Prolepsis’ 4th International Conference: "The Limits of Exactitude"

Prolepsis’ 4th International Conference

19th-20th December 2019

Università degli Studi di Bari “Aldo Moro”

Keynote speaker: Prof. Therese Fuhrer (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

The Limits of Exactitude

Exactitude is the third of the Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Italo Calvino (Cambridge MA, 1988). According to Calvino ‘exactitude’ is a «well-defined and well-calculated plan for the work in question; an evocation of clear, incisive, memorable images [...]; a language as precise as possible both in the choice of words and in the expression of the subtleties of thought and imagination». The aim of Prolepsis’ 4th International Conference is to reflect on Calvino’s definition applying it to the Classical, Late-Antique and Medieval Worlds. This year the conference will be particularly keen on – but not limited to – the following topics:

  • Accuratio vel ambiguitas in speech, argumentation and narration.

  • Ambiguous, inaccurate and disconcerting communication from the author, and potential reader response.

  • Metrical and musical exactitude and its limits.

  • Exactitude in treatises (scientific, rhetorical, grammatical).

  • Quoting, misquoting and misplacing.

  • Accurate and inaccurate titles, and their transmission.

  • Limits in the material evidence (manuscripts, papyri, inscriptions, formation of corpora, mise en page, stichometry).

  • Exactitude, doubt, ambiguity in the history of transmission (from ancient lexica, etymologica, and commentaries to modern scholarship).

  • Examples of Exactitude and Ambiguity in Ancient and Modern Translations.

  • Exactitude and Ambiguity in ancient and modern reception.

  • Hypercorrection, lacunae, conjectures and obsession for completeness.

  • Exactitude in historical and documentary reconstructions.

  • Beginnings and endings of ancient and medieval works: doubtful and exact endings, incipit ex abrupto, etc.

  • Finished and Unfinished / Clear and Unclear / Perfect and Imperfect in the philosophical reflection.

The participation in the conference as speaker is open to postgraduate students and early career researchers. To participate send an e-mail to [email protected] by the 30th of June 2019.

The e-mail must contain the following pdf attachments:

  1. An anonymous abstract of approximately 300 words (excluding references) and in English. You should specify if the abstract is for an oral presentation or a poster.

  1. A short academic biography with name and affiliation.

Proposals will be evaluated through double-blind peer review by scholars in the Humanities.

The proposal evaluation will be carried out based on the following criteria: consistency, clarity, originality, methods. All abstracts, including those in proposed panels, will be reviewed and accepted on their own merits. Please note that this review is anonymous. Your anonymous abstract is the sole basis for judging your proposed paper for acceptance.

Papers should be 20 minutes in length plus 10 minutes for discussion. The languages admitted for the presentation are English and Italian. Selected papers will be considered for publication. Italian speakers will be required to provide an English handout, power point, and possibly a translation/translated summary of their paper.

Proposals for coordinated panels (three papers reaching 90 min. in total, discussion included) and posters are most welcome. Posters should be written in Italian or English.

Expenses for travel and accommodation will not be covered. For any inquiries write to [email protected], we would be glad to help you find solutions.

The organising committee:

Roberta Berardi (University of Oxford)

Nicoletta Bruno (Thesaurus linguae Latinae, Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, München)

Giulia Dovico (Universität zu Köln)

Martina Filosa (Universität zu Köln)

Luisa Fizzarotti (Alma Mater – Università di Bologna)

Olivia Montepaone (Società Internazionale per lo Studio del Medioevo Latino)

Claudia Nuovo (Università degli Studi di Bari Aldo Moro)


Inner Eurasia

Details of the history of inner Eurasia revealed by new study

Details of the history of inner Eurasia revealed by new study

Researchers combining genetics, archaeology, history and linguistics have gained new insights into the history of inner Eurasia, once a cultural and genetic crossroads connecting Europe and Asia

Inner Eurasia
Children from one of the Tajikistan communities included in the study. Credit: Elena Balanovska

An international team of researchers has combined archaeological, historical and linguistic data with genetic information from over 700 newly analyzed individuals to construct a more detailed picture of the history of inner Eurasia than ever before available. In a study published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, they found that the indigenous populations of inner Eurasia are very diverse in their genes, culture and languages, but divide into three groups that stretch across the area in east-west geographic bands.

Inner Eurasia, including areas of modern-day Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, was once the cross-roads connecting Asia and Europe, and a major intersection for the exchange of culture, trade goods and genes in prehistory and historical periods, including the era of the famous Silk Road.

This vast area can also be divided into several distinct ecological regions that stretch in largely east-west bands across Inner Eurasia, consisting of the deserts at the southern edge of the region, the steppe in the central part, taiga forests further north, and tundra towards the Arctic region. The subsistence strategies used by indigenous groups in these regions largely correlate with the ecological zones, for example reindeer herding and hunting in the tundra region and nomadic pastoralism on the steppe.

