Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The least interesting thing

I always find that it's the most provocative assertions of others that help me get started writing something. Take, for example, this proposition from John Unsworth's oft-cited paper "Scholarly Primitives: what methods do humanities researchers have in common, and how might our tools reflect this?":
the most interesting things that you can do with standalone tools and standalone resources is less interesting and less important than the least interesting thing you can do with networked tools and networked resources

Citations =? links

I've been thinking a lot about scholarly citation and hyperlinking lately. I've been struggling to test mentally the degree to which the latter can support what I see as the distinct functions of the former:
  • attribution of argument or idea
  • source of fact or quotation
  • pointer to further information not directly germane to the issue at hand
  • disambiguation
  • classification
I'd be grateful for suggested additions to, and refinements of, the list of functions. It would also be helpful to learn of any literature on the subject.

Of course the goal is "computationally actionable citation."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Plone R-Tree Spatial Index

It's especially gratifying to be part of a humanities computing project that is doing more than just helping out the humanities. We're actually succeeding -- through collaboration with others and careful decisions about what to invent and when -- in identifying areas where we can contribute software that helps both humanistic and extra-humanistic endeavors alike.

Case in point: Sean's work with others across the Plone and geo-python spectrum to produce a spatial index for Plone. This mechanism takes spatial content in Plone (like that in our Pleiades site) and does some pre-processing to set up a data structure that's optimized for doing geographical search. This version focuses on the ability to find a subset of spatially referenced Plone content that intersects with a bounding box (a rectangle on the earth's surface).

The test results Sean showed me yesterday were impressive. As compared with a brute-force, live intersection query of our existing Pleiades data, the spatial index did the job more quickly ... by 4 orders of magnitude (brute force took about 12 seconds; index-aided less than 0.1 second).

We're continuing testing and development toward upgrades that will allow Pleiades users to exploit this new code as they try to find items of interest on our site. Stay tuned for the rollout!

Sean's participation in this work was funded by our grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

AtomPub rubber meets the road

They've done it:
The Atom Publishing Protocol, RFC5023, has been published. The HTML is here.

The Publication and Study of Inscriptions in the Age of the Computer

And here's another call for papers, this one for a panel co-organized by Paul Iversen and myself for the ASGLE Panel at the 2009 (sic) APA/AIA meeting in Philadelphia (8-11 January 2009):
The computer age has unleashed powerful new technologies that enhance the study of Greek and Latin inscriptions, yet most scholars, academic institutions and publishing houses are still not comfortable with the idea of publishing inscriptions in a form that takes full advantage of the new possibilities. The Society, therefore, welcomes papers that discuss current or possible future computer-enhanced initiatives in the areas of Greek and Latin Epigraphy. We are particularly interested in papers that discuss theoretical applications of new technologies to the field of epigraphy and the formulation of international standards and protocols of publication and institutional credit, especially digital projects that go well beyond the mere encoding of the appearance of epigraphical sigla and indicia (which is akin to putting old wine into new wineskins) to include the encoding of semantic and/or observational distinctions.

Abstracts will be adjudicated anonymously by a committee of ASGLE and should not be longer than one page. Please follow the instructions for the format of individual abstracts that will appear in the October issue of the APA Newsletter. Abstracts should be sent to: Paul A. Iversen, ASGLE Secretary-Treasurer, Department of Classics, Case Western Reserve University, 11201 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106-7111 or paul.iversen (at) The deadline is February 1, 2008.

Graduate Conference in Ancient Borderlands

By way of David Meadow's rogueclassicism, I spotted this call for papers for a Graduate Conference in Ancient Borderlands, to be held 22-23 March 2008 at the University of California Santa Barbara. Abstracts due 1 December 2007.
A forum in which participants from a variety of fields and areas of expertise can explore both physical and intellectual borderlands in the ancient world. The specific disciplines the Graduate Student Conference aims to involve include Anthropology, Archaeology, Art History, Asian Studies, Classics, History, Medieval Studies, Mesoamerican Studies, Near Eastern Studies, Philosophy, and Religious Studies.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Digital Humanities and Computer Science

Andrew Reinhard is blogging the Chicago Colloquium for Digital Humanities ...

Social War, Anyone?

So, there were plenty of folks (classicists and otherwise) throwing around ancient history as persuasive (or disssuasive) rhetoric in the run-up to the current land war in Asia. I'll offer only the example of Elaine Fantham.

Question: Why aren't we seeing the Roman Social War brought into the current argument about immigration in this country?

Don't like the Wikipedia article linked above? I've had no role in its content whatsoever. Send me a link to something else online, free and open, and I'll link it. Or -- better yet -- just pitch in to improve the article.

Friday, October 19, 2007

kodos: python regular expression debugger

How is it that I'm only just now discovering Phil Schwartz's Kodos python regular expression debugger? I think my life is going to get better ...

Thanks to Raffaele Viglianti for the tip.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pleiades data status

Thanks to Sean's code-wizardry, it's now possible for us to provide you with on-going information on what data has been added to Pleiades, and what's slated to come next. You can view the information:
Why "batlas" you ask? The page explains it all. Enjoy!

