Sunday, January 29, 2012

News from the CDLI: Mellon-funded digitization of the Geneva cuneiform collection

Mellon-funded digitization of the Geneva cuneiform collection
We are delighted to announce a successful digitization collaboration between the Musées d’Art et d’Histoire of Geneva (MAH) 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 is dedicated to the digital capture, persistent archiving and web dissemination of major cuneiform collections in the US, Europe and the Middle East. The 950 cuneiform artifacts of the MAH, originally collected by the noted Swiss Assyrioliogist Alfred Boissier (1867-1945, PhD 1890 at Leipzig under F. Delitzsch) and acquired by the Museum in 1938, represent a significant archive of texts in a major Swiss collection. In communications dating back to early 2008 between one of us (Englund) and Antoine Cavigneaux of the University of Geneva, the capture of the MAH cuneiform collection was discussed and a plan for this collaboration presented by Cavigneaux to the Museum early in 2011. With the support of Geneva graduate student Émilie Pagé-Perron, CDLI's catalogue documenting the MAH collection, then numbering 391 entries of published texts dating to the 3rd millennium BC as well as to the Old Assyrian period, was supplemented with the full electronic catalogue of artifacts supplied by the Museum. Once an agreement of cooperation was signed between CDLI and MAH, CSDCL's Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (Berlin) postdoctoral researcher Ludek Vacin arranged for two capture missions to Geneva, that took place in July and November of 2011. Following fatcross-processing and cleansing in Los Angeles of the raw images created by Vacin, these files have now been posted to the CDLI website, and can be viewed at <>. Pagé-Perron and Emmert Clevenstine of the University of Geneva are correcting the bibliographical and text content references in the MAH catalogue, and the imaging of some few remaining texts by Ms. Pagé-Perron will complete the formal capture of the originals.

MAH enthusiastically joined this effort to make available its complete cuneiform collection to the world-wide community of web researchers and informal learners. This new web content will assist cuneiform specialists in the collation of existing  editions, including ca. 290 Ur III records published by H. Sauren in MVN 2 (1974); 52 Old Assyrian texts by P. Garelli in RA 59-60 (1965-1966); 20 Ur III letters by E. Sollberger, TCS 1 (1966), as well as 8 ED IIIb accounts by the same author in Genava 26 (1948); and 30 texts from various periods by W. Deonna in Genava 17 (1939) (in JCS 5 [1951], Sollberger published catalogue treatments of a large number of still unedited MAH tablets). We believe that general access to images of all text artifacts establishes the broadest possible foundation for integrative research on MAH and related cuneiform inscriptions by the scholarly community, and we are particularly keen to assist specialists in the preparation of scholarly editions of the nearly 500 documents currently listed as "unpublished unassigned" in our catalogue entries (<>)

We are confident that our adherence in this collaboration to the principles of open access expressed, for instance, in the "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities," promulgated by the German Max Planck Society (<>), best serves all in the Humanities, but particularly those in the fields of dead language research so dependent on access to source materials for their work. In opening to world-wide inspection cuneiform collections such as that located in Geneva, we join other cultural heritage and research institutions in CDLI's 'extended family' who believe that humanists should make every effort to fulfill their curatorial and scholarly responsibilities to permanently archive, and to make available to the public all artifacts of shared world history that are in their immediate, or indirect care.

For the Musées d’Art et d’Histoire: 
Jean-Luc Chappaz, Conservateur, Musées d'art et d'histoire de la Ville de Genève

For the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative: 
Robert K. Englund, Director, CDLI, and Professor of Assyriology, UCLA 
Jürgen Renn, Co-Director, CDLI, Executive Director, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, and Professor, Humboldt University

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