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UCLA Magazine Fall 2004
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Fall 2004
From Distant Days
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These efforts have drawn widespread praise. “The scholars, teachers and technical experts who evaluated the CDLI’s applications for funding have acknowledged that this digital library of cuneiform has altered the study of the ancient world by providing enhanced access to these highly dispersed tablets,” says George Farr, who retired in August after heading the Division of Preservation and Access at the National Endowment for the Humanities. “The CDLI’s interface enables everyone — from a student looking for a picture of the earliest writing to the most advanced Assyriologist — to examine the original documents and line drawings.” Says James J. O’Donnell, provost of Georgetown University and chair of the panel of scholars that selected Englund for the Lyman Award: “He combines scholarly eminence with innovative technique in the service of learning — and in the service of all who care deeply about where we come from in our cultures.”

By interpreting and making more accessible artifacts that originated in ancient Babylonia, Englund and his colleagues also hope to contribute, in their own way, to whatever healing can be drawn from a better understanding and appreciation of a shared world culture. Even amid the clouds of war that have kept many of these goals on hold, Englund has seen a silver lining — again, with the Internet cast in a central role.

Just before and during the invasion of Iraq, there was a huge spike in hits on the CDLI site from users with “dot-mil” addresses — many of them, Englund suspects, U.S. soldiers seeking to learn more about their new surroundings. “We were impressed by the fact that we were getting these significant increases in interest in our site from people who are in direct contact with the Iraqi nation,” says Englund. “To my mind, access to the culture and to the minds of ancient Babylonians best serves to remind us that when the differences between us are seen most clearly, they disappear altogether.”

Dan Gordon is a contributing editor to UCLA Magazine.

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