I’ve written earlier this year about my landlady, whom I judge to be the archtype of Ms Frizzle of the Ms Frizzle and the Magic School Bus series. Of the hundred or so times I’ve hitched a ride to the University with her, on no occasion has our 20 minutes together been lacking in stimulating ideas, unanticipated revelations, and thoroughly delight-full discourse. It is one among myriad blessings of my sabbatical to have landed in Seattle within her sphere. She is responsible for an annual engineering challenge at the school where she teaches, and this year’s is inspired by news of the Archimedes Palimpsest having again broken into the public consciousness.
The latest chapter of this story starts 3 years after the Wright brothers first flew, with the discovery in Constantinople of a prayer book that, as it turns out, is a 900 year old palimpsest hiding a transcription of some of the works of Archimedes that had otherwise been lost to history. The book was purchased by an anonymous benefactor in 1998 for 2 million dollars, and the Archimedes Palimpsest team (also funded by this same benefactor) began the process of multispectral imaging that has made possible the recovery of some of the most important historical scientific writings in existence.
Michael Toth, part of that team, is here at DC-2006 in Manzanillo describing the central role that Dublin Core metadata has played in the coordination and description of the data sets that are emerging from this effort. Every aspect of this project is pretty fascinating, including the use of another metadata standard, the Federal Geospatial Data Committee set, that was used to create a scripto-spatial representation that allows every transcribed character to be mapped back to its precise location in the 500 gigabytes of images of the original manuscript. Very cool!
In his talk, Michael Toth said of Dublin Core that it
“…served as a tremendous tool for us as an international standard to enhance worldwide access to these cultural materials… DC is a critical part of the Tiff header of every image.”
Toth related that the international origins, process, and
governance of the Dublin Core, and its availability as an open, transparent
standard contributed significantly to their confidence in adopting it, and
spoke of the expectation that it will be used in broader projects of similar cultural anthropology.
I cannot express how gratifying it is to see the work we’ve done these last years become an integral part of the explication of the intellectual foundations of civilization. That this is being done in an open way, with the explicit goal of creating a public asset for researchers and educators throughout the world, is extremely tasty icing on the cake.
At the end of the talk, session chair and long-time-DC-maven Rachel Heery remarked that all those years arguing about the one-to-one principle really paid off. Hear hear!
Click here for more information about the Archimedes Palimpsest.
Click here for information on the underlying technology (and making your own palimpsest).
Image: Bell tower from a nearby Manzanillo church. In a private aside, Michael Toth pointed out that the transformation of the medium of these scientific writings to a religious purpose for a millennium (give or take), is in no small way responsible for their survival. Can there be a stronger validation of Kevin O'halloran's definition of Irony: The distance between text and subtext?