I.Sicily

I.Sicily is a project to make freely available in digital form the complete corpus of inscriptions from ancient Sicily, in all languages across all of antiquity. 

The aim is to create a unified and up-to-date corpus, across all languages, with translations, images and detailed object records.

Project lead: Professor Jonathan Prag, Faculty of Classics
Project website: I.Sicily website

Open approach

One of the aims of the project is 'to make a continually improving body of data available for the study of the epigraphy of Sicily, whether through collaboration within the project, or through the export and re-use of the available data'.

Case study details

Analysis

  • Research data are openly shared via the project website, in a GitHub repository and in Zenodo (DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.2556744)
  • Research data are available in standard formats: XML, CSV of metadata, PDF
  • Publications metadata are available in Zotero
  • The XML TEI files are curated in the parallel GitHub repository prior to being pushed to the faculty-maintained website.

Writing

  • TEI-XML mark-up
  • Contribution to the corpus requires contact with the principal investigator and registration, or through GitHub and a simple pull request

Publication approach

A bibliography of publications related to the project is listed on the I.Sicily publications database, including publications about the inscriptions published before the project. Links to the records are on Zotero.

There is no overall policy for open access to publications. Some publications are open access while related publications are subject to a range of different policies, depending on how and when they were produced. All items cannot be made directly available, although ‘green’ open access is possible for everything in principle through ORA.

I.Sicily is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence, and the Italian equivalent. All data is available for download and re-use with appropriate credit, a link to the licence and an indication of any changes made. 

The project is in the process of adding a versioned copy of all XML files in Zenodo under a DOI, which will provide an archive of all previous versions for citation and retrieval.

Software is 100% open source, governed by various copyrights and licences. 

In the first instance, the intended audience is scholars working on ancient Sicily and Sicilian heritage institutions (especially museums), but the audience and the aims are broadening steadily, to include collaborating with local museums, schools and others, and inclusion of, for example, Italian translations. This together with the free re-use of the data is intended to make it of value to a much wider audience.

Outreach

Outreach is through:

Search and discovery

The data in I.Sicily can be searched in many different ways. The main set of search tools can be found on the inscriptions page, but it is also possible to explore the data through museum collections or existing publications. Guidance on how to cite I.Sicily is available.

Search is also possible via a map with clickable links. 

There is a shared reference library of publications in Zotero. 

Assessment, metrics and impact

Initial assessment has been through basic use of Google Analytics. 

Cost

Funding for the project was from the University of Oxford with hosting by the Faculty of Classics. 

Costs may have been saved by the use of open source software. Avoiding publishers and other bodies and working through GitHub saves costs. The use of basic software and data standards and a distributed approach has reduced sustainability costs. 

Benefits of an open approach

The open approach the project has adopted encourages collaboration, and makes it easier too. Sicilian museums are traditionally protective of their collections and have tightly controlled access, but the museums lack the resources to study their collections or to improve access. Because I.Sicily generates free catalogues of the individual collections and makes virtual access possible, this has rapidly encouraged collaboration and increased openness on the part of collections for whom this is a strongly desirable resource. Overall, it has undoubtedly facilitated engagement from the data curators.

Drawbacks of open approach

The difficulties of the approach taken are mostly the lack of understanding of how to approach open data within the discipline, and how it works. Other supposedly ‘open’ projects working on the same data in parallel are, in reality, not fully open (often for historical reasons, constructed in older software environments), and do not therefore fully reciprocate the open approach. More broadly, the failure of the discipline so far to embrace digital publication and to treat it on a par with traditional paper publication in general is limiting the impact to date. But these are not serious drawbacks.

Possible changes to make the research more or less open

Ensuring open access to the underlying material remains challenging, as cultural heritage administration in Sicily is still very bureaucratic and relatively restrictive: permits are required at almost every step. Much more broadly, open data would be much easier if the citation mechanisms were better understood, and in particular if the mechanisms were more robust to ensure that intellectual credit could be passed along with the data more easily and in more standardised form (so free and open data, but proper attribution and acknowledgement retained in re-use, as per the ideal of a CC-BY licence or equivalent).

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