Despite the long and important history of inner Eurasia, details about past migrations and interactions between groups are not always clear, especially in prehistory. "Inner Eurasia is a perfect place to investigate the relationship between environmental conditions and the pattern of human migration and mixture, as well as changes driven by cultural innovations such as the introduction of dairy pastoralism into the steppe," states Choongwon Jeong of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, co-first and senior author of the paper. In order to clarify our understanding of some of the nuances of the history of the region, an international team of researchers undertook an ambitious project to use modern and ancient DNA from a broad geographic range and time period, in concert with archaeological, linguistic and historical information, to clarify the relationships between the different populations. "A few ethnic groups were studied previously," comments Oleg Balanovsky from the Vavilov Institute of General Genetics in Moscow, also co-first author, "but we conducted more than a hundred field trips to study this vast region systematically, and reached communities speaking almost all of the Inner Eurasian languages".

Three distinct east-west groupings

For this study, the researchers analyzed DNA from 763 individuals from across the region as well as reanalyzed the genome-wide data from two ancient individuals from the Botai culture, and compared those results with previously published data from modern and ancient individuals. They found three distinct genetic groupings, which geographically are arranged in east-west bands stretching across the region and correlating generally to ecological zones, where populations within each band share a distinct combination of ancestries in varying proportions.

The northernmost grouping, which they term "forest-tundra", includes Russians, all Uralic language-speakers, which includes Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian, and Yeniseian-language speakers, of which only one remains today and is spoken in central Siberia. The middle grouping, which they term "steppe-forest", includes Turkic- and Mongolic-speaking populations from the Volga and the region around the Altai and Sayan mountains, near to where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan meet. The southernmost grouping, "southern-steppe", includes the rest of Turkic- and Mongolic-speaking populations living further south, such as Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks, as well as Indo-European-speaking Tajiks.

Previously unknown genetic connections revealed

Because the study includes data from a broad time period, it is able to show shifts in ancestry in the past that reveal previously unknown interactions. For example, the researchers found that the southern-steppe populations had a larger genetic component from West and South Asia than the other two groupings. This component is also widespread in the ancient populations of the region since the second half of the first millennium BC, but not found in Central Kazakhstan in earlier periods. This hints at a population movement from the southern-steppe region to the steppe-forest region that was previously unknown.

"Inner Eurasia has functioned as a conduit for human migration and cultural transfer since the first appearance of modern humans in this region. As a result, we observe deep sharing of genes between Western and Eastern Eurasian populations in multiple layers," explains Jeong. "The opportunity to find direct evidence for the hidden old layers of admixture, which is often difficult to appreciate from present-day populations, is very exciting."

"We found not only corridors, but also barriers for migrations," adds Balanovsky. "Some of them separate the historical groups of populations, while others, like the distinct barrier following the Great Caucasus mountain ridge, were obviously shaped by the geographic landscape."

Geographic locations of the Eneolithic Botai, groups including newly sampled individuals, and nearby groups with published data. The map is overlayed with ecoregional information, divided into 14 biomes downloaded from https://ecoregions2017.appspot.com/ (credited to Ecoregions 2017 © Resolve). Credit: Jeong & Balanovsky et. al. 2019. The genetic history of admixture across inner Eurasia. Nature Ecology & Evolution, http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-0878-2.

Two ancient individuals resequenced in this study originated from the Botai culture in Kazakhstan where the horse was initially domesticated. Analysis of the Y-chromosome (inherited along the paternal genealogical lines) revealed a genetic lineage which is typical in the Kazakh steppe up to the present day. But analysis of the autosomes, which both parents contribute to their children, show no trace of Botai ancestry left in present-day people, likely due to repeated migrations into the region both from the west and the east since the Bronze Age.

The researchers emphasize that their model of three groupings does not perfectly explain all known populations and that there are examples of both outliers and intermediate groups. "It is important to organize a future study for further sampling of sparsely populated regions between the clines, for example, Central Kazakhstan or East Siberia," states Johannes Krause, also of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, and senior author of the paper.

