Academic Collaboration On Line: The SOL as a Case Study

  1. 1. William Hutton

    College of William & Mary

  2. 2. Elizabeth Vandiver

    University of Maryland, College Park

  3. 3. Patrick Rourke

    Nashoba Valley Technical Vocational High School

  4. 4. Ross Scaife

    University of Kentucky

  5. 5. Raphael Finkel

    University of Kentucky

Work text
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Despite the Herculean labors and remarkable achievements of the Perseus Project, today many essential resources for the study of the ancient Mediterranean world still remain accessible only to a few specially trained researchers because they have never been translated into modern languages or provided with sufficiently convenient interpretive materials. Our current work represents the first step in an attempt to address that problem by engaging the efforts of scholars world-wide in the production of substantial translated and annotated texts that will be made available exclusively through the internet. The text with which we have chosen to begin is the Byzantine encyclopedia known as the Suda, a 10th century C.E. compilation of material on ancient literature, history, and biography. A massive work of about 32,000 entries, and written in often dense Byzantine Greek prose, the Suda is nevertheless an invaluable source for many details that would otherwise be unknown to us about Greek and Roman antiquity, as well as an important text for the study of Byzantine intellectual history.

The sheer size of the Suda (the most up-to-date printed edition runs to four hefty and tightly-printed volumes) and its lack of literary charm are sufficient to explain why no individual scholar has committed his or her career to translating it. Many scholars, each taking responsibility for selected entries or series of entries, can get the job done more effectively. Moreover, the vast breadth of subject matter covered by the Suda would challenge the expertise of even the most widely competent modern scholar. By sharing the load, individual translators can focus on those entries from the Suda that pertain to their area of expertise, thus producing better translations and more informed annotations.

Begun in January of 1998, the Suda On Line (SOL) already involves the contributions (or promised contributions!) of nearly seventy scholars throughout the world. The general plan of the project is to assemble an SGML-encoded database, searchable and browsable on the web, with continuously improved annotations, bibliographies and hypertextual links to other electronic resources in addition to the core translation of entries in the Suda. Individual work becomes available on the web as soon as possible, with only the minimum necessary proofreading and editorial oversight. A diverse board of area specialists will eventually edit every entry, altering and improving the content as needed. The display of each entry will include an indication of the level of editorial scrutiny it has received. We want to encourage the greatest possible participation in the project and the smallest possible delay in presenting a high quality resource to a wide public readership.

Collaborative efforts always generate questions about how to allot proper credit to individual contributors. Given the searchable database format of the SOL it is a simple matter for translators and editors to print out their own peer-reviewed work for inclusion in, for example, promotion and tenure dossiers. Moreover, we anticipate that translators will establish hypertextual links directly from their on-line rèsumès to their contributions in the SOL.

Our choice of the web as the medium for publishing the SOL is crucial to the project's conception. This format has many advantages, of which accessibility and ease of use are perhaps the most obvious. Users can access the project's web page and search the database in various ways: by strings in a full text search, with Boolean combinations, by keyword, by translator, etc. The display for each entry includes the headword in English and Greek (options for displaying Greek suit the requirements of different systems), the translation, footnotes and other annotations, and bibliographical references (where available and/or appropriate). The SOL's interface automatically generates links to the complete Greek text of the entry from the database of the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae and to the relevant entries in Liddell and Scott's Greek Lexicon (via the Perseus Project); further links to both external and internal resources can be created in the text of the translations and the annotations.

The on line format also allows for continuous editing and updating, which is crucial to our conception of the SOL as an evolving work forever subject to improvement by many hands. We believe that the specific ways in which we have enabled the process of editorial control and our plans for further enhancements are among the most sophisticated now available in any on-line scholarly resource: every aspect of communication among contributors is handled via web-based forms and dynamically generated e-mail. Any work goes onto the web immediately; individual authors do not have to wait for publication until the entire project is finished (as in the case of a print format). Thus, the project can be immediately useable even while the bulk of the work remains to be done. Furthermore, entries can be updated immediately whenever new information arises.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of a web-based publication such as the SOL, however, is the potential for interoperability with other projects. The SOL is one of many projects involved in a consortial arrangement at the Stoa, which is actively exploring ways to promote the interconnection of distributed projects. Although our goal is to have as much annotation and documentation as possible within the SOL database itself, our translation takes advantage of the natural capacity of web-based documents to be linked with other sources of electronic information. We want the SOL to be one important model for a new generation of hypertext commentary on ancient texts; a SOL fully outfitted with links to other electronic resources will provide not only the Greek text of the Suda and its translation, but also a wide variety of links to other relevant Suda entries, to the ancient vitae of any major authors or other figures mentioned in the text, to all the testimonia, and to essays by various scholars (both public-domain and new essays written specifically for this project). The same model may be used for on-line commentaries for other ancient works, which may in turn be linked to relevant entries in the SOL. The prospects for the on-line production of true variorum editions are vast and exciting.

This copious annotation and hypertextuality will ensure that the on-line Suda is useful not only to classical scholars and historians, but to a much wider audience as well. Students at various levels will be able not merely to read the translated Suda entries but to understand their wider context. A bare translation would be of little use to most non-specialists, but a translation provided with a rich supply of links to other ancient works and to modern scholarship will open a whole world of information to the interested beginner and can still be a valuable research tool for the trained specialist.

The goal of the SOL is not just to be a useful tool for researchers, but to provide a sophisticated model for the kind of scholarship made possible by open source technology and the internet, scholarship that is cooperative rather than solitary, communal rather than proprietary, worldwide rather than localized and evolving rather than static. Accordingly we aim at two principal results: in addition to our development of the Suda On Line itself as a respected scholarly resource, we plan to make a generalized, well-documented version of our software freely available for other scholars to adapt for their own purposes.


Adler, A. (ed) (1928-1938). Suidae Lexicon (5 volumes). Stuttgart.
Perseus: An Evolving Digital Library of Ancient Greece <>
The Stoa: A Consortium for Electronic Publication in the Humanities <>
The Suda On Line <>
Thesaurus Linguae Graecae <>

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Glasgow

Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom

July 21, 2000 - July 25, 2000

104 works by 187 authors indexed

Affiliations need to be double-checked.

Conference website:

Series: ALLC/EADH (27), ACH/ICCH (20), ACH/ALLC (12)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None