Review of Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis der griechischen Papyrusurkunden Ägyptens

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Heidelberger Gesamtverzeichnis der griechischen Papyrusurkunden Ägyptens [Dead link: Archived version from the Internet Archive]

The Gesamtverzeichnis (HGV) offers a new research tool for anyone interested in using the Greek documentary papyri for philological or historical work. Ever since early in this century, when it became impossible for anyone to keep track easily of the large number of newly-published texts, papyrologists and others have talked about the need for a general register of all published papyri, to help the searcher navigate in the sea of documents. Despite the production of many other research tools for the papyri over the last ninety years, it is only now that this desideratum is finally in the process of being realized. That this is so is the result of the initiative of an eminent scholar in the field, Dieter Hagedorn, with the support of able younger scholars in his institute. They have in the course of their work introduced many corrections into the datings of documents given by editors, so that the HGV often provides more accurate information than the original edition. My experience to date has indicated that the HGV has an extremely high quality of information.

The value of this database is going to be immense, but it is as yet not always easy to use. In writing this review I felt rather like a restaurant reviewer describing a new bistro where the food is terrific but the service still a bit wobbly; the biggest risk is that the review will persuade its readers to all show up to have dinner, thus overwhelming the restaurant's service altogether, and ruining it for the reviewer (and everyone else!) I put the HGV through some demanding tests to see just what the limits and problems might be, and I shall describe these in detail. I refer to choices below with English terms, but the labelling and choices are throughout in German. Help for the HGV is provided also in English, and limited help for Filemaker Pro, the database program used, is provided in English, French, and German. It is taken for granted that the user knows a fair amount about web browsers and other software, as well as about papyri; this is mainly a site for experienced users with a scholarly background..

The introductory screen (Einführung) offers the user a choice of searching the full database, with its 36,153 records; of seeing a chronological list of dated texts organized by centuries; or of connecting to the part of the Heidelberg site containing digitized images of papyri in Heidelberg. The second of these options points to the original interest of the creators of the database in having a complete list of datable papyri, an interest now less central because of the inclusion of the papyri that lack any precise date and the mounting of the full database for searching. Because anyone can create such a list of dated papyri for any given period using the search and sort functions, the list of dates (available since 1993, first as a gopher site) has not been updated since August, 1997. But the origins of the project have left a residue that should be kept in mind: there are multiple records for a single papyrus where it contains more than one date..

When one has selected the search option, one may then choose the main register or the list of attested dates as of January, 1997. Choosing the register, we find Help options as mentioned above. (Choosing Filemaker Help leads to creation of a new window; to return to the database one must close or tile this new window. This is the only place where there is not some other provision for returning to the database. The same thing is true if one hits the "?" button at any time in the course of working with the database; that leads only to FMPro Help, not to HGV Help, which is available only from the initial register screen.).

The register offers three functions. The first is the table which appears at first, giving for each record the reference, the date, the place, and the title given the text by the edition cited (in the original language of the editor). This is the form in which the results of searches appear. One can go to a more detailed record format for any individual record (this is the second option); in this, fields for material, published illustration, other editions of the papyrus, the contents of the papyrus according to the compilers of the HGV, and notes. As a quick means of following up hits, this format is very valuable. The third option is Search, in which one is given a template of the record format and allowed to specify for as many fields as one may wish strings which should be present or should be absent; one is also allowed to specify that multiple parameters must all be present or any one must be present (a global and/or choice). The field names are heavily abbreviated in this template format, even though there is plenty of room on the screen to have spelled them out in full; and since there is no direct access to HGV Help (or to Help in any language but German, actually) at this point, it is not easy to find out what they are if one should have forgotten..