Researchers from the study conducting field work along the Amur River. Credit: Yuri Bogunov

Press release from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History / Max-Planck-Institut für Menschheitsgeschichte


Forgotten history of tobacco, caffeines, chocolate, sugar, and opium set to be revealed by historians

Forgotten history of tobacco, caffeines, chocolate, sugar, and opium set to be revealed by historians

  • Historians aim to understand how world’s most widely consumed intoxicants were first trafficked and consumed in Western Europe
  • Led by the University of Sheffield, a team of European researchers will explore how tobacco, caffeines, chocolate, sugar and opium were first introduced into European cities in the 17th century and how their consumption transformed urban public spaces
  • Researchers aim to understand how these commodities became such a common part of people’s lifestyle and diet in order to shine light on intoxicants and their impact on society today
  • Project to collaborate with historians at leading European universities as well as European museums, schools and the UN
intoxicants tobacco caffeines chocolate sugar opium tea coffee
From the seventeenth century ‘new’ intoxicants like tobacco, caffeines, cacao, sugar, and opium flowed into north-western Europe through a network of Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic ports. Elias Galli (1650–1714), View of Hamburg or Stadtansicht von Hamburg, circa 1680, oil on canvas, Hamburg Museum, Hamburg, Public Domain

Historians led from the University of Sheffield are set to reveal how Europe ‘took to soft drugs’ between the 16th and 19th centuries as part of a major new comparative research project funded by the Humanities European Research Area (HERA).

Leading researchers based at Oldenburg, Sheffield, Stockholm and Utrecht will examine how tobacco, tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar and opium were first introduced and consumed by people in European cities in the 17th century and how they have become such a common part of people’s diet and lifestyle.

Findings from the project will shine new light on the politics of consumption, the ethics of taste, and the complicated ways in which we think about intoxicants and addictive substances today.

Focusing on four European cities – Amsterdam, Hamburg, London and Stockholm – the study will recover how ‘new’ intoxicants were first sold in traditional public spaces, such as apothecaries and grocery shops, and how their sale and consumption transformed public behaviours and practices.

How these ‘new intoxicants’ created new public spaces, such as the coffeehouse, and the impact these had on society and politics will also be studied.

 

The research will be led by Professor Phil Withington from the University’s Department of History in collaboration with historians from universities in Germany (Prof. Dr. Dagmar Freist, Oldenburg), the Netherlands (Prof. Dr. Toine Pieters, Utrecht), and Sweden (Prof. Dr. Leos Müller, Stockholm).

The research team based at Sheffield will trace the chronology and volume of new intoxicants coming into London from the first decades of traffic in tobacco (c.1600) to the onset of the opium wars (c. 1850). It will examine the impact of these commodities on public spaces and social practices by sampling a variety of records every 50 years across the period – from customs and taxation records, to legal and probate records, to ‘ego’ documents, to the records of visual and popular print culture, to material objects and artefacts.

This research will enable comparison with trends in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Stockholm. It will also form the basis of knowledge partnerships with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, with Sheffield schools, and with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT).

Professor Phil Withington, said: ‘It is a great honour to be part of this collaborative project between leading historians at Sheffield, Oldenburg, Stockholm, and Utrecht, and to work closely with curators, teachers, and those involved in dealing with intoxicant-related issues.

“The funding body HERA has given us a fantastic opportunity not only to conduct new and exciting research but also to show how the past can illuminate contemporary problems and issues. This is the European part of a global story that is easily forgotten. We take our tobacco, our caffeines and our chocolate for granted, but how these intoxicants became part of European diets reveals so much about social identities, about politics, and about how tastes are shaped, valued, and criminalised in the past and the present.”

The researchers in the project are set to use their findings to launch a digital exhibition charting the history of intoxicants with Dutch, German, Swedish and UK museums.

The new intoxicants became an integral part of the politics of urban public space across Europe. Customs & manners of ye Englyshe people. How ye younge menne doe smoke. Englishmen smoking in a city street, thereby causing a nuisance to women. Etching.
Wellcome Images Iconographic Collections, Rock & Co., CC BY 4.0

The research teams will also work with schools in their respective countries to raise awareness about new and old intoxicants and to think about how we can learn from the past. To this end, an international conference for schools will be held in Amsterdam as part of the project.

Researchers will use their findings to collaborate with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) and Mainline Foundation to help inform drug prevention, health and wellbeing initiatives.

The project is one of 20 new projects funded by HERA.

Intoxicating Spaces: The Impact of New Intoxicants on Public Spaces, Consumption and Sociability in North Western Europe, c. 1600 – c. 1850, will be led by Professor Phil Withington from the University of Sheffield in collaboration with Professor Dagmar Freist from Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Professor Leos Müller from Stockholm University and Professor A. (Toine) Pieters from Utrecht University. The project starts on May 31 2019 and runs for 25 months.

For more information on the project, visit: www.dhi.ac.uk/projects/intoxicating-spaces

The ‘Intoxicating Spaces’ website goes live on 1 June 2019 at www.intoxicatingspaces.org

For details of the HERA programme of projects see http://heranet.info/

The University of Sheffield’s Department of History is one of the largest and most active centres for teaching and historical research in the UK. Its historians are engaged in cutting edge research in a huge variety of fields which range from the first century right through to the 21st, with particular strengths in British, European, African and American history.

