Classical Studies Newsletter, Volume IX, Summer 2003

The Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS)
By Prof. Traianos Gagos
Principal Investigator and Director, APIS and APIS-Michigan


The University of Michigan has been leading the way in applying computer technology to the study and management of its papyrus collection for approximately 20 years. As in ancient times, when papyrus rolls were used to contain extensive registers such as tax lists, modern-age computers facilitate similar objectives, enhanced by powerful and sophisticated search engines. The turning point in the field of Classics occured in 1971, when the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG) was conceived. This database (www.tlg.uci.edu) now contains thousands of Greek texts from Homer on (approximately 75 million words). Since then, similar projects have encoded the texts of all Latin literature, as well as all of the volumes of the published papyri and a large number of inscriptions. The Duke Databank of Documentary Papyri (www.perseus.tufts.edu/Texts/ papyri.html) was in fact a joint effort of Duke and Michigan papyrologists, the texts being keyed in at Duke and proofread in Michigan. The project was brought to an end in August 1995. Today the on-line DDBDP contains all text published until 1996; publications from subsequent years will be made available gradually as part of the Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS).

Electronic cataloging, digital imaging, and preservation of the University of Michigan papyrus collection began in 1991. Between 1991 and 1995, developments in digital technology and the growth of the Internet attracted the attention of papyrologists. In 1995 the Michigan Papyrus Collection (www.lib.umich.edu) led the way in establishing the digitization project hoping that other universities would follow suit in making their collections available on the World Wide Web.

The APIS project was established in 1996, drawing to a large extend from the Michigan experience. Conceived originally as a cooperative project among the six larger papyrus collections in the U.S., APIS has involved into a global consortium effort that at present encompasses virtually all American institutions with papyrus collections and several European partners: Columbia University, Duke University, New York University, Princeton University, Stanford University, The University of California at Berkeley, The University of Chicago, The University of Michigan, The University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Washington University, and Wisconsin University, with the collaboration of Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, Germany, Oslo University, Norway, Österreichischen Nationalbibliotek, Austria, Oxford University, U.K., Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium, Université Marc Bloch, France, and the University of Toronto. At present the APIS database contains more than 20,000 records (http://columbia.edu/dlc/apis).

Funded primarily by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), APIS seeks to integrate into a global "virtual" library the holdings of all papyrological collections worldwide. The project encompasses both preservation of a large and important body of ancient manuscript material, through conservation and imaging, and improvement of intellectual access to this material, through cataloging and an innovative electronic system linking catalog records with images, Greek text, bibliography and published literature.

APIS has two main goals: first, to transform instruction and research in papyrology; and, second, to make papyrological material readily accessible to non-specialists. The latter in fact is becoming its most central outcome. The vast resources of the papyri have until the establishment of APIS been used relatively little either by scholars of most fields concerned with antiquity (literature, history, philosophy, religion, archaeology) or by a broader educated public. In large part this is the result of the extreme difficulty of access to the material. The early years of APIS have shown what can be achieved in this respect. The inclusion of new partners is a guarantee for the continuous enrichment of the APIS virtual library which promises to reach even wider audiences. The forerunners and individual institutions have in the past several years attracted through their own homepages great interest from schools and the general public. The central APIS system gives an impression of the vast possibilities. Substantial work has been under way to improve the system and make it more user-friendly.

APIS has become a model both in its collaborative creation of field-wide standards and in its integration of different types of information resources of what is possible for a wide variety of fields in humanistic studies. The range of languages recorded in the papyri will stretch the capabilities of information technology in a fashion certain to be useful to several other fields.

Index of Topics

  • Letter from the Chair
  • Power Lunches in the Eastern Roman Empire
  • Poem by Anne Carson
  • Classics and the Cinema
  • Pallas Lecture
  • The Advanced Papyrological Information System (APIS) 
  • Upcoming Department Events
  • Email Us!