CO 72.2 [Winter 1995], p. 72: Book review
Accessing Antiquity: The Computerization of Classical Studies By JON SOLOMON, ed. Tucson, AZ: Univ. of Arizona Press, 1993. Pp. x and 186. Cloth. $35.
Whereas many of us have for many years been piecing together, from newsletter items and status reports, our own unique picture of what has been going on in the world of computerized resources for the Classics over the last twenty years or so, it is reassuring to find that we now have a fairly comprehensive, historical document that provides a thorough recording of the details--both theoretical and practical--that went into some of the most significant projects in this area, from their inceptions to the present (or, at least, 1990). Solomon has, indeed, compiled and edited such a document, wisely allowing the directors and principals of each of those projects to speak for themselves.
A word of caution is still in order, however, regarding the coverage that might be inferred from the title. This book is not attempting to include each and every undertaking of software development or recording of electronic information in the field. The bulk of its pages are devoted to six major electronic database collections at various stages of development, namely: TLG, DDBDP, US-LIMC, AMPHORAS, DCB, and Perseus (explanations below).
After Solomon's own introductory synopsis, Theodore Brunner offers a contextual essay, "Classics and the Computer: The History of a Relationship," a fascinating account which goes all the way back to 1949, when Fr. Roberto Busa consulted with the president of IBM, J. Thomas Watson, about creating a complete index to Aquinas. Due to Brunner's involvement as the founder and director of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG), the greatest amount of detail in his essay--and, indeed, the most valuable elements--concern the activities of the APA and its Committee on Computer Activities, as they relate to the establishment of the TLG and related projects from 1966 to 1981. After that point, as Brunner himself admits, "references to computers and computing become so commonplace" that it is difficult to cover all the various facets of activity in a concise way (p. 25).
Once the historical underpinnings and context have been laid out for us, the book proceeds on to the six detailed project descriptions. Luci Berkowitz discusses in depth the process used by the TLG planners to compose a Greek canon, virtually from scratch and including "notable quoters" from the later periods. John Oates describes the development of the Duke Data Bank of Documentary Papyri (DDBDP) and some of the solutions that have been crafted to deal with the problems uniquely inherent in replicating papyrus fragments with computer-based codes. Jocelyn Penny Small recounts her project's adventures in designing an appropriate database format and then shopping for a program that is both compatible and flexible enough to handle the immense amount of information collected by the U.S. Center for the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (US-LIMC). Carolyn Koehler and Phillipa Matheson describe their own experiences pursuing a similar goal in their work with the AMPHORAS database, a computerized version of the world's largest card file on amphoras, which has been compiled by Dr. Virginia Grace at the Agora Excavations of the Americal School of Classical Studies at Athens. Scholars can extract important economic and political information from the stamps, styles, and locations of amphoras, the most common form of packaging for long-distance trade in ancient Mediterranean societies.
Dee Clayman is in charge of a project, called the Database of Classical Bibliography (DCB), whose goal is to computerize the entirety of L'Annee Philologique (APh), the international bibliography of record for classical studies. Clayman's chief concern is to keep the database design in a format that will remain permanently accessible over time; another is to maintain the standards and integrity of the original while making the computerized version flexible enough to allow much more refined, accurate, and expeditious searching.
Perseus is a database of a different sort--more selective, instruction-oriented, and multimedia-based. While Perseus has received much exposure in journals and at conferences in recent years (see CO 70.3 : 106-07), the essay in Solomon's book by Mylonas, Crane, Morrell, and Smith does a good, concise job of presenting the evolution of the program through all of its stages of design, development, implementation, and evaluation.
Jay Bolter contributes the final essay of the book; and, though he uses his own Storyspace program as an example, his discussion covers the broader topic of hypertext as a fulfillment of the intended form of a classical commentary. He uses Jebb's classic Oedipus Tyrannus commentary to demonstrate his thesis, pointing to the constant editorial cross-referencing used to elucidate thematic currents throughout the play. While Bolter admits that one would never use a hypertext format for an initial exposure to a play or any other piece of narrative, it becomes invaluable when attempting critical analysis of a work; and that is, indeed, the most common activity of the classical scholar, is it not?
A few comments are echoed by several of the writers in this collection. Optical scanning is, at present, a realistic option for loading data only when it is done in limited (proofreadable) quantities and only in English. Those working with sizable databases must be careful about maintaining a format which is not dependent on any particular machine type or database program; it must be transferable in order to be long-lived, and when you realize fully the amount of time and resource capital to be invested in data loading, you will most certainly be concerned with the longevity of the data. Finally, several project principals have been struck by the realization that the resulting applications of their materials to-date have all too often "broken the molds" of their intentions and expectations. This may have something to do with a more expansive shift in methods of problem-solving and critical analysis which some researchers perceive to be a direct impact of computer technology.