Digital Archiving & Curation – Report from a Session at a recent Digital Humanities Conference in Kyoto KUDH)

By Franziska Naether (Leipzig/Stellenbosch)

Franziska Naether (PD Dr. phil habil.) is an Egyptologist, museum curator, and digital humanist with a focus on religion and literature in classical Egyptian, Graeco-Roman, and Late Antique Periods. She is a senior research associate at the Saxon Academy of Sciences and Humanities and is affiliated with the Egyptological Institute of Leipzig University, Germany, and the Department of Ancient Studies of Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She is co-editor of the project “Digital Rosetta Stone” and currently working on a monograph on Egyptian cult practices and preparing the conference volume “The Benefit of the Doubt” for publication.

In October 2021, Prof. So Miyagawa and his colleague Prof. Chigusa Kita organized four sessions on three days with lectures in different fields of Digital Humanities. The international conference Digital Transformations in the Humanities was conducted online. The lectures and their following discussions can be watched online here. On the second day (October 16), it was my turn to speak in the session Digital Archiving & Curation about good practice projects from Leipzig, London and Stellenbosch in South Africa in which I am or have been involved.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the organizers for inviting me to speak about these endeavors. At the beginning of the talk, I also had the opportunity to present the “KompetenzwerkD – Saxon Research Centre and Competence Network for Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage” based at the Saxon Academy of Sciences and Humanities where Dirk Goldhahn, Peter Mühleder and I have worked together with colleagues from six research institutions humanities in the federal state of Saxony in Germany since February 2020. This is a pretty new construction for Digital Humanities teamwork, and you can find more about us here.

The first case presented in my talk is the Digital Rosetta Stone Project, an endeavor which started in 2015. This is a digital edition of the text of the Rosetta Stone, making use of treebanking and alignment technologies on the basis of new 3D images. What is new in 2020/2021? The analogue and digital artifact with its trilingual priestly decree will be featured in two upcoming exhibitions in 2022 celebrating the bicentennial decipherment of Ancient Egyptian in the British Museum in London and the Egyptian Museum in Leipzig. Our team still has to work on further processing the 3D images that we obtained in London by a technology called “shape from shading”, and to continue on the treebanking of Demotic Egyptian. In order to inform about what we have achieved so far, I invite you to check out our digital exhibition which is available in English and German. This summarizes the work done so far and includes many links including online lectures and classes, e.g. within the Sunoikisis Digital Classics curriculum that is openly available to everyone.

Before the conference, So Miyagawa asked me also to comment on a recent digital project from Leipzig University. It involves an important witness of ancient Egyptian medicine: the famous Ebers Papyrus. A couple of years ago, the Leipzig University Library created a website with high resolution images and translations of the medical recipes of the papyrus. However, it was necessary to completely revamp this page to correspond to IIIf imaging standards. Therefore, in 2020 a new website was launched. In order to find out more about IIIf, I strongly recommend watching the lecture by our colleague Chifumi Nishioka who presented her work in the Kyoto University Rare Materials Digital Archive and how she applied this technology to the collection. Apart from the digital presentation of the Ebers Papyrus, there is also a new publication as an analogue book and a recently opened showroom in the University Library which presents a replica of the beautiful, more than 18-meter-long papyrus.

Finally, I presented a project involving students from another of my academic affiliations, Stellenbosch University in South Africa. During a seminar in 2018, my colleague Dr Samantha Masters and I went with a group of 15 students to the Iziko Museum in Cape Town. We were allowed to digitize original artifacts from Western Asia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, which are currently not on display. The students used these images to create simple 3D models. Apart from learning about the materiality, history, provenances, and function etc. of these ancient objects, topics of the classes included aspects of exhibiting ancient artifacts, digitization/collecting metadata in databases, covering topics such as archaeogaming. Stellenbosch University has a cooperation together with Stanford University in California, mainly represented through Prof. Grant Parker who is interested in “classical confrontations” of Graeco-Roman artifacts at the Cape.

I was really happy to share the experiences of these projects with the participants of the conference and I gladly take further questions. From my point of view, it is very important to involve students as early as possible in the research process – no matter if ‘analogue’ or ‘digital’ – e.g. during digitization, database work, and provenance research. The ongoing progress and the results, if possible, should be shared in open access and according to the principles of open science to make knowledge and methods as freely as possible available with academics, students, and an interested public from everywhere. Therefore, the tools and methodologies of Digital Humanities are contributing to decolonize knowledge around the globe.

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