The proposed project is connected with my in-progress PhD dissertation, in the departments of Classics and Medieval Studies, on primary source texts associated with magical ritual and the continuity and transmission of these practices from antiquity through medieval Europe and into the modern period. I focus in particular on incantations, used in healing and protective magic as well as aggressive magic. A major component of the dissertation is the collection of a corpus of such documents covering the period in question, where none had previously existed. I draw for example on ‘recipes’ for magical ritual in manuscripts and papyrus handbooks, texts inscribed on gem- and papyrus- amulets, and modern transcriptions of oral performances of incantations taken by folklorists. So far I have collected nearly 2,000 texts, and a significant proportion of the manuscript material is unpublished. The aggregation of that data has already begun to allow me to identify long-term patterns of transmission of incantation-texts, locally and over great geographic distance.

A well-designed digital database would allow: the combined display and querying of significant patterns of phrasing in the texts, alongside layers of metadata; the re-ordering and selective display of primary texts based on these metadata, rather than the rigid linear format now demanded by the Word document; a stable system of reference IDs for texts for use in the prose component of the dissertation; and the generation of visualizations of connections between texts on the planes of content, geography, and temporal period.

In a later phase, I plan to expose the resulting database to the public. The temporal breadth of the project should make the data of interest to a large community of scholars in Classics, Byzantine Studies, Medieval Latin Studies, and Modern Greek Studies. The eventual addition of English translations to all texts, a function that will be built into the design of the database, will increase accessibility to non-philologists who work on these periods, particularly historians and anthropologists, and allow the data to serve as comparative material for scholars of other civilizations and eras. The database will remain a lasting resource most significantly in that it will be constantly expanded as I identify new texts in the two core languages, which will in turn improve the accuracy of classification and explication of texts already present in the database, and also add coverage of other Mediterranean-area languages in cultural contact, such as Coptic and Aramaic.

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