The Centre is located in a newly-converted room at 67 St. Giles close to the Ashmolean Museum, which offers seminar facilities as well as housing the Centres research and computing resources.
The Centre provides a home to the University's collection of squeezes (paper impressions) of Greek inscriptions, which is one of the largest in the world, with more than 20,000 items. The strengths of the collection lie in its broad coverage of early Greek inscriptions, Attic epigraphy and the Hellenistic world. Individual sites well represented include Chios, Samos, Priene, Rhodes, and Samothrace. The material in the archive is currently being reorganised and catalogued. Questions about the availability of particular items may be addressed to Dr. C.V. Crowther at the Centre.
The Centre, in addition, maintains a growing photographic collection, and houses the Haverfield Archive of facsimiles, drawings, photographs and squeezes of the Roman Inscriptions of Britain. The Centre also has valuable collections of academic (mainly epigraphical) papers left by Th. Wade-Gery, L.H. Jeffery and D.M. Lewis. The material left by Professor Lewis includes a valuable collection of 2500 transcripts of Elamite cuneiform texts from the Persepolis Fortification archive made available by Dr. M.W. Stolper of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. Access to this material is for the moment restricted.
The Centre has a small library, made up of epigraphical and papyrological books donated by Brasenose College library, and also houses two substantial collections of offprints, inherited from Prof. A.A. Andrewes (general Ancient History) and Prof. A.A. Schiller of Columbia University (Papyrology and Greek and Coptic legal scholarship).
A primary focus for the Centre's activities is the exploitation of new technology resources in the study of documentary sources. The Centre now has available a range of IT equipment and aids for the study of ancient documents, including a scanner and digital camera, running on Power Macintosh computers. The Centre is creating a database catalogue of its research collections and maintains a WWW site for on-line publication of its research activities.
Affiliation to the Centre is open to scholars working in relevant fields and involves being placed on a mailing list for distribution of the Newsletter and other news about the Centre's activities. Enquiries about affiliation should be addressed to the Administrator at the Centre.
Not the least significant aspect of the award is that it helps to fill a gap in teaching and research left by the abolition of the Faculty Lectureship in Greek Epigraphy formerly held by the late Professor D.M. Lewis.
The project developed out of an initiative to reorganise and catalogue Oxford University's squeeze collection and make it accessible as a research resource to the widest possible audience. The availability of the collection, together with developments in digitising and networking - above all, the growth of the WWW - created an opportunity to build an image database of inscriptions that could be made widely accessible through existing and future electronic networks. A model and inspiration for the creation of such a database was offered by work being undertaken at Michigan and Duke Universities, under the auspices of APIS (Advanced Papyrological Information System) - in particular, the Duke University Papyrus Digitization project, which has made available hundreds of high quality photographs of papyri from its WWW site.
The potential advantages of an image bank of this kind are compelling. Photographs of inscriptions can be called up directly on a computer screen, enlarged, adjusted and compared using programmes such as Adobe Photoshop. To take full advantage of these possibilities, the project is making a fresh start. The aim is not so much to digitise existing photographic resources - although these will not be neglected - but to create a database of new photographs created under controlled conditions and to a uniform scale so as to make them directly comparable one with another. For this purpose, images will be created directly from squeezes, using either, as at present, a flatbed scanner or, eventually, a digital camera. The opportunity to carry out an undertaking of this kind is, of course, offered by the existence of the Centre's own extensive squeeze archive.
There are no magic techniques (yet!) for making illegible texts reveal their secrets. Reading difficult inscriptions directly or from squeezes will remain a painstaking task sometimes requiring an imaginative contribution. Scholars will always need to go back to the original stone or a squeeze to verify readings of intractable texts. But our images will, we hope, help them to control their interpretations.
The study of lettering styles can also benefit from the resources potentially offered by the database. Again, we do not pretend to offer a short-cut to the skills and techniques of analysis developed by Professor Stephen Tracy of Ohio State University in identifying the work of individual letter cutters. But if a large corpus of samples of lettering can be built up, some of the unsystematic and subjective character of datings offered for inscriptions on the basis of their letter forms can perhaps be ameliorated.
During the initial experimental stage of the project images have been captured at resolutions of 150 and 300 dpi (dots per inch). Since the standard image resolution of a computer monitor is 72 dpi, images of this or higher resolution can be viewed very satisfactorily on a computer screen. An image of 150 dpi can be magnified approximately twice on a computer screen without loss of definition, an image of 300 dpi four times, and so on. Each time the resolution of the image is doubled, however, the size of the resultant file is quadrupled. High resolution images of large objects, such as squeezes, will therefore be very large - a 300 dpi greyscale scan of A4 size, for example, could easily take up 8 Mb of storage. The size of files can be reduced using compression techniques by up to six times without perceptible loss of quality, but even so, compromises will be necessary in presenting and distributing the images. It is impractical to download for immediate viewing many - or, indeed, any - files of more than 500 Kb over existing networks. For most epigraphical purposes, however, images of inscriptions of 150 or even 75 dpi (equivalent to a full-sized image on the computer screen) are adequate and with compression can be reduced towards a size that can be transmitted rapidly over the currently available bandwidth on the network. Ten sample images of this size (100-350 Kb) have already been posted on the Centre's WWW site and are available immediately for viewing or downloading. When downloaded, the images can be stored and printed out satisfactorily using conventional inkjet or laser printers.
The techniques used in creating the image database are relatively simple and can readily be applied elsewhere. The computing and imaging resources required are no longer out of the ordinary - a Power Macintosh computer running Adobe Photoshop 3.0 and a UMAX Powerlook scanner. The process of scanning and photographing squeezes and inscriptions to obtain satisfactory images, however, is time-consuming. Part of the experimental character of our project is the uncertainty of just how long it will take to build up a database of this kind. The project is still at an early stage, and the existing database consists of no more than 100 images, ten of which are at present available from the Centre's WWW site. By the end of the first year of the project, our aim is to have increased both figures at least 10 times. By then, we shall know how far the project can be taken„expect a further progress report in the third issue of the Newsletter in a year's time!
25 January: Dr. A.K. Bowman, "New Texts from Vindolanda"
8 February: Dr. C.V. Crowther, "Epigraphy and the Second Athenian Confederacy"
15 February: Dr. D. Obbink, "A New fragment of Eumelos recovered from carbonised papyri"
29 February: Dr. R.S.O. Tomlin, "Some Romano-British Curse Tablets"
The seminars will be take place in the Centre (67 St. Giles) at 5.00 p.m.
The Centre is able to provide a base for a limited number of visiting scholars working in fields related to its activities. Enquiries should be addressed to the Director.
A.K. Bowman MA PhD FBA
Oxford OX1 1DP
Tel. 01865 276202
C.V. Crowther MA PhD
Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents
Management Committee Prof. P.J. Parsons (Christ Church); Prof. E.M. Steinby (Institute of Archaeology); Dr. B.M. Levick (St. Hilda's College); Dr. D. Obbink (Christ Church); Dr. R.G. Osborne (Corpus Christi College); Dr. R.S.O. Tomlin (Wolfson College)
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