The diversity of the department’s research feeds into a vibrant and varied curriculum which allows history students to pursue their interests across both space and time, from ancient Rome to the modern Middle East, and from 15th century human sacrifice to 20th century genocide.

For more information on study and research opportunities in the University of Sheffield’s Department of History, visit: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/index

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 29,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2018 and for the last eight years has been ranked in the top five UK universities for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

 

 

Press release from the University of Sheffield


Facebook dead University of Oxford Oxford Internet Institute OII

The dead may outnumber the living on Facebook within 50 years

The dead may outnumber the living on Facebook within 50 years

 

New analysis by academics from the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), part of the University of Oxford, predicts the dead may outnumber the living on Facebook within fifty years, a trend that will have grave implications for how we treat our digital heritage in the future.

The analysis predicts that, based on 2018 user levels, at least 1.4 billion members will die before 2100. In this scenario, the dead could outnumber the living by 2070. If the world's largest social network continues to expand at current rates, however, the number of deceased users could reach as high as 4.9 billion before the end of the century.

"These statistics give rise to new and difficult questions around who has the right to all this data, how should it be managed in the best interests of the families and friends of the deceased and its use by future historians to understand the past," said lead author Carl Öhman, a doctoral candidate at the OII.

"On a societal level, we have just begun asking these questions and we have a long way to go. The management of our digital remains will eventually affect everyone who uses social media, since all of us will one day pass away and leave our data behind. But the totality of the deceased user profiles also amounts to something larger than the sum of its parts. It is, or will at least become, part of our global digital heritage."

Co-author David Watson, also a DPhil student at the OII, explained: "Never before in history has such a vast archive of human behaviour and culture been assembled in one place. Controlling this archive will, in a sense, be to control our history. It is therefore important that we ensure that access to these historical data is not limited to a single for-profit firm. It is also important to make sure that future generations can use our digital heritage to understand their history."

The analysis sets up two potential extreme scenarios, arguing that the future trend will fall somewhere in between:

  • The first scenario assumes that no new users join as of 2018. Under these conditions, Asia's share of dead users increases rapidly to account for nearly 44% of the total by the end of the century. Nearly half of those profiles come from India and Indonesia, which together account for just under 279 million Facebook mortalities by 2100.
  • The second scenario assumes that Facebook continues to grow by its current rate of 13% globally, every year, until each market reaches saturation. Under these conditions, Africa will make up a growing share of dead users. Nigeria, in particular, becomes a major hub in this scenario, accounting for over 6% of the total. By contrast, Western users will account for only a minority of users, with only the US making the top 10.
Facebook dead University of Oxford Oxford Internet Institute OII
Heat map visualizing the global distribution of deceased Facebook user profiles under Scenarios A and B. Numbers are plotted on a logarithmic scale. Countries and regions with no Facebook data or fewer than 10,000 monthly active users were not included in our models and are rendered in grey. Fig. 4 in Öhman, C. J., & Watson, D. (2019). © 2019 by SAGE Publications, CC BY 4.0

"The results should be interpreted not as a prediction of the future, but as a commentary on the current development, and an opportunity to shape what future we are headed towards," explains Öhman. "But this has no bearing on our larger point that critical discussion of online death and its macroscopic implications is urgently needed. Facebook is merely an example of what awaits any platform with similar connectivity and global reach."

Watson added: "Facebook should invite historians, archivists, archaeologists and ethicists to participate in the process of curating the vast volume of accumulated data that we leave behind as we pass away. This is not just about finding solutions that will be sustainable for the next couple of years, but possibly for many decades ahead."

The predictions are based on data from the United Nations, which provide the expected number of mortalities and total populations for every country in the world distributed by age, and Facebook data scraped from the company's Audience Insights feature. While the study notes that this self-reported dataset has several limitations, this provides the most comprehensive publicly available estimate of the network's size and distribution

 

Press release from the University of Oxford

 

The research article "Are the dead taking over Facebook? A Big Data approach to the future of death online", by Carl J. Öhman and David Watson, has been published on Big Data & Society (April 23, 2019).


Fears in Solitude Samuel Taylor Coleridge propaganda Napoleon

Coleridge’s Fears in Solitude – propaganda in Britain in 1798

Coleridge’s Fears in Solitude – propaganda in Britain in 1798

Fears in Solitude Samuel Taylor Coleridge propaganda Napoleon
Bonaparte and the Plumb Pudding

At the turn of the nineteenth century, Britain was shaking with fear.  The French were poised to invade – indeed they did manage to get ashore at one point – and the popular belief, fuelled by propaganda, was that they were savages who would wreak merciless violence on the civilian population.

Contemporary words and pictures that evoke this mood of despair are being analysed by a University of Huddersfield lecturer who also finds modern parallels with the scaremongering of two centuries ago.