I happened to be working on a paper on family and society in Oxyrhynchus, for the centennial colloquium on the Oxyrhynchus Papyri in July. A very large number of the papyri from Oxyrhynchus are published in the Oxyrhynchus Papyri series, but thousands are not, mainly because there were both other legal excavations at the site and many clandestine digs feeding the antiquities market. It is easy to go through the P.Oxy. volumes systematically, but the rest are scattered throughout the hundreds of other volumes on the shelf: a perfect assignment for the HGV. I therefore asked first for all papyri with Oxy in the Place field. After 17 seconds, I learned that there were 4,699 of them. The program displays hits in groups of 25, organized (if one does not sort) apparently in order of data-entry. Getting from one group to the next is often very slow, up to a minute, often longer than it takes to do the search in the first place. It is hard to know how much this slowness is a problem with transatlantic net bandwidth and congestion, how much the limitations of Filemaker Pro as a multiuser program. As far as I know, European users have not had the same experiences, suggesting that bandwidth may be the larger factor..

Sorting by chronological order seemed indicated, but this, when tried, simply failed. There was no response, and even "reload" did not work. The Help for the HGV does warn the user that sorting large sets is difficult, but it is disconcerting not to be able to do even a straightforward chronological sort. Anyway, reducing the set seemed indicated, and I reran the search adding "does not contain" Oxy in the Publication field, in order to eliminate all papyri in P.Oxy. (I had already collected these by reading straight through the 64 volumes.) This time there were 1,939 hits. I tried sorting this set by century, and this time it worked, but only for those with dates to centuries rather than years; you cannot sort accurately simultaneously by century and by year, so that sorts by year will get those with exact dates in the right order but leave those dated only by century in a muddle; sorting by century gets the inexact roughly correct but leaves the exact a mess. This is a limitation of Filemaker..

It became apparent, then, that if I wanted to get sorted lists I would have to search separately for exactly dated and century-dated texts. This worked fine, the results were easily sorted, and I had my lists. But what to do with them? It is not possible to download the results in a form usable in Filemaker Pro. The choices are thus either to print out one 25-record slice at a time or to save the results in a file usable in a word processor. I naively did the former, which turned out to occupy a lot of time. Even with the lists costing me a lot of time to print, however, they saved vastly more than that compared to the only other way I know to find all the scattered texts in question, namely reading through every volume of papyri that might contain Oxyrhynchite papyri. The list generated is extremely valuable; without it, in fact, there would have been no possibility of my finding all of the relevant papyri before my deadline..

This is evidently an example of a high-volume type of inquiry. Most users will not do anything like this; they will want something much more modest, ranging from finding out what illustrations exist of an individual papyrus to finding all of the documents of a particular type from a particular place. Small sets of hits are not difficult to deal with. It is true that the limitations of FMPro in searching can be irritating, and it must be kept in mind that the HGV has not imposed any controlled vocabulary on document types, so finding all of the examples of a particular type may be difficult. Nonetheless, the Content field does generally allow one to find documents using German document names, and it is not particularly difficult to work one's way into that (for example, search under "title" for whatever you call the item, and then look at the Content field for what Heidelberg calls it)..

It will be apparent that the main limitations of the HGV come from its operating with what is essentially a single-user microcomputer program on a multi-user web server and from the bandwidth limits of the Internet. For projects like that which I was embarked on, a version on CD-ROM would be more convenient. Happily, such a version is planned; it will appear next year on a disk shared with the updated version of the electronic Bibliographie Papyrologique from Brussels, with all bibliography from 1961 to the present. It will then be possible to download search results in various formats and to manipulate them for many purposes..

Even after the CD-ROM appears, however, the web site will continue to be extremely useful, for two reasons. First, casual users for whom the CD-ROM would be an unnecessary purchase will find it easy enough to carry out their searches. Second, the web version will always be more current than the disk version, as it is kept up-to-date in Heidelberg. Even heavy users are likely to want both forms of access for this reason. As papyrological tools continue to develop, we will look for direct links between the HGV and the Duke Data Bank of Documentary Papyri, which contains the Greek texts of the papyri listed in the HGV, as well as digitized images and other resources. At the moment, however, we may pause to applaud the creation of a tool which will make it easier to navigate in the complex world of papyrus documents..

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