Tuesday, September 11, 2018

More Digital Humanities stuff: Digital Papyrology

About a week ago, Pete Williams posted an advertisement for a postdoc in a digital humanities project on Mark 16 based in Lausanne. Needless to say, digital humanities are a very prospective field of research, and textual critics have already begun to rely on some of the first fruits of this line of enquiry. For instance, few people conducting NT text critics could now imagine their lives without the New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room (NTVMR). For those of us dabbing into papyrology and manuscript studies, the same holds true regarding the multitude of essential online resources and databases. In this vein, our blog readers might be interested in the recently published two-volume book Digital Papyrology (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017–18). The first volume, entitled Methods, Tools and Trends (2017) was solely authored by Nicola Reggiani, whereas its (thinner) 2018 sequel Case Studies on the Digital Edition of Ancient Greek Papyri presents a collection of essays edited by Reggiani himself.

Although Reggiani did not intend this to be a handbook or an introductory text-book, it can definitely serve that purpose (and much more). The wide range of topics discussed include digital bibliographies, catalogues, word-indices, online imaging, publication and editing—and everything in between. There is a great wealth of useful information presented here, but what I particularly appreciate is that Reggiani goes beyond merely outlining what’s out there. The various digital tools are scrutinised and contextualised, such that the reader might get a basic critical outlook instead of just a ‘dry’ description of what’s available. The analysis is embedded in a wider discussion concerning what the digital papyrology actually is and what it is becoming.

Until quite recently, conducting papyrological research without being physically present in a highly specialised research library would have been impossible. Today, the comprehensive digitisation of editions coupled with online publication of manuscript images, as well as the actual digital editing that’s taking place, are shifting the paradigm rapidly. A critically acute overview and analysis of the methods and tools that are part and parcel of this shift is thus most helpful. The helpfulness of this work is enhanced further still by the fact that  both volumes are freely available online as eBooks thanks to the Open Access initiative—in keeping with the ethos of this increasingly more inclusive field and its increasingly more widely available tools of trade. Hopefully we’ll see more of this in the days to come. (N.B. Pasquale Orsini’s forthcoming book on Greek and Latin palaeography is also supposed to be an Open Access publication.)

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