Archive for March, 2013

Conference: Observing the Scribe at Work

There are several interesting conferences and workshops coming up this spring. Here is the Call for Papers for one of them :


The conference will be centred on the figure of the scribe and his role in transferring knowledge. It aims at shedding light on his activities by analysing the evidence left in the manuscripts. Moreover the organisers take an interestingly broad approach. They plan to include examples of scribal activities from all the pre-modern societies gathered around the Mediterranean Sea, so that a very broad and diversified picture of the scribes and their activities can be drawn.
Moreover the subject of this conference seems particularly timely to me, as it alludes to themes which are again more in the focus now, especially in connection with questions treated by scholars from the field of Digital Humanities. The questions are certainly not new and do not exclusively belong to the domain of Digital Humanities, but this discipline is particularly touched by the implications of the answers, which have been given since Antiquity, to these questions. Indeed when trying to establish a digital edition of an existing text, may it come from Antiquity or have been writing more recently, the process involved in all of the stages from writing a text to reading it, and even the text itself, has to be analysed in much detail and defined in a more open way to avoid implicit assumptions which are problematic for the computer. Therefore these questions seem to be at the core of some of the thoughts in Digital Humanities and give new impulses to scholars from other domains to think about the implicit interventions a text is subject to when it is written, copied, printed or read. Scribal activity is certainly one of the domains where many implicit interventions have been made and it is extremely interesting to see that more weight is now given to this part of the transmission.

For another comment on this event, see : What’s New in Papyrology


IANUS is a German initiative which addresses the question of longtime preservation of digital data. It is aiming at providing a repository for digital data in Classics, which will be independent from the research institutions generating and analysing the data. This involves also thinking about standards, best-practises and training-opportunities for scholars/students to get acquainted with the minimal requirements ensuring longtime preservation.
I was invited to take part in one of the working-groups of this IANUS-project. We were focusing on the teaching infrastructures which may be necessary for the dissemination of knowhow about digital methods and tools relevant to the fields of Classics and the preservation of its quality. One of the results of the first meeting was, for me, the perception of a gap between the requirements in the study-programmes taught at University and the skills necessary for the collaborators of some of the current research-projects. A further interesting element was introduced by some of the participants who showed the different degrees of how Digital Humanities could be integrated in the more traditional fields. The steps can vary from the simple offering of some courses in traditional programmes to an entirely independent domain of Digital Humanities linked to no specific content. The aim in the IANUS-project was defined as something inbetween these to extreme positions, where precisely the boundaries between the two domains ‘Classics’ and ‘Digital Humanities’ have to be discussed and where the amount of each of them may vary according to the different needs and research-questions formulated by the several fields of Classics.

Finally it was striking to see the different perspectives between fields like Archaeology and thoses based more on texts and languages. This was in particular visible with regard to the usage of GIS tools. Having attended last November a workshop on GIS for the Humanities, I got some insight about how GIS analyses could be applied to studies on texts. I did not realise back in November, how surprising it was that the archaeologists were almost absent from this workshop. One of the reasons may be that the concept of Humanities itself can be understood in different way, which has as its consequence that the fields do not get the same weight in those different perceptions of Humanities. The French distinction between ‘lettres’ and ‘sciences humaines’ may provide the labels for the differences, as more or less weight may be given in ones definition of ‘Humanities’ either to ‘lettres’ or to ‘sciences humaines’.