InTroduction to the Project

Where is the Cuneiform? is an attempt to identify, digitally reunite, and align the histories of collections of cuneiform objects in colleges and universities in the United States. The project is composed of four main components:

The components of this project were made possible over years of research with 183 college and university collections websites and 161 publications of the texts in these collections. While expansive, this research is far from comprehensive. For some collections, we have a lot of information. For others, we have almost none. 

Work Timeline

2019: Began searching online for colleges and universities in the US with cuneiform in their collections. 

Using a comprehensive list of all colleges and universities in the United States and a set of keywords related to cuneiform objects, in June of 2019 I began the process of running simple Google searches for collections of cuneiform objects. The keywords used were: cuneiform, Sumerian, Akkadian, clay tablet, Babylonian, Hittite, Ugaritic, Old Persian, and Elamite. Every college and university was paired with each of these terms for a unique Google search. In addition to logging any collections that surfaced from these searches, I recorded the keyword that was responsible for producing the result. 

2020: Completed online search for cuneiform collections. 

In January of 2020, I completed my initial Google searches through all keywords and all colleges and universities. 

2020: Turned to the internet for crowdsourcing help in adding collections to my database that I had missed through Google searches

In March of 2020, I created a page on my personal website dedicated to this project. On it was a brief statement about the project, a request for information, and a link to a bare bones version of my database listing the institution and the location on that institution’s campus where I knew cuneiform to be housed. 

2020: Built the first version of the ArcGIS online map.

In July of 2020, I launched the first version of a map displaying the data from my database. Each point on the map pointed not just to the larger college or university, but specifically to the location of the collection on campus. Each point contained the name of the institution, the location on campus, and the CDLI siglum associated with the collection for access via the CDLI (if available). 

2021: Published a bibliography of the published collections with the Journal of Open Humanities Data.

In March of 2021, I published a spreadsheet of sources that included translations and transliterations of any of the tablets from any of the collections in my database. The Journal of Open Humanities Data houses the discussion of the project and its possible uses. The data itself is open access via the Harvard Dataverse

2021: Continued to update the ArcGIS online map as necessary.

2022: Updated the bibliography via its location in the Harvard Dataverse.

While the original article with the JOHD limits the bibliography to publications through 2020, I continue to update the bibliography with new publications. Rather than replace the original spreadsheet in the Harvard Dataverse, I add a new spreadsheet to be able to track changes over time. Each new sheet includes the date at which the bibliography was updated. 

2022: Migrated map from ArcGIS online to Tableau Public.

In August of 2022, I completed the migration of location from ArcGIS online to Tableau Public. Tableau is an overall cleaner interface that allows me to stack multiple maps in the same project, highlighting different aspects of these cuneiform collections based on what I’m currently working on. Further, the ethical issues surrounding ESRI products were factors in my decision to move the data elsewhere. 

2022: Began using publications from bibliography to sort out provenance and provenience information.

Also in August of 2022, I began the work of reading through publications of these collections in order to pull out any information related to provenance or provenience. Each collection is tagged with information related to the time period in which objects were created, the locations in which objects were created, the time period in which the objects were acquired by a college or university, and the person or institution involved in the transaction. 

2023: Completed provenance research via institution websites and collection publications.

2023: Full publication of project components online

The Data

Looking for the project data in a simple CSV format? You can find it published and continuously updated on the Harvard Dataverse. 

Bibliography of cuneiform collections in US colleges and universities.

Where is the Cuneiform? Full Project Data

About Sara

Sara Mohr is an Assyriologist, digital humanist, and novice curler. She currently serves as the digital scholarship librarian at Hamilton College. She received her BA in Anthropology from the University of Chicago and her PhD in Assyriology from Brown University. Her research focuses on ancient history, libraries from the past and the present, digital scholarship, and technologies of information preservation. 

You can learn more about her and her work on her website or by following her on Twitter


Thank you to everyone who has provided research materials, research advice, collection information, or general words of encouragement and support.

Judith Barr, Getty Research Institute

Rune Rattenborg, Uppsala University

Laurie Pearce, University of California, Berkeley

Jay Crisostomo, University of Michigan

Cara Howe, Colgate University

Xena Becker, Colgate University

Liz Marlowe, Colgate University

Allison Mickel, Lehigh University

Leigh Lieberman, Princeton University

Morag Kersel, DePaul University