record

The Global Record and the Browser Edition

November 2005 - G. Buccellati
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Introduction
Global record
Globality and transparency
Browser Edition
The notion of "browser edition"
Atomistic vs. synthetic approaches
Inquiry paths
Browser edition and input
Web-based and disk-based editions

Introduction

     The Global Record and the Browser Edition are like two faces of the same coin. The former refers to the data as such, the latter to the shape taken by the same data when they are displayed.
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Global record

     The global record is the totality of the observations about the excavated data. They are made during and after the excavations, and they are gathered into a highly structured whole. This structuring is possible because of the "grammatical" way in which the observations are recorded. As a result, the atoms coalesce progressively into a meaningful whole, which is a properly digital narrative.
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Globality and transparency

     An important aspect of globality (and a byproduct of automation, which makes globality truly possible), is the radical transparency that dominates the record. No entry is ever removed or altered (except for minor formal errors such as misspellings). When substantive errors are observed, they are noted in a separate entry. This procedure has a deeper substantive reason than one may think at first. In the process of excavation, every choice conditions the subsequent strategy. If the choice is in error, the carrying out of the strategy is affected. Thus it is important that the process of recovery be documented to the fullest possible extent. That this may at times reflect poorly on the overall project is a risk that we must accept.
     For an example of such corrections see A16f4.
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Browser Edition

     The browser edition is the display mode of the global record. It is not just an electronic version of a regular book. Its main distinguishing feature is the ability to break down the elements of the discourse into its most minute segments, which are individually composed, while retaining at the same time a rigorous structure for the whole.
     For a discussion of the coneptual nature of the Browser Edition see under Digital text
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Atomistic vs. overarching approaches

     The browser edition intends to span two opposite extremes. On the one hand, it includes, in its most minute detail, every single observation ever recorded. On the other, it provides a frame that overarches the detail. It is the age old interaction between analysis and sythesis, but heightened by the immensely greater power of the electronic tool now at our disposal. More than in most cases, the technique truly impacts on method by eliciting new habits and, indeed, new mental templates.
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Inquiry paths

     It is in the nature of a browser edition to allow a "user" to follow unlimited paths as the inquiry process (or simply the curiosity) suggests. Thus to properly understand a given object one may explore first the stratigraphic setting (the accumulation in which it is found, the reasons for attributing the accumulation to a given stratum, and so on), then the typological correlations to other similar objects (e.g., all the figurines found in the same context), etc. All of this is available at the click of the mouse as one pursues the different links embedded in the original display page of the object in question, and then the subsequent links as they appear on each of the subsequent pages.
     Where the process becomes more complex is at the moment when one seeks to group elements of given categories and to construct numeric, and eventually properly statistical, comparisons. A few preset inquiry paths of this sort are made available (and are accessed from the lower left column). They are the ones that are thought to be of a more immediate interest. Additional inquiry paths can be developed from the data base version of the data.
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Browser edition and input

     Central to our effort is the ability to use the browser edition as an integral element of the data entry phase during the excavations. The reason why this is important is that the browser edition is not a distant finishing line, where the product is the result of thorough-going harmonization and synthesis. Rather, the browser edition proceeds pari passu with the excavation. It is, in effect, an instant translation of the notes taken individually by all members of the staff, from the excavator and the registrar to the photographer, the surveyor, the draftsman. The browser edition is produced on a daily basis through an in-house program that operates on all the inputs from each different source, i.e., from each staff member. These are simple inputs in plain ASCII format, and from them the browser edition is constantly kept up-to-date. In this manner, the browser edition provides an excellent environment for achieving the kind of integration that is a major desideratum for an archaeological excavation. It is within such an environment that all members of the staff relate on a daily basis to their own data.
     (As of the 2003 season of excavation, there were still some delays and gaps in the actual functioning of the system as described. But in its essential elements the system is in fact operative.)
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Web-based and disk-based editions

     Browsers are typically associated with websites, and indeed the best use of the Urkesh Global Record is through the web at the address http://www.urkesh.org (click on RECORD on the top bar). The main substantive advantage of using the website is that it draws not just on one unit of excavations, but on all the others. In particular, it draws on a volume (Z1) that links the various excavation units on a sitewide basis. (This feature of the system has still limited application at the moment, but work is actively progressing along those lines.)
     On the other hand, we retain the option of disk-based publications for two main reasons. The first is that on disk we can offer high resolution images, which would inordinately slow down normal web use. The second is that a disk publication provides a more definite bibliographical status to the publication itself.
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