Mellon Funds Tumblr for Mummies

The new Duke Collaboratory for Classics Computing (DC3) project combines several ancient Greek and Latin document databases as papyri.info. Shouldering the project on one side is the university library, and Duke’s College of Arts & Sciences is on the other. DC3's leadership team consists of Duke assistant professor of Classics Josh Sosin, software engineer and Classics PhD Hugh Cayless and computer scientist Ryan Baumann.

The Mellon Founation supplied DC3's $500,000 financial spark early this May (see Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: Grants for Higher Education). The foundation does commit a lot of attention to preserving the digital documents our culture currently produces. But the Duke grant is the second of two gifts the foundation has recently given to show they still care about the old stuff as well. The first was back in January when Mellon gave University of Michigan $1.25 million to set up a conservator position.

Popular scholarship dates Duke and Mellon’s shared enthusiasm for old, stinky paper back to the 2007 era. That year, the foundation gave the North Carolina-based university $500,000 for the Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri (DDbDP). Back then,  Papyri.info only provided access to a mere three papyrological databases, compared the current selection of five. It was also a joint project with Columbia University back then; since, Duke seems to have grabbed the wheel (see Duke Endowment: Grants for Higher Education).

With an additional $814,000 in November of 2008, Mellon helped a team of Duke researchers update the display and editing tools on the Papyrological Navigator, "a new interface that merges data from different scholarly projects to allow simultaneous searching of texts, translations and images." Current DC3 head Josh Sosin was involved since this phase at least. At the time, he predicted a "future in which scholarship in this important subfield of Classical Studies takes place entirely online."

In 2011, Mellon endowed a $1.25 million senior conservator position at Duke, ultimately filled by Beth Doyle.

Mellon seems very concerned with figuring how to keep humanities scholarship useful in the digital era. Every day it gets more difficult to explain why we should pay people to know about specific things when almost anyone who wants to know almost anything can find it out online almost immediately (read Mellon Humanities program officer, Eugene Tobin's IP profile).

One bright idea the foundation had is to put these scholars to work making even more things available online even more quickly. And thus, the academically enlightened come to ever more closely resemble the pages of antiquated papyrus they are now payed to scan. Folks with other bright ideas about what our nation's next generation of classicists and critical theorists can do with themselves — beyond serving coffee and commiserating with each other at bars — should contact this foundation right away. Things sound a bit desperate.