Balisage Paper: Integrating Digital Epigraphies (or, if you think the 19th century was bad, try living in the 20th)
Joshua D. Sosin
Josh Sosin is director of the Duke Collaboratory for Classics Computing, a digital classics R&D unit within Duke University Libraries, Associate Professor in Classical Studies and History at Duke University, co-director of the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri, Associate Editor of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, and a bicycling nut. He splits his scholarly activities between (1) the intersection of Greco-Roman law, religion, and economics, and (2) the creation of open, version-controlled, peer-reviewed, multi-author, text curation environments for ancient Greek and Latin texts.
IDEs aims to provide core infrastructure for the field of Greek epigraphy (the study of texts carved on stone), by supporting annotation across an array of disparate digital resources. Epigraphy was born in the early to mid 19th century and has been productive ever since. Perhaps a million Latin and Greek inscriptions are known today. These objects are often badly preserved, physically removed from their original context or even lost; many are repeatedly re-published, emended, joined to other fragments, re-dated, re-provenanced, and not only do they lack a single unambiguous identification system, but many thousands are known by multiple, competing and badly controlled bibliographic shorthands. They are unstable in many senses. Print publication of inscriptions in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th is marked by a considerable and fulsome descriptive rigor. In the generation straddling the 20th and 21st centuries, scholars developed a rich variety digital epigraphy tools. But in all cases these were descendants of previous print resources and entailed significant suppression of the semantic richness that was the (albeit loosely controlled) norm in print publication. In a way, then, much of our effort is devoted to creating a framework for allowing users to re-infuse a suite of late 20th-century tools with the 19th-century scholarly sensibility (and even the very data!) that long informed print epigraphy.