Help Create A Syriac Reference Portal!

The Syriac Research Group at the University of Alabama invites scholars interested in promoting Syriac studies to join as collaborators in the creation of a new online reference work for the study of Syriac authors, literature, and manuscripts. If you are interested please follow the link above to contact us for further details.

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What is the Syriac Reference Portal?

We are pleased to announce that an international team of scholars has begun work on a new online reference resource for the study of Syriac authors, texts, manuscripts, and historical research. The Syriac Reference Portal is designed to meet the needs of a variety of academic users ranging from specialists in Syriac and related fields to students and the general public.

Specifically, the Syriac Reference Portal will bring together in an information hub the following resources:

  • an ontology or classification system for Syriac studies
  • a multi-lingual authority file for standardizing references to Syriac authors, texts, and place names
  • an online encyclopedia
  • a gazetteer of maps and geographic information related to Syriac studies
  • a classified bibliography

The above resources will be available in the first generation of the Portal. In later development, we will open these resources up for collaborative augmentation and annotation by scholars around the globe. In subsequent rounds of development, we will continue adding to the hub by linking additional digital content to the hub - for example, the electronic journal of Syriac studies, Hugoye, and the electronic corpus of Syriac literature being prepared at Brigham Young University. We will also add new tools such as a prosopographical component and, ultimately, the long-desired goal of a union catalogue for Syriac manuscripts.

How will it be useful?

The Syriac Reference Portal project was conceived to produce tools and reference resources that will overcome some of the access and discovery problems which currently impede scholarly research on Syriac language, cultures, and history. The principle objectives are threefold:

  • to compile and organize core data related to the study of Syriac sources
  • to create digital tools for widely disseminating this data and facilitating further research
  • to create an online hub (cyberinfrastructure) to assist future research in the field of Syriac studies

Who will use it?

The final product will benefit a variety of users. For students and the interested public, it will provide access to basic reference information about the historical, cultural, and religious diversity of the Middle East. For academics in general, it will generate new scholarly interest in Syriac sources by making research on Syriac accessible without the need for extensive facility in Syriac. Finally, by opening new levels of access to the sources through new discovery tools, the Syriac Reference Portal project will not only support the current research aims of specialists in the field, but even offer new ways of conceptualizing the historical evidence. Further details on how the site will be used are provided in the user scenarios below.

Mock-Up and User Scenarios

This is a draft for the initial user interface for the Syriac Reference Portal website. The Syriac Reference Portal is based on a similar reference project for the field of philosophy, the Indiana Philosophy Ontology.

Anticipated Use of the Portal

User Scenario One: Researcher, Syriac Specialist

A researcher working with an unpublished Syriac manuscript encounters a homiletic text attributed to a minor author she cannot identify. She consults the Syriac Reference Portal for an encyclopedia entry on the author that links to a listing of known works and citations for published works. Consulting these texts, she determines that her text has not previously been documented. Following the standards and protocols established for collaboration with the Syriac Reference Portal, the researcher submits information about the text and the manuscript citation to the Portal for inclusion in its resources. Later, another researcher who has come across a text with the same title but without attribution to an author consults the authority files for text titles (or incipits) and discovers that the text's author has been identified through another manuscript. This second scholar then submits his manuscript citation to the evidence field in the entry for that author.

User Scenario Two: Researcher, Non-Specialist

An historian of philosophy working on an Islamic philosophical text comes across a reference to Aristotle's Analytica Priora in its Arabic translation. A search on Google Scholar pulls up a reference from the Syriac Reference Portal to the same work in Syriac. The researcher then consults the Portal for a list of the works of Aristotle extant in Syriac. By using the classified bibliography, the researcher learns of Syriac commentaries on the Analytica and is able to incorporate them into his study. Following suggestions generated by the semantic links in the Portal's bibliography, he also discovers an unpublished master's thesis on Syriac translation technique which provides an explanation of some terminological issues he has found confusing about the text.

User Scenario Three: Researcher, Non-Specialist

A scholar in religious studies is interested in the varying interpretations in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam of the biblical passage concerning the "binding of Isaac" in Genesis 22:1-24. Her search on the ATLA Religion database provides a link to an article from Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies on the Syriac poetic commentary traditions in which Syriac authors expanded on the biblical narrative to speculate about Sarah's attitudes toward the planned sacrifice of her son. Since the Hugoye article is dynamically integrated with the bibliography and cross-referencing scheme of the Portal, the researcher is them able to discover more recent publications on the same Syriac poetry. At the same time, she follows the suggested cross-references to explore the relationship of Syriac commentary on the binding of Isaac to different interpretative traditions in medieval Judaism and Islam. The researcher eventually publishes an article comparing these traditions and submits a copy to her institution's open access repository with Syriac as a keyword in the metadata. An automated harvester for the Syriac Reference Portal finds this keyword and sends a notice of her article to the bibliography editors who accept the citation for inclusion in the Syriac Reference Portal.

User Scenario Four: Educational and Public Users

A teacher in an introductory college course on the history of the Middle East wants students to do an independent study project that will challenge assumptions about the cultural divide between Middle Eastern and European civilizations. The teacher assigns students to use the online resources of the Portal to find documents in translation from Syriac authors and, using the Portal's encyclopedia, to prepare brief presentations on the Middle Eastern roots of Christianity.