Thursday, February 10, 2011

News from CDLI: Digital capture of the Harvard cuneiform collection

Digital capture of the Harvard cuneiform collection
We are very pleased to announce completion of an initial stage of collaboration between the Semitic Museum (SM), Harvard University, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-supported research project "Creating a Sustainable Digital Cuneiform Library" (CSDCL). Under the general direction of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI - Los Angeles/Berlin), CSDCL has over the past two years been involved in the digital capture, persistent archiving and free Internet dissemination of significant cuneiform collections world-wide. The over 4600 cuneiform artifacts of the Semitic Museum represent a very significant archive of texts in a major American collection--indeed, after the collections of Yale, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago, this is the fourth largest collection in the US, with, among other inscriptions of historical interest, a uniquely important group of legal texts from the middle of the 2nd millennium BC; a set of widely cited administrative documents from the 24th and 21st centuries BC; and a still largely unpublished archive from the period of Persian rule over Babylonia. In furtherance of a collaboration between members of the CDLI and Harvard academic staff, notably Benjamin Studevent-Hickman, and with the kind approval of Piotr Steinkeller and the assistance of James Armstrong, Lance Allred was able to commence scanning of the collection in May of 2009, and has since made several trips to Cambridge to continue his work. Following cataloguing, and fatcross-processing and cleaning of raw files in Los Angeles, initial images were posted to the CDLI website in July of the same year. While much of Dr. Allred's early work was dedicated to the capture of the important Nuzi collection of the SM, subsequent scanning sessions have begun with the systematic digitization of all texts without regard to their state of publication; these can now be viewed at or by searching the CDLI database.
Since September of 2009, this cooperation has been under the direct supervision of James Armstrong's successor, Dr. Adam Aja; with Dr. Aja's close collaboration, we have been able to reformat to CDLI standards the Museum's full cuneiform collection catalogue, and he has facilitated the creation and signing, by legal representatives of the President and Fellows of Harvard University and the Regents of the University of California, of an agreement of cooperation between the SM and the CDLI that went into effect on 23 April of 2010. 
From the beginning, SM viewed this effort as an opportunity to make available its cuneiform collection to the world-wide community of web researchers and informal learners. The agreement between Harvard and UCLA that lays out the SM/CDLI collaboration is designed to assist cuneiform specialists in the collation of existing publications, while at the same time providing general access to tablet images in conjunction with collated transliterations to lay the broadest possible foundation for integrative research by the scholarly community. We are confident that our adherence in this collaboration to the principles of free and open access best serves all in the Humanities, but particularly in the fields of dead language research that are dependent on the availability of primary source materials for their work. In opening to world-wide inspection cuneiform collections such as that located at Harvard, we believe, further, that humanists fulfill their curatorial responsibilities to permanently archive, and to make available to the public all such artifacts of shared world cultural heritage that are in their immediate or indirect care.

For the Semitic Museum, Harvard University:
Lawrence E. Stager, Director and Curator
Piotr Steinkeller, Curator of Cuneiform Collections

For the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative and UCLA:
Robert K. Englund, Director, CDLI
Tim Stowell, Dean of Humanities, UCLA

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