Back from my unplanned hiatus!

I should really start this post off with an apology. We’re halfway through this awesome project, and I’ve been absent for the majority of that time! I really am sorry; I hate making commitments and not being able to follow through with them. Unfortunately, various events conspired against me – mainly, my entire family has had some kind of cold-virus for what feels like the past two months. If I’ve not been sick myself, then my children have. And writing anything with a sick toddler clinging to you is not terribly easy (see fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Sick baby 😦 Bonus points if you can read the cuneiform on his pacifier! Not pictured: him screaming every time I tried to do anything else but snuggle him.

I also had my parents here to stay for a few weeks, which was incredible! I’m British, but live in Maryland, so when I actually get to see my family it’s a cause for much celebration…and, this time, a lot of work. While I can write these blog posts during the daily chaos of my life, with the baby running around the living room and bringing me things that he’s found on the floor (up to and including raisins my 6 year old somehow left under the couch, tv remotes, game controllers, and a collection of choking-hazards that I swear I moved to a table the last time he tried to eat them), editing a database is somewhat harder to manage with these constant (adorable) interruptions. This means that when I have childcare (read: parents willing to scoop up their grandchildren for 3 weeks) I make the most of it by glueing myself to the computer and getting as much, non-baby-compatible work done as possible.

Which is all very nice, but what does it actually mean in real terms? What is this database I keep talking about, and why is it consuming my every waking thought? Well, the database is the basis for my Ph.D. dissertation. We have kind of a love-hate thing going on at the moment, because I need it desperately so I actually have something to write about, but it’s also the most frustrating thing I’ve ever worked on – and I’ve organized theatre productions and a juggling conventions. This database is more frustrating than both of those things put together.


In a nutshell, it takes information on inscribed objects, the inscriptions themselves, and the findspots for each object and combines them so that if I’m looking at a particular inscription, I can also access information about what that inscription is on, where it was found, and what it was found with. This is done by entering data into different tablets (in my case, tables for the object, inscription, and findspot) and then creating relationships across those tables. What I’m doing is pretty basic, but here’s a screenshot of what it all looks like:

This particular version of the database also includes information from a topic modeling algorithm that I ran on the inscriptions. As you can see, there are little lines connecting the different tables. The Object Data table is connected to the Inscription Data table by the ‘inscription’ field, and to the Findspot Data by the ‘findspot’ field (imaginative titles – these are just unique strings assigned to each findspot and inscription for easy identification), while the Topic Data is connected to the Inscription Data with the ‘inscription’ field. What this does, practically speaking, is make it possible for me to open a record for a specific object file and see, at a glance, information regarding the inscription found on the object, and the location in which the object was found (fig. 2).

Fig 2. Sample of my database.

While it’s incredibly helpful to have all of this information gathered in a single place, tracking it down is where things get tricky. I’ve written before about findspots, and the challenges of locating them, but it really can’t be overstated; tracking down exactly where an excavated object was found, and what it was found with, can be insanely difficult. It’s much easier as the date of excavation gets more recent, but for many early projects this information simply wasn’t recorded. Add to that the fact that many of the objects I’m dealing with were either purchased by museums and private collectors from local dealers and therefore have no findspot, and there’s a hell of a lot of information to try and track down.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing these past few weeks. Hunting for information that may or may not exist, and recording whatever I find. I’m hoping to finish up soon, as I’m rather eager to get back to writing…

1 Comment

  1. I also did a lot of database work on my dissertation (pottery in Late Roman and Visigothic Spain), and then frustratingly what people remember about it isn’t the data but the more general theories and the anecdotes from written sources. I’m not saying to abandon the dbase, but I guess my advice is to make sure to have lively anecdotes and theories too!

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