The Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine project seeks to build an internet-accessible database of published inscriptions from Israel/Palestine that date between ca. 500 BCE and 614 CE, roughly corresponding to the Persian, Greek, and Roman periods. The purpose of this database is to provide a tool that will make accessible the approximately 15,000 relevant inscriptions published to date, and will include substantial contextual information for these inscriptions, including images and geographical information.
These inscriptions are an invaluable resource for historical investigation, for they provide information that is frequently not available in the extant literary texts. Recently, for example, scholars have used these inscriptions to:
Yet despite their importance, these inscriptions have never been collected; they have been published individually or in small collections, in different languages, frequently in obscure journals. To compound the problem, many of the actual stones and mosaics upon which the older publications were made are no longer extant, and some inscriptions that can be checked have been shown to have been misread.
The goals of this project are (1) to collect these inscriptions in one place; (2) allow for this data to be integrated with other contextual information that would open new avenues of scholarly investigation; and (3) to allow for easy access to it.
The project began in 1996 at the Institute for Advanced Digital Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia as a prototype under the name "Inscriptions of the Land of Israel". Although that project has been decommissioned, the Document Type Definition developed for it (in SGML), with modifications, continues to anchor the project. The project moved briefly to Indiana University in 1999, where the DTD was converted to XML and a second prototype (also now decommissioned) was produced.
The project moved to Brown University in 2002, and soon went into production under the auspices of the Scholarly Technology Group, now reorganized as the Center for Digital Scholarship.
The inscriptions of Israel/Palestine from the Persian period through the Islamic conquest have never been systematically collected. There is a new project underway the Corpus Inscriptionum Judaeae/Palaestinae, that seeks to collect and reedit all of these inscriptions. The goal of Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine is more simply to produce a collection of these inscriptions as previously published, with only light editorial work (e.g., the correction of obvious typos). Obviously better editions of these texts can then be incorporated as they become available.
The texts are extensively marked-up as part of their addition to the database. We are using the Epidoc schema and Guidelines to mark up our inscriptions. Epidoc is a customization of the Text Encoding Initiative schema that was developed specifically for marking up inscribed objects. Rather than treating the text as the primary object (with the goal of moving it relatively easily to publication), our mark-up treats the inscribed object as primary. The metadata, which is specified with great detail to allow for database-like searching, is all put into the Header. The Header contains information such as type of object; date range; locations (present, find, and original); type of inscription; language, etc.). Individual "div" sections contain the diplomatic and edited version of the texts, in their original languages, and an English translation. The source of each is always acknowledged.
The Epidoc schema allows for detailed mark-up the transcriptions themselves. Presently we only mark textual and editorial features; content such as names, places, occupations, etc., will be added (perhaps in part through automated processes) at a later stage.
Each inscription is entered as a separate XML file using standard XML editing software (mainly oXygen). The Hebrew and accented Greek characters are entered using Unicode fonts. The mark-up of Hebrew fonts (entered right to left, but marked from left to right) has been challenging, and we have not fully solved all of the complications that it raises. The bibliographic references currently reside in a separate database (each with its own unique ID) referenced by the inscription XML files.
The files live on a pre-production server until they are preprocessed (involving mostly the removal of Greek accents to enable more accurate string searches) and uploaded onto the production server. We are developing a plan for archival preservation in collaboration with the library.
The project is under the direction of Professor Michael Satlow, and employs several part-time student encoders, one of whom is designated as the senior encoder. Encoders follow an extensive set of guidelines when they prepare their data. Records are then checked by the senior encoder before being uploaded to the test server, where they are checked by the project director before being uploaded to the production server.
Current support for this project comes entirely from Brown University. The Center for Digital Scholarship provides basic technical support, and other divisions within the university (most generously the Office of the Vice President for Research) contribute necessary operating funds. We are actively pursuing external funding.
We currently have about 1,500 inscriptions entered, mostly taken from corpora written in English. There are a few much smaller collections to enter before moving on to collections in other languages (especially Hebrew) and publications from journals.
While we are currently focused on basic data entry, we are also experimenting with incorporating images (which is potentially logistically and politically complex) and geographic data.