Thursday, September 13, 2012

Linking New Scholarship to Its Ancient Roots

Classical Works Knowledge Base Creates Direct Connections to Original Texts

ITHACA, N.Y. (Sept. 12, 2012) – As more translations and classical resources appear online, faculty and librarians see an opportunity to smooth the paths of scholars through the maze of digital texts and complex citations.

That opportunity became the Classical Works Knowledge Base (CWKB), a relational database and specialized link resolver software that seamlessly links abstracts to the works they cite. Cornell University Library and Cornell’s Classics Department developed this tool, which allows scholars to access online, full-text versions of the primary sources that their institutions own or license.

CWKB works with ancient Greek and Latin texts, and will be used first in the online database “L'Année philologique.” Other online resources could make use of it as well; for example, if a database on American history used CWKB, a researcher could look at citations in a pamphlet by Thomas Jefferson and arrive in one click at passages he cites from Plato’s dialogues, Cicero’s letters and other sources in multiple languages and translations.

 “The Library is committed to open-access tools, and we deliberately developed a service that could be extended easily,” said Anne R. Kenney, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian. “We are committed to creating tools where none exist and there is a clear case that scholarship would benefit greatly. We also focus on development that can be broadly applicable for other researchers, facilitating work in a range of disciplines.”

CWKB relies on OpenURL links, which are parsed when a user clicks on them. A link resolver then uses the metadata to pull up multiple links to several versions of the texts. The CWKB website features a demonstration of OpenURL, using the Canonical Metadata Citation Format, and the software will be available under an Educational Community License. That software has far-reaching implications for scholarship in other disciplines, because any field that relies heavily on primary-source texts could adapt it. 

The project was supported by a grant made to the American Philological Association (APA) in 2010 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Eric Rebillard, professor of Classics and History and editor of “L'Année philologique on the Internet,” conceived of this service and worked with the Library’s Director of Scholarly Communications Services, David Ruddy, and Electronic Resources User Experience Librarian, Adam Chandler.

The APA is pleased that this project has produced a resource that the wider academic community will find useful. “Users of ‘L'Année philologique,’ the premier bibliographical database in classical studies, will applaud this eagerly awaited enhancement,” said Jeffrey Henderson, APA President. “It is exciting to know that the CWKB may similarly benefit the many other fields informed by classical texts.”

To learn more
Visit and for more information, and check out a 2010 Cornell Chronicle story for details about the origins of the project.


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