I.Sicily and enabling access to ancient Sicilian inscriptions | University of Oxford

I.Sicily and enabling access to ancient Sicilian inscriptions

Texts inscribed on stone (tombstones, public documents and much more) are one of our primary sources of evidence for the ancient world.

Students looking at ancient inscriptionsStudents working on iSicily project
Such texts are difficult to understand, to curate, and to make accessible, because they are written in ancient languages and scripts, frequently damaged, and often physically hard to move. The inscribed texts from ancient Sicily exemplify all these problems.

Professor Jonathan Prag has been studying the history of ancient Sicily for twenty years: the culture of engraving texts in public in the ancient Mediterranean is a fascinating area of study, and multi- lingual, multi-cultural ancient Sicily offers an excellent case-study. Over that time he has developed a digital, online, open access corpus (I.Sicily) of most of these texts (c.3,300), firstly as a research tool, but since 2016 as the foundation for an innovative series of collaborations to make the material accessible to a much wider public.

The corpus is based upon the direct study of each inscribed stone, which requires close collaboration with the regional and local museums of Sicily. These curate most of the material, which is a key part of their local heritage, but currently lack the resources either to study it or to develop accessible displays. I.Sicily enables the creation of online catalogues of each museum’s collection. 

In order to undertake this work for such a large and dispersed body of material (4000+ texts across 100+ collections), the project has developed innovative new collaborations with museums, schools and other bodies. Principal among these was a collaborative project at Catania with the civic museum, a local state school and the CNR Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies. The project worked with over 100 school children to locate, record, and photograph over 500 inscriptions, and to transfer those records into digital format. The same school children then participated in the selection and conservation of material, and the design and construction of a new permanent exhibition. The project was rewarded by the Italian Ministry of Education and additional projects have followed.

Funded by: John Fell Fund, University of Oxford; TORCH, University of Oxford; Merton College, Oxford