Tag Archives: artifacts

It’s all Greek to me

A classmate in my undergraduate Latin courses had a tee shirt that said this. In Latin. Omnia lingua Graeca mihi sunt. Oh yes, what language geeks we be.

Even as a Classics major, though, I never actually took any Greek language courses. You could take either Latin or Greek (but didn’t have to take both, although you could), so I decided to stick with all Latin. I already knew all the letters and sounds, for one thing.

So no, I never took Greek.

Then, today, a Classics friend of mine posted a link on Facebook : “Oxford University appeals for help in transcribing 200,000 Greek characters” [UK Daily Mail, 7/26/2011]. And I thought to myself, Bummer, what a neat project, but I don’t have any Greek skills…

Then I read the article and learned I wouldn’t necessarily need any Greek skills to participate (although I’m sure it helps!).

The gist of the project is that Oxford University has this huge backlog of Egyptian papyri with Greek text written on it, that was discovered in 1896. Yes, over 100 years ago, and they have apparently only waded through about 2% of the text. So they are calling for reinforcements! And since obviously the number of available experts in Ancient Greek is a bit slim (all things considered), they have come up with a way to crowd-source the transcription in order to facilitate the translating, without needing a ton of people who actually know Greek or even really know the Greek alphabet.

The project can be found at AncientLives.org/transcribe. They have developed an image viewer where volunteers look at a piece of papyrus, click to identify the location of an individual letter, and then match the letter on the papyrus to a Greek alphabet “keyboard” (a bunch of buttons) on the screen. (It is pretty self-explanatory but they also have a helpful, short tutorial.)

I tried it out just a few minutes ago, and the interface is extremely easy to use. And I actually was able to identify some Greek letters. And don’t worry, they have about 5 people transcribe each image and then sort out any discrepancies, so don’t panic about possibly getting them wrong.

Funny thing : while I was playing around with this, my husband came and looked over my shoulder and said, “What’s that?” I told him, and he started pointing out letters to me. So the electrical engineer was actually working circles around the classics major on this project, but only because of all those Greek symbols they use in math and science and the fact that I never actually took Greek. It was a fun thing to do together, though.

Hopefully soon, with a little help from a lot of people all over the world, the contents of these ancient documents will finally be fully useable.

Manuscript hide and seek

In the past week and a half, I have twice had the golden opportunity to promote the Patterson/Brown/Johnston papers in the Dayton Metro Library’s collection. Each one was a shining example of one of those moments when it felt completely appropriate to both the subject matter of interest, as well as the research level, to say, “Have you seen our [insert name of manuscript collection here]?” In this case it was, “Have you seen our Brown-Patterson Papers?” The Brown-Patterson Papers mostly include papers from Henry Brown, an early Dayton merchant, but among those papers are correspondence to Brown from his father-in-law Robert Patterson, as well as his brother-in-law John Johnston, and many other people, usually in regards to Brown’s selling them something. [View the finding aid.]

In both of these instances when I suggested the Brown-Patterson Papers, the person responded, “Oh, I thought all of that was at Wright State.”

Yes, it’s true, the Wright State University Special Collections & Archives does have a larger (9 linear feet) collection of Patterson Family Papers (MS-236). And just so we’re clear, I’m not begrudging the fact that people know WSU has a big collection of Patterson stuff. That’s great that they’ve obviously promoted it, and people know it’s there.  But sometimes I’m a bit of a logic/technicality nut : obviously “all” that stuff isn’t at Wright State, because there are some Patterson manuscripts at the Dayton Metro Library.

When I first said we had this stuff, I think they were probably thinking, “Is she sure she knows what she’s talking about? Maybe they have copies of what Wright State has…” (Which, actually, we do have copies of what Wright State has – on microfilm. But that’s not what I was referring to.) No, really, I promise, it’s actual, real, old paper stuff. I have personally seen it and organized it myself.

In both cases, they did believe me, and they were pleased to see our materials, having no idea that we had any original manuscript materials on their topic. And I must say, I was quite proud of myself for finding two new users for those very important papers. After all, what good are these things if nobody knows they exist or uses them?

Sure, on the one hand, it’s the researcher’s duty to check every logical place (and sometimes illogical ones – things wind up in weird places sometimes!). And on the other hand, it’s the library/archives’ duty to try to make their collections holdings known, so researchers can find them.

But I really told you all of that, so I could tell you this… I got to thinking : it is so widely known that “the Patterson Family Papers” are at the Wright State Archives. If I did not work with the Dayton Metro Library archival materials, would I have known that any Patterson manuscripts were at the library? Might I not have thought the same thing : “Oh, that’s all up at Wright State.” [After all, the collection at DML was only recently added to WorldCat, so long-time researchers might have missed it unless they checked WorldCat again in the past few months.]

