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

Posted by on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 in Uncategorized.

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


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 Yet these tools are outdated, limited in scope, and laborious to use.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 This dual crisis of outdated reference tools and unstructured digitization raises the question: What kind of digital approaches can go beyond perpetuating current research strategies in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.

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