Its alive! Perseus and the Scaife Digital Library Viewer

On March 15, Eldarion released the initial version of the Scaife Digital Library Viewer. The release is, of course, a first step, but this first step changes the world in at least two fundamental ways: (1) Perseus is alive — it can finally include new materials on an on-going basis; (2) the Scaife Digital Library Viewer provides a foundation for an environment that can publish a growing range of born-digital, openly licensed, and networked (and fully networkable because they are openly licensed) annotations and micro-publications that cannot be represented in the incunabular digital publication systems that still internalize the limitations of print publication.

First, Perseus can now be configured so that it can include new materials almost immediately. We have not yet established a regular workflow — the initial Scaife Digital Library Viewer still runs on a server maintained by Eldarion rather than Tufts — but updates on a weekly and even a daily basis, if not real time, would be quite reasonable. New content does not even have to be in Greek or Latin — we already include a Persian edition of the Divan of Hafez. More importantly, if someone outside of the extended network of Perseus collaborators puts their content in the right format (for now CapiTainS-compliant EpiDoc TEI XML), we can include it. Thus, Neven Jovanovic was able to publish the first of what is expected to be a series of early modern Latin texts in Perseus (Scaliger’s Latin translation of Sophocles’ Ajax). Prof. Hayim Lapin from the University of Maryland converted his CC-licensed version of the Hebrew Old Testament , Talmud, and Mishnah. At present, anything that ends up as visible in the Scaife DL can be (because we require an open license) a permanent part of the Perseus collections. We need to think through a general process of content submission (and however open we wish to be, there are obviously some limits), but there are enough established collaborators with content to add and enough CC-licensed material that we would like to add that we already have enough materials to test a workflow for updates.

Second, the use cases of Perseus and of Digital Classics are not only more varied than those of print but involve so many data types and so many implicit use cases that they represent an emergent system. These include born-digital critical editions (with variants classified and dynamically configurable), diplomatic editions with alignments between transcription and source images, alignments between different versions of the same text in the same language, bilingual alignments between source texts and translations morphological and syntactic analyses, co-reference resolution, and other categories of linguistic annotation, social networks, geospatial data, representations of digital intertextuality (including annotations expressing estimating probabilities that a given word or phrase represents a paraphrase or direct quotation from a lost source text), and an unbounded set of potential new annotation classes. Use cases include not only specialists posing new kinds of questions (e.g., search a corpus for instances of “future less vivid conditionals” or a semantically clustered list of verbs associated with male vs. female agents) but a fundamentally new mode of interaction that we might term language wrangling or language hacking, where readers have such dense networks of explanatory annotations that they can engage immediately, at some level of precision, with any annotated source in any language, whether or not they have any prior of knowledge of that language. Such reading is a new form of engagement that lies between the experience of experts who have spent their 10,000+ hours immersed in a subject and the passivity that a print modern language translation, with no mechanisms to get past its surface and into the source text, imposes upon the reading mind.

Looking at the first release of the Scaife Digital Library Viewer, it is easy to see all the work that needs to be done. Indeed, for me, the steady progress towards a Perseus 5.0 only deepens my appreciation for what went into the development of Perseus 4.0 (the Java-based version, initially developed by David Mimno more than fifteen years ago and still in use at www.perseus.tufts.edu) and Perseus 3.0 (the Perl-based version that David A. Smith initially developed on the side to give Perseus its first web presence back in 1995). More than a decade ago, we solved another, less immediately obvious problem for having Perseus emerge as a place in which to publish content. In March 2006 (after being badgered by Ross Scaife, as well as Chris Blackwell, Gabby Bodard, Tom Elliott, Neel Smith and others), we began to apply a Creative Commons license to content that had no legal entailments. As soon as we decided that we would create collections that only contained CC-licensed content, we solved the bottleneck problem: so long as we actually made the content available, we could never use exclusive control over that content to restrict the development of services that we could not provide (say hello to Perseus Philologic, Alpheios.net).

The Scaife Viewer of March 2018 may only be a beginning. It may have a great deal more to do (e.g., integrating treebanks and source text/translation alignments). But the code is open and the possibilities are almost unbounded.

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