Neuroscience and Palaeography

Whilst this blog has been dormant for the last few years, work has continued. The outcomes of the fellowship that prompted me to start this research blog  are presented in the following paper:, (published in 2014).

In a nutshell, the core of this work consisted in identifying a range of strategies that experts deploy when reading and studying ancient documents. These strategies were identified through ethnographic observations of experts at work; these observations were then tentatively  related to results reported in the cognitive sciences.

Searching for further funding to continue this work, I was recently able to secure funding from the OUP Fell fund to design experiments in order to test the validity of the intuited correspondences between my ethnographic observations and findings from the cognitive sciences literature.

Here are the title and abstract of our project proposal:

Cognitive Underpinnings of Reading Handwritten Scripts: Investigating Variations for Applications in Digital Palaeography (CURHSIVA-DP) 
This interdisciplinary proof-of-concept project brings together research in Classics, in Cognitive Neuroscience, and in the Computer Sciences through the study of ancient cursive handwriting. For Classics, this research aims to understand how various expert strategies are called upon in palaeography, i.e., in the expert study of handwritten letter shapes (beyond the ability to read and understand ancient documents – e.g. papyri -, palaeographical analyses provide insights into the circulation of people, cultures, and ideas) – eventually aiming to facilitate teaching in palaeography. For the Cognitive Neurosciences, this research aims to investigate how cursive scripts are read, thereby complementing knowledge of the processes involved in reading, with the incorporation of handwriting variability (most studies on reading are conducted with printed text) – with possible applications in education. For the Computer Sciences, this research aims to derive a better understanding of which particular aspects of the reading of handwritten scripts can be delegated to computational tools – eventually to investigate ways to develop such tools -, and which are those that are best left to human experts. To that effect, we will undertake studies where participants will be presented with letters and/or words in a script unknown to them. The script of choice will be Demotic, a (mostly) alphabetic form of Ancient Egyptian. These studies will evaluate the role played by knowledge of pure shapes and of the sounds associated with these shapes in the cognitive process of reading words as a combined act of visual perception and attribution of meaning. 

This project is a collaboration between: e-Research Centre (Dr Segolene Tarte, Lead on this project), Classics (Prof Alan Bowman) & Cognitive Neuroscience (Dr Chrystalina Antoniades); we’re further grateful to  Dr Luigi Prada (Egyptology, Oxford) and Dr Rachel Mairs (Classics, Reading) for their support, and to Dr Mihaela Duta, who supports us with the design a development of the experiments (Experimental Psychology, Oxford).
This project seems the perfect opportunity to resume activity on this blog.

Ségolène Tarte

I am a senior researcher at the e-Research Centre, University of Oxford, UK, where my research interests revolve around the seamless integration of digital tools within Humanities research, the impact of digital approaches on Humanities methodologies as well as the impact of Humanities methodologies on the development of digital tools. These interests brought three main themes to the fore in my research endeavours: materiality and its relationship to the digital; expertise and the multifarious questions of methodology in the Humanities; and multi/inter-disciplinarity and how that affects research processes. Originally an image processing specialist, my research focus turned to the Digital Humanities, when I started working with Classicists on images of Ancient papyri. The methodologies that I draw upon in my research are inspired and informed by ethnography, philosophy, and the cognitive sciences.

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