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Online school "Digital epigraphy at the junction with Digital Humanities"


On October 4-29, 2021, the Sefer Center held on online school "Digital epigraphy at the junction with Digital Humanities". The school was organized with the support of the Genesis Philanthropy Group. The project is being implemented by the winner of the Common Cause competition of the Effective Philanthropy charity program of the Vladimir Potanin Charitable Foundation. The project is being implemented using a grant from the President of the Russian Federation for the development of civil society provided by the Presidential Grants Fund. 10 lecturers and tutors from Russia, Ukraine, Netherlands,39 students (from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Israel, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia), 131 listeners from Russia and other countries took part in the school.

Modern research in the field of Digital Humanities provides the preservation of cultural heritage using digital technologies, helps to restore the original material using computer programs, and also improves methods for analyzing data, their structuring and access to information. The results make it possible to raise new questions and use new approaches to the study of the humanities. Epigraphy, an auxiliary historical discipline that studies the content and forms of inscriptions on solid materials, also actively uses the methods of Digital Humanities. Databases and electronic applications are created for various epigraphic materials, with the help of neural networks tools are constructed for both simple and quick reading of the text of epitaphs from photographs of tombstones, and for processing images from historical monuments and creating sketches in electronic format.

During the online school, the participants listened to lectures and participated in seminars of both well-known specialists in Digital Humanities and researchers specializing in Jewish epigraphy, learned about the possibilities of using digital methods of data processing for their research. In seminars with epigraphists and data analyststhe school participants learned to ask the right questions about the materials of Jewish cemeteries, get answers to them using computer methods of working with data.

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The school program included lectures by Daniil Skorinkin (Higher School of Economics) onDigital Humanities, Mikhail Vasiliev (Sefer Center) ondigital methods in Jewish necropolis, Alexandra Fishel (Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the RAS) and Ekaterina Malakhova (G. Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy, NAS Ukraine, European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative) onthe specifics of Jewish cemeteries. In addition, Ortal-Paz Saar (Utrecht University) made a presentation “Epigraphy and Memory: The Digitization of Funerary Culture”, representing thePEACE project.

Within the framework of the school, seminars were held: Kira Kovalenko and Ekaterina Karaseva (European University in St. Petersburg): "Simple techniques for working with text data: using the method of regular expressions"; Georgy Moroz (NRU HSE), Mikhail Vasiliev:"Basics of loading and visualizing data in the R language", "Visualizing cartographic data in R"; Ekaterina Malakhova: "Jewish cemeteries on historical topographic maps"; Yulia Amatuni, Anna Bulina, Kira Kovalenko, Alexandra Fishel: How we automated text recognition on images of Jewish tombstones.

At the final round table What methods of Digital Humanities are applicable in epigraphy and your personal research (moderated by Ekaterina Karaseva and Mikhail Vasiliev), the participants discussed the problems of using digital methods and how to apply them in their own (not necessarily epigraphic) research.

Feedback from participants:

Yulia Estrina (Izhevsk):

I would like to thank Sefer from the bottom of my heart and personally to Irina, Michael, Ekaterina, Daniel, George, Alexandra, Julia, Anna, and everyone in this chat for an excellent educational course. For me, this is an invaluable opportunity to get exactly the knowledge that I was looking for. I represent here the Udmurt State University and our local Ural branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences with a grant project for the sociological research of online communities. My background is not connected with epigraphy, unfortunately, but with quantification and processing of high-quality data on large arrays - yes. A lot of the course is already really useful for me, and some, perhaps, can be applied to growth. On behalf of myself and my colleagues from our department, I express my maximum gratitude! Success to your project and to you - in everything you do!

Vadim Ageev (Moscow):

Gained additional understanding of the possibilities in the field of digital epigraphy (in particular, skills in working with R-language and regular expressions). I especially liked the organization, competence and openness of the teachers. I am the curator of another project related to epigraphy and cemetery inventory. I intend to use the obtained information for scientific, educational and other purposes.

Anastasia Gibalo (Krasnodar):

I got acquainted with useful programs to speed up work. I liked the ideas with RStudio and maps, as well as the search by pictures. Wonderful lecturer Daniil Skorinkin, I really liked his presentation of the material! I didn't even know that it is possible to analyze literary texts using quantitative data and using digital methods. It was he who advised the simple methods associated with working with pictures. Good introduction for school, there were many examples and jokes). Good overview material by Mikhail Vasiliev, which talked about the development of catalogs through trial and error. We need to praise the creators of the SFIRA project for such hard work, I am delighted, Misha is great! Oooh, the seminar of Georgy Moroz and Mikhail Vasiliev was just a brain explosion! George helped everyone who needed it. At first I didn’t understand anything, and then I understood. He and Misha formed a good tandem, it was great, I had to strain my convolutions). I can only say "Thank you" for the school, it was 100% applied, everything can be used for research + cool that there were lecturers from the IT sphere.

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