Brigham Young University’s Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART) was born just over twenty years ago, at a time when technology and scholarship were coming together like never before to preserve the past. Advances in digital technology allowed scholars to protect ancient religious texts from the ravages of time, and to make these texts more widely accessible than their original creators ever could have imagined.
Twenty years is an eternity when it comes to digital technology. Since its founding in 1996, CPART kept apace by partnering with other entities. The creation of the Dead Sea Scrolls database, the deployment of multi-spectral images on the carbonized papyri from Herculaneum, the large-scale digitizing project in the Middle East, digitizing Syriac manuscripts in the Vatican Library, and the creation of a digital reference library for Syriac studies with The Catholic University of America—each of these projects were all groundbreaking in their day.
Kristian Heal, who has served as its director of since 2004, is shepherding CPART through another transitional phase. This week Heal announced that all remaining CPART projects will continue as personal research projects, or have been placed under the care of other institutions. All remaining CPART personnel have been absorbed into the faculty of the Maxwell Institute.
“I express my gratitude for the many people who have contributed to CPART’s success over the years,” Heal said. “While the center itself is no more, our accomplishments will continue to serve many scholars around the world.”
Heal said CPART’s season at the Maxwell Institute comes to an end as the goals of the center are now being fulfilled by hundreds of digital humanities projects around the world. Google is now helping to put the Dead Sea Scrolls online. The Hill Museum and Manuscript Library have digitized tens of thousands of manuscripts from libraries in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Vatican Library’s online collections make thousands of manuscripts available to anyone with an internet connection. Syriaca.org has provided the essential infrastructure for digital humanities projects in Syriac studies (and built several world-class reference modules). Syriaca has become the indispensable reference portal for Syriac studies.
According to Heal, “These and numerous other exciting projects far exceed the wildest hopes for the advancement of ancient religious texts in the digital world when CPART was founded. We deeply appreciate the minds, work, and resources that have made—and indeed continue to make—all of these projects such a great success.”
Heal is preparing an institutional history of CPART for future publication.