“Look at how anger and emotion spread on social media.  It is mostly negative emotions that spiral out of control and as people feel compelled to respond, the panic and hostility spreads and intensifies,” says Dr Ildiko Csengei, a Senior Lecturer in English Literature.

But she is researching a time long before our present-day anxieties, when pamphlets, broadsheets, handbills and caricatures were among the media that shaped the national mood during the wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France that were waged between 1793 and 1815.

Major poets too produced works that explored their response to “the Great Terror”, as it was known, and Dr Csengei’s latest articleThe Literature of Fear in Britain, appearing in the journal English Literature, focusses on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 poem Fears in Solitude.  This was written in 1798 “during the alarm of invasion” and followed an incident in 1797 when a French force landed at Fishguard, only to be captured.

Dr Csengei’s article includes an account of this episode, which, she writes, “is usually remembered today as a humorous shambles, with a handful of Welshmen and women triumphantly outsmarting the French”.

It was said that the French mistook local women dressed in traditional hats and red coats as British soldiers and so believed themselves to be outnumbered.  This is a myth, but women did play a part in defending Fishguard for a day, writes Dr Csengei, and they did gather on a hill – although not to frighten off the French but to watch them surrender.

Fishguard’s French invaders

The new article analyses a wide range of responses to the Fishguard incident and to persistent fears of French invasion.  Dr Csengei includes a lurid broadside titled Horrors upon Horrors that purported to report on the cruelties inflicted by French soldiers.  An 1803 Invasion Sketch predicts murderous atrocities in a London that is renamed Buonapart-opolis.

But there were also satirical and humorous responses, and Dr Csengei’s article includes reproductions of cartoons that mock the idea of French invasion, including a giant hot air balloon, complete with guillotine, carrying troops across the Channel.

“There were also images produced during the 1803-05 invasion scare that showed Napoleon as tiny and John Bull as big and strong, so it wasn’t just about generating fear but generating a sense of national bravery,” said Dr Csengei.

Coleridge’s response in Fears in Solitude is much more ambiguous.  Since it appeared, there has been debate over whether the poet was subscribing to the alarmism of the period or challenging it.

Dr Csengei argues that the poem “emerges as an artistic discourse designed reflectively to manage his own and the nation’s fears instead of perpetuating the feeling itself”.

It is an intellectual response of the kind that is much needed today, she said.

Her Coleridge article, and an earlier one about Lord Byron’s response to Waterloo, forms part of research that will lead to a book dealing with the emotional and mental health impact of the Napoleonic Wars, a period when the Romantic movement was emerging in English literature.

Today there are recognised conditions such as combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and during World War One there was the concept of shell shock.  Dr Csengei is exploring how such experiences were recorded before the development of psychiatry.  The poetry of Romantics such as Coleridge, Wordsworth and Byron is a key source, together with many first-hand accounts written by those who participated in the wars during this period.

 

Dr Ildiko Csengei’s article in ‘English Literature’ journal analyses Britain’s fear of invasion by the French at the turn of the 19th century. Her article, ‘The Literature of Fear in Britain’ focusses on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, written following an incident in 1797 when a French force landed at Fishguard.

Full bibliographic information

Title: The Literature of Fear in Britain
Author: Ildiko Csengei
Journal: English Literature 5 | 2018
DOI 10.30687/EL/2420-823X/2018/05/011
Fears in Solitude Samuel Taylor Coleridge propaganda Napoleon
Dr Ildiko Csengei

Press release from the University of Huddersfield


OCR: Modern Tool for Old Texts

OCR: Modern Tool for Old Texts

The OCR4all tool ensures converting historical printings into computer-readable texts. It is very reliable, user-friendly, and open source. It was developed by scientists at the University of Würzburg.

OCR OCR4all University of Würzburg Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Page from a french version of the "Narrenschiff". Such old fonts can be reliably converted into computer-readable text with OCR4all. Source: Dresden State and University Library (Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden), CC BY-SA 4.0

Historians and other Humanities’ scholars often have to deal with difficult research objects: centuries-old printed works that are difficult to decipher and often in an unsatisfactory state of conservation. Many of these documents have now been digitized – usually photographed or scanned – and are available online worldwide. For research purposes, this is already a step forward.

However, there is still a challenge to overcome: bringing the digitized old fonts into a modern form with text recognition software that is readable for non-specialists as well as for computers. Scientists at the Center for Philology and Digitality at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany, have made a significant contribution to further development in this field.

With OCR4all, the JMU research team is making a new tool available to the scientific community. It converts digitized historical prints with an error rate of less than one percent into computer-readable texts. And it offers a graphical user interface that requires no IT expertise. With previous tools of this kind, user-friendliness was not always given as the users mostly had to work with programming commands.

