University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Web Services, XML and Ancient Documents
Henriette Roued-Cunliffe

Last modified: 2011-12-15


How can Web Services and XML aid the interpretation of ancient documents? This research is a part of the authors thesis, which demonstrates how IT tools would be able to aid the reading of ancient documents through the development of a Decision Support System (DSS) prototype (Roued-Cunliffe 2010) connected to a word search Web Service called APPELLO. APPELLO was an extra tool developed for the thesis to show how Web Services and XML could enhance a system such as the DSS by enabling ancient document datasets to be available as open content. This paper will focus on APPELLO, Web Services, XML and how this can aid the reading of ancient documents.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) defines a Web Service as ‘a software system designed to support interoperable machine-to-machine interaction over a network’ (Haas and Brown 2004). For the development of APPELLO I have used the RESTful (Representational State Transfer) architecture (Fielding 2000) as it is currently the simplest and most lightweight Web Service architecture. The design of APPELLO is built around the use of XML. Both the datasets aggregated by APPELLO and the output from APPELLO is formatted in XML. In terms of output I have used TEI, which is currently the most popular method of encoding electronic texts within the Humanities academic community (Deegan and Sutherland 2009: 81). Input must currently be formatted as EpiDoc (Elliott 2008), which is a customisation of TEI that ‘removes irrelevant elements from the main body of the TEI, and it adds provisions for the specific kinds of transcription, analysis, and metadata that are essential for epigraphic work.’ (Roueché and Flanders 2006). However, it would not be too strenuous a task to include input in other XML formats.

APPELLO is a word search Web Service, which means that it is a service to which a query about a word can be sent and an answer about this word is retrieved. With APPELLO it is possible to send a whole word or a word pattern in a URL and retrieve all the words that fit this pattern and the documents that contain these words as a TEI formatted list.

In terms of the DSS this can be used to suggest words to scholars as a part of their decision making process. However, this is furthermore a useful tool for the open source publication of a set of ancient document editions such as the Vindolanda Tablets Online II (VTO2 -, which has integrated APPELLO as an index searcher instead of the index at the back of a printed volume. This allows for a much more interactive searching experience of the tablets and enables an interconnectivity between the tablets.


This research is a part of the author’s thesis: “A Decision Support System for the Reading of Ancient Documents” at the Faculty of Classics, University of Oxford.  It is funded by an AHRC Doctoral Studentship attached to the e-Science and Ancient Documents (eSAD) project ( I wish to thank Prof. Alan Bowman, Prof. Sir Michael Brady, Dr. Melissa Terras, Dr. Segolene Tarte, Dr. Charles Crowther, Margaret Sasanow and John Pybus for their support throughout my research.           


Deegan, M. and Sutherland K. (2009) Transferred Illusions: Digital Technology and the Forms of Print. London: Ashgate.


Elliott, T. (2008) EpiDoc Website: About EpiDoc. [08.11.2011]


Fielding, R. T. (2000) Architectural Styles and the Design of Network-based Software Architectures. D.Phil Thesis, Information and Computer Science, University of California. [08.11.2011]


Haas, H. and Brown, A. (2004) Web Services Glossary. [08.11.2011]


Roueché, C. and Flanders, J. (2006) Introduction for Epigraphers. [08.11.2011]


Roued-Cunliffe, H. (2010) Towards an Interpretation Support System for Reading Ancient Documents. Literary and Linguistics Computing, 25 (4), 365-379.



XML, Web Service, Decision Support System, TEI, EpiDoc, Ancient Documents,