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Cataloguing and Publishing Byzantine Seals in a Digital Age

SigiDoc International Meeting II Cataloguing and Publishing Byzantine Seals in a Digital Age, 7-9 December 2010
  1. 1. Goal

The goal of the meeting was to clarify the requirements for the DO electronic catalogue, and in so doing arrive at international agreement on international standards for cataloguing seals.

  1. Participants

Present:    Gudrun Buehl

John Cotsonis

Sebastian Heath

John Hudson

Michael Jeffreys

Joel Kalvesmaki

Eric McGeer

Deborah Maron (session 4)

Ross Mills

Cecile Morrisson

Margaret Mullett

John Nesbitt

Vivien Prigent

Charlotte Roueche

Werner Seibt

Jonathan Shea

Claudia Sode

Michael Sohn (session 2)

Kathy Sparkes

Lioba Theis (session 4)

Gunder Varinlioglu (session 4)

Alicia Walker

Shalimar Fojas White (sessions 2 and 4)

Jan Ziolkowski

  1. Process

The workshop was convened, following the meeting in London in May, to address the problems of publishing Byzantine seals in the digital age. The aim of the meeting was to develop a means of bringing the Dumbarton Oaks collection most efficiently and effectively before a scholarly public and also to proceed in step with the sigillographic and numismatic communities around the world in the development of methods of electronic cataloguing and international standards.


a)    Athena Ruby (Tuesday, Session 1)

  1. i.     Joel Kalvesmaki and John Hudson introduced the new font to the group. Joel indicated that he would be able to demonstrate an early version of Athena Ruby at the Sofia congress. Joel made a request for any suggestions that the sigillographers had about Athena Ruby. Joel assured the group that searching in Athena Ruby would be possible and because the font will be Unicode compliant there would not be difficulties for a user who did not have Athena Ruby.


  1. ii.     John Hudson and Ross Mills reported on how Athena Ruby will work. The group saw demonstrations on how Athena Ruby will be Unicode compliant.


b)   Developing a System (Wednesday, Session 2)

  1. i.     We discussed desiderata for any possible system. Eric McGeer pressed for a set of common standards, ease of use, standardized description of iconography, transcriptions but also translations of the text, a common numbering system, scope for commentary, searchability and ease of collaboration. Cecile Morrisson argued (for coins) for accessibility to the public, ease of searchability, and usability for collection management. Gudrun Buehl confirmed accessibility and collection management as her major concerns. Jonathan Shea asked for availability and standardization, and high definition photos which can be zoomed. Alicia Walker stressed that we should look at work already done: the Fogg and the ANS were cited. Charlotte Roueche argued for early web publication and bringing the community into the process.


  1. ii.     We then discussed the possible ways forward: database or XML markup. It soon became clear that though we may not need a database, these are opposed to one another. Charlotte  described her Epidoc project with its XML markup which brings together web, database and book publication, enabling indexes and future migrations (XML offers a level of sustainability as someone will create a transfer process to convert XML into whatever comes next. This is not necessarily so with a traditional database format).


  1. iii.     Sebastian Heath talked about how Epidoc had been adapted for coins and papyri, and demonstrated the community-based editor SoSol.


  1. iv.     Werner Seibt reported on the experience of Vienna; the Academy could put books online; the second volume of Austrian seals is online (with the exception of the Hermitage seals because the copyright or images remains with the host museum). The three-volume corpus of metrical seals will be published by the time of the Sofia Congress, Werner brought a few sample pages to share with the group. Werner advocated beginning cataloguing projects with the well-preserved seals, better to publish a small number of seals well than a lot of seals badly. Werner also announced his intention to hold a small sigillographic workshop in Vienna in June 2012.


  1. v.     Claudia Sode reported on the online database (in Filemaker Pro) of 300 Late Roman and Byzantine coins that she has created in Cologne. This was done at a cost of €3,000. Claudia supported the idea of an international project for the cataloguing of seals and suggested that it would be wise not to limit ourselves, even early on, to well preserved seals.


