Wednesday 20 June 2012

Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine - New Partner Introduction

The Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine Project (IIP) is thrilled to be a new Pelagios partner. We are especially looking forward to becoming a part of the rapidly growing linked dataset of materials on the ancient world.

IIP is an internet-accessible database of published inscriptions from Israel/Palestine that date between ca. 500 BCE and 614 CE, roughly corresponding to the Persian, Greek, and Roman periods. The purpose of this database is to provide a tool that will make accessible the approximately 15,000 relevant inscriptions published to date, together with substantial contextual information, including geographical information. As of 2012, the database holds about 1500 inscriptions, with two levels of transcription (diplomatic and edited), translations and detailed metadata and notes. More inscriptions are added regularly. The inscriptions, in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, range from imperial declarations on monumental architecture to notices of donations in synagogues to humble names scratched on ossuaries, and include everything in between. The goals of this project are (1) to collect these inscriptions in one place; (2) allow for this data to be integrated with other contextual information that would open new avenues of scholarly investigation; and (3) to allow for easy access to it.

The project began in 1996 at the Institute for Advanced Digital Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia as a prototype under the name "Inscriptions of the Land of Israel". Although that project has been decommissioned, the Document Type Definition developed for it (in SGML), with modifications, continues to anchor the project. The project moved briefly to Indiana University in 1999, where the DTD was converted to XML and a second prototype (also now decommissioned) was produced. The project moved to Brown University in 2002, and soon went into production, under the auspices of the Scholarly Technology Group, now reorganized as the Center for Digital Scholarship.

The texts are extensively marked-up by student encoders, before they are added to the database. The IIP DTD was designed from the start to treat the inscribed object as primary and to focus on its various attributes, rather than foregrounding the inscribed text in the form of a print publication. IIP encodes inscription metadata in the Header of the document, (similar to the TEI header), using controlled vocabularies and information structures, recording information such as type of object; date range; locations (present, find, and original); type of inscription; language, etc.). In the body of the document, Individual <div> sections contain the diplomatic and edited version of the texts, in their original languages, and an English translation. The source of each is always acknowledged.

The project is under the direction of Professor Michael Satlow, and employs several part-time student encoders, one of whom is designated as the senior encoder. Encoders follow an extensive set of guidelines when they prepare their data. Records are then checked by the senior encoder before being uploaded to the test server, where they are checked by the project director before being uploaded to the production server. Current support for this project comes entirely from Brown University. The Center for Digital Scholarship provides basic technical support, and other divisions within the university (most generously the Office of the Vice President for Research) contribute necessary operating funds.

Currently, IIP is in the process of cross-walking its original schema to Epidoc, and plans to complete the conversion by the end of summer 2012. We have also been experimenting with timelines and map views of our data.  Our partnership with Pelagios has come at an opportune moment, as we have been focussing on improving and using our geographic data. Place names in IIP are encoded using the vocabulary from TIR (Tabula Imperii Romanii, Iudaea, Palestina).  We began matching places to Pleiades IDs, but did not have a high success rate. As we have already derived latitude and longitude from the Israel plane coordinates in TIR, we hope to match more places, with the help of Pelagios. Once this has been achieved, we will be able to provide Pelagios with a set of Pleiades IDs, as well as the names and URIs of the inscriptions from those places.

When the conversion of the IIP source files into Epidoc P5 is complete, and we have updated our delivery system to handle them, we can start to provide better linked data hooks. Some examples are to enrich the markup with rdfa attributes, and to provide our data in other formats, such as json. We would like to draw on the collective LAWDI and Pelagios experience before making those decisions, so as to make it as useful as possible.

Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine is an ongoing project at Brown University. It has been generously supported by the Center of Digital Scholarship and the Office of the Vice President of Research at Brown University.

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