Reporting for Digital Duty


Today begins my project of publishing online the 121 Roman tombstones that are housed in Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). These stone inscriptions — mostly Latin and carved in the first two centuries AD — were donated to the university by Prof. George N. Olcott in 1912, and were only uncovered during recent research towards a centennial exhibition commemorating his bequest.

This is what a Latin inscription looks like! The text is often damaged, incomplete or difficult to read.

By publishing these inscriptions online, scholars around the world will have fast and ready access to these important historical documents at Columbia, fifty of which have never been published before. My work also contributes to a larger project that seeks to bring online all of the ancient Roman inscriptions in the U.S., with accurate texts, high-quality images and searchable, linked metadata for each piece. To achieve this we are using EpiDoc, a collection of guidelines for capturing the information from these particular kinds of documents and marking that up in XML.

I am excited about this project because I will learn new skills while making a real contribution to my field. My aim with this blog is to document the progress I make.

As a graduate student in Classical Studies at Columbia University, however, I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues also working in digital humanities and social sciences at Columbia. For example, we could probably use digital technology to streamline how we record spatial information during the archaeological field work each summer at the APAHA project at the Villa San Marco in Castellammare di Stabia, Italy. And after the stone inscriptions have been published, there are over 3,500 coins in the RBML that need to be catalogued properly before scholars can access them for study — thus I hope to apply the lessons I learn this year for larger projects in the future.

Some of the challenging spaces and architectural features we have to record quickly and accurately during excavations.

Please get in touch with me ( if you would like more information — or if you want to collaborate with me on this project or learn more about digital publishing with me over the 2012-13 year. Apparently I've already learned how to use WordPress! For now though I have to wade through those EpiDoc guidelines and figure out how to track different edited versions of coded texts. Till next time!

2 thoughts on “Reporting for Digital Duty

  1. I found your recent presentation interesting. I have only taken a half-year of Latin, years ago, so I am not ‘applying’ to participate. This morning I chatted during commute with an acquaintance, who said one son is studying it, (I assume just in 6th-grade at present).
    I told about the Olcott collection and ‘drew’ the ivy leaf symbol you showed, as an example of additional metadata you include. I will try to keep current with your posts.

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