Dominique Charpin

The Assyriologist and the Computer: The »Archibab« Project

Volume 3 () / Issue 1, pp. 137-153 (17)

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New instruments can lead to radical changes in scientific knowledge: the role of Galileo's telescope in the revolution in astronomy is well known in this respect. I am convinced that the use of computer technology must hold an analogous function in the humanities. So far, this role has been under-valued because of the technical means' former embryonic status. However, the power of today's computers is transforming the ways in which we do research: quantitative change eventually leads to qualitative change. We can now engage in cross queries of vast corpuses in a way unimaginable only ten years ago. In addition, thanks to networking, all of the documentation is potentially accessible from any point on the planet, or at least nearly so. I would like to present an example of computer use that suggests a paradoxical situation. We can now exploit the oldest archives of humanity by using the latest computer technology, making them available to all via an online database. The »Archibab« project began six years ago in response to a call for proposals entitled, »Corpus and tools for research in the humanities« issued by the French National Research Agency. It covers Mesopotamian records from the Old Babylonian period, dating from the 20th -17th B.C.E., hence the acronym ARCHIBAB (Fr., »ARCHIves BAByloniennes;« Eng. »Babylonian archives«) by which the project is designated. I would like first to define the spirit that guided the development of this project; second, to give concrete examples of what we can ask of the Website created through this project; and finally to outline the developing prospects for the coming years.

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