Purpose

The Perseus Catalog was conceived in 2005 as a way to integrate two complementary kinds of resources, bibliographies of authors and editions produced by and for classicists and metadata about Greek and Latin authors in more general library systems. The goal was to create a catalog that would provide coverage of Greek, Latin, and ultimately other literatures in a way that was suitable to a digital age.

Reference works like the digital Thesaurus Linguae Graecae and the print Thesaurus Linguae Latinae had long been developing extensive bibliographies of preferred editions for Greek and Latin works. These bibliographies have, however, been designed to provide a single, chosen edition and were not designed to provide an overview of the full textual history of a work. In a truly digital environment, every text should be a multitext that allows readers to compare versions over time, ultimately providing a complete overview of the known history of a text. These bibliographies provided a starting point that covered most Greek and Latin authors and that also helped us identify many editions that are now in the public domain.

Libraries have, by contrast, developed vast and broad catalogs that include virtually every printed edition of a Greek and Latin work and even many manuscripts. Library catalogs provide a foundational instrument as we organize digitized versions of historical sources. But the library catalogs primarily document books rather than the works that those books contain. A single catalog record may cover a series, such as the Greek Anthology, that contains hundreds of distinct works by different authors or it may cover an edition for part of a work (e.g., an edition and commentary of one book of the Aeneid). Library catalogs are designed to get users to physical books. It is up to readers to use the books themselves to understand precisely what logical works they contain.

Work by David Mimno (Mimno et al. 2005). showed us that we could use the library-based Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) to organize information about logical works — about the Iliad rather than books that might contain all or part of the Iliad.  FRBR allowed us to represent multiple versions of the same work — including not only manuscripts and critical editions but also translations into modern languages. FRBR allows us to organize dozens, in some cases thousands, of versions of a work produced in multiple media over thousands of years. We also built upon library authority lists and standards so that our catalog data could ultimately become part of a standard library infrastructure: where possible, we use explicit identifiers for authors and works developed by libraries in the Europe and North America. The “FRBR inspired” catalog provides a framework to capture the full history of Greek and Latin works, to provide the depth of coverage familiar from discipline specific bibliographies and to have the breadth and scalability and interoperability of the best library systems.

This first release of the Perseus Catalog represents years of work but also represents a first step in a much larger process. It will take years to identify and catalog multiple versions of Greek and Latin works already in digital form and such an effort must involve many different parties. The Perseus Catalog is designed to evolve over time and to draw upon contributions from many sources.

The Perseus Catalog not only allows us to track individual works but also provides a foundation for a new kind of catalog that can identify every word in every version of a work — a catalog where it is not the books but the words within the books that constitute the core objects of interest. In this world, we must move from millions of books to billion, indeed trillions, of words (Crane et al. 2012). To accomplish this goal the Perseus Catalog is designed to support also the Canonical Text Services Protocol and associated CITE Architecture, developed over more than a decade by Christopher Blackwell and Neel Smith, working with support from the Center for Hellenic Studies. The CTS/CITE architecture is an essential advance in our ability to describe and manage the core textual data upon which philology — the study of the past through its textual records — must depend.

Finally, the Perseus Catalog is a truly transnational project. While in its initial phase almost entirely the product of American labor, with support from the Mellon Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Alpheios Project, the Johns Hopkins University Library, and, above all, Tufts University, the Perseus Catalog is now being advanced as well as a part of two 1.1 million euro European Projects at the University of Leipzig, the Billion Word Library and the Reinvention of Humanities Publication, both supported by the European Social Fund. Researchers in the University Library and the Department of Computer Science at Leipzig will add the FRBR and MODS data in the Perseus Catalog to the URNs supported by the German National Library and will augment the data now available. This German-American effort will integrate new data as it appears and support the resulting perseus.org URI for many years to come. The Perseus Catalog provides an extensible and sustainable foundation by which to map Greek, Latin, and other historical literatures.

Gregory Crane
The University of Leipzig and Tufts University
June 2013

 

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