EpiDoc is an international, collaborative effort that provides guidelines and tools for encoding scholarly and educational editions of ancient documents. It uses a subset of the Text Encoding Initiative's standard for the representation of texts in digital form, which focuses on the history and materiality of the texts. EpiDoc was developed for the publication of digital editions of ancient inscriptions, but its domain has expanded to include the publication of papyri and manuscripts, including those beyond the Greco-Roman world.
EpiDoc was started in the late 1990s by Tom Elliott, then a graduate student in Ancient History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (U.S.A.). Elliott made public his initial work on epigraphic encoding in XML in response to the promulgation, by Prof. Silvio Panciera and colleagues, of a manifesto recommending the establishment of an online, free and unrestricted "database...of all surviving Greek and Latin epigraphical texts produced down to the end of Antiquity."
The manifesto itself had emerged from a round-table meeting on the subject of "Epigraphy and Information Technology" in Rome, convened by Prof. Panciera in May 1999 in his capacity as President of the "Commission for Epigraphy and Information Technology" of the Association Internationale d’Épigraphie Grecque et Latine. A second round-table meeting, held at Aquileia and Trieste in 2003, refined the initiative as a federation of epigraphic databases, EAGLE.
Among the salutary recommendations embodied in the report of the Rome meeting was a provision recognizing the importance of a platform-independent format suitable for backup, archiving and data interchange (i.e., XML):
È importante che siano utilizzati programmi che consentano l'esportazione dei documenti in "Document Type Definition (DTD) format".
It is important that the software used for the database support the export of data in a structured format definable by a Document Type Definition (DTD).
It was this provision that encouraged Elliott to post to the web, in the summer of 1999, a description of his work on XML for epigraphy. He hoped that this step might facilitate the realization of the Rome meeting's recommendations. Even at this early stage, EpiDoc was already a collaborative undertaking, having benefited from collegial help in Chapel Hill from Amy Hawkins, George Houston, Hugh Cayless, Kathryn McDonnell and Noel Fiser. The collaborators were seeking a digital encoding method that preserved the time-tested combination of flexibility and rigor in editorial expression to which classical epigraphers were accustomed in print, while bringing to both the creator and the reader of epigraphic editions the power and reusability of XML. By summer 1999, this search had led to the adoption of the Text Encoding Initiative as a foundation for specific epigraphic work. Although the TEI Guidelines did not specifically address epigraphic materials — indeed, if they had, there would have been no need for the development of EpiDoc — many of their provisions for text criticism and transcription were readily adaptable to the needs of epigraphists.
The first draft of a set of guidelines for the application of TEI to epigraphic texts (a.k.a. The EpiDoc Guidelines) was promulgated in January 2001 with the assistance of Ross Scaife and Anne Mahoney (of the Stoa Consortium), and of John Bodel (then at Rutgers, now in the Classics Department at Brown University) and Charles Crowther (at Oxford’s Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents). Crowther was a member of the AIEGL IT Commission and was planning with Alan Bowman and John Pearce the on-line publication of the Vindolanda Writing Tablets. Bodel's collaboration with Stephen Tracy on Greek and Latin Inscriptions in the USA. A Checklist (Rome 1997) was soon to spawn the U.S. Epigraphy Project. Both Bodel and Crowther had participated in the Rome meeting. The promulgation of an incomplete, draft set of guidelines drew the attention of a third epigraphist, Charlotte Roueché (in the Department of Byzantine and Modern Greek at King’s College, London), who was exploring new technologies to apply to the publication of inscriptions from Aphrodisias.
Bodel, Cayless, Crowther, Elliott and Roueché have remained heavily involved in subsequent developments. In particular, Bodel and Crowther both wrote in enthusiastic support of Roueché’s April 2001 proposal for collaboration support and prototype funding from the Leverhulme Trust. This successful application, under the rubric of the EpiDoc-Aphrodisias Pilot Project, accelerated revision of the Guidelines and other EpiDoc resources through a series of workshops, later continued with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Through these projects and workshops, EpiDoc has grown and matured. Its scope has expanded beyond (though not abandoned) the original vision for a common interchange format. EpiDoc now aims also to be a mechanism for the creation of complete digital epigraphic editions and corpora.
(adapted from Cayless et al., "Epigraphy in 2017," Digital Humanities Quarterly, v. 3.1, 2009