  1. vi.     Vivien Prigent presented the experience of Paris. Vivien detailed the approximately 11,000 seals that would form the core of the Paris database and indicated that a similar project in Istanbul was just waiting for the international community to decide on how to proceed before starting.  Vivien demonstrated the Paris database created in Filemaker Pro 11. This database was a model only and had never been used and Vivien pointed to the dangers of using the most advanced version of Filemaker. Vivien pushed for a broad database including brick, bread and metal stamps.


  1. vii.     Michael Jeffreys described the Harmony database, the result of collaboration between Oxford and Paris, and raised the question of audience: the director of the Museum? Other sigillographers? Byzantinists?Auction houses? He argued that we must take account of object, matrix and owner (prosopography) levels. Looking at Michael’s schema we immediately began to discuss the handling of fields for any future system: editorial history, dating, There was considerable concern for limiting scope so as to save time for projects: Charlotte suggested compulsory and non-compulsory fields.


  1. viii.     Vivien Prigent suggested two possibilities for the recording of monograms, Battleships style, an alpha in D8, an iota in A2 etc or recording the shape of the monogram and then the sequence of the letters arranged alphabetically.


  1. ix.     We discussed the issue of seal or matrix? Michael argued for matrix (the traditional practice in DO); Lioba Theis and Cecile for the individual object: museums will think in terms of the objects they own; Sebastian suggested that the choice does not have to be made. We toyed with the concept of ‘sealing’. We considered the parallel of a critical edition of a text from manuscripts.


  1. x.     We discussed levels of uncertainty in reading seals and the need to search for certain letters and some lost or illegible letters.


  1. xi.     We discussed practical ways forward. We should start with seals where the scholarship has been done: Dated Seals or Seals, VI. This could result in the dated seals at least online by the end of 2011 for comment.  Joel talked about the publishing concept (is the database a book? Yes, it is a catalogue even if we don’t go the PoD route we plan to) and urged the sigillographic community to organize.


c) Developing a Prosopography (Wednesday session 3) Michael Jeffreys introduced the new edition of the Prosopography of the Byzantine World.


d)   Developing the Technology (Thursday, Session 4)

  1. i.     The way forward became clearer. What every collection would benefit from is a sigillographic editor, but that the two major collections should go ahead and put in what they can as soon as possible to test the system. Each project would cost a little less but become more ambitious. What we needed was a schema for editing seals in XML and an agreed set of seals, and then we use an editor to enter the seals. Sebastian estimated 6 months for the Epidoc-Sigidoc stage and a year for the Editor. We could start with FileMaker Pro (like Paris)-and several stressed it should be the latest version- but the catch is the Greek text where we have to go to XML
  2. ii.     Charlotte spoke on the benefits of XML mark up for inscriptions and introduced us to her corpus. It was clear that she saw inscriptions as text, not as objects.
  3. iii.     Lioba, Alicia and John Cotsonis, who all see seals as objects not as text, or remnants of an owner, addressed the issue of controlled vocabulary, and other problems with iconography. They introduced Getty CDWA  (for structure and hierarchy) and Iconclass (for controlled vocabulary).
  4. iv.      Sebastian Heath introduced Pleiades (which contains the Barrington Atlas) and suggested that 80% of data have a spatial component. A link to Pleiades will be essential for our system.


  1. Decisions

a)    We created a list of fields which would be used to enter seals into catalogues participating in the SigiDoc project.

b)   Charlotte Roueche was tasked with expanding the existing EpiDoc schema into SigiDoc.

c)    John Cotsonis and Alicia Walker were asked to research the Getty CDWA standards and devise a way to adapt these for the cataloguing of seals.

d)   Jonathan Shea was charged with the creation of a wiki to act as a repository for all files concerning the SigiDoc project and as a forum for future discussions.

e)    Cecile Morrisson and Sebastian Heath were to take the list of fields decided upon by the group and make any recommendations and changes that would be needed to make them suitable for cataloguing coins.