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Three Digital Humanities projects awarded John Fell funding

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017 - 15:45

The Hilary term 2017 John Fell Fund awards included the following Digital Humanities projects from Classics and the Voltaire Foundation. Congratulations to those involved:

Digital Voltaire Phase 1: Visualising Voltaire, Nicholas Cronk, Voltaire Foundation

The Voltaire Foundation is currently preparing the ground for Digital Voltaire, an interactive and innovative digital edition of the complete works of Voltaire, which will transform scholarship on Voltaire and the Enlightenment. This pilot project will bring together two key existing datasets, Tout Voltaire and Voltaire’s letters, for the first time in order to explore how digital editing and analysis of these important scholarly materials can shape future research. The resulting resource, together with a focused research project to scope and understand its potential uses and applications, will enable the Voltaire Foundation to begin to create a conceptual and infrastructural framework for a broader, transformational Digital Voltaire, for which fund-raising efforts have already begun.

The project will contribute to, intersect with and extend Oxford’s world-class research and scholarship in Digital Editing, Enlightenment studies, Epistolary cultures and Linked Data. Questions surrounding the methodology of digital critical editing are now at the forefront of Digital Humanities research: we have had digital critical editions for nearly 20 years, but there is a growing awareness that few of these have the intellectual ‘weight’ of the paper critical editions produced by the great University Presses. Projects that demonstrate the distinctive and transformational added value of the digital critical edition are therefore vital.

The Visualising Voltaire project will create a large and important data set of Voltaire’s textual output in order to make sense of it at a macroscopic level. By interrogating a large data set of Voltaire’s texts in this way, it may be possible to shed new light on Voltaire’s use of intertextuality, commonly used themes and literary motifs, his intellectual networks, and his development as a thinker. This research project will benefit from close links with the Stanford Literary Lab through Prof. Dan Edelstein, and the University of Chicago’s ARTFL project, where much of this type of analysis has been pioneered.

In addition to shedding new light on Voltaire through a number of literary experiments in cutting-edge Digital Humanities research, the project will achieve a number of the University’s strategic aims such as sustaining and enhancing its excellence in scholarship by embracing the opportunities afforded by digital technologies, and by enabling new modes of research. It also embodies the Voltaire Foundation’s strategic plans to develop not merely into a publisher of digital editions and scholarly material, but an initiator of Digital Editing and Digital Humanities research and teaching at Oxford, building on its long-established reputation and expertise in producing critical editions.

A Corpus of Inscriptions from the Ptolemaic Empire, Charles Crowther, Classics Faculty


This application seeks support for a researcher post for one year to undertake the compilation of an up-to-date and comprehensive register of Ptolemaic inscriptions from the territorial possessions of the Ptolemaic dynasty (c. 305-30 BC) outside Egypt. These extensive overseas possessions, at their apogee in the period from 300 to c.180 BC, played a central role in the wider political history of the Hellenistic world and the relationships between its various kingdoms, particularly that between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids in Syria and the Levant. The importance of the evidence of several hundred inscriptions on stone from the Ptolemaic empire for documenting and understanding these processes can hardly be overestimated. 

The inscriptions, consisting of edicts, letters, judicial regulations, treaties, decrees and honorific monuments, provide the sole coherent body of documentary evidence for the functioning of empire in the Hellenistic period. They illustrate the nature of Ptolemaic control of cities and regions in the Levant, Asia Minor, the Greek islands and Cyprus and underpin an understanding of the wider importance of Ptolemaic power and its role in the rise and the eventual decline of the Hellenistic kingdoms in the face of the growing hegemony of Rome.

The project is a pilot for a submission of an application to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for a major research grant to create a fully documented and illustrated corpus of these inscriptions, in both online and book format. It complements a current project to create a Corpus of Ptolemaic Inscriptions (CPI) from Egypt, itself funded by the AHRC in 2013-16, which will be brought to completion in 2017 in the form of a web edition and subsequently a printed book publication.

Expanding the Manar al-Athar Open-Access Photo-Archive as a Resource for Threatened or Destroyed Cultural Heritage, Judith McKenzie, Classics Faculty

At a time when the Middle East and the plight of its peoples are in the news so much, Manar al-Athar (‘Guide to Archaeology’ in Arabic www.manar-al-athar.ox.ac.uk) is a unique open-access photo-archive for studying and understanding the cultural and religious legacy of the region, preserved in its archaeological sites and historic buildings, key parts of the environment of its peoples’ everyday lives and identities. It provides freely-downloadable high-resolution images for teaching, research, publication, and heritage work. The photographs are intrinsic to our research, which shows how these ancient sites and buildings reflect the roles of the three monotheistic religions in the region today and demonstrate a shared classical heritage with the West alongside expressions of local identities. These issues are central to understanding the modern Middle East.

Like its civilian population, the historic buildings and archaeological sites of Syria are suffering collateral damage or being deliberately targeted in a catastrophic war. Aleppo, with its extensive Islamic architecture, has suffered even more than Palmyra. Developing the archive now is essential to provide future generations with an accurate record of buildings and monumental art, prior to damage or destruction, for local heritage initiatives and training, as well as international research. We have over 43,000 photographs of Syrian cultural heritage awaiting labelling. This project will complete our main coverage of Roman, late antique, and early Islamic Syro-Palestine, and marks the beginning of a major expansion of the archive beyond AD 750 for both Christian and Islamic architecture. The Syrian material will be a key element of the Manar al-Athar Impact case study for the Classics Faculty in the next REF.

This project is a unique opportunity to raise substantial external matched-funds by using the Fell support requested in this application to provide critical leveraging in time for an event organised with Americans for Oxford in New York in May 2017. This is the first stage of a plan to develop the long term sustainability of Manar al-Athar through major donor support. The Faculty’s financial support, at a time of very constrained budgets, demonstrates the importance of Manar al-Athar for the Faculty’s REF strategy, and for longer term research coverage of the full chronological and geographic ranges of the role of classical heritage.