Wednesday, April 8, 2009
The Perseus collection is one of the oldest digital libraries I have found. In fact, according to the site, the collection existed as an on-site digital library at tufts before the creation of the internet. Of course, it was moved online as soon as technologically feasible. The Perseus digital library originally focused solely upon the Classics, meaning primary documents in ancient Greek or Latin and various scholarly commentaries on them in a variety of modern languages. Since its inception, however, the Perseus digital library has expanded to include more modern primary sources that may have been influenced by the classics and to sources on the humanities in general. The Classics remains the largest sub-collection, followed by materials on the Renaissance, which makes sense considering the influence of classical works on the latter period.
As mentioned above, the guiding collection principle of the collection was originally to collect objects related to the Classics, and although the collection has since expanded, wherever possible one still sees a classical influence. This tends to lend a coherent theme to what otherwise might seem a disparate collection. The collection is obviously curated and well maintained. It is divided up into sub-collections based on theme, and some of those are also divided into sub-collections (e.g. Art and Archaeology Artifacts under the Greek and Roman Materials.) The site features both a search box and browsing options. The browsing options are a lot more developed than the search box, which is just your basic search box in the upper right corner. The browsing options allow you to explore by historical period, region, type of object, etc.
The objects themselves vary in their presentation. Many of the texts are simple transcriptions (I didn't find a single scanned text.) Appropriately, however, Greek characters are used for texts in ancient Greek. Some of the texts also include links to English translations, and virtually all of them contain links directly to commentary on the text in question. My main complaint about the texts is that they do not seem to have a whole lot of metadata, other than original author and whoever edited whatever edition Perseus transcribed. There is virtually no background information. On the other hand, the images on the site do possess adequate metadata, including not only the origins of the object but also where it is currently located (Boston Museum of Fine Arts for the coin above) and sometimes its digital provenance.
I get the feeling from the website that the Perseus digital library was originally designed for students of the Classics as a learning tool. There is a large focus on texts, and the site has resources such as dictionaries, translations, and commentaries. Furthermore, many of the texts are famous ones that have little room left for new scholarly interpretation but may still be of great use as practice for students aspiring to learn classical languages. However, I do think that the site definitely expanded from its original mission and now serves a large scholarly purpose as well, both for the Classics and other areas of the humanities.
All in all, the Perseus collection was an interesting example of a very large and comprehensive digital collection existing with very little internal narrative.