).

Hilbert, Martin, and Priscila López. “The World’s Technological Capacity to Store, Communicate, and Compute Information.” Science 332, no. 6025 (April, 2011): 60–65.

Koh, Adeline. “A Letter to the Humanities: DH Will Not Save You.” Hybrid Pedagogy, April 19, 2015. http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/a-letter-to-the-humanities-dh-will-not-save-you/.

O’Donnell, James Joseph. Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace. 1998.

Orlandi, Tito. “Modeling the Coptic Literature. The ‘Corpus Dei Manoscritti Copti Letterari.’” In I&E 2002: Proceedings of the XIV Teble Ronde Informatique et Égyptologie. 2002.

Posner, Miriam. “Humanities Data: A Necessary Contradiction.” Lecture presented at the Harvard Purdue Data Management Symposium, Harvard University, June 17, 2015. Text published online at http://miriamposner.com/blog/humanities-data-a-necessary-contradiction/.

_____. “The Radical, Unrealized Potential of Digital Humanities.” Lecture presented at the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference, University of Pennsylvania, July 22, 2015. Text published online at http://miriamposner.com/blog/whats-next-the-radical-unrealized-potential-of-digital-humanities/.

Roueché, Charlotte. “Why Do We Mark Up Texts?” In Collaborative Research in the Digital Humanities, edited by Willard McCarty and Marilyn Deegan. 2011.

Terras, Melissa. “A Decade in Digital Humanities.” Inaugural Lecture, University College London, May 27, 2014. http://melissaterras.blogspot.com/2014/05/inaugural-lecture-decade-in-digital.html.

 


8/10/2015 “Encoding Western and Non-Western Names for Ancient Syriac Authors” Short Talk at #balisage #culturalHeritage

On August 10, 2015, Syriaca.org team members Nathan Gibson and Winona Salesky will be presenting a short talk, coauthored with David Michelson, at the Balisage Pre-Conference Symposium on Cultural Heritage Markup in Bethesda, MD. (See details in the full program here.) The theme of the symposium is “using markup to preserve, understand, and disseminate cultural heritage materials.”

A preliminary version of the talk is available in the preliminary proceedings, published in Proceedings of the Symposium on Cultural Heritage Markup, Balisage Series on Markup Technologies, vol. 16 (2015), doi:10.4242/BalisageVol16.Gibson01.

Encoding Western and Non-Western Names for Ancient Syriac Authors – Nathan P. Gibson, Winona Salesky, and David A. Michelson

One of the major digital challenges of the Syriaca.org research project has been to encode and visualize personal names of authors in Middle Eastern languages (especially Syriac and Arabic). TEI-XML and HTML are digital standards for the encoding and visualization of cultural heritage data and have features for encoding names and displaying Middle Eastern languages. Because these formats were developed primarily for Western cultural data, however, representing our non-Western data in these formats has required complex adaptation particularly in regard to marking up name parts, customizing search algorithms, displaying bidirectional text, and displaying Syriac text with embedded fonts. These requirements have led us to develop small-scale systems that may be of use to other cultural heritage preservation projects involving names for ancient and, especially, non-Western entities.

 


6/24/2015 “Syriac Studies and Digital Research” Panel at #NASS7

Syriaca.org editors will be presenting on their work in the digital humanities in sessions at the 2015 North American Syriac Symposium held June 21-24, 2015 at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Details are here  and here.

On Wednesday, June 24 from 9:00-10:30 AM, these same scholars will be participating in a panel on “Syriac Studies and Digital Research”. The specific papers are as follows:

Syriac in the Polyglot Medieval Middle East: Digital Tools and the Dissemination of Scholarship Across Linguistic Boundaries – Thomas A. Carlson, Oklahoma State University

The Syriac language has consistently been written in polyglot environments, from competing with Greek and Persian before 600 BCE, to medieval Arabic and Armenian, to modern Swedish and Malayalam.  While some work in Syriac Studies has taken a longitudinal approach to intra-Syriac questions, other scholars have brought a comparative perspective informed by multiple linguistic and religious traditions.  Nevertheless, the study of Syriac sources often remains isolated from scholarship on Graeco-Persian antiquity, Islamic Studies, and the modern Middle East.  The development of the digital humanities provides Syriacists an opportunity to situate our scholarship more broadly and make it more accessible to scholars in additional fields who ought to consider Syriac sources, but who have bypassed them due to linguistic limitations.
This paper has three goals.  First, it explores how seeing Syriac in a polyglot context may broaden the range of questions asked of Syriac sources.  While this is true of all periods, this paper focuses on the medieval Middle East, which is largely studied under the rubric of Islamic Studies by Arabists and Persianists with no knowledge of Syriac.  Secondly, the paper suggests that this diversity, far from vitiating the importance of Syriac Studies, makes it integrally important to a wider range of fields of study than it has yet informed.  Finally, this paper proposes that digital tools, such as Syriaca.org and the forthcoming Historical Index of the Medieval Middle East (HIMME), are useful sites for the dissemination of Syriac scholarship to a broader scholarly community and public, thus raising the profile of Syriac Studies.

“To all scribes who may in the future encounter this book…” Digital Strategies for a Distant Reading of Syriac Literature – David A. Michelson, Vanderbilt University

Jacob of Edessa’s late seventh-century letter to George of Serugh about the craft of writing offers a first-hand account of the transmission history of Syriac texts. Complaints about the lack of standards notwithstanding, the letter reveals that by Jacob’s day the copying of Syriac texts was a well established process with conventions formed over centuries. Indeed, Jacob’s rhetoric shows an awareness of this long durée. Not only does Jacob look backward to dismiss neologisms less than a century old, but he also looks forward addressing his letter “to all scribes who may in the future encounter this book.” Taking its cue from Jacob, this paper proposes a new scholarly approach to the history of Syriac literature.

