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Project Outline

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford owns around three hundred Latin inscriptions in its collection, which it has gradually accumulated over the centuries since 1683. The core of the collection consists of the Arundel marbles, but the museum has made further acquisitions since the seventeenth century, most recently of inscriptions from the estate of the late Sir Howard Colvin. The main publication of the collection is that of Chandler (1763), who included the 134 inscriptions then owned by the museum. Since then, however, the museum has added a significant number of new inscriptions to its collection. No modern edition of the collection exists. No photographic record of the inscriptions has ever been published. The inscriptions originate from Britain and other parts of the Roman world and date from the late Republic down to mediaeval times. The collection includes a wide range of types of inscriptions: many are monumental inscriptions such as epitaphs, religious dedications, and commemorative building-inscriptions, but many more are inscribed upon everyday objects, including pewterware, pottery, and even a set of panpipes. None of the inscriptions on its own is of any especial historical consequence, but together they offer insights into the Roman world, its commemorative habits, social hierarchy, economic networks, and uses of literacy. Specifically too, the place of the frontier province of Britain within the cultural, social, religious, and economic networks of the wider Roman empire can be illustrated by the inscriptions found there.

Despite the fact that they offer a direct line of communication with the ancient world, Latin inscriptions often seem inaccessible and incomprehensible to the general public. This project aims to create an online corpus and critical edition of the museum's collection of inscriptions for a scholarly readership, and then to use this as a springboard for further online resources and interactive activities, and to incorporate more Latin inscriptions into the museum's displays in order to open up this type of first-hand source material to as wide an audience as possible. It will show how Latin inscriptions can illuminate the society, economy, and religion of the past, and will explore the ways in which Latin continued to be used in Britain even after the end of 'Roman Britain'.

As well as containing a research core relating to Roman history, this project will also make a valuable contribution to understanding better how digital resources can be embedded into different contexts peopled by professional scholars, students, teachers, schoolchildren, and museum-visitors. The AHRC has been at the forefront of funding innovative digital epigraphic projects, such as Inscriptions of Aphrodisias and MAMA XI, and of supporting new imaging techniques via the project eSAD: e-Science and Ancient Documents. These projects have clearly demonstrated the advantages of publication in EpiDoc XML, but this project wishes to explore this potential further in a number of ways: by exploring the integration of an EpiDoc corpus into a Museum's cataloguing system; by discovering how it can be used to enhance current displays within the Museum; to see how the XML can be used to produce teaching resources which can be used by institutions elsewhere. In particular, it will seek to put into practice the potential in EpiDoc to produce resources suitable for the visually impaired.

Several audiences will be the potential beneficiaries of this project. Visitors to the museum will be able to engage more easily with the Latin inscriptions on display; interactive activities will target schoolchildren. Schools will be able to use new online resources in the Education Centre during their visits to the museum and to engage in follow-up activities afterwards. Students and scholars will be able to access the electronic EpiDoc corpus of the inscriptions. By publishing an electronic corpus, the museum's collection will be made accessible to a worldwide audience, and it will be possible to integrate its data into the existing major online databases of Latin inscriptions (Epigraphische Datenbank Heidelberg; Epigraphic Database Roma).

Project Objectives

By publishing a corpus of the Latin inscriptions in the Ashmolean Museum, this project will explore the place of Latin literacy in Britain, the role of inscriptions in writing Roman social history, and the history of the collection and changing attitudes to epigraphy from 1683 to the modern day. Of equal importance is our objective to explore ways in which Latin inscriptions can be used to educate the general public, visitors, and children about the Roman world, using the Ashmolean as a case-study. Inscriptions in Latin can seem inaccessible and intimidating to visitors, but in reality represent a direct window onto the ancient world, combining material culture and text. The possibility of opening up epigraphy to wider audiences is illustrated by the 'Talking stones' programme at the Epigraphical Museum, Athens, which presents the stones in its collection to different groups of visitors. Our project will explore ways in which the Latin inscriptions owned by the Ashmolean can be published for an academic readership and presented to the general public. At the core of the project is an online corpus and critical edition of the museum's Latin inscriptions. This will examine them as both texts and objects, looking for evidence of how stonecutters designed inscriptions, exploring their significance for understanding local epigraphic cultures, and unravelling individual episodes of Roman social history. The corpus will be created according to EpiDoc conventions designed to ensure the compatibility, durability, and interchangeability of data. Using EpiDoc will maximise access to the data, not just as an online corpus, but also integrated into the international epigraphic online databases. This proposal will go one step beyond the successful EpiDoc projects based at KCL by using this EpiDoc corpus as the springboard towards further web resources aimed at the general public and schoolchildren. In addition to inserting the Latin inscriptions into the museum's existing Online Collections, we shall create further educational resources targeted at schools. By creating a set of digital resources, the project will make accessible the whole collection of inscriptions - not just inscriptions currently on display in the galleries, but those in storerooms and on loan to other institutions - to different groups, whether scholars, students, children (particularly at KS2, GCSE and A levels), or visitors. EpiDoc also allows different audiences (including the visually impaired) to be addressed with different versions of the data. We aim to build on the success of other EpiDoc projects in order to explore further how digital resources can be used to integrate scholarship into the way visitors to the museum interact with its collections.

The project will add a selection of Latin inscriptions not currently on display into various galleries and spaces in the museum to enhance visitors' appreciation of the contribution of epigraphy to our understanding of the Roman world. The displayed inscriptions will be accompanied by interactive activities designed to engage visitors in themes such as Language and Literacy, Social Status, Living and Dying in the Roman World, and Economic Networks. The Museum already has programmes on ancient Egypt and Greece for children at KS1/2; this project will complement these by making available resources on the Roman world which encourage children to engage with primary source material. The resources produced by this project will be available to school groups in the Education Centre, which attracts thousands of primary schoolchildren each year.