Developed in cooperation with the humanities

The new OCR4all tool was developed under the direction of Christian Reul together with his computer science colleagues Professor Frank Puppe (Chair of Artificial Intelligence and Applied computer science) and Christoph Wick as well as Uwe Springmann (Digital Humanities expert) and numerous students and assistants.

OCR4all originates from the JMU Kallimachos project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. This cooperation between the Humanities and computer science will be continued and institutionalized in the newly founded JMU Center for Philology and Digitality.

In developing OCR4all, computer scientists have collaborated with the Humanities at JMU – including German and Romance studies and literature studies in the project "Narragonien digital". The aim was to digitize the "Narrenschiff", a moral satire by Sebastian Brant, a bestseller of the 15th century that was translated into many languages. Furthermore, OCR4all has been frequently used in the JMU's Kolleg "Medieval and Early Modern Times".

OCR4all is freely available to the public on the GitHub platform (with instructions and examples): https://github.com/OCR4all

Each print shop had its own font

Christian Reul explains the challenges involved in the development of OCR4all: Automatic text recognition (OCR = Optical Character Recognition) has been working very well for modern fonts for some time now. However, this has not yet been the case for historical fonts.

"One of the biggest problems was typography," says Reul. One of the reasons for this is that the first printers of the 15th century did not use uniform fonts. "Their printing stamps were all carved by themselves, each printing house practically had its own letters.”

Error rates below one percent

Whether e or c, whether v or r - it is often not easy to distinguish in old prints, but software can learn to recognize such subtleties. To do so, it has to be trained on sample material. In his work, Reul has developed methods to make training more efficient. In a case study with six historical prints from the years 1476 to 1572, the average error rate in automatic text recognition was reduced from 3.9 to 1.7 percent.

Not only the methodology was improved, JMU computer scientist Christoph Wick has also decisively further refined the technical component by developing the Calamari OCR tool, which is also freely available and has since been fully integrated into OCR4all. Therefore, one gained even better results: Now, even for the oldest printed works, error rates of less than one percent can be achieved in general.

Lexical projects

Reul has also convinced external partners of the quality of Würzburg's OCR research. In cooperation with the "Zentrum für digitale Lexikographie der deutschen Sprache" (Berlin), Daniel Sanders' "Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache" (Dictionary of the German Language) has been digitally indexed and a scientific publication on this work is currently being prepared. The various lines of this text often contain different fonts, representing different semantic information. Here, the existing approach to character recognition was extended in such a way that not only the text but also the typography and thus the complex content structure of the lexicon may be reproduced very precisely.

The computer scientist from Würzburg will soon complete his doctoral thesis, but he is also willing to proceed working with OCR in the future: "The computer science behind OCR is extremely exciting," he says. A possible project in the near future: the creators of the "Idiotikon", a dictionary of the Swiss-German language, have indicated their interest in collaboration since they might well need the Würzburg's specialist knowledge.

JMU Center for Philology and Digitality

Website Christian Reul

Web Links

OCR4all on GitHub

Calamari on GitHub

Link to publication (case study with six historical books)

Publication combining methodological and technical improvements

Center for Philology and Digitality

The JMU Center for Philology and Digitality is the result of an initiative launched by Professors Dag Nikolaus Hasse, Fotis Jannidis and Ulrich Konrad. The Center bridges the gap between the Humanities, computer science and Digital Humanities. It represents the first building block for a new Humanities Center on the JMU North Campus.

A new building for the ZPD is to be erected there, close to the Graduate School building.  From 2022 on one expects around 100 people working in the new ZPD building on a total area of 2,700 square metres. The total cost of the building is estimated at 15 million euros. A digital lab, research rooms and lecture halls are planned on the ground floor of the ZPD. The upper floors will be used primarily for offices and communication rooms.

 

Press release from the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, JMU, by Robert Emmerich


Subsurface imaging technology ground penetrating radar Australia Victoria graves

Lost graves identified by new archaeology methods

Lost graves identified by new archaeology methods

Archaeologists are using subsurface imaging technology to help community groups map unmarked graves

Subsurface imaging technology helps find lost graves in Australia. Credit: Flinders University

"This is a huge issue, particularly for rural communities," says Dr Ian Moffat, Senior Research Fellow in Archaeological Sciences at Flinders University.

"Using geophysics provides a non-invasive and culturally appropriate way to map unmarked grave sites."

Dr Moffat leads a group which recently published the results of using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and GPS surveys to non-invasively map the location of unmarked graves within the Lake Condah Mission Cemetery in Victoria, a state in Australia.

Established in 1869, this cemetery remains an important site for the Gunditjmara community, because while it has only 26 marked graves, it is anecdotally thought to contain more than 100 graves.

The GPR survey identified an additional 14 probable unmarked graves as well as 49 other areas that may contain one or more unmarked burials.

