CO 72.2 [Winter 1995], p. 72: Book review
Accessing Antiquity: The Computerization of Classical Studies ByJON 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 newsletteritems and status reports, our own unique picture of what has been goingon in the world of computerized resources for the Classics over the lasttwenty years or so, it is reassuring to find that we now have a fairly comprehensive,historical document that provides a thorough recording of the details--boththeoretical and practical--that went into some of the most significant projectsin this area, from their inceptions to the present (or, at least, 1990).Solomon has, indeed, compiled and edited such a document, wisely allowingthe directors and principals of each of those projects to speak for themselves.
A word of caution is still in order, however, regarding the coverage thatmight be inferred from the title. This book is not attempting to includeeach and every undertaking of software development or recording of electronicinformation in the field. The bulk of its pages are devoted to six majorelectronic 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 contextualessay, "Classics and the Computer: The History of a Relationship,"a fascinating account which goes all the way back to 1949, when Fr. RobertoBusa consulted with the president of IBM, J. Thomas Watson, about creatinga complete index to Aquinas. Due to Brunner's involvement as the founderand director of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG), the greatest amountof detail in his essay--and, indeed, the most valuable elements--concernthe activities of the APA and its Committee on Computer Activities, as theyrelate to the establishment of the TLG and related projects from 1966 to1981. After that point, as Brunner himself admits, "references to computersand computing become so commonplace" that it is difficult to coverall 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 Berkowitzdiscusses in depth the process used by the TLG planners to compose a Greekcanon, virtually from scratch and including "notable quoters"from the later periods. John Oates describes the development of the DukeData Bank of Documentary Papyri (DDBDP) and some of the solutions that havebeen crafted to deal with the problems uniquely inherent in replicatingpapyrus fragments with computer-based codes. Jocelyn Penny Small recountsher project's adventures in designing an appropriate database format andthen shopping for a program that is both compatible and flexible enoughto handle the immense amount of information collected by the U.S. Centerfor the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (US-LIMC). CarolynKoehler and Phillipa Matheson describe their own experiences pursuing asimilar goal in their work with the AMPHORAS database, a computerized versionof the world's largest card file on amphoras, which has been compiled byDr. Virginia Grace at the Agora Excavations of the Americal School of ClassicalStudies at Athens. Scholars can extract important economic and politicalinformation from the stamps, styles, and locations of amphoras, the mostcommon form of packaging for long-distance trade in ancient Mediterraneansocieties.
Dee Clayman is in charge of a project, called the Database of ClassicalBibliography (DCB), whose goal is to computerize the entirety of L'AnneePhilologique (APh), the international bibliography of record for classicalstudies. Clayman's chief concern is to keep the database design in a formatthat will remain permanently accessible over time; another is to maintainthe standards and integrity of the original while making the computerizedversion flexible enough to allow much more refined, accurate, and expeditioussearching.
Perseus is a database of a different sort--more selective, instruction-oriented,and multimedia-based. While Perseus has received much exposure in journalsand at conferences in recent years (see CO 70.3 : 106-07), the essayin Solomon's book by Mylonas, Crane, Morrell, and Smith does a good, concisejob of presenting the evolution of the program through all of its stagesof design, development, implementation, and evaluation.
Jay Bolter contributes the final essay of the book; and, though he useshis own Storyspace program as an example, his discussion covers the broadertopic of hypertext as a fulfillment of the intended form of a classicalcommentary. He uses Jebb's classic Oedipus Tyrannus commentary to demonstratehis thesis, pointing to the constant editorial cross-referencing used toelucidate thematic currents throughout the play. While Bolter admits thatone would never use a hypertext format for an initial exposure to a playor any other piece of narrative, it becomes invaluable when attempting criticalanalysis of a work; and that is, indeed, the most common activity of theclassical 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 onlywhen it is done in limited (proofreadable) quantities and only in English.Those working with sizable databases must be careful about maintaining aformat which is not dependent on any particular machine type or databaseprogram; it must be transferable in order to be long-lived, and when yourealize fully the amount of time and resource capital to be invested indata loading, you will most certainly be concerned with the longevity ofthe data. Finally, several project principals have been struck by the realizationthat the resulting applications of their materials to-date have all toooften "broken the molds" of their intentions and expectations.This may have something to do with a more expansive shift in methods ofproblem-solving and critical analysis which some researchers perceive tobe a direct impact of computer technology.