PELLA in Oxford and Paris

The OPAL organizers, Frédérique Duyrat and Andy Meadows.
The OPAL organizers, Frédérique Duyrat and Andy Meadows.

On April 3–4, the Oxford Paris Alexander Project (OPAL) hosted a conference at New College, at the University of Oxford in England, entitled “A Linked Open World: Alexander the Great, Transnational Heritage and the Semantic Web.” Established by Frédérique Duyrat, Director of the Coin Cabinet at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BnF), and Andrew Meadows, Professor of Ancient History at New College, and funded by LABEX Les Passés dans le Présent and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, OPAL is designed to supplement and enhance the ANS-based PELLA project with additional data and an interpretative framework. “Additional data,” in this case, has been the concerted efforts by Simon Glenn at the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford and Caroline Carrier at the BnF to catalogue the thousands of Alexander-type coinages held by those two institutions in order that the individual coin records and photographs may then be linked to the PELLA website. Thanks to their efforts, PELLA now contains records of nearly 19,000 coins. The “interpretive framework” portion of OPAL includes the New College conference.

OPAL's home in April, New College, Oxford University.
OPAL’s home in April, New College, University of Oxford.

The aim of the conference was to examine how the digital collection of data through the semantic web can assist in identifying, collecting, interpreting and preserving transnational heritage. With its focus on the coinage and empire of Alexander the Great, the conference organizers were particularly concerned first to investigate how the accumulation of data can help us to write the history of an Imperial economic space. They aimed to do this through some carefully chosen case studies and the broad analysis of statistical data provided by the PELLA project. The second part explored the role of Alexander’s coinage as a bridge between different cultures and different periods, with a particular interest in the question of the preservation of global cultural heritage in a transnational environment.

Ethan Gruber, ANS Director of Data Science, presents at OPAL.
Ethan Gruber, ANS Director of Data Science, presents at OPAL.

Speakers from the ANS included Director of Data Science Ethan Gruber and Research Scientist Sebastian Heath, who both addressed the technical side of ANS-based digital projects like PELLA and the sematic web, that is the intensive and deliberate interlinking of different types of knowledge on the web, including, for example, numismatic, geographical and biographical data within a single website like PELLA. Also from the ANS was Peter van Alfen, who presented one of the historical case studies. A print volume of the conference proceedings is planned to appear in early 2018, published by Ausonius Éditions, the chapters of which will probably adhere closely to the conference program:

The “French Quartet” (l. to r.) of Frédérique Duyrat, Julien Olivier, Maryse Blet-Lemarquand, and Caroline Carrier, present their metallurgical study of a section of Alexander the Great’s coinage.
The “French Quartet” (l. to r.) of Frédérique Duyrat, Julien Olivier, Maryse Blet-Lemarquand, and Caroline Carrier, present their metallurgical study of a section of Alexander the Great’s coinage.

Part 1: New Tools

Equality and Concept: Broadening the Scope of Linked Open Data (Sebastian Heath)

ANS Digital Projects: A Comprehensive Platform for the Study of Numismatics (Ethan Gruber)

Statistical Exploration of PELLA Data (Julien Olivier)

OPAL conference lunch in New College, Oxford.
OPAL conference lunch in New College, Oxford.

Part 2: Imperial Economic Space—Using PELLA to Write a New History

What is an Alexander? (Andrew Meadows)

The Destruction and Recreation of Monetary Zones in the Wake of Alexander’s Conquests (Peter van Alfen)

Exploring Localities: A Die Study of Alexanders from Damascus (Simon Glenn)

The Impact of Alexander’s Conquest on Minted Silver: New Data from Metallurgical Analysis of Coins Kept at the BnF (Maryse Blet-Lemarquand, Julien Olivier, Caroline Carrier)

The First Generation of Alexander’s Influence: Diversity of Empire (Karsten Dahmen)

Alexander Gold Coinage throughout the Empire and Beyond (Frédérique Duyrat)


OPAL speakers Simon Glenn (l.) and Pierre Briant (r.).
OPAL speakers Simon Glenn (l.) and Pierre Briant (r.).

Part 3: Cultural Interaction and Legacy

The Coinage of Alexander the Great as Perceived during the 16th–18th Centuries (François de Callataÿ)

The Legacy of Alexander: Money in Central Asia (Simon Glenn)

Looting and its Impact: The Case of Alexanders from the Near East and the Role of an Online Corpus Project (Caroline Carrier & Simon Glenn)

The Debate about the Spread of Alexander’s Coinage and its Economic Impact: Engaging with the Historiographical Longue Durée (Pierre Briant)

Conclusion: Alexander: The Wider Vision (Robin Lane Fox)

OPAL keynote speaker, Robin Lane Fox.
OPAL keynote speaker, Robin Lane Fox.

The conference proved to be quite a success, illustrating just how the development of digital tools like PELLA can have a transformative effect on how we interpret existing evidence from the ancient world, on how we approach other interpretations of this same evidence from across the ages, and on the way in which we preserve this entire heritage. In addition to the enlightening papers and conversations, participants were also treated to an after-hours reception at the Ashmolean Museum to view a special exhibition on Alexander’s coinage curated by Simon Glenn, as well as a guided tour of the New College gardens, in full spring bloom, by the eminent historian and Financial Times gardening columnist, Robin Lane Fox.

Alexander the Great: Coinage from a Common Past exhibit display at the Ashmolean Museum, on view until April 23, 2017.
Alexander the Great: Coinage from a Common Past exhibit display at the Ashmolean Museum, on view until April 23, 2017.