"The great leap forward with this particular study was the close partnership between the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Corporation and the researchers to achieve such a positive outcome," says Dr Moffat.

"Many Australian Indigenous communities are anxious not to disturb graves, so this survey provides useful information to assist the Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Corporation in planning future burials within this cemetery by identifying large areas which are free of graves."

Damein Bell, CEO of Gunditj Mirring says, "Our Elders informed the researchers of their knowledge of where the known graves were and our community now have marked the unknown gravesites of our ancestors".

GPR is a geophysical technique that uses high frequency electromagnetic waves to image the subsurface, making it ideal for mapping changes in lithology or soil structure.

Extensive subsurface disturbance present at the Lake Condah Mission Cemetery and the presence of many tree roots made the effective interpretation of GPR data difficult, but it was still possible to delineate areas where no unmarked graves are present.

"This is an important outcome for managing the cultural heritage of the cemetery because it identifies areas where new graves can be emplaced in a culturally appropriate fashion," says Dr Moffat.

"This demonstrates the utility of GPR as a means of effectively managing heritage sites containing unmarked graves, even when substantial subsurface disturbance is present."

Dr Moffat believes the technique of using GPR and GPS readings will now have a much wider application across pioneer and heritage sites throughout Australia and will be undertaking surveys of other cemeteries at Lake Wangary, Berri and Kingscote over coming weeks.

###

The research paper - "Ground penetrating radar investigations at the Lake Condah Mission Cemetery: locating unmarked graves in areas with extensive subsurface disturbance," by Ian Moffat, Julia Garnaut, Celeste Jordan, Anthea Vella, Marian Bailey and Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Corporation - has been published by the Journal of the Archaeological and Anthropological Society of Victoria.

Subsurface imaging technology ground penetrating radar Australia Victoria graves
Dr. Ian Moffat, Senior Research Fellow in archaeological sciences at Flinders University, will map the Kingscote pioneer cemetery in May. Credit: Flinders University

Press release from Flinders University


Mysterious volcanic ash layer from 29,000 years ago traced to volcano in Naples

Mysterious volcanic ash layer from 29,000 years ago traced to volcano in Naples

Researchers from the University of Oxford have traced the origin of a pre-historic eruption that blanketed the Mediterranean region in ash 29,000 years ago to Naples' lesser-known volcano Campi Flegrei, located immediately to the west of the city.

Since the late 1970s scientists have identified the same pre-historic volcanic ash layer in sediment cores extracted from sites ranging across 150,000 square kilometres of the central Mediterranean. This widespread ash layer, dated at 29,000 years ago, blanketed the region and clearly indicated a large volcanic eruption. Whilst the region is well known for its many active volcanoes, such as Mount Vesuvius which famously destroyed Pompeii in 79 AD, scientists had failed to confidently match this older, far-ranging ash deposit to a specific volcano or eruption.

The research, led by Dr Paul Albert, a Research Fellow in the School of Archaeology, has now identified an ash rich-eruption deposit within the city of Naples which was produced by Campi Flegrei volcano and has a chemical composition that matches the prehistoric ash layer traced across the Mediterranean region. The work was done in partnership with international researchers, including those from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), the National Research Council in Italy, the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement in France, and the Berkeley Geochronology Centre in the USA.

"Part of the challenge of reliably attributing this major ash fall event to Campi Flegrei volcano has been that there is limited evidence for a large eruption close to the volcano," says Albert. "This is in part because a more recent large-scale eruption of the volcano buried the Naples area in a thick ash deposit, largely destroying or concealing the evidence of this older event," says Albert.

The team used a computer-based ash dispersal model to reconstruct the size of the eruption. "By linking the thickness of the ash deposits found in Naples, to those preserved in cores from across the central Mediterranean, the model was able to demonstrate and provide important constraints on the size of this large magnitude eruption," says Albert.

This research positions the timing of this previously un-reported large-scale eruption of Campi Flegrei between two well-known large-scale eruptions of the volcano, at 15,000 and 40,000 years ago, drastically reducing the reoccurrence interval of large magnitude eruptions at the volcano.

The research, published today in the journal Geology, also highlights the importance of considering ash fall events preserved well away from the volcano when reconstructing the timing and scale of past explosive eruptions. "Ash fall preserved hundreds of kilometers away from the volcano has been critical here in the identification and reconstruction of this large eruption at Campi Flegrei," says Albert.

