A new approach to Digital Editions of Ancient Manuscripts using CIDOC-CRM, FRBRoo and RDFa

Dominic Oldman and Barry Norton (British Museum)

Digital Classicist London & Institute of Classical Studies seminar 2014

Friday August 8th at 16:30, in Room G37, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Video recording of seminar (MP4)

Audio recording of seminar (MP3)

Presentation (PDF)

The British Museum is currently undertaking a project that implements FRBRoo, a model based on FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records), which has been accepted in principle by the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) FRBR Review Group. It provides harmonisation between museum and bibliographic information by capturing the underlying semantics of bibliographic data. The project represents a logical and practical expansion of the work currently being undertaken by the ResearchSpace project that itself creates rich semantic representations of cultural heritage data using the CIDOC Conceptual Reference Model (CRM) for research and engagement purposes. FRBRoo makes use of and extends the approach of the CRM.

This small, but potentially significant project, takes the work of Dr Malcolm Mosher who has authored a scholarly edition entitled, “The Book of the Dead, Saite through Ptolemaic Periods: A Study of Versioning in Texts and Vignettes”. This work constructs versions of the spells according to different Ancient Egyptian traditions. Each volume of Mosher’s work provides translations derived from different source manuscripts and attempts to aggregate these sources into distinct versions with extensive commentaries. The sources, mostly papyri, are from the collections of the Getty, Hermitage, Cairo Egyptian Museum, Leiden, Lourve, Bibliothéque Nationale, Petrie, Museo Gregoriano, British Museum and others.

The project is attempting to create a digital edition of Mosher’s work by representing and aligning the ancient text with Mosher’s translations using the FRBRoo model, and then embedding CIDOC CRM based RDFa tags into the translated text for harmonisation with museum object records and other CRM resources. This involves representing both the ancient works and Mosher’s translations as FRBR entities, ‘Works’, ‘Expressions’ and ‘Manifestations’. It creates a hierarchy of knowledge representation that extends across the boundaries of a database (an RDF triplestore) and web pages that include URIs that are part of the overall URI schema.

This represents a different approach (and outcome) to traditional methods of manuscript digital representation using XML tags (often based on TEI). Instead of being concerned solely with representing text within a defined corpus of digitised manuscripts it aims to extend search results by making connections with other manuscripts and object types that might have a direct or indirect connection with the Book of the Dead spells. This means that the digitisation can be used with, and contribute to, a much wider body of material and in this case connect Mosher’s work to other digital resources provided by the community. The use of CRM in this wider body of material (for example the British Museum’s digitised collection) means that the project could be developed to include a wider study of events, people and places along with terminological co-reference. The British Museum is interested in providing a description of the work to date and in receiving feedback from the classicist community on the approach.


The seminar will be followed by wine and refreshments.