Research Environment for Ancient Documents

When we established Gandhari.org, we intended it not only as a venue for our Dictionary, Bibliography and Catalog, but also as an environment for scholars to prepare their own editions of Gāndhārī documents using the text collection and tools we provide. As more and more colleagues took us up on this offer and shared their experiences, it became clear that the software on which we run Gandhari.org (originally written in 2006) imposes some limitations on its usefulness as such a research environment, particularly in the areas of linked management of images and transcriptions, content sharing and collaborative work. We made plans for improving these areas as early as 2007, but lack of funding and time prevented us from completing and implementing a redesign. More favorable circumstances arrived in 2012, with major new resources for Gandhāran studies at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the University of Washington. We resumed our design plans, and I presented the outline of a new software system in a workshop at the Somaiya Vidyavihar in December 2012. In the summer of 2013, we joined forces with Ian McCrabb of the University of Sydney, who was working on the computer‐aided analysis of Buddhist relic‐donation formulas, and completed a new software design and development team with Stephen White as programmer and system architect. In November 2013, I introduced the planned new software (now called Research Environment for Ancient Documents, or READ for short) to the public at the University of Tokyo. Over the last two years, software development of READ has been generously supported by the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the University of Washington, the University of Lausanne and the Prakaś Foundation. We are now entering the phase of beta‐testing, leading up to a public release of the software (and its installation on Gandhari.org) in 2016. While READ initially grew out of concrete needs in the study of Gāndhārī documents, we designed it to be useful for scholars of ancient documents in general and will make it available to the public under the GNU GPL open‐source license. We are happy that one recently inaugurated project (“From Vijayapurī to Śrīkṣetra,” funded by an ACLS Ho Foundation grant) has already adopted READ as its software framework, and hope that many more scholars will add it to their digital toolbox after its public release.