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Study information

Transforming the Tablet: Digital Approaches to Ancient Text and Artefact

Module titleTransforming the Tablet: Digital Approaches to Ancient Text and Artefact
Module codeHUM3004
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Charlotte Tupman (Convenor)

Dr William Short (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module introduces you to digital editing and to hands-on experience of some of the key digital tools we can use to analyse texts and artefacts from the ancient world. The module considers how we can deal with texts that are often fragmentary or complex, addressing the editorial process, encoding methods, and (depending on the year) analysis of object surfaces, 3D modelling of artefacts,  annotation methods, and questions of resource design, including theoretical debates about statistical and symbolic approaches to semantic search. You may choose to use texts in the original language or in translation: no prior knowledge of an ancient language is required, though an interest in how we study ancient primary sources is anticipated.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The aim of the module is to provide you with an introduction to digital editing and analysis of ancient texts and artefacts. It will focus on  text encoding for digital editions, and either (depending on the year) ‘sembanking’ for semantic and syntactic analysis, or Reflectance Transformation Imaging and Photogrammetry for analysing surface features and 3D modelling of an artefact. You will receive a grounding in the basic principles of each approach, be introduced to a set of case-studies and examples, and be guided in hands-on experience of carrying out your own encoding and analysis using these methods. Throughout the module you will be encouraged to reflect critically on the methods used and the results obtained.


The creation of a digital edition of an ancient text involves a multi-stage editorial process, including transcription, expanding abbreviations, supplying missing text, identifying entities within the texts, and establishing metadata (it may also include the creation of indices and authority lists and the design of a custom interface). To make our texts usefully machine-readable as well as human-readable, we must encode our texts according to a set of shared standards, to make it possible for different people and projects to exchange data about those texts and make use of them in their research. Taking examples from ancient inscriptions, you will learn how to analyse the structure and content of a set of texts, and to encode them according to the current international standard, EpiDoc XML. You will then transform your encoded texts into HTML files for browsing and searching. During this section of the course you will learn how to encode different readings of a text as well as how to approach fragmentary or visually complex texts.


Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) is a technique used to photograph the surface texture of artefacts with the light source placed at different angles. This can reveal details not normally visible through examination by eye, such as tool marks and fine details of lettering on inscribed objects. Through sessions held in the Digital Humanities Lab, you will learn the principles of RTI and gain hands-on experience of what can be achieved using both highlight and dome-based methods.


Photogrammetry is a photography-based technique for producing 3D digital models of artefacts. Through sessions held in the Digital Humanities Lab you will learn the principles of photogrammetry and gain familiarity with the practical considerations and ethical implications of recording artefacts as 3D models.


The availability of richly annotated ‘treebanks’ has made it possible to use statistical and quantitative methods to study the syntax of ancient languages. Complementary efforts are now being made to bring linguistic semantics under the same perspective. One important development is the creation of WordNets for Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit, which take advantage of a common pool of machine-readable semantic descriptors (synsets, semfields) to define the senses of words and their relations. ‘Sembanking’ allows texts to be annotated with different kinds of semantic information from the WordNet, so that researchers can take advantage of computational techniques to study the meanings of ancient texts (as well as their grammatical features) within a unified framework. In this module (depending on the year), you will be familiarized with the Latin and Greek WordNets along with Cylleneus, a meaning-based search engine for electronic corpora of Greek and Latin. You will gain hands-on experience of curating the WordNets, helping you to understand how language data is structured and represented in this framework. In addition, you will learn to use Cylleneus to carry out complex meaning-based searches of ancient literature. No prior technical knowledge is needed or assumed, however some familiarity with programming languages would be beneficial.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Understand the role of text encoding and sembanking for the analysis of ancient texts
  • 2. Identify structural aspects of ancient texts and the entities within them

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Apply skills in specific software techniques for creating, querying and displaying data
  • 4. Critically engage with the impact of digital technologies in a specific domain (the humanities)

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Gain competence in specific digital techniques for analysing and disseminating textual data
  • 6. Critically engage with the impact of two digital technologies in the domain of ancient-world materials

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

Text editing and encoding, and either sembanking or RTI and photogrammetry. These sections are composed of:

  • a theoretical introduction to the basic concepts
  • a series of case studies looking at how these concepts are applied in practice
  • hands-on practical sessions in which you will apply these approaches to a specific set of texts or artefacts. The introductory lecture will cover broader themes about digital approaches to the humanities.


Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching2222 hours of lectures including a practical session as part of each lecture
Guided Independent Study128Reading and interaction with digital resources

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Contribution to class discussionsContribution in discussions during lectures, as appropriate6Oral, in class
Contribution to practical tasksContribution in practical sections of classes, as appropriate1-6Oral, in class

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Written report-style coursework assessing a specific digital methodology 501500 words1,,5,6Written
Written essay-style coursework designed to demonstrate the student’s appreciation of the wider issues of the subject502000 words1,6Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Written report-style coursework assessing a specific digital methodology Written report-style coursework assessing a specific digital methodology 1,5,6Referral/deferral period
Written essay-style coursework designed to demonstrate the student’s appreciation of the wider issues of the subjectWritten essay-style coursework designed to demonstrate the student’s appreciation of the wider issues of the subject1,6Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Digital Humanities, Classics, Ancient History, Epigraphy, Editing, XML, Photogrammetry, Reflectance Transformation Imaging, Semantic Search, Sembanking

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date