But we have to be careful — as researchers and as librarians — not to fall into that trap of thinking, “Oh, all of that is…[anywhere].” It’s very easy for materials on a particular person or family to be “dispersed.” Have you ever written a letter or an email? To how many different people? Have you shared your photographs? Have you ever had a grandparent die and watched as their things were parceled out to children and grandchildren? As heirlooms pass on down, down, down the line, things that belonged to one person many years ago (even decades or hundreds of years ago) could wind up…anywhere.

I think we could all agree that in most cases, what has been saved is just a fraction of what existed. So I don’t think we should ever really be surprised to learn that there is more information about So-And-So “somewhere out there.” Just smile and be happy you found it. 🙂

The Brown-Patterson Papers (MS-015) discussed here can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

For more information about the Patterson Family Papers (MS-236) at Wright State University, contact the WSU Special Collections & Archives.

Preserving Our Cultural Heritage Conference at Indiana University, presentations, part 2

More from the Preserving Our Cultural Heritage conference at IU:


Danielle Emerling (IU-Bloomington) gave a presentation, “Motion Picture Film Preservation at the Chautauqua Institution Archives.” This presentation described a project in which Ms. Emerling participated last year to preserve and make accessible 2 or 3 silent film reels from 1923 (35mm film). With the help of Eastman House and Kodak in Rochester, NY, the film was evaluated (not nitrate – woohoo!), preserved, and ultimately digitized for access purposes. We were even able to watch clips from the films during the presentation – cool stuff!

It was kind of amazing to watch these videos from 1923, being played on a computer, no less. This gives me hope for getting some of my grandpa’s old home movie films (16mm and 8mm from the 1950s and 1960s) preserved and digitized someday. (I am afraid to know how much the whole process cost, though.)

The subject matter was interesting as well. One film showed activities at Chautauqua. The other seemed to be a sort of patriot film, which depicted a group of “immigrants” being schooled on American history (the 30 second version!). (That was one of the more anti-immigrant time periods in American history – if you don’t believe me, check out the details of the Immigration Act of 1924.)


Brenna Henry (IU-Bloomington) presented “Non-textual Objects in Library and Archival Collections.” In this presentation, Ms. Henry shared the results of some survey research she conducted regarding the non-textual objects (often called “realia”) in libraries and archives, including how and why the objects got into the collection and how the institutions deal with them.

I can only imagine some of the things that might be floating around in an archives that, er, don’t really belong there. Sometimes you get and keep these things because they go with a larger manuscript collection that you really did want. Sometimes you have these things because someone at your institution in the past didn’t really understand the archives and museums are actually different. Or, sometimes, they just sneak in on you – like those 19th century notebooks with locks of hair in them. (Yep, we’ve got some of those…)

I asked Ms. Henry whether any of the institutions mentioned directing patrons to another repository that deals with 3-D objects, and she said yes, some of them do. That’s what we usually do at the library, if someone has historic artifacts that they want to donate: we recommend a museum instead. But we’re happy to take manuscripts that fit our collecting policy.


Day 1 presentations that I did not attend (sessions were concurrent):

Kristopher Stenson (IU-Bloomington), “The Grigg Report and its Effect on Appraisal in the United Kingdom.”

Camille Torres (Simmons College), “Rethinking Appraisal Theory for Government Documents.”

Ed Hill (IU-Bloomington), “Heavy Metal as Folklore and the Case for Preservation.”

Richard Fischer (City University of New York-Queens), “‘The Mystery Song’: Histories of the Contingent in Documentary Jazz Recordings.”


Day 2 presentations:


Kristen Schuster (Simmons College) read her paper “Photography, Identity and Descriptive Processes.” Here is a description of the presentation from the paper abstract: “The relationship between the creation of records and the impulse to archive represents the interdependence between memory and identity. How we articulate our past experiences reflects our ability to understand the meaning [of] memory, as well as the subjects we include in them.”

Ms. Schuster’s presentation was intriguing, but it was so very meta that I think the best I can do to comment on it is to copy here some of the extermely interesting sound-bites I jotted down in my notes:

  • What we choose to save is a reflection of our perception of value.
  • “The camera is an archiving machine.”
  • Visual literacy can transform a photo from “art” to “document”.
  • Archival description does not preserve memory but the notion of memory.
  • Cataloging represents an object through controlled terms, thus limiting search ability and stripping details and memory from the photo. [This is one of my favorite snippets! Then again, subject headings and I have a bit of a rocky relationship anyway…]
  • Words and images communicate in different ways.
  • Folksonomy tags democratize subjects.
  • User supplied terms can broaden ideas of a photo’s subject matter or how it is considered; a single indexer cannot provide all possible relevant terms. [Yes!]