The diachronic study of large corpora of literature has recently benefited from a variety of new interpretive methods arising from the tools of the digital humanities. This paper investigates the extent (and limits) to which two such digital practices may aid the analysis of Syriac literature. First, the paper weighs the applicability to Syriac manuscripts of Franco Morretti’s hermeneutic of “distant reading”. Second, the paper draws from the work of Charlotte Roueché and the SAWS Dynamic Library of Wisdom Literatures to apply semantic web technology to medieval literary citations. Both methods can be applied to the digital corpora of Syriaca.org to reveal new aspects of textual transmission and manuscript production in the Syriac tradition. While Moretti’s “distant reading” was conceived as an alternative to traditional “close reading”, this paper argues that it may be modified to serve as an auxiliary as well. For example, statistical analysis of the survival of certain texts in Syriac, e.g. the Sentences of Sextus, can aid us to broaden our understanding of representative reading patterns. Similarly, the digital linking and modeling techniques of the SAWS Library bring into focus the role of excerpts and fragments in the production of Syriac texts. In sum, the paper models one way in which the tools of Syriaca.org can be combined with new strategies for textual and codicologial investigation into the long durée of Syriac literature.

In Search of the children of Awgin: Syriaca.org and the relationships of saints’ and their cults in Syriac Christianity – Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, Marquette University

Syriaca.org has created two databases pertinent to the study of Syriac saints, one on persons, and the other on lives. This two-volume project is entitled Gateway to the Syriac Saints.  The first database, Qadishe, is organized around Syriac saints as individual entries and is composed of biographical and historical information about them. Entries are tagged according to hagiographic topoi and motifs.   The second database, Bibliotheca Hagiographica Syriaca Electronica, is organized around literary works, specifically Syriac saints lives or vitae. This database is a legacy project that we inherited from Fr. Ugo Zanetti and his student Dr. Claude Detienne.  Their data contains over 1000 saints’ lives from the Syriac tradition along with the incipit, desinit, and other parts of these lives.  It also contains information on the MSS that contain these lives as well as secondary literature.

In my paper, I will demonstrate the utility of these databases for further research on Syriac hagiography through a case study using the traditions of Mar Awgin.  Syriac hagiographic traditions attribute the founding of many monasteries in Northern Mesopotamia and Iraq to disciples of the legendary ascetic, Mar Awgin.   Awgin was purported to have lived in the fourth century.  His (possibly ninth-century) Vita explains that Awgin was a pearl diver from Clysma (in Egypt) who trained at the monastery of Pachomius to learn ascetic practices.  He then left Egypt with a group of disciples in order to found monasteries in Mesopotamia.  This imaginary link or lineage between the monks of Egypt and the monks of Mesopotamia was set into narrative form through a series of hagiographies of monastic founders who trace their roots to Awgin.  Some of these include: Aaron of Serug, Abraham of Beth Ṣayyare the Penitent, Benjamin, Disciple of Awgin, Dodo, Daniel the Doctor, Mar Eulogius, Mar Ezekiel, Isaiah of Aleppo, and John the Arab.  Each of these has an entry in one or both of our databases. I will show how links among these hagiographic traditions (cultic, literary, material, topographic) can be mapped in our database through the use of linked data and the material that we have collected on these holy persons and their lives.


6/21/2015 Live Demo of Syriaca.org at #NASS7

Syriaca.org editors will be giving a live demo session of the project in conjunction with the 2015 North American Syriac Symposium held June 21-24, 2015 at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Details are here  and here.

The demo will occur on Monday June 22 at 7:30 P.M., David A. Michelson, Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, and Thomas A. Carlson will present as part of a session on tools for Syriac Studies.

Participants in the session may use this link for access to the development version of Syriaca.org (with the warning that this is a preliminary draft site which may be down at anytime.


6/18/15 Syriaca.org Featured in Presentation at ATLA 2015 Conference

A discussion on the important role of librarians in collaboration on Syriaca.org was part of a presentation given by Vanderbilt University library staff as part of “Mining the Information Landscape” the 2015 annual meeting of the American Theological Library Association held June 17-20, 2015 in Denver Colorado. The presentation, “Doing Digital Humanities in Theological Libraries,” was made jointly by Clifford Anderson, Christopher P. Benda, and Eileen Crawford. Syriaca.org General Editor, David Michelson, also participated in the presentation through pre-recorded remarks. The full details of the panel can be found here.


Open Position: Visiting Research Assistant Professor in Syriac Studies and Digital Humanities

Vanderbilt University and Syriaca.org invite applications for the open position of Visiting Research Assistant Professor in Syriac Studies and Digital Humanities. The term of appointment is one full year, beginning in fall 2015, with the possibility of renewal for one further year.

The Visiting Research Assistant Professor will work full time under the direction of Prof. David Michelson on the publications of Syriaca.org: The Syriac Reference Portal (http://syriaca.org/), a digital reference project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The researcher will be affiliated with an academic unit at Vanderbilt University depending on expertise (Classics, Divinity, History, Islamic Studies, Jewish Studies, Religion, etc.). The scholar will also be invited to take an active role in the life of Vanderbilt’s Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities, including its Digital Humanities seminar.

The person hired for this position will be a specialist in Syriac studies with strong linguistic skills (ancient and modern) and considerable experience working with Syriac texts, both editions and manuscripts. There will be a strong preference for a candidate who has experience with digital humanities, especially TEI XML, but additional training in digital technology specific to the project will be provided as needed.

