Romans 1by1: Transferring information from ancient people to modern users

Rada Varga (Babeș-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca)

Digital Classicist London seminar 2017

Friday July 28th at 16:30, in room 234, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Livecast at Digital Classicist London YouTube channel.

The proposed paper explores the methodological and practical aspects of transforming a “working” database, created to respond to the needs of a restricted group of scientists, into a user-focused resource, useful for the large-scale scientific community.

The first part will present Romans1by1, a population database for persons attested in ancient epigraphy. Built as a MySQL relational database, it follows the best practice models for population databases, thus being distinct from the platforms focused on hosting and offering various types of repertoires of sources. R1by1 deals with people attested epigraphically in the Roman provinces and the architecture of the metadata was designed to facilitate research (mainly) pertaining to prosopography and SNA.

At the time of the seminar, important samples will already be on-line at and the transition process is what we intend to document. Working with both versions, the on-line platform and the one accessible through login, we will try to exemplify the technical and conceptual challenges we have faced and to explain our decisions.

The first important step was, expectedly, standardization and cleansing of data, but this is a standard process, which doesn’t raise conceptual problems. The main question for us was how to keep all scientific rigor and make it user-friendly and easy to employ for large groups of researchers at the same time? As we currently have over 30.000 rows displayed and more than 140 search filters, it was obvious that a simplification was in order; in technical terms, these figures aren’t high at all for a database, but it is definitely more than an external user wants to visualize. For a start, we reduced the number of visible infrastructural tables to the four main ones, which architecturally and informationally define the database (Inscription, Inscription Bibliography, Personal Data and Personal Relations). Regarding the searching options, we have opted for finding a friendly interface and keeping them in full, as it seems paramount for the users to be able to filter the information as much and as deeply as they wish.

Another important feature we want to develop is visual support, which we believe is very important for user engagement in general, but also for giving the platform a didactic purpose. So, we are trying to provide network-type visualizations for more complex relationships, available as imagines through a direct link to the relation name. The relationships themselves underwent major changes, being transformed from one-way, directed, relations, to bilateral ones (from the initial X MotherOf Y, we now have X MotherOf Y and Y DaughterOf X), with the purpose of gaining better search results.

The examples detailed above are just a situations encountered on our transition from “personal” tool, employed by a small group of scientists, to an open-access resource, meant to be useful to a large and complex community. Our presentation would aim not as much at presenting our results, as at exposing our choices and at receiving feedback and opinions on what we have done and what we could accomplish in the future, especially in terms of usefulness and “user-friendliness”.