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Platform Independent Perseus
Platform Independent Perseus is an electronic database on Archaic and Classical Greece that was designed to expand the ways in which ancient Greek literature, history, art and archaeology can be studied. This chapter of the User's Guide is intended to provide a brief introduction to the expectations and motivations for using Perseus.
What is Perseus?
Platform Independent Perseus represents the completion of a plan, first outlined in 1985, to construct a large and heterogeneous database of materials--textual and visual--illustrating the Archaic and Classical Greek world. Primary support for Platform Independent Perseus has come from the Annenberg/CPB Projects with additional support from Apple Computer, the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, the Getty Grant Program, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Science Foundation and the Xerox Corporation. Perseus is a collaborative enterprise to which individuals from dozens of institutions have contributed over the years. Originally centered at Harvard University, The Perseus Project moved to Tufts University in the fall of 1993.
Scale in such an enterprise is important: we knew that we could not, of course, include every piece of primary evidence about ancient Greece, but what we wanted to assemble was a "critical mass" of materials. We wanted the database to have enough overall depth that it would support wide-ranging study of many topics. For the general student of ancient Greece, Platform Independent Perseus constitutes a compact digital library with many key materials: 24,000 images, with information on 1420 vases, 366 sculptures, 384 buildings, 179 sites, and 524 coins. Platform Independent Perseus holds two thirds of the surviving literature up to the death of Alexander the Great in Greek with English translation, the Liddell-Scott Intermediate Greek English Lexicon, a color Atlas of the Greek World, articles on ancient authors and archaeology, an Overview of Greek History from Homer to the death of Alexander the Great, and a 2600-entry Bibliography. Thus, Perseus contains a representative selection of primary data and a substantial amount of secondary documentation; however, it was not conceived as a replacement for the University library. Platform Independent Perseus is, rather, a tool which complements traditional resources, and it may be compared to a book shelf stocked with standard texts and references, with the ability inherent to the electronic medium to search and organize information quickly.
At the very beginning of our work, we made two strategic decisions about the scope and design of this database. First, we had initially considered developing an "interactive curriculum" on ancient Greek culture--something like a unified book with a massive "appendix" of source materials. Such an approach would have had obvious advantages: we could have chosen several unifying themes and provided detailed materials on these, and such an electronic book could be packaged for a very wide audience. Students and scholars alike would have derived benefits from the predictability and homeogeneity of such a design.
After considerable thought, however, we chose to build as general a tool as we could rather than a resource that covered one or more topics of ancient Greece in detail. In part, our decision reflected the prejudices of faculty who told us that they wanted better access to primary materials--texts, maps, pictures of art objects, site plans, searching aids and other basic tools--so that they could construct their own arguments and narratives. At the same time, we sensed that neatly packaged electronic books were premature: all of us, in every field, are still learning how best to use new interactive tools. We realized early on that no one really understood how electronic editions of source texts should be designed or how catalogue entries for museum objects should be organized so as to exploit the strengths of this new medium. We chose to concentrate on what we called already in 1986 the "infrastructure" necessary to help people--from elementary school students to scholars--explore the ancient Greek world in ways that were not feasible with print tools.
Second, we were also determined to build a database that would be accessible to the widest possible audience. It would, in some ways, have been much easier to build Perseus on a high-end workstation, but neither these high-end machines nor the expensive software components that we would need were widely accessible to our target audience. While we hoped to construct something of interest to computer scientists specializing in Hypertext systems, we wanted Perseus to extend, not restrict, the audience for ancient Greek culture. Our goal was to create a database for a hardware platform that cost less than $3,000. At present, the cost of a system to run Perseus--and run it well--is now around a thousand dollars. When in 1987 we began serious development, MS-DOS dominated the PC world, but the Macintosh was the only feasible platform for our work. HyperCard (which we first encountered in May 1987 as beta software called WildCard), for all its limitations, provided a reasonable delivery environment. HyperCard was, however, slow, limited in its capabilities and, worst of all, for all practical purposes restricted to the Macintosh environment. Nevertheless, Hypercard did allow us to provide a wide range of features on a relatively inexpensive hardware platform. The programming for Platform Independent Perseus has been completely rewritten in Tickle TK software and is compatible with both the Macintosh and Windows computers.
Our primary challenge, perhaps, has been reconciling the emphasis on infrastructure and the determination to reach the widest possible audience. The majority of our efforts have gone into building a database that would not only serve a broad audience immediately but that could also grow more useful over time. As a result, there is a sharp distinction between Platform Independent Perseus--the monumental database that we can distribute inexpensively on CD-ROM (compact disc read-only memory)--and the "real" Perseus database, which consists of many applications and databases stored in a variety of formats, none of which is tied to any one application or operating system. All texts have, for example, been stored in a general purpose format called SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) that can facilitate sophisticated text analysis (e.g., compare the vocabularies of two different characters in a play or search for poetry quoted by Plato). In its current state, however, Perseus cannot support such work, and we have had to strip our texts of this SGML encoding before publishing them.
Likewise, when we first began work assembling pictures, videodiscs were the best medium for publishing images and the infrastructure needed to support libraries of digital images was years away from our audience. We chose, however, to collect 35 mm slides, even though the film was vastly more expensive than videotape. The slides, when transferred to video, did not produce images as sharp as those based on 3/4 videotape. Now, however, as videodiscs have begun to disappear and digital images are common, our digitized slides are far clearer and more detailed than any video-based images could be, and we can, in future years, redigitize these slides to provide images of even greater quality. If we had used video images rather than slides to produce the best possible videodisc in 1992, we would have constructed a resource that was obsolete in 1995. The maps, linguistic databases and other elements of Perseus each reflect self-standing projects that exploit or, in some cases, define standards. Platform Independent Perseus is, in many ways, the tip of an iceberg. Even if we were not to add any more materials and were only to republish Perseus in newer software packages, its functionality could increase dramatically over the years.