The researcher will be a contributing author to SPEAR (Syriac Persons, Events, and Relations), the New Handbook of Syriac Literature, Gateway to the Syriac Saints, and other Syriaca.org publications as needed. The researcher will collect and interpret data in Syriac and other languages, contribute to evolving data models, test user interfaces and XForms, collaborate with other project researchers, and perform additional project duties as needed.

Term of Appointment
The term of appointment is one full year, beginning in fall 2015, with the possibility of renewal for one further year. Applicants are expected to be in residence for the duration of the appointment.

How to Apply
Applications should be submitted online at: https://vanderbilt.taleo.net/careersection/jobdetail.ftl?job=1504387&lang=en

Please contact Prof. David A. Michelson (david.a.michelson@vanderbilt.edu) with any questions about the position or about the online application system.

A complete application will include the following materials:
1. A cover letter indicating applicant’s qualifications in Syriac studies and, if applicable, digital humanities;
2. A current curriculum vitae;
3. A scholarly publication, dissertation chapter, or digital project representing the applicant’s scholarly achievement or potential (these should be uploaded as attachments in the section marked “Resume and Cover Letter”);
4. Contact information for three referees.

The committee will begin review of applications immediately, with priority given to those applications received by May 22. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

Required Qualifications:  
The Candidate must have previous research experience in Syriac studies, particularly Syriac literature. Reading ability in classical Syriac and at least one other ancient or medieval language as well as relevant modern languages is required. Candidate must hold a Ph.D. or equivalent by January 1, 2016.

Preferred Qualifications:  
We welcome candidates with an interest in digital research methods, such as the use of TEI XML. Ideal candidates should have additional expertise in one or more fields contiguous to Syriac studies, such as Jewish studies, Islamic studies, Middle Eastern or Mediterranean history, Byzantine studies, history of Christianity, Classics, or medieval history.

Vanderbilt University is committed to principles of equal opportunity and affirmative action.


3/31/15 Presentation: “Nineveh No More: Cultural Genocide in Contemporary Iraq and Syria.”

On 3/31/15, Syriaca.org general editor David Michelson gave a presentation, “Nineveh No More: Cultural Genocide in Contemporary Iraq and Syria,” as part of the Spring Faculty Assembly at Vanderbilt University. The presentation focused on the current cultural and political crises in Iraq and discussed the cultural preservation work of Syriaca.org.

A press release from Vanderbilt University is here http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2015/04/zeppos-spring-faculty-assembly-2015/


Syriaca.org Receives NEH Implementation Award

Syriaca.org is pleased to announce that it has received funding from the National Endowment of the Humanities under the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program. The award to be directed by Daniel Schwartz (Texas A&M University) will be used to develop three new resources: 1. an open-source data curation and editorial module which will allow the scholarly community to augment and edit the data published by Syriaca.org; 2. Syriac Persons Events and Relations (SPEAR), a prosopographical reference work for modeling historical events; and 3. A New Handbook for Syriac Literature. The work will be undertaken collaboratively by faculty at Texas A&M University (Schwartz), Marquette University (Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent), and Vanderbilt University (David Michelson).

A press release from Vanderbilt University is here: http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2015/04/david-michelson-neh-grant/

Further details are available from the NEH: http://www.neh.gov/news/press-release/2015-03-23

 


3/26/15 Presentation “Syriaca.org: Preserving the Lost History of Christianity in Syria and Iraq”

Syriaca.org general editor David Michelson will present on the research of Syriaca.org in a guest lecture at Texas A&M University, hosted by the Department of History and the Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture.

The lecture will be held on March 26, 2015 at 2:00 p.m. in 311 Glasscock and is free and open to the public.


3/7/15 Syriaca.org Introductory Workshop

In conjunction with Hugoye Symposium IV, Syriaca.org will be holding a one day workshop for interested collaborators on 3/7/15 at Rutgers University.

The workshop will introduce the linked open data sets and open-source software created by Syriaca,org and demonstrate how it can be re-used for related projects. The workshop will also include an opportunity for discussion of topics of mutual concern to scholars doing digital work on Syriac, such as need for expansion of the Syriac Unicode range.

Any interested scholars are invited to join us for the workshop and should contact  info@syriaca.org for details.


3/6/15 Hugoye Symposium IV: Syriac and the Digital Humanities

Syriaca.org is pleased to be a co-sponsor of Hugoye Symposium IV: Syriac and the Digital Humanities which will be held on 3/6/15 at Rutgers University.

The symposium will feature thirteen presentations by scholars working in varied aspects of Syriac studies including corpus linguistics, digital libraries, manuscript cataloging, and prosopographical research. An online program is here: http://bethmardutho.org/index.php/component/content/article/627.html

The symposium will be streamed online for those not able to attend in person and online audience questions accepted via twitter to @bethmardutho with the hashtag #syrdh.

A small workshop for scholars interested in collaborating with Syriaca.org will be held on the day following the symposium (3/7). Any interested participants are invited to contact info@syriaca.org to join the workshop.

The symposium on 3/6 and the workshop on 3/7 are co-sponsored by Beth Mardutho Research Library, Piscataway, N.J.; Rutgers University Libraries; Rutgers Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literature; Rutgers Center for Middle Eastern Studies; and Syriaca.org: The Syriac Reference Portal, Vanderbilt University.


