Now that this technology is available it is appropriate for ancient Near East specialists to begin considering what is involved in publishing their data on the Web in XML format. XML itself is merely a starting point because the very simplicity and flexibility of XML, which ensure its widespread adoption, require the development of specific tagging schemes appropriate to each domain of research. The purpose of our conference is to bring together researchers who have begun working on electronic publication in various ways using such tools as SGML, HTML, and XML, or who are interested in exploring these techniques. Through a combination of formal presentations and informal discussions we will exchange ideas concerning the conceptual and practical issues involved in using XML on the Web. In this way the conference organizers hope to foster collaboration in the development of specific XML/SGML tagging schemes, especially for cuneiform texts, in which a number of the confirmed conference participants specialize. The conference will inaugurate a formal "Working Group on Cuneiform Markup" to provide an ongoing forum for communication and collaboration in this field. Please note, however, that the issues to be discussed are by no means of interest only to cuneiformists. Wherever possible the conference organizers will encourage presentations and discussion concerning other ancient Near Eastern scripts and languages as well (e.g., Egyptian and Ugaritic). Anyone who has not yet been contacted but is interested in making a presentation is invited to contact the organizers at the address below.
Although the conference will focus largely on philological publication, Oriental Institute archaeologists will also participate and there will be discussion of the need to present "texts in context" as archaeological artifacts among other artifacts. Archaeologists and philologists have a similar need for efficient and flexible electronic publication of complex data, albeit data of different kinds. In many cases also they share overlapping interests in terms of substantive historical questions. Indeed, it is possible that cooperation on the level of technical methodology in pursuit of effective electronic publication will have the beneficial effect of reducing the ever-increasing balkanization of these disciplines. An ancillary goal of our conference, therefore, is to stimulate interest, where feasible, in interdisciplinary research projects that involve both archaeological and philological data. By facilitating electronic access to philological data by archaeologists and vice versa, and by learning a common data representation technique such as XML, we may generate new ways of representing or even conceiving of the conceptual relationships not just within but also between archaeological and philological datasets, which are so often considered in isolation. Once these different kinds of datasets and their interrelationships have been stored in a rigorous, formal framework they can be used far more easily for a variety of purposes in the course of subsequent linguistic, socioeconomic, and historical research.
Electronic publication will clearly play an important role in future research on the ancient Near East. Philologists and archaeologists alike work with complex, highly structured datasets consisting of visual as well as textual information which call for "hyperlinks" among different kinds of data. But devising suitable forms of electronic publication is not a trivial matter and ought to be done on a collaborative basis. Suitable electronic publications will represent in a standardized fashion the large number of internal and external cross-references among the many individual elements of each dataset and will capture the semantic diversity of the many possible types of such cross-references, representing, for example, various kinds of spatial, temporal, or linguistic relationship. Furthermore, the goal of such publication is not simply to facilitate human navigation of large and complex bodies of information but also to permit automated computer-aided analyses of data derived from many disparate sources. XML will be an important medium for this because Web publication using this format promises to be a simple and effective means of merging complex datasets from multiple sources for purposes of broader scale retrieval and analysis, avoiding the problems caused by the existing proprietary, limited, and inflexible data formats which have hindered electronic publication to date. XML is a non-proprietary, cross-platform, and fully internationalized standard that has been enthusiastically embraced by the software industry in general. For this reason our conference will focus specifically on the use of XML in the publication of ancient Near Eastern texts.
In addition to approximately a dozen invited speakers from the University of Chicago and elsewhere, interested colleagues are encouraged to attend and to contribute to the discussion. There will be no conference registration fee but notice of your intention to attend should be sent to us in advance so that we can make suitable arrangements. Please pass this notice on to colleagues who might wish to attend.
To obtain more information or to register your intention to attend, please contact David Schloen (firstname.lastname@example.org) by e-mail or at the following address: