Urbana-Champaign tablets go online

We are delighted to announce a successful digitization collaboration between the Spurlock Museum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (SMUI) and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-supported research project “Creating a Sustainable Cuneiform Digital Library” (CSCDL).

Under the general direction of the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI - Los Angeles/Berlin), CSCDL is dedicated to the digital capture, persistent archiving and web dissemination of cuneiform collections in the US, Europe and the Middle East. The 1756 cuneiform artifacts of the SMUI, the majority of which were originally acquired by the university from Edgar Banks between 1913-15 and organized and catalogued by Albrecht Goetze in the 1940s, represent a very substantial, yet still largely unpublished American collection (a helpful introduction to the acquisition and history of the collection, formerly known as the World Heritage Museum Tablet Collection, is found in Ronald Sack, Cuneiform Documents from the Chaldean and Persian Periods [1994] pp. 1ff.). Aware of the general size of the collection, we contacted Museum Director Wayne Pitard, who, in May of 2011, provided the CDLI with a full concordance of current SMUI registration numbers and the World Heritage numbers cited in previous publications, for the most part concluding with Shin T. Kang‛s “Sumerian and Akkadian Cuneiform Texts in the Collection of the World Heritage Museum” vol. 2 in 1973; in June of 2011, CDLI postdoctoral associate Lance Allred initiated the scanning of the collection, followed by subsequent missions undertaken by UCLA graduate student researcher Michael Heinle. Both were aided in no small measure by the dedicated efforts of the museum’s collections staff. Following fatcross-processing and cleansing of the raw images created by Allred and Heinle, these files were posted to the CDLI website, and can be viewed here. In the interest of a speedy exposure of the full collection, we have not studied and assigned period and provenience to the 850 entries qualified as “uncertain” in this regard--mostly Ur III and Old Babylonian administrative and legal texts--and would appreciate the help of others in doing so, as well as in submitting general corrections or updates to our SMUI catalogue; we are particularly keen to assist specialists in the preparation of expert editions of the more than 1000 texts currently registered as “unpublished unassigned.” All inquiries regarding further publication of the Spurlock collection should be directed to the Museum‛s Registrar, Jennifer White.

We are confident that our adherence in this collaboration to the principles of open access expressed, for instance, in the “Berlin Declaration” promulgated by the German Max Planck Society, best serves all in the Humanities, but particularly those in the fields of dead language research so dependent on access to source materials for their work. In opening to world-wide inspection cuneiform collections such as that of the University of Illinois, the SMUI joins other cultural heritage and research institutions in CDLI’s “extended family” who support efforts to permanently archive, and to make available to the public digital facsimiles of all artifacts of shared world history that are in their immediate, or indirect care.

Wayne Pitard, Director, SMUI, and Professor of Religious Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Robert K. Englund, Director, CDLI, and Professor of Assyriology, UCLA