2/2/15 Introductory Session on TEI for Manuscripts @Vanderbilt University

Syriaca.org editor David Michelson will present to an informational session on on TEI for Manuscripts at Vanderbilt University on 2/2/2015. These are the links for that presentation

XML:
http://dh.obdurodon.org/what-is-xml.xhtml
Gentle Introduction that shows TEI in use:
http://uvatango.wordpress.com/class-materials/tei-handout-poetry-edition/
Simple and sample exercise for using TEI for manuscripts:
http://tei.oucs.ox.ac.uk/Talks/2009-04-galway/exercise-D2_describing-a-manuscript.xml

 

Examples:

http://wwwb.library.vanderbilt.edu/manuscripts/index.html

Sample Entry: https://github.com/srophe/manuscripts/blob/master/747.xml

Sample file: Wright Vol 1 pp 40-96 Biblical Manuscripts New Testament


1/4/15 Syriaca.org Editors Present at the American Historical Association: “The Digital Humanities and the Study of Christianity in Late Antiquity”

On January 4, 2015 Syriaca.org editors Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent, David Michelson and Daniel Schwartz along with Syriaca.org research assistant James Walters participated in a panel on “The Digital Humanities and the Study of Christianity in Late Antiquity: Reflections on a Disciplinary Intersection” at the 129th Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association. The panel was sponsored by the American Society of Church History. Panel details can be found here: https://aha.confex.com/aha/2015/webprogram/Session12400.html.


11/24/14 AAR/SBL Panel on “Eastern Christian Spirituality: Perspectives on Ecology, Nature, the Body, and States of the Soul”

Syriaca.org editor David Michelson will present a paper on 11/24/14 at the American Academy of Religion meeting in San Diego, California. The title of the paper is “The Syriac Gazetteer (www.syriaca.org/geo): A New Reference Work for the Geographic Environment of Middle Eastern Christianity”.

For those following the talk live, here is a list of the links from the presentation. Nota bene: some links are to beta or development code and thus are subject to change:

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/6773.html

http://pleiades.stoa.org/home

http://pelagios.dme.ait.ac.at/api/places/http%3A%2F%2Fpleiades.stoa.org%2Fplaces%2F658457

http://lod-cloud.net/

http://fdslive.oup.com/www.oup.com/academic/pdf/13/9780198722960_prelim.pdf

https://github.com/srophe/srophe-eXist-app/graphs/contributors

http://syriaca.org/place/78.html

http://syriaca.org/place/78/tei

https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1zkXa7AClTIn7MXkJpONUdMGuZwqCMiwIDUT6W_mETVY/pub?w=1440&h=1080

http://wwwb.library.vanderbilt.edu/person/person.html?id=13 (in beta)

http://wwwb.library.vanderbilt.edu:8080/exist/apps/srophe/spear/event.html (in beta)

The abstract for the paper is below:

Ever since Athanasius extolled Christian monks for transforming the desert into a city, scholars have debated the role of geography in the history of Christianity. This presentation introduces a new reference work, The Syriac Gazetteer (www.syriaca.org/geo), designed to facilitate the geographic study of Christianity in the Middle East. The Syriac Gazetteer is one of a series of collaborative open access tools published by Syriaca.org: The Syriac Reference Portal. In this paper, the editors of Syriaca.org will discuss the methodology behind The Syriac Gazetteer, demonstrate its features, and solicit contributions from scholars and the heritage communities. The Syriac Gazetteer currently contains articles about more than 2400 places. This is the first modern reference work aimed at preserving the geographic memory of the Syriac heritage communities (e.g. Chaldean, Assyrian, Aramean, Maronite, Keralite, etc.). The selection criteria of “places relevant to Syriac Studies” include places named in Syriac texts, places interesting to historians who work on Syriac texts (such as Dura-Europos), and places where scholarship on Syriac is being produced (such as Japan). There are no temporal or spatial boundaries for The Syriac Gazetteer, which collects places relevant to any period of history useful for Syriac studies, from places mentioned in the Peshitta version of Genesis to places founded recently, and from ancient Edessa to Mongol-era outposts in China and diaspora communities in the United States of America. At least in theory, any type or size of place could be represented in The Syriac Gazetteer, from large empires to single churches or a particular named city gate. Maps are provided for places whose location is known, but the gazetteer also includes places which are not located or even locatable.


11/23/14 SBL Panel “Digital Humanities in Biblical, Early Jewish, and Christian Studies”

Syriaca.org editors Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent and David Michelson will present at the Society of Biblical Literature in San Diego, California on 11/23/14 as part of the panel “Digital Humanities in Biblical, Early Jewish, and Christian Studies”

Their talk will be entitled “Using Linked Open Data to Explore Manuscript Collections: A Case Study from Syriaca.org”.

For those following the talk live, here is a list of the links from the presentation. Nota bene: some links are to beta or development code and thus are subject to change:

Visualization of LOD relationships between a manuscript (BL Add 12.174) and related entities in Syriaca.org:

https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1zkXa7AClTIn7MXkJpONUdMGuZwqCMiwIDUT6W_mETVY/pub?w=1440&h=1080

Visualization of LOD relationships between literary “works” and the rest of Syriaca.org: https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1Jc8WRZpHr1WvPTraDsuSd9eO6nvUKZl3s20vzugswho/pub?w=1724&h=1118

Entry for “Sinjar” in The Syriac Gazetteer:

http://syriaca.org/place/184.html

Manuscript Description of BL Add 12,174 from a partner project:

http://www.mss-syriaques.org/eng/search/results/141616-Collection-de-Vies-de-saints-et-de-martyrs.html (This is encoded in XML, but the XML is currently not yet accessible directly).

