The Next Generation of the Digital Classics Collaboration: Perseus Project’s New Plan by Jong Hwan Lee (PhD Candidate in Philosophy, Woodruff Fellow, Emory Libraries)
On March 20, Perseus Digital Library, which assembles digital collections of Greek and Roman resourses, announced plans to promote online collaboration.
Perseus announces plans to decentralize the curation, annotation, and general editing of the TEI XML texts that it hosts. Ultimately this will include every textual object in Perseus, allowing individuals to modify (where rights allow), and to create new, dictionary and encyclopedia entries, translations, commentaries, introductions, as well as machine actionable annotations such as identifications of people and places and the morpho-syntactic analyses in the Greek and Latin Treebanks.
It is hard to tell from the prototype youtube clips what the actual and final outlook of this change would be like. But I think there are lots of potential for this new plan.
According to a CLIR Report published last year, "Rome Wasn't Digitized in a Day" Building a Cyberinfrastructure for Digital Classics by Alison Babeu, the Digital Classics have gone through four generations so far and now it is time to move toward the fifth generation. The following is a summary of the generations of the digital classics:
1. The 1st generation: make classical texts available online e.g., Latin library
2. The 2nd generation: TLG (invested in professional data entry and checking the texts by scholars).
3. The 3rd generation: professionally entered text, using SGML/XML, e.g., the Perseus Digital Library (later 1980s).
4. The 4th generation: image-front collections and OCR, e.g., Google books from the middle of 1990s.
5. The 5th generation: allowing decentralized contributions from users (integrating the previous generations all together).
Computers have opened a new age in which machines perform the servile secretarial tasks, and so leave the scholar free for this proper function, interpretation. Now the need for classical association to work together, i.e., collaboration, which we could not have seen in the field of the classical studies. According to this report, therefore, providing a platform of collaboration for scholars should be the goal of the fifth generation.
There are several problems to overcome, however, for the Digital Classics to move from the fourth generation to the fifth. First, the structuring of literature in these fields is largely still perceived as paper-based. Therefore scholarly projects areprimarily perceived in terms of 'publishing' in the classical format, that is, paper books or articles. Second, the accumulated research yet depicts the humanist as a solitary scholar who values primary materials and secondary materials—namely books—and engages in browsing behavior more than searching. Furthermore, humanists communicate with each other rather than collaborate, since collaboration implies working together—building—and the humanists’ work is all about deconstructing ideas and dissecting texts
What's the solution? To facilitate greater collaboration in the future an e-humanist workbench should provide a variety of communication and collaboration tools, that is,cyberinfrastructure. The current cyberinfrastructures available, such as 'Digital Classicists', are not satisfactory enough as a space for scholars work together and interact eachother. The Perseus Project's new plan, hopefully, is the solution to the problems of fourth generation of the Digital Classics and the cyberinfrastructure, we've been waiting for.
Furthermore, in order to deal with the first problem I raised, that is, the structuring ofliterature is yet paper-based, there are the need for the new digital critical editions of classical texts, which move beyond the paper-based critical editions. So far the digital classics has been digitizing documents already published in paper formats. However, in order to go beyond current frame works of classical scholarship, a new format of Digital Critical Editions of classical texts. The new format is not done by one individual scholar but by cooperation and collaboration of scholars. It should include images of the manuscripts, inscriptions, papyri, and other source materials, not only those available when the editor is at work but those which become available even after active work on the edition has cease. What's the benefit of the digital critical editions? They will have the ability to better present textual variance in detail. And readers can verify and question the work of an editor directly. Furthermore, scholars can build an open model of the text where the version presented by any one editor is not considered to be 'the' text.
In order to truly meet the need for the new digital critical editions, Open-Source Critical Editions, where all the raw data and proper tools are available, is required so that classics scholars can literally collaborate and build the critical editions together in the same space with the same tools. Again, Perseus Project's new plan will be a perfect cyberinfrastructure for classicists tocollaborate to generate such digital classical editions. It is too early totell how they are going to implement this plan in practice. It is yet exciting to see that they realized the need to move on to the next level of the Digital Classics and that they lead the way again to the new generation as they always have been doing.
Anyways, it comes as no surprise for us to see the addition of advanced digital and computational tools to many classicist's skills. Classics has been a discipline of searching, retrieval, classification, labeling, ordering, display and visualization data. Thus, classical studies is an inherently interdisciplinary field and one that has always made use of advanced technology. Again and as always, classics leads the way.
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