Or check it out in google maps directly.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pleiades and other projects: Atom, GeoRSS and RDF

It should be easy for projects outside Pleiades to assert relationships between their content (primary and secondary sources, images, find records etc.) and ours. It should be easy for Pleiades users to stumble upon (or search for) these assertions (via maps or other means). It should be easy to harvest these assertions and pump them through our editorial workflow.

We already use Atom + GeoRSS, as well as KML, to expose Pleiades content for discovery and reuse by others. It's clean, simple, standard and RESTful. No heavy architecture. No elaborate call-and-response rituals. No home-made schemas or protocols.

Can we turn the telescope around and ask other projects to use the same mechanisms -- maybe with a little semantic sugar in the form of a simple relationships thesaurus -- to communicate with us (and each other)?

So, I tried to imagine an Atom+GeoRSS feed for an inscription from Aphrodisias that's already published to the web. You'll see from the comments that there are a number of distinctions I'd like to see from the Pleiades side that just don't fit. Bruce Robertson has lately got me thinking about RDF, so I tried my hand at an RDF encoding of the missing stuff too. Maybe an XML version of the RDF could go into the Atom feed using its standard extension mechanisms.

Thoughts? Corrections? Suggestions?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

precario usi sunt

Joaquín Gómez-Pantoja just wrote to alert me to another land-use inscription that I didn't know:

Hispania Epigraphica Online, no. 1009

It's a ceramic rooftile, found in Garrovillas de Alconétar and first published in 1906. The text, incised in irregular letters, grants use of land to several distinct peoples.

Joaquín says that the tile has been recently re-edited with discussion in a couple of periodicals; the full summary details will appear shortly in HEp 13, no. 116. He also hopes to be able to post an image of the inscription to the website shortly.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Using New Technologies to Explore Cultural Heritage

I had to miss the Using New Technologies to Explore Cultural Heritage meeting in Washington last week (I was in Lexington, Kentucky for a workshop on cyberinfrastructure in the classics ... more on that anon). But Sean and Richard went (their slides are here).

To judge from Dan Cohen's post, it was a great meeting. And he gave Pleiades some very nice press too.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Trailing slashes in Pleiades

In his comment on my Pleiades URLs post, Sebastian writes:

For places, is it significant that there are sometimes trailing slashes, sometimes not?

It's not significant; that's copy-and-paste sloppiness on my part. Plone automagically deals with either formulation. We could get pedantic and say that some of these are containers and therefore ought to have no trailing slash, but then there's the fact that implementation-wise a place object is a container too. But I don't think users need or want to have to think about these things this way.

So, I think canonical URLs for places and names and lists of same have no trailing slashes; however, our application will pleasantly handle trailing slashes.

Stay tuned for responses to Sebastian's other points anon ...

Comments Policy

I moderate the comments for this blog, and reserve the right to reject or retract any comment at any time, and to turn commenting off for particular posts. I'll consider the following factors (non-exhaustive list) in making moderation decisions:

  1. no spam; this includes blog spam like "if you're interested in that, you might want to look at my site" or "visit this site to learn more about this subject"
  2. no personal attacks, hate speech or the like
  3. no flamebait
  4. relevance: the comment should address in some substantive way the content of the blog post to which it is attached. Feel free to include relevant links in your comments, but the comment itself should provide substantive content (this is the counter-point to the no spam rule above).

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

URLs for Pleiades

Lorcan Dempsey is thinking about URIs, with some good links. Among other things, he points at this tidbit from Richardson and Ruby:

a resource and its URI ought to have an intuitive correspondence

Sean's been a positive influence in this area for Pleiades. Here's what we're doing:


We surface information about our place records under the intuitive URL fragment We elaborate URLs below that level using various intuitive labels for thematic, non-hierarchical groupings of records, as well as the unique identifiers for specific place records. So, for example you get:

Geographic Names

Names are trickier. We'd like to provide users with an intuitive lookup of names like, but that's problematic because names (whether geographic or personal) are non-unique proxies for identifiers (see recent excellent postings from Karen Coyle and Stuart Weibel). For example, when conversion of our legacy dataset is complete, we'll have 17 places with the name Apollonia.

Our names interface at points users first to our search form. Individual name records are surfaced there too, using ASCII (sic) transliterations of the name strings (our model aims at one record per unique attested variant in original language and script). Duplicates are presently handled by postfixing a hypen plus a one-up numeral (e.g., I should point out here that right now we lack backlinks from the name records to the associated place records; that's an urgent to-do. At the main names page, we do have a link to a complete list, which will get unmanageably huge; we'll probably need to add alphabetic and/or max-per-page chunking of that list soon. But I digress ...

URL-wise I'm thinking we could do more to help our users get at the name records. Perhaps we should take a page from Wikipedia and implement name disambiguation pages. Under such a scheme, a URL like would take a user either to the one-and-only record appropriate record or to a disambiguation page containing links to all the relevant records.