All TEI encoded manuscripts of Syriaca.org in an open access Github repository:

https://github.com/srophe/manuscripts

 

The paper abstract is as follows:

One scholarly benefit of the emerging field of Digital Humanities is the possibility of applying information technologies developed for the world wide web to traditional research questions in the humanities. This paper explores the use of a Linked Open Data model (LOD) by Syriaca.org: The Syriac Reference Portal to build a manuscript union catalogue linking together various Syriac manuscript catalogues. LOD is a set of “best practices for publishing and connecting structured data on the Web.” Syriaca.org is a collaborative online reference tool for Syriac studies. As a born digital reference work, Syriaca.org relies on XML encoded data (describing manuscripts using the TEI guidelines) and a Linked Open Data framework in which conceptual entities (such as persons, places, manuscripts and texts) are linked together using URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers) and RDF (Resource Description Framework). The advantages of the LOD data model for publishing information about manuscripts include robust ability to link manuscripts with named entities or concepts (such as authors, scribes, or locations) and the ability to explore these connections through a knowledge graph. This paper will demonstrate how Syriaca.org has used all of these technologies in its effort to create a union catalogue for Syriac manuscripts.



NEH Humanities Magazine Article on Syriaca.org

The official magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities has a short article on The Syriac Gazetteer in it“Curio” section. The author, Steve Moyer, notes:

“These days, most speakers of Syriac come from Syria and Iraq, two countries which are wracked by civil war and from which many Syriac speakers are fleeing. An NEH-funded website devoted to the Syriac language is an international editorial collaboration led by experts at Vanderbilt and Princeton universities. Part of the website is a gazetteer containing descriptions of more than twenty-four hundred places relevant to the study of Syriac”

Source:
Moyer, Steve. “Wherever Syriac Is Spoken.” Humanities (November-December, 2014), 4-5. Accessed November 12, 2014. http://www.neh.gov/humanities/2014/novemberdecember/curio/wherever-syriac-spoken.

9/16/14 National States Geographic Information Council Annual Meeting

In September, Anthony Davis, a Ph.D. student at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, and a Syriaca.org research assistant, introduced Syriaca.org to state Geographic Information Officers from around the country in his presentation, “Geographic Texts: Using Machine Reading to Markup Geographic References in Texts” at the National States Geographic Information Council 2014 Annual Conference in Charleston, SC. Davis discussed the Syriac Gazetteer in detail highlighting the fact that the gazetteer’s data files reside in the open-source eXist XML DB and is encoded following the Text Encoding Initiative’s (TEI) standards. Davis demonstrated how this open data architecture allows one to use the Syriac Gazetteer as an “Authority File” to programmatically – via the XML query language known as xQuery – find geographic references in text documents. While this method is of great interest to those in academic settings, Davis concluded the presentation with a scenario where federal, state and local governments can use the same eXist architecture to geocode their own agency’s government documents, such as Laws and Statutes. Slides from Davis’ presentation are available at: http://www.nsgic.org/public_resources/2014_09_16_10_Texts-Davis.pdf


Syriaca.org Editor Daniel Schwartz Receives SEC Faculty Travel Grant

Syriaca.org is pleased to announce that Dr. Daniel Schwartz of Texas A&M University has received a grant from SECU, the academic initiative of the Southeastern Conference. The SEC Faculty Travel Grant Program is intended to enhance collaboration that stimulates scholarly initiatives between SEC universities. Funding from the SEC was used by Prof. Schwartz to travel to Vanderbilt university in June of 2014 to collaborate on Syriaca.org research with David Michelson, general editor of Syriaca.org.


6/9-6/20/2014 Syriaca.org Developers Participate in the NEH Xquery Summer Institute

Syriaca.org is excited to be one of the projects featured as a sample project at http://xqueryinstitute.org/. Senior programmer Winona Salesky and general editor David Michelson are both serving as institute faculty. Syriaca.org is built using the XQuery functional language and eXist-db native XML database.


Biblical Archeology Society Comments on Digital Gazetteers

Sarah Bond of the University of Iowa has written an interesting round up for the Biblical Archeological Society on digital gazetteer projects for the ancient world including The Syriac Gazetteer. Her article notes:

“The utility of historical geography in uncovering early Christian communities can also be seen in a number of projects currently on the web. Recently, the field of Syriac studies was transformed by the unveiling of Syriaca.org. Of special interest within this site is the Syriac Gazetteer, a geographical reference work that allows individuals to explore Syriac sites on the web. The site exemplifies something key to the success of any Digital Humanities project: collaboration. Digital projects have allowed endangered languages such as Syriac to become more visible, accessible and geographically understood.”

Source:
Bond, Sarah E. “Map Quests: Geography, Digital Humanities and the Ancient World.” Biblical Archaeology Society. Accessed June 5, 2014.

5/23/2014 Syriaca.org Editors Present Panel at North American Patristics Society

Three of the Syraica.org editors will participate in a panel “Introducing Syriaca.org: New Online Tools for the Study of Syriac Christianity” as part of the 2014 annual meeting of the North American Patristics Society in Chicago, Illinois.

A copy of the handout from the presentation is here: NAPS2014SyriacaorgHandout

The full program is here: http://patristics.org/annual-meeting/program/

May 23, 2014
Session 28 9:00-10:40 AM, Room: Michigan C
Introducing Syriaca.org: New Online Tools for the Study of Syriac Christianity
Chair: Joel Kalvesmaki, Dumbarton Oaks
David A. Michelson, Vanderbilt University:
“Syriaca.org as a Model for Collaborative Research on Late Antiquity”
Daniel L. Schwartz, Texas A&M University:
“Networks beyond Borders: The Potential of a Syriac Prosopography”
Jeanne-Nicole Saint-Laurent, Marquette University:
“Digital Gateway to the Syriac Saints”
Maria Doerfler, Duke Divinity School:
Response


5/16/2014 David Michelson and Syriaca.org Graduate Assistants present “Finding Colophons in Syriaca.org: Exploring the TEI Encoding Model” at the 2014 Hugoye Symposium (Rutgers University)

On 5/16/2014 David Michelson and Syriaca.org Graduate Assistants Justin Arnwine and Anthony Davis will present a paper “Finding Colophons in Syriaca.org: Exploring the TEI Encoding Model” at the 2014 Hugoye Symposium (Rutgers University). The full program is at http://www.bethmardutho.org/index.php/hugoye/hugoye-conference.html

