Digital epigraphy beyond the Classical: creating (inter?)national standards for recording modern and early modern gravestones

Charlotte Tupman (KCL)

Institute of Classical Studies Digital Seminar 2012

Friday July 6th at 16:30, in Room G22/26, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Early modern and modern gravestones are a vast but rapidly decaying historical resource for the period from the 16th century to the present day. Processes of weathering, deliberate or accidental damage, the re-use of cemeteries and the uprooting and rearranging of monuments (such as the practice of removing stones from their original positions and stacking them around the edges of walls) all have an impact on both the size and the scholarly value of this body of evidence. Countless records have already been lost, which makes it particularly important to address as soon as possible the question of how to record and publish these monuments systematically and usefully.

Currently there are no agreed standards for recording such gravestones. Interested historians and volunteers in some churches or local areas have recorded their own particular monumental inscriptions, and have made these available on microfiche, CD, or in a basic form online. Typically these records only include the text itself; very rarely there might be a photograph, but almost never is any metadata recorded about the monument. The nature of these recorded examples is thus very fragmentary and inconsistent.

The experience of projects using EpiDoc and other shared standards for the recording and publication of ancient and medieval inscribed materials has shown that there is considerable value in agreeing a set of guidelines for encoding and publication. This applies to materials that span a variety of languages, geographical areas, and centuries. It is clear that many, if not most, of the standards described in the EpiDoc guidelines are appropriate for, and directly applicable to, the recording and publication of modern gravestones. This paper investigates what is required in order to make these standards a viable method of recording such a large body of data, where many of those doing the recording are not experts in epigraphy.

It is clear that considerable thought must be given to what is asked of those who are responsible for recording the monuments, and how this can best be balanced with the need to produce a scholarly resource that will be useful for local historians, genealogists and other interested parties, as well as to people who would define themselves as epigraphers and archaeologists. Crucially, the system must make it sufficiently simple to input the data, but must also ensure that the resulting records are sufficiently detailed and useful for enabling in-depth research to be undertaken. This paper discusses these challenges and suggests solutions with a view to designing a pilot project for a national (and potentially international) system for recording and publishing gravestone evidence.


The seminar will be followed by wine and refreshments.

Audio recording of seminar (MP3)

Presentation (PDF)