The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature
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ETCSL: creating the corpus, 1997-2000

Funding and personnel

Preparation of the corpus began at the University of Oxford in November 1997, supported by substantial funding from The Leverhulme Trust. The project team consisted of Dr Jeremy Black, Dr Graham Cunningham and Dr Gábor Zólyomi, with the continued collaboration of Dr Eleanor Robson.

The principal task was the preparation of a complete electronic corpus of reconstructed texts. The corpus was designed to comprise:


A bibliographical database holds information about the cuneiform sources for each composition, as well as modern editions, translations and commentaries and other pertinent information.

Ancient literary catalogues

The relevant ancient literary catalogues, which list the incipits (first lines) of Sumerian literary compositions in the corpus, were transliterated and linked to those compositions.

Composite texts

Composite Sumerian texts were prepared for as many as possible of the 400 or so compositions in the corpus, based where appropriate on published editions, reviews and articles, but following the project's own transliteration conventions.

The preparation of a composite text has special problems for Sumerian literature, given the multiplicity, heterogeneity, brevity and fragmentariness of individual exemplars. Often relatively few exemplars overlap one another. It is important to remember that the composite text, while necessary for literary-critical and analytical purposes, is a wholly modern reconstruction which may never have existed in that form in antiquity.

New translations

All the composite texts were furnished with new translations, according to the translation conventions, with an emphasis on coherent, readable English prose. These have enlarged immensely the accessibility and usability of the corpus by scholars not conversant with Sumerian, including both archaeological and art-historical specialists within the field and comparative and cultural historians from outside it, as well as many general readers.

Storage and publication

All elements of the corpus were encoded in SGML for long-term storage and searching and then translated into HTML for publication on the website.

Although the creation phase of the project officially ended in December 2000, we continue to edit and publish new material, as part of the new research phase described under current work. The various work stages, from editing to publication are described in more detail in the following sections.

Next: Editing protocols

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Page created on 7.ix.2001 by ER. Last revised on 7.ix.2001 by ER.