Just to be clear: Most of the above bulleted items are probably direct quotes or very nearly so – in any event, all Ms. Schuster’s ideas. Only the parts in brackets come from me. But I was scribbling so fast during the presentation, trying to listen and write at the same time, that I didn’t get everything word for word or sometimes forgot the actual quotation marks. (Ah, it takes me back to my undergraduate history lecture courses…)


Micah Erwin (University of Texas-Austin) gave a presentation, “An Underappreciated Resource: Medieval Manuscript Leaf Collections.” The presentation discussed Mr. Erwin’s experiences with digitizing and describing medieval manuscript leaf collections. (Just so we’re clear: leaf = manuscript page, not like like a leaf from a tree!)

Apparently, in the past it has been fashionable to collect manuscript leaves, which has caused the individual leaves from manuscripts to become scattered among various collectors. Mr. Erwin mentioned some of the ways that digization (even Flickr!) is aiding in identifying leaves from different collections that originally belonged together, as well as how digitization might be used to create a virtual exhibit bringing leaves from different collections back together again. He also emphasized that although these individual leaves are often viewed as mere curiosities and are consequently not always cataloged adequately, the leaves can be valuable teaching aids – so cataloging should be done! [I couldn’t agree more! I think everything should be cataloged! Why have something if nobody knows it’s there?]

This was yet another interesting presentation on a topic I did not know much about, save what I learned in my History of Books class a year or so ago. Incidentally, Mr. Erwin mentioned that renowned medieval manuscripts expert Christopher de Hamel was at the IU Lilly Library recently. Mr. de Hamel wrote A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, which we used in the History of Books class (one of my favorites in my whole MLIS program).


Rachel Woodbrook and Althea Lazzaro (University of Washington) gave their presentation “‘How are [we] to bring such wayward creatures into the bonds of organizations?’ Zine Archives and the Archival Tradition,” and led a discussion afterwards.

I admit I did not even know what a “zine” was prior to this presentation, let alone what sorts of unique archival challenges they might present. The presenters gave a very broad definition of “zine” as: “any self-published creative endeavor done out of passion.” Apparently, this format has been popular in a lot of counter-culture movements (my word, not theirs), such as punk, new feminism, and gay pride, among others.

As a result of the zines’ origins, this affets how they are being collected, preserved, and made accessible. That is, many zine archives (such as the Zine Archive and Publishing Project in Seattle) tend to be low-key and low-restriction, even circulating copies; to lock them away for their own protection would completely cramp the style of the format and step on the intent and the material itself. After all, many of these were written for the express purpose of defying control and oppression! It was a very interesting dynamic.

Issues regarding possible digization for access (so more people could view) and preservation (less handling of the originals) were discussed also. Copyrights and privacy issues were the two biggies. Intellectual property is protected by copyright upon its creation, but you can of course ask permission for certain uses. But what do you do if the item in question has a pseudonymed author that you can’t even find? As for privacy, there is some very personal stuff in some of these zines: it’s a little dicey whether the author would even like it being in an archives (but again – you can’t always find them to ask!), let alone know that something they might have created to circulate among a handful of friends has found its way not only into an archive but was digitized and made available to the world.

Yes, this presentation turned out to be an interesting an informative one indeed. Not only did I learn what the heck a zine even is, I learned about some of the very unique archival challenges they can present.

(As an aside, I overheard someone else talking about zines in a completely unrelated context later on that same day. Weird how one day I didn’t even know what they were, and the next day, I hear about them from two different sources!)


Day 2 presentations that I did not attend (sessions were concurrent):

Sarah Keil (IU-Bloomington): “An Analysis of African Archives: Challenges for the Present and Solutions for Change.”

Alison Clemens (University of Texas-Austin): “The Woman Behind the Curtain: Winnie Allen as Archivist.”


And with that, I’ve finished up the paper/presentation sessions. In Part 3, I’ll share some notes on the behind-the-scenes tour at Lilly Library, as well as the Conservation Workshop (which was my primary reason for attending this conference).

Custer’s battle flag

Today, I read on CNN that a battle flag from the Battle of Little Bighorn will be auctioned off. Whenever I see something like this, I always hope the artifact at hand will end up in a museum, so it can be shared by all. I can only imagine the historical treasures currently resting in private hands… I’m sure some people may not even know that they have them or that they are historically significant.