Campi Flegrei Phlegrean Fields Naples Mediterranean Sea
I Campi Flegrei dall'Eremo dei Camaldoli. Foto di Baku, CC BY-SA 4.0

Press release from the University of Oxford


Holy Pleistocene Batman, the answer's in the cave

Holy Pleistocene Batman, the answer's in the cave

Let's say you wanted to solve a 20,000-year-old mystery, where would you start?

biodiversity Borneo Sumatra Java Sundaland Sunda Sahul
The Sahul Shelf and the Sunda Shelf today. The area in between is called "Wallacea". Picture by Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa) - self made, using this map for the background; CC BY-SA 3.0

Let's say you wanted to solve a 20,000-year-old mystery, where would you start? Perhaps archaeology and geology come to mind. Or, you could sift through a 3-metre pile of bat faeces.

Researchers from James Cook University in Cairns, Australia, chose the bat poo in their quest to answer to a long-standing question: why is there some much biodiversity on the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Java, when not so long ago (geologically speaking) they were all part of one vast continent?

One theory has been that the former continent (Sundaland) was dissected by a savanna corridor. "That might explain why Sumatra and Borneo each have their own species of orang-utan, even though they were linked by land for millions of years," Dr Chris Wurster said. "The corridor would have divided the two separate rainforest refuges, as the sea does now."

The corridor theory has been boosted by millions of insect-eating bats, which have gathered evidence about the landscape over millennia and deposited it in layers in their caves.

"Bat poo is highly informative, and especially so in the tropics, where the climate can make some of the more traditional modes of investigation less available," Dr Wurster said.

A three-metre pile of bat faeces at Saleh Cave in Borneo gave the researchers a 40,000-year-old record composed of insect skeletons.

"We can't tell what insects the bats were eating throughout that time, because they're in tiny fragments, but we can read the chemistry," Dr Wurster said.

"Eating insects that have been feeding on tropical grasses results in faeces with a characteristic chemical imprint. It's quite different from the result you'd get from eating insects that fed on tropical trees."

According to the bat record the landscape around Saleh Cave (now featuring lush rainforest) was once dominated by tropical grasses.

"Combined with other cave studies in the region, this leads us to support the corridor theory, and also gives us some confidence as to the extent of the corridor," Dr Wurster said.

The corridor could also shed light on human pre-history.

"A savanna corridor, which would be much more easily traversed than rainforest, might help to explain how people moved relatively quickly through this region and on to Australia and New Guinea."

'Savanna in equatorial Borneo during the late Pleistocene' is published in the latest edition of Scientific Reports.

Dr Chris Wurster is a Senior Research Associate at James Cook University, specialising in stable isotope geochemistry.

 

 

Press release from the James Cook University


Pachacamac Incas Inca tombs

Archaeological discovery at the site of Pachacamac

A cemetery dating back over 1000 years has recently been discovered at the legendary site of Pachacamac, on the Pacific coast of Peru. The project is exploring a new area of this enormous site, and found a cluster of burials in foetal positions, wrapped in numerous layers of plant materials, nets and textiles.

“These burials were interred in groups” says Professor Peter Eeckhout (Université libre de Bruxelles, ULB) – director of the Ychsma Project – “interred in deep pits sunk into the sand, accompanied with ceramics and other offerings, then covered with wood and rushwork roofs”.

The cultural remains have been studied by archaeologists, while the mummies were assessed by the physical anthropologists, headed by Dr. Lawrence Owens (Birkbeck, UCLondon; UNISA). “These chaps were in a bit of a state, unfortunately for them, but fortunately for us” he laughs. “Most of the people at the site had hard lives, with various fractures, bad backs, bad hips…but the individuals from this cemetery show a higher than usual concentration of tuberculosis, syphilis and really serious bone breaks that would have had major impacts on their lives. Still, the fact that most of these are healed – and that disease sufferers survived for a long time – suggests that they were being cared for, and that even in the sites’ early history people felt a duty of care towards those less fortunate than themselves”. The team has also used CT to explore unusual mummies, including one made almost solely from vegetal fibres. “This is different from what we are used to, and may represent an older tradition”, he added.

“All these mummies were disturbed by the construction of a large building directly above the cemetery, dating to the Incas’ arrival in the late 15th century”, says project co-director Milton Lujan Davila, “although the patterns are far from random…almost as if the bundles have been deliberately targeted”. The consistent absence of skulls and other elements may be connected to the Incas’ religious beliefs.

“Ancestor relationships were fundamental to ancient Andeans” concludes Professor Eeckhout, “but while the Inca seemed to have revered their own dead, they had no relationship with these more ancient individuals and destroyed them…yet seem to have taken parts of them away. Why? We don’t know…but we are still looking for them!” he smiled.

Pachacamac is on Unesco's World Heritage list. The Ychsma Project is funded by the ULB, the ULB Foundation, and the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research. Excavations are authorised by the Ministerio de Cultura del Perú.

 

Pachacamac Incas Inca tombs
Mamacones Enclosure (Recinto de Mamacones). Picture by Ingo Mehling, CC BY-SA 3.0. The picture is unrelated to the press release.

Press release from the Université Libre de Bruxelles