The 2012-2013 academic year has been an extremely busy and productive time at the Ancient World Mapping Center. These activities and accomplishments are summarized below.
An invaluable advance this year has been the activation of a Dell Poweredge server dedicated exclusively to the Center’s projects. The close consultation and assistance of Joseph Ryan (UNC Humanities Computing) and Steven Fishback (UNC Research Computing) were vital to its acquisition and installation. Hosted by UNC ITS, it represents an enormous technological leap forward, enabling the Center to establish a new website at last (http://awmc.unc.edu), as well as a series of independent blog feeds powered by WordPress. Together they provide for an online community (by way of user registration), a venue for posting notices and news items, and a platform for web-based content (see below).
AWMC’s social media following on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ continue to enable not only the dissemination of information, but also a convenient vehicle for interfacing with the community.
This year has also seen the release of Antiquity A-La-Carte 2.0, a web-based GIS (Geographic Information Systems) interface and interactive digital atlas of the ancient Mediterranean world designed by Ryan Horne. It features accurate historical, cultural, and geographical data produced by the Center together with the entire Pleiades Project feature set (pleiades.stoa.org; see below). Users can frame, populate, and export maps according to their own design, both selecting data extracted from the Center’s database and adding their own original content, including line work and shading. The Center’s server further allows for the hosting of shapefiles of geographic data derived from the Barrington Atlas: these files may be downloaded and incorporated into GIS-based projects. All this content is made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0) license, allowing for free use for non-commercial purposes. The release of this authoritative ancient world data represents a vital aspect of the Center’s mission and a uniquely valuable service to the academic community worldwide in an ever-expanding digital environment. This year, moreover, the Center has launched an automated application programming interface which permits the downloading, under the Creative Commons license, of over 250,000 items of geographic information comprising the entire Pleaides dataset and Center-authored content, including polyline and polygon information for the physical geography of the ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern worlds. Via its API the Center has also begun offering toponyms in Greek script – over 1,200 in an initial batch compiled by Luke Hagemann, with more in preparation. Employing stable Pleiades uris, these names are thus aggregated to the larger linked data networks of the Pleiades and Pelagios Projects.
The Center’s continuing partnership with the Pleiades Project (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University) is a longstanding one, now enhanced by automatic daily synchronization of databases. This year the Center also entered into a partnership with the Mellon-funded Pelagios Project (Open University, UK), which promotes linked ancient world data online through use of the stable Pleiades identifiers. This new partnership broadens the reach of the data content offered via the Center’s API and provides authoritative geographical information along with cultural metadata.
Three projects have proven to be the year’s major challenges, each with creative outcomes in prospect despite the obstacles to be overcome. One, a scholarly map of Asia Minor around 100 CE (1:750,000 scale), was ready for display in draft by Richard Talbert and former Center acting director Brian Turner (Portland State University, Oregon) at the International Limes Congress, Ruse, Bulgaria, where feedback received assisted the production of a revised draft now under review by several experts. The second project, Benthos: Digital Atlas of Ancient Waters, has been initiated with the mapping of ancient shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. The third project, a commission to map the several thousand identifiable geographical and cultural features named in Strabo’s Geography for Duane Roller’s new translation forthcoming from Cambridge University Press, has been the most taxing, but rewarding nonetheless. In fact completion of a full draft – imminent at the year’s end – would not have been feasible without extensive reliance upon the Center’s new tools and resources. Although publication in both print and digital formats had been envisaged originally, it is now acknowledged by all concerned that only the latter is practical and, moreover, hugely beneficial. Indeed, with the experience gained from mapping Strabo, the Center intends to launch a matching initiative to translate and map the geographical books in Pliny the Elder’s Natural History.
The Center fulfilled further commissions, among them a series of topographical phase plans of Rome’s Campus Martius, and maps for George Hatke, Aksum and Nubia: Warfare, Commerce, and Political Fictions in Ancient Northeast Africa (NYU Press); Paul Keyser, Oxford Handbook of Science and Medicine in the Classical World; Barbette Spaeth, Cambridge Companion to Ancient Mediterranean Religion; and Noelle Zeiner-Carmichael, Roman Letters: An Anthology (Wiley-Blackwell).
As the basis of his senior honors thesis advised by Richard Talbert, Steve Burges used LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data for the city of Rome acquired jointly by the Center and Davis Library last year. His meticulously documented reconstruction of the early phases of Rome’s Forum supersedes all previous efforts, and most instructively advances our understanding of the valley’s transformation into public space and of the siting of public buildings there in relation to flooding by the river Tiber. Steve presented a summary of his findings at UNC’s Annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research.
Richard Talbert accepted an invitation to survey the Center’s current projects and their likely development and expansion at a workshop “The future of ORBIS” sponsored by the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis and the Department of Classics, Stanford University. Ryan Horne presented some of the Center’s ongoing work at the inaugural conference of the Digital Classics Association held at SUNY Buffalo, and was chosen to participate in the Linked Ancient World Data Institute organized jointly by NYU’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World and Drew University.
An outstanding team of graduate and undergraduate assistants has made such a productive year possible. Ryan Horne been primarily responsible for the pathbreaking design, engineering, and development of Antiquity A-La-Carte 2.0, the Center’s API, and the Benthos project. Ray Belanger has again made excellent progress on painstakingly refining the geodatabase of physical features derived from the Barrington Atlas, line work for rivers in particular. Ashley Lee and Angela Blackburn have enlarged the Benthos database, as has Luke Hagemann the Center’s database. A key figure who will be stepping down, however, is Dr. Jeffrey Becker after a tireless two-year stint as acting director. His contribution during this period merits the highest praise and gratitude. He has been at the forefront of substantially raising the Center’s capacity and leadership as a world-class resource in its field, and of ensuring the permanence of its fundamental accomplishments. His initiatives have ranged widely and most fruitfully: above all, his herculean efforts have now brought the Asia Minor and Strabo maps within sight of completion after surmounting endless difficulties. He will be succeeded as acting director by former assistant Ross Twele.
Jeffrey A. Becker
31 May 2013