A handout for the presentation can be found here:

Handout for Hugoye Symposium III Colophons in the Syriac Tradition


3/30-4/1/2104 Syriaca.org Editors Participate in a Workshop on Standards for Networking Ancient Prosopographies

Standards for Networking Ancient Prosopographies: Data and Relations in Greco-Roman Names (SNAP:DRGN) is a collaborative Digital Humanities project to address the problem of linking together large collections of material (datasets) containing information about persons, names and person-like entities managed in heterogeneous systems and formats. SNAP is funded by the U.K. Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The Principal Investigator for SNAP is Gabriel Bodard (King’s College London), Co-Investigators are Sebastian Rahtz (Oxford), Mark Depauw (Leuven), Leif Isaksen (Southampton) and Hugh Cayless (Duke), and the Technical Lead is K. Faith Lawrence (King’s College London).

The project website is  http://snapdrgn.net/.

 


3/29/2014 Jeanne-Nicole Saint-Laurent will participate in a roundtable “Syriac Studies: What’s still Missing and What’s To Come”

Prof. Saint-Laurent will discuss her digital humanities work with Syriaca.org among other aspects of Syriac studies as part of The Fifth Dorushe Graduate Student Conference on Syriac Studies to be held in 2014 at Duke University.

Here are some demonstration links for that presentation:

The Syriac Gazetteer: http://syriaca.org/geo/

Additional Documentation:

http://syriaca.org/geo/browse.html
http://syriaca.org/geo/about.html

Sample Full Entry: Edessa: http://syriaca.org/place/78
Sample Entry Waiting for Dorushe Participants to Enrich It: http://syriaca.org/place/139


3/18/2014 David Michelson will give a workshop: “Introduction to Digital Humanities and Syriaca.org” at Gordon College, Mass.

David Michelson will present a workshop for students at Gordon College on 3/18/2014:

“Introduction to Digital Humanities and Syriaca.org”

Below are some notes for the presentation which will introduce Syriaca.org, the broader field of digital humanities, and discuss the Text Encoding Initiative’s guidelines for cataloging manuscripts.

Outline

Alphabet Soup:

  • Syriaca.org: The Syriac Reference Portal
  • Linked Open Data
  • RDF (Resource Description Framework)
  • URI (Uniform Resource Identifier)
  • Cyberinfrastructure
  • Authority Control
  • Virtual International Authority File
  • XML (eXtensible Markup Language)
  • TEI (Text Encoding Initiative)

Links:

“Report on the Destruction of Syriac Cultural Heritage in the Contemporary Middle East”

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nHhX1AqjJE511KeLoqKS_FPcVK_ZBss6n5F62lJX-Q8

What are the digital humanities?

If you want a bibliography here is a course I am teaching: http://paralipomena.com/schedule/

If you want a quick overview showing how one part of the digital humanities can be useful, I would watch this: http://vimeo.com/36752317

If you want some specific reflection on questions, you could read:

Data from Syriaca.org:

A general overview of the entire Syriaca.org project is here.

The Syriac Gazetteer:

Since this is a pre-publication draft, please note that these links are for demonstration and testing purposes only and should not be cited. This is especially important since these URLS and content will change before publication.

The Syriac Author Database:

Manuscripts:

About XML:
http://clover.slavic.pitt.edu/humcomp/what-is-xml.php
Overview of TEI:
http://www.wwp.brown.edu/outreach/seminars/tei.htm
Simple and sample exercise for using TEI for manuscripts:
http://tei.oucs.ox.ac.uk/Talks/2009-04-galway/exercise-D2_describing-a-manuscript.xml


02/07/14 Thomas Carlson to present: “Syriaca.org: Religious Geography Over Time and the Challenges of Digital Classification”

Dr. Thomas Carlson will be presenting a paper, “Syriaca.org: Religious Geography Over Time and the Challenges of Digital Classification” as part of the Religion and Digital Technologies Workshop hosted on February 7, 2014 by the Center for the Study of Religion, Princeton University. A Program for the event is here.


12/3/2013 Building Tools for Digital Collaboration: A Case Study from Syriaca.org (Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University)

On Dec 3, Syriaca.org general editor David Michelson will be presenting a demonstration of the Syriaca.org collaborative tools to the Digital Humanities Seminar at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University.

A general overview of the entire Syriaca.org project is here.

A very rough visualization of the data architecture can be seen here.

The Gazetteer module homepage may be viewed at demo.syriaca.org

A list of all places is viewable as a Browse Menu.

Our model entry is Edessa.

A demo showing how a propospography entry might link to manuscript entries and other data is here: http://pipsqueak.atlantides.org/srpdemo1/persons/13.html

Since this is a pre-publication draft, please note that these links are for demonstration and testing purposes only and should not be cited. This is especially important since these URLS and content will change before publication.


Co-Editor Thomas Carlson Awarded Digital Humanities Prize for Research with Syriaca.org

Syriaca.org is pleased to announce that Dr. Thomas Carlson, postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton University and co-editor of the Syriac Gazetteer, has been awarded Second Prize in the Global Digital Humanities Essay competition sponsored by the University of Lethbridge, Global Outlook::Digital Humanities, and the journal Digital Studies/Le champ numérique. An announcement of the winners is here.

The prize was awarded for Dr. Carlson’s research proposal: “Digital Maps are still not territory: Challenges raised by Syriaca.org’s Middle Eastern places over two millenia.” Winners were selected from among more than fifty research papers “looking at some aspect of the national, regional, or international practice of the Digital Humanities.”

