Thursday, November 13, 2014

Work in Progress at the Ancient World Image Bank

Work in Progress at the Ancient World Image Bank
Digitizing the 35mm slides of Cornelius and Emily Vermeule and improving technical infrastructure for better access and digital preservation. 
by Tom Elliott Nov 13, 2014 
Work in Progress at the Ancient World Image Bank
Iris and Emmanuel at work on the Vermeule slide inventory. Photo by Kristen Soule for ISAW.
Many members of the ISAW community are aware of our Ancient World Image Bank (AWIB) project. It began in 2009 — and continues today — as a collaborative effort to collect and share free, open-access images of archaeological sites, landscapes, and artifacts. This academic year we are working on two new initiatives that will enrich AWIB's content and improve access to it.

Digitizing the 35mm slides of Emily and Cornelius Vermeule

Among the treasures of the ISAW library are over 2,000 volumes that constitute The Collection of Emily and Cornelius Vermeule. The generous gift of Cornelius Vermeule to the Institute, this collection includes a number of rare editions of works on classical archaeology and philology, as well as many difficult-to-find books acquired on research trips abroad by the collectors. In addition to the books, the gift included pamphlets, offprints, and 43 metal boxes containing 35mm slides, most of which appear to have been original creations, rather than purchased sets. We estimate the total number of slides at around 3,200. Most of these boxes appear to have been organized for lectures, and are accompanied by varying degrees of documentation.
The AWIB team, in collaboration with Library staff, is currently conducting an inventory of these slides, with the objective of distinguishing between those that are original photography of objects or sites, and those that were shot from plates in books or other published sources. Once the inventory is complete, the original photography will be scanned and copies of these images, complete with as much descriptive information as can be collected, will be added to the contents of AWIB. Iris Fernandez, the AWIB Managing Editor, is carrying out this work with the assistance of an academic intern, Emmanuel Aprilakis, a Classics major from Hunter College.

Upgrading for access and preservation

We are also retooling the technology that underpins AWIB in order to:
  1. improve our ability to publish images to the ISAW Photostream on the photo-sharing website,
  2. establish a purpose-built website for all AWIB imagery, and
  3. automate the deposit of all our content in the NYU Faculty Digital Archive (FDA).

Iris and Emmanuel are joined in this work by ISAW's Associate Director for Digital Programs,
Tom Elliott, and by Ronak Parpani, a Master's student in Computer Science at NYU's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

Our new software for uploading images to Flickr will take full advantage of the service's application programming interface, improving the quality of the imagery and descriptive information we can upload and making the process easier and faster.
The new "native" website for AWIB is being built with the open-source Omeka content management system, developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. It will provide more nuanced display and search of our descriptive information than Flickr provides, and will also give us an environment we can customize in the future to better integrate AWIB content with our other online resources.
Depositing copies of AWIB imagery and descriptive data in the Faculty Digital Archive will help protect AWIB from degradation or catastrophe for the long haul. Operated by NYU's library system, the FDA keeps multiple digital copies of each deposit in geographically separated locations and constantly performs automated testing to ensure that those copies remain complete and unchanged.

Impact and participation

This year's work, supported by the Director's Projects and Grants Fund, will not only expand the content and features of the Ancient World Image Bank, but also establish it as a mature system to support the entire ISAW community in collecting and disseminating imagery for teaching, research, and scholarly communication.
Readers interested in contributing their own original imagery to AWIB may contact the Managing Editor via Those interested in providing financial support to the project may contact Tom Elliott at or make a contribution to the ISAW Digital Programs Fund via one of the mechanisms described on the Giving to ISAW page.

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