This is the second post in an interview of Prof. Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent and Prof. David A. Michelson, who were very kind to answer our questions. You can find part one here.
2. So, are you focusing more on creating a community of scholars to agree upon common terminology? Or, will the focus be more on unifying the methods and scope of cataloging and describing the manuscripts of the Middle East?
The beauty of Linked Data technology is that we can link heterogeneous data together. This approach will allow each project to follow their own standards designed to meet their needs while also creating a secondary standard for exchanging information. While it might seem desirable to unify methods, this will never be possible in practice. Our goal is more modest, to help projects who want to share data find common terminology. Our goal is that by creating a community of cooperation between libraries and researchers, we can find ways to make it possible to search across databases.
3. Why did you mention in your announcement of the workshop “medieval manuscripts”? Does it mean that your vision will not include later antiquity or early modern manuscripts?
Speaking just for our colleagues at Syriaca.org, we are interested in Syriac manuscripts from all eras. Still, one has to start somewhere, so our goal was to use “medieval” in a broad sense to include the earliest manuscripts (from late antiquity) and also stretch into the early modern period. Various individual partners will have their own starting and cutoff points. Ideally, the standards we create will be useful for materials from a wide chronological range.
4. Can you share a general snapshot of how the workshop went with us?
Dawn Childress began by introducing the goals of the meeting and discussing her project with UCLA, the Sinai Manuscripts Digital Library. David Michelson introduced the digital catalog of Syriac manuscripts in the British Library being prepared by Syriaca.org. Catherine Walsh introduced HMML and its work cataloging digital facsimiles and in creating authority files. Andre Binggeli presented his work on paper and computer databases for Greek and Syriac MSS. Nathan Gibson is involved in various Middle Eastern digital projects – Syriac and Arabic – Biblia Arabica, Historical Middle East Data Alliance (mailing list, GitHub), and Usaybia.net. Maximilian de Molière spoke on his MAJLIS project on 11th century Jerusalem Karaites that includes a TEI- XML database of MS – authority files. Tom Elliot from the Institute of the Study of the Ancient World from the Pleiades project spoke and discussed creating and consuming authority files from the epidoc consortium. Adrian Pirtea discussed his work describing ascetic MS from the Eastern Mediterranean with the Esketikon database. We also discussed other projects using linked data like Europeana, Biblissima, and Fihrist. We explored how we could develop a shared vocabulary across projects.
We then broke up into groups to discuss domains for Shared Vocabularies:
- Authorities (e.g., people, places, works, esp. composite texts)
- Object/Relationship Models (e.g., palimpsests, disjecta membra, manuscript structures; networks between people, places, objects, etc.)
- Codicological Description (e.g., condition, language, script, provenance)
- Technical Standards (e.g., images, metadata, preservation; use of IIIF, CIDOC, etc.)
On the second day of the workshop, we had focused presentations on
Data Models and Sample Records for Syriac Manuscripts from Sinai Manuscripts Digital Library, the British Library Collection contained in syriaca.org, the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, e-Sketikon, and Pinakes/e-Ktobe. We discussed how these projects could align Manuscript data.
5. You have indicated when you announced the “Working Group for Linked Manuscript Descriptions” (on Hugoye list group) that in Spring 2022, you will announce some further details about your ongoing project; can you privilege our readers by telling about some of those forthcoming announcements?
Yes! This project is on-going and actively seeking collaborators. So those who were not able to attend the first meeting of the working group are cordially invited to join the e-mail list we formed for the working group: https://groups.google.com/g/lod-for-middle-eastern-mss/about
Our plans are to continue the initial task begun in December of drafting a common vocabulary for sharing Linked Data from middle eastern manuscripts. At present we are working to create a common set of fields based on the catalog databases of HMML, e-ktobe (CNRS, Paris), Syriaca.org (Wright’s British Library catalog), and UCLA’s Sinai Digital Library. We hope to extend this collaboration to include other major and forthcoming projects in the field such as Fihrist, e-Sketikon, Simtho and others.
Interested collaborators should feel most welcome to contact Prof. Mellon Saint-Laurent and Michelson if they would like to be involved.