Google funding for discovery of ancient texts online — and some unforeseen difficulties

Stephan Huller has drawn my attention to a press release from the university of Southampton:

A University of Southampton researcher is part of a team which has just secured funding from Google to make the classics and other ancient texts easy to discover and access online.

Leif Isaksen at the University’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) is working together with Dr Elton Barker at The Open University and Dr Eric Kansa of the University of California-Berkeley on the Google Ancient Places (GAP): Discovering historic geographical entities in the Google Books corpus project, which is one of 12 projects worldwide to receive funding as part of a new Digital Humanities Research Programme funded by Google.

The GAP researchers will enable scholars and enthusiasts worldwide to search the Google Books corpus to find books related to a geographic location and within a particular time period. The results can then be visualised on GoogleMaps or in GoogleEarth.  The project will run until September next year.

The PR people don’t seem to have really understood what is involved here.  This isn’t about placing ancient texts online, as far as I can see.  Rather it is about indexing volumes in Google books, so that they can be searched for using region and date.   The information will be accessible using a webservice.

There is one obvious difficulty with all this, tho.  Most books on Google books are not accessible in the United Kingdom!  This is because European publishers lobbied and threatened Google if it made material prior to 1923 available, for fear that some of it might still be copyright somewhere in the EU, and that that copyright might belong to one of them, and that maybe, just maybe, they might lose some money. 

Google listened this contemptible nonsense, scratched its head at the idea that people wanted to prevent access, and said, “Fine.  Do without!” They chopped access to Google books material after 1880 or something like that.  The euro-nuts lose, the US gains.

So … most of the results returned by this new webservice will be of no service to anyone.

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