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Byzantine seals in a digital age: new tools for European research

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Digiseal (Byzantine seals in a digital age: new tools for European research)

Période du rapport: 2015-09-01 au 2017-08-31

Museums, libraries and private collections throughout the world hold many Byzantine seals: these are sealings in lead from the eastern Roman empire (4th-15th century). The seals contain descriptions of the persons responsible, as well as their chosen iconography. While scholarly understanding (sigillography) has been improving, the resultant publications are expensive and not easily accessible. Recently an international network of scholars discussed online publication of seals (as SigiDoc), using the subset of TEI-XML markup known as EpiDoc, developed initially for inscriptions, coins and papyri, with particular input from King's College London (KCL), but now being widely deployed. This Fellowship allowed the Fellow, already an expert in sigillography, to work at KCL, developing a protocol (SigiDoc) for adapting EpiDoc for the publication of seals.
The objectives were: 1) Academic: Publication online of collections of seals, from the British Library, London (about 330 seals) and a couple of private collections (about 350). 2) Digital: The creation of a new tool for the digital edition of seals, based on the XML language. 3) Curatorial, exemplified at the BL and the participation of th eFellow to its catalogue.
The outcomes are: a) a digital corpus of Byzantine seals, in a full scholarly edition, intended to serve as a pilot; b) a set of tools, protocols and guidelines for others to use, and to facilitate interoperability between projects.
At the very beginning of the fellowship, in September 2015,the relevant Curator at the BL resigned, and a new Curator – Dr Peter Toth – was only appointed in February 2016. This delayed the beginning of the work on the BL collection and led to a new negotiation with the Library about the terms of the collaboration, which ended with a mutually satisfying agreement only a few weeks before the fellowship ended. This will necessarily delay the appearance of the planned publication.
The fellowship was terminated almost 9 months earlier than expected, because the Fellow was elected to a permanent position as ‘senior lecturer/assistant professor’ in Byzantine history at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. But his three main objectives have been achieved: the digital tool for the edition of the seals is ready, two of the three collections of seals have been prepared for edition, and an official collaboration with the British Library has been formalised through an agreement. The project has contributed to the establishment of a new professional skill, digital sigillography.
The sigillographic objective: Two of the three collections have been entirely edited and are now ready for publication; the third one (from the British Library-BL), is still being prepared.
The digital objective was the creation of a new methodology. During the first year (2015-2016) the Fellow was introduced to an entirely new field of study at KCL, taking courses in Web Technologies, Digital text editing and publishing, Spatial humanities and Digital cultural heritage. He also received constant tutoring/monitoring from his supervisor, Dr Tassos Papacostas, and from Prof. Charlotte Roueché (KCL) and Dr Gabriel Bodard (Institute of Classical Studies, University of London) to introduce him to EpiDoc. Pr Roueché and Dr Bodard also encouraged the development of NUDS (Numismatic Description Standard - American Numismatic Society) and SigiDoc. In addition to this informal, but indispensable tutoring, the Fellow attended a 5-day EpiDoc Workshop in London (April 2016), for formal training. (This all covered Workpackage 1).
On this basis, the Fellow developed the ‘digital infrastructure’ necessary for the scholarly digital edition of Byzantine seals in XML:
- A formal editorial structure based on NUDS, adapted to the needs of sigillography;
- The associated editorial tools, based on EpiDoc;
- A new protocol for the description of iconography, one of the most challenging aspects of this project;
- Categories for tagging and indexing the legends, based on EpiDoc.
These are the requirements for publishing a sustainable corpus, rather than a rapidly outdated database.
This was the main part of the Workpackage 2 and it has been successfully achieved.
Academic: In June 2016 he Fellow organised a Digiseal workshop in London, with colleagues from France, Germany and the UK, to examine his proposed schema and suggest amendments. He has been presenting the project at different stages, particularly to the Institute for Byzantine Studies, Paris. Training sessions are planned in Paris, Köln, and in London/Oxford. The Fellow will create an online blog to share materials and receive feedback.
Museums: Although delayed by changes in personnel, careful discussions led to an agreement with the British Library for an eighteen-month collaboration (beginning in March 2017), for the study and publication of their collection of Byzantine seals. This material will be published online as an entirely new part of the BL catalogue, providing a ‘simplified’ version, intended to be useful both to the general public and to expert users, combining detailed scholarship and wider dissemination.
Public: the already mentioned collaboration with the BL is crucial, since it is a condition of the agreement between the Library and the Fellow that the BL catalogue points directly to the Fellow’s scholarly online edition, thus giving the work extraordinary visibility, and giving the public access to material which has been very hard to access.
Another main objective of this fellowship concerned the career development of the Fellow: this objective has been fully achieved, since he has been appointed as ‘maître de conférences’ in Byzantine History.
Outputs: a pilot version of the project is planned for Spring 2017. The proposed formal publication was delayed by changes at the BL, but is now under contract. The Fellow’s blog will appear shortly.
The study and publication of Byzantine seals now have a new tool, which represent a major progress beyond the state of the art and should permit the creation of sustainable, interoperable publications.
During the Fellowship a new network of collaborations has been established in order to ensure the continuation and further implementations of the project:
-The British Library (already explained).
-American Numismatic Society: adaptation of NUDS for SigiDoc, and presentation of their unpublished sigillographic collection.
-University of Köln: Prof. Claudia Sode is training students to use SigiDoc for the edition of a private collection held in Germany.
-Maison Française, Oxford: Dr Vivien Prigent (CNRS) is planning to use SigiDoc for the edition of an unpublished collection held in Paris.
-Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Cabinet des Médailles: Dr Frédérique Duyrat (Director), and Dr Florence Codine are heavily involved in NUDS and keen to exploit the possibilities of SigiDoc for one of the largest collections of Byzantine seals in the world.
-Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (Washington, D.C.): Dumbarton Oaks holds another of the largest sigillographic collections in the world; they have been offering advice, and will consider migrating their own online catalogue into SigiDoc.
-Université Paris-Sorbonne: the Fellow is now a permanent member of this institution, included in the Labex (Laboratoire d’Excellence) Resmed. The Fellow intends to train students in SigiDoc with a view to developing a major online publication.
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