 


11/23/13 SBL AAR Demo

The Syriaca.org team will be giving a private demo at the AAR SBL.

Temporary links to the demo site for that presentation are:

The Gazetteer homepage may be viewed at demo.syriaca.org

A list of all places is viewable as a Browse Menu.

Our model entry is Edessa.

A general overview of the entire Syriaca.org project is here.

Our work adopts the Un-GIS model advocated by Sean Gilles (co-author of GeoJSON) in this article: What’s an Un-GIS?

The general architecture of our project owes much to the work of Tom Elliott at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.

Please take a moment to give us feedback on our project at our user study. We appreciate your input!


11/15/13 Vanderbilt Geographic Imagination and the Spatial Humanities Seminar

On November 15, David Michelson will give a presentation of the Syriac Gazetteer to the Geographic Imagination and the Spatial Humanities Seminar at the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities.

Temporary links to the demo site for that presentation are:

The Gazetteer homepage may be viewed at demo.syriaca.org

A list of all places is viewable as a Browse Menu.

Our model entry is Edessa.

A general overview of the entire Syriaca.org project is here.

Our work adopts the Un-GIS model advocated by Sean Gilles (co-author of GeoJSON) in this article: What’s an Un-GIS?

The general architecture of our project owes much to the work of Tom Elliott at NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.

Our data model is this TEI Schema (Since we created this from scratch, we would love your comment on it from any perspective to help us improve it. Even–or especially–if you are not familiar with TEI, please do look it over and offer any feedback.)

Underlying data formats for our project at XML>TEI and Linked Open Data>RDF Triples. We are also using spatial coordinates though not strictly GIS data.

A demo showing how a propospography entry might link to manuscript entries and other data is here.

Since this is a pre-publication draft, please note that these links are for demonstration and testing purposes only and should not be cited.  This is especially important since these URLS and content will change before publication.


11/1/13 SEC Workshop Presentation (Univ. Tenn.)

On Nov. 1, David Michelson will be presenting a demonstration of the Syriaca.org tools to the SEC regional faculty workshop “Cultures of the Late Antique Mediterranean” hosted at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Temporary links to the demo site for that presentation are:

A general overview of the project is here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1hh9HjEPrfluHUCRDOLSU7DXrU3CkPnakkvWk0nwV5kE/pub

The Gazetteer homepage may be viewed at demo.syriaca.org

A list of all places is viewable at http://srophe.github.io/srp-places-app/browse.html

Our model entry is Edessa: http://srophe.github.io/srp-places-app/places/78.html

A demo showing how a propospography entry might link to manuscript entries and other data is here: http://pipsqueak.atlantides.org/srpdemo1/persons/13.html

Since this is a pre-publication draft, please note that these links are for demonstration and testing purposes only and should not be cited.  This is especially important since these URLS and content will change before publication.


4/2/13 Workshop on using TEI for Syriac MSS (Gordon College, Mass)

David Michelson presented a workshop for students at Gordon College on using TEI for Syriac MSS.

Links for the presentation include:

Alphabet Soup:

  • Syriaca.org: The Syriac Reference Portal
  • Linked Open Data
  • RDF (Resource Description Framework)
  • URI (Uniform Resource Identifier)
  • Cyberinfrastructure
  • Authority Control
  • Virtual International Authority File
  • XML (eXtensible Markup Language)
  • TEI (Text Encoding Initiative)
  • EAC (Encoding Archival Description)

Sample Data:
Persons:
www.demo.syriaca.org
Authors:
http://viaf.org/hosted/syriac/
Places:
http://pleiades.stoa.org/
Linked Open Data for Places:
http://pelagios.dme.ait.ac.at/api
Manuscripts:
http://www.fihrist.org.uk/
Background Reading:
Authority Control:
http://viaf.org/
Cyberinfrastructure:
http://www.acls.org/uploadedFiles/Publications/Programs/Our_Cultural_Commonwealth.pdf
Linked Open Data:
http://wiki.digitalclassicist.org/Linked_Ancient_World_Data_Institutehttp://vimeo.com/36752317
XML:
http://clover.slavic.pitt.edu/humcomp/what-is-xml.php
Overview of TEI:
http://www.wwp.brown.edu/outreach/seminars/tei.htm
Gentle Introduction that shows TEI in use:
http://uvatango.wordpress.com/class-materials/tei-handout-poetry-edition/
Simple and sample exercise for using TEI for manuscripts:
http://tei.oucs.ox.ac.uk/Talks/2009-04-galway/exercise-D2_describing-a-manuscript.xml
EAC:
http://socialarchive.iath.virginia.edu/prototype.html
Creative Commons:
http://creativecommons.org/


4/23/2013 : Presentation “Identity and Identification in the Digital Humanities” at Princeton University

On Saturday, March 23, 2013, Thomas Carlson, postdoctoral fellow, presented a paper at the “Identity and Authenticity” Symposium of the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence in Princeton, NJ.  The full title of the talk was “Identity and Identification in the Digital Humanities: The Challenges and Experience of Syriaca.org.”  Here is the abstract:

The growing field of digital humanities seeks to bring together research problems defined in the humanities with the amazing surge of computational power developed in recent technology.  The result is a constellation of new tools being developed to enable humanistic research, while grappling with the theoretical issues distinctive to the humanities which resist the tidy definition of problems and answers in terms of mathematical formulae and computational precision.  One such tool is the Syriac Reference Portal (Syriaca.org), a reference website for Syriac Studies currently being developed jointly by researchers at six institutions including Vanderbilt University, Princeton University, and the Beth Mardutho Research Library.  This talk will present an overview and partial demo of Syriaca.org which is collecting data about Syriac authors, saints, people mentioned in Syriac texts, and places, while enabling automatic linking of our data with existing tools such as online manuscript catalogs.  The talk will consider challenges of “identity” and “identification” in relation to digitization. The problem of the identity of past persons, places, and objects (such as manuscripts) includes the question of how to represent multiple and/or ambiguous identification within the constraints of databases.  The Syriac reference portal has worked to overcome these issues through collaboration between technical experts and humanities researchers, in order to develop tools useful for complex data discovery, authority control and context-independent identifiers for computational use.