General Readers and Specialists
While Platform Independent Perseus has many things to offer a wide range of users, we have found that most people tend to fall into one of two groups. First, those who are not specialists in ancient Greek culture, in working with pre-release versions of Platform Independent Perseus, have found it to be a handy and fairly comprehensive environment within which to explore aspects of ancient Greece. Thomas Martin's Overview of Classical Greek History has been expanded since Perseus 1.0 and now contains more than two thousand new links to other materials in the database. The Overview was designed to provide a succinct introduction both to many aspects of Greek history, literature, society and culture and to the resources available generally in the database.
Second, Platform Independent Perseus is one prototype for a digital library, but it was designed to augment, rather than replace, traditional tools. Platform Independent Perseus will offer to specialists a useful compendium of many source materials, but the individual pieces of Perseus will probably be most useful for this group: the specialist will find in Perseus a series of interlinked individual tools, a collection of "books" rather than a comprehensive library. Already in Perseus 1.0, we were able to offer a number of tools which constituted an advance upon what had previously been published. The retrieval tools, for example, allowed users to search the texts included in Perseus 1.0 in ways that no other system allowed. Similarly, Perseus 1.0 included a substantial body of original visual materials commissioned by the project: the 1,000 color pictures of 500 Greek coins from the Dewing Collection, the 450 images of the Aegina Pediments in Munich and the 111 views of the Harvard Kleophrades Crater, to take only three examples, each could have constituted a separate publication that contributed to the study of Greek art and archaeology. Platform Independent Perseus contains many resources for the specialist. The philological tools not only cover more authors but have themselves been refined and expanded. The coverage of art and archaeology has grown enormously since version 1.0--Platform Independent Perseus contains, for example, information on more than ten times as many vases than did 1.0. And where Perseus 1.0 contained only outline maps of ancient Greece, the database now contains roughly a thousand color satellite images and topographic maps. Platform Independent Perseus contains 1,420 vases illustrated with more than 14,500 images. A grant from the NEA allowed us to commission six essays by leading experts in the field which introduce the styles of major Greek Vase Painters as well as the collection of vases included in Platform Independent Perseus. These essays which total c. 40,000 words (roughly 160 pages of double spaced typescript) contain specific links to 428 separate illustrations, many of them photographs taken by Maria Daniels, the Perseus Project Photographer.
New Features in Platform Independent Perseus
As far as the textual, geographical and object databases are concerned, Platform Independent Perseus is identical to HyperCard Perseus 2.0. Electronic enhancements, on the other hand, make Perseus faster and easier to use, while the basic operation of Perseus and its interface are substantially the same. Improvements include the following:
The Concise Edition of Platform Independent Perseus
Yale University Press has published Platform Independent Perseus in two editions, the Comprehensive Edition and the Concise Edition. The former is a four CD-ROM set, and the latter is a single CD-ROM. The Concise Edition corresponds to Perseus Disc 1 and contains all texts, tools, utilities and thumbnail images that are in the Full Edition. Thus, the Concise Edition has the same textual contents, capabilities and features as the Comprehensive Edition. It lacks most of the full-screen images.
Full-screen images in the Concise Edition include all pictures linked to the Historical Overview, to the Encyclopedia, to the Essays, to vases from Boston Museum of Fine Arts cataloged by Caskey and Beazley, to over 900 site/architecture images from the Large Site Plans and to the Paths that are distributed with Platform Independent Perseus. In addition, all of the approximately 3600 sculpture images have been included. This brings the total to approximately 6100 full-screen images in the Concise Perseus.
For information on upgrading to the Full Edition of Perseus, please contact Yale University Press, 1-800-987-7323 (phone), email@example.com (e-mail).
Perseus continues to develop on a number of fronts:
Perseus on the World Wide Web: Perhaps the most exciting development in recent years has been the rise of the Internet. We have established a Perseus World Wide Web site (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu), which contains a variety of useful tools and the latest developments in Perseus. The Web site includes copies of documentation, a growing body of source materials (some of which are not in Platform Independent Perseus), reports on the actual use of Perseus in teaching and research, links to other relevant sites (such as the Perseus Atlas Project at Holy Cross) and various other services.
Perseus Atlas Project: The maps available in Platform Independent Perseus were developed by Professor D. Neel Smith of Holy Cross. His work on using state-of-the-art "Geographic Information Systems" tools and datasets such as the satellite imagery and the Digital Chart of the World continues. One goal of the Perseus Atlas Project is to create an online service whereby this material could be accessed and analyzed directly over the Net.
Evaluation of Perseus in Teaching and Learning: A grant from the Fund to Improve Post-Secondary Education has allowed us to study the impact of Perseus on teaching and learning at more than a dozen institutions. Results from this can be found on the World Wide Web Site.
The Electronic Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek Lexicon: Grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation have made it possible for us to begin creating an electronic version of the standard Greek lexicon as well as other more specialized lexicographic tools.
Ancient Science: Support from the National Science Foundation has allowed us to begin work on materials central to the history science. This support will allow us to offer a complete version of Aristotle as well as of other key texts, such as Euclid's Elements.Return to Top
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