These disambiguation pages would have to surface enough additional information from the records themselves (including their associated places and locations) to facilitate selection of the desired name record. Here we'd want to echo long-standing practice in print works for classical geography. When name ambiguity is a problem, add a regional qualifier (something like "Antioch in Pisidia" or "Pisidian Antoich"). Would that look something like When we implement place-to-place relationship tagging, maybe we can leverage that information for this purpose. It probably won't be foolproof for certain edge cases though: some unlocated places with common names may require an alternative or more verbose mechanism for disambiguation.


The right kind of intuitive access to locations (i.e., feature geometry and coordinates) is a geographic one. I'll table that for a separate future post.

Bibliographic Records

URLs for our bibliographic records are constructed on the basis of human-friendly short titles. For most modern works, these are either abbreviations or author-year combinations. For ancient literary works we follow conventional humanist practices for author and work short titles. For example:

Alternative Formats

Where we offer alternative formats (e.g., Atom+GeoRSS and KML, or MODS for our bibliography), we align them under the appropriate URL fragment. For example:

Now What?

I'd be grateful for critiques or suggestions for improvement. Now's the time to get this stuff right.

Recipe for a Riot?

Now, I don't really know a thing about this sort of thing, but this aspect of the Huntsville Fallout Shelter Plan (most recently covered by the Associated Press) seems like a recipe for trouble:

Unlike the fallout shelters set up during the Cold War, the new ones will not be stocked with water, food or other supplies. For survivors of a nuclear attack, it would be strictly "BYOE" — bring your own everything. Just throw down a sleeping bag on the courthouse floor — or move some of the rocks on the mine floor — and make yourself at home.

"We do not guarantee them comfort, just protection," said [Kirk] Paradise, who is coordinating the shelter plans for the local emergency management agency.

Hmmmm .... 20,000 people in Three Caves with no cots, water, food, diapers or formula above and beyond what they snatched and grabbed on the way in.

And that's not even a comment about the overall goodness of the plan.

In a future random post, I may explore just how accessible Three Caves would be for a freaked-out crowd of 20,000 North Alabamians.

All the usual IANABOHSE caveats apply.

Mediterranean Ceramics

Sebastian Heath is in the house!

Monday, October 1, 2007


Since this blog has emerged (by virtue of its title's obscurity) as the top Google result for "horothesia", I'm surely obligated to explain the word!


τὰ ὁροθέσια, ἡ ὁροθεσία 1
τὰ χωρίζοντα τὴν γῆν; 2
the dividing of the earth;
a cadastral, technical term for the survey and demarcation of land and, specifically, the written (or recited) itinerary of property or territorial boundaries, which was considered a legal document

The word (equivalent to the Latin determinatio) shows up in some of the Roman imperial era boundary inscriptions I worked on for my dissertation, including the following text.

Example: The Horothesia of Laberius Maximus

IScM 1 68 ll. 1-8 (whence PHI72734); EDH HD026625; IScM 1 67 ll. 1-4; Oliver 1965, 154 s.v. "Decision of the Consular Laberius Maximus"; AE 1919.10.

This document is the first in an important dossier from the city of Histria (modern Istria in Romania) dating to the first century CE (AD). The dossier concerns a dispute between the city of Histria and the contractor who had purchased the portorium ripae Thraciae. The dispute centered on rights to tax revenues and required an authoritative boundary demarcation by the governor of Moesia Inferior as part of his verdict in the case.

Octavian Bounegru delivered a paper on this dossier entitled "La horothésie d'Histria: une nouvelle approche épigraphique d'un dossier douanier à l'époque romaine" at CIEGL 2007, but unfortunately it was during my session, so I missed it!

Text (after IScM):

ὁροθεσία Λαβερίου Μαξίμου ὑ[πατικοῦ] / fines Histrianorum hos esse con[stitui - - - - - - Pe]/ucem laccum Halmyridem a do[minio - - - - - - - - - - - ] / Argamensium, inde iugo summo [ - - - - - - - - - - ad c]/[o]nfluentes rivorum Picusculi et Ga[brani, inde ab im]/5[o] Gabrano ad capud eiusdem, inde [ - - - - iuxta rivum] / [S]anpaeum, inde ad rivum Turgicu[lum - - - - - - - - - ] / a rivo Calabaeo, milia passum circi[ter D?XVI]


Official boundary demarcation (horothesia) of Laberius Maximus, consular.

I have established these ... (as) the boundaries of the Histriani ... Peuce ... Halmyris lagoon from ... of the Argamensies, thence along the top of the ridge ... to the confluence of the Picusculus and Gabranus streams, thence from the lower Gabranus to its headwaters, thence ... Sanpaeus, thence to the stream Turgiculus ... from the stream Calabaeus, 516(?) miles around the perimeter.


  1. transliterated: horothesia. The word appears in both the neuter plural and the feminine singular. A search of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae on 1 October 2007 turned up 207 discrete instances in Greek literature. Its earliest appearance outside the epigraphy appears to be in the Acts of the Apostles (17.26) and the majority of the later citations seem to derive from the church fathers, monastic acta and Byzantine lexicographers and grammarians.
  2. Hesychius, Lexicon 1278