Irreconcilable differences? Name authority control & humanities scholarship, a joint reflection on Syriaca.org/Viaf collaboration

This post is co-authored with Karen Smith-Yoshimura, OCLC Research.

[ Ed. note: The Syriac Reference Portal has been privileged to collaborate with OCLC Research for the past two years on preparing an author authority file for Syriac Studies. We recently took time to write up some joint reflections. This same blog post also appears at http://hangingtogether.org/?p=2621]

Over the past year OCLC Research has been working with a group of Syriac studies scholars with the goal of tapping their expertise to enrich the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF), by adding Syriac script to existing names and adding new ones. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, developed in the kingdom of Mesopotamia in the first century A.D. It flourished in the Persian and Roman Empires, and Syriac texts comprise the third largest surviving corpus of literature from the fourth through seventh centuries, after Greek and Latin. We anticipated that the issues we addressed could then be applied to scholars in other disciplines. We started with the assumption that the scholars could use the Library of Congress’ Metadata Authority Description Schema, or MADS.

We have learned a lot in the process of building a bridge between scholarly interest in names as a subject of historical research and VIAF’s interest in persistent identifiers for each name in authority files. We found that we shared values for name authorities:

  • Scholars and librarians share a mutual appreciation for each others’ work on identifying names appearing in historical research.
  • Many scholarly projects in the digital humanities are already relying on VIAF for authority control and to anchor Linked Open Data. The Syriac scholars pointed us to digital humanities projects— such as the Fihrist, a union catalog of Islamic manuscripts hosted in the UK, and those listed in the Digital Classicist Wiki under “Very Clean URIs”—that have adopted VIAF URIs as the best method for authority control and to link to other data sets.
  • VIAF can provide part of the cyberinfrastructure for digital humanities, a standard way for linking and querying data, a need identified by The American Council of Learned Societies’ national Commission on Cyberinfrastructure.

We discovered two key issues important to scholars that just don’t mesh well with the library practices represented in name authority files, which VIAF aggregates, due to differences in intended audiences, disciplinary norms, and metadata needs:

  • Scholars eschew a “preferred name”. Libraries need to bring together all the variant forms of a name under one form, choosing a “predominant form” if a person writes in more one language. This approach meets the discovery needs for a specific national or linguistic community. Scholarship is international, and the “preferred name” in one locale will differ from another. Further, the context is crucial for classifying names. For scholars, a “preferred name” needs to also include by whom and for what purpose it is preferred. For example, a Syriac name in use in 600 may be classified as “classical Syriac”; but the same name in use one thousand years later may be classified as a neo-Aramaic dialect. The same Syriac author might have multiple “preferred forms” in multiple languages (Syriac, Arabic, Greek), each used by different or competing cultural communities. This applies to other languages as well. Scholars resist declaring a “preferred form” because it could exclude some historical or cultural perspective. Each form may be “authoritative” depending on the time and place it appears.
  • Scholars need to know the provenance of each form of name. When a name has multiple forms, scholars—especially historians— need to know the provenance of each name, following the citation practices commonly used in their field. Historical and textual scholarship is built on conventions of evidence and values the process of contesting intellectual claims. MADS does not provide the structure for citing these sources or providing the required contextual information. Although library practices require “literary warrant” to justify why one form of name was chosen as the authorized heading or access point, they do not document the context for any of the variant forms. There is not even a field to indicate the language of a name’s form. We can deduce the language of the preferred form only by the source of the authority file. Scholars find little value in name information without provenance data, an equivalent of footnotes.

The good news is that our collaboration has pointed the way for future interaction between VIAF, the VIAF Council, and the scholarly community:

  • Syriac studies colleagues are building their own Syriaca.org database where they can describe each personal name with the granularity that meets their scholarly requirements. We will work together to create a crosswalk so that OCLC Research can extract the information that fits into a MADS structure, and can still enrich existing VIAF clusters with Syriac and other script forms or add new names. VIAF and Syriaca.org will follow existing protocols for using the http://viaf.org/viaf/sourceID namespace in minting URIs for new names not yet in VIAF.
  • For those who need the additional details, people could click a link to the name in the Syriaca.org database, much as those who want to read a biography of a VIAF name can click on a Wikipedia link, if present. Thus VIAF can still integrate scholars’ expertise and serve scholarly users without needing to overcome the fundamental differences between library and scholarly practices.
  • Syriaca.org will work with OCLC and the VIAF Council to establish a path for other scholarly research organizations to contribute to VIAF.

The screen captures of the current VIAF cluster and a Syriac Reference Portal Demo record for Ephrem below help us imagine how VIAF could be enhanced.

VIAF Cluster

VIAF Cluster

Extract from the Syriac Reference Portal Demo

Extract from the Syriac Reference Portal Demo

Karen Smith-Yoshimura, program officer at OCLC Research, works on topics related to renovating descriptive and organizing practices with a focus on large research libraries and area studies requirements.


3/19/2013 Recommend Resources for Digital Humanists (Presentation at Vanderbilt University Digital Humanities Seminar)

The following link provides links and a list of key terms for understanding the technical standards and design of Syriaca.org. This list was prepared for a presentation about Syriaca.org on 3/19/2013 at Vanderbilt University and is not intended to be exhaustive.

Click here for Links and Further Reading