APOCRYPHA-project starting up
With the arrival of the first three project members, August marks the starting point for the new EU-funded research project APOCRYPHA. Postdoctoral fellow Samuel Peter Cook, associate professor Laura Slaughter and executive officer Sigurd Hanserud have now joined professor and principal investigator Hugo Lundhaug.
Cook has PhD from Macquarie University in Sydney, focusing on language use and language contact in Coptic legal documents from the Byzantine and Early Islamic periods.
‘In particular I studied the legal and linguistic relationship between Greek and Coptic legal formulae,’ says Cook.
Before his PhD, he undertook a Masters of Research in Ancient History at the same university from 2014–2015, writing his dissertation on Greek loanwords in Coptic documents. During his time at Macquarie, Cook was also a research assistant for various projects in the Department of Ancient History, including the Australian Research Council funded “Forging antiquity: authenticity, forgery and fake papyri”.
‘I also taught Coptic, both as part of the Macquarie Ancient Languages School (MALS) summer and winter programs, and as a casual tutor and lecturer for the undergraduate Coptic program’, Cook tells us.
While Cook comes to the project with a background in humanities, Slaughter’s background is mainly in informatics. In 2002 she completed her PhD at the University of Maryland:
‘My dissertation concerned the development of question answering systems. I examined the suitability of using a semantic network to improve the output of a system that extracts propositions, called semantic predications, from sentences,’ Slaughter says.
Hanserud is a student on the theology programme at TF. He will work part on the APOCRYPHA-project doing various administrative tasks.
An early interest in Ancient Egypt
Cook now looks forward to expand his knowledge about Coptic texts and theology. His interest for Ancient Egypt has been with Cook since childhood.
‘I used to watch documentaries and collect books about Egypt, its history, and in particular its language’, Cook says and continues:
‘My interests in Hieroglyphs led me to study ancient languages at university, where a visiting research fellow introduced me to Coptic and Coptic legal texts. She convinced me to take her class on the Coptic language, and from that point I became fascinated with this particular stage of the Egyptian language, and the highly visible impact of Greek on its development.’
This interest has stayed with Cook since, expanding to cover the social, administrative, and religious history of Byzantine and Early Islamic Egypt.
As a postdoctoral fellow on the APOCRYPHA-project, Cook will be locating and analyzing Coptic apocrypha from manuscript collections around the world.
‘My focus is studying these texts beyond the words written on the page – examining the paratextual features which tell us how the texts were copied, read, and received in antiquity’, Cook explains.
Now Cook is excited for the times ahead:
‘I am greatly looking forward to working at the Faculty of Theology over the next three years, expanding my knowledge about Coptic texts and theology, and getting my first taste of academic life.’
New lexical resource
Slaughter , who currently holds a 20 % project position at TF together with being an associate professor at the Department of Informatics at UiO, was drawn into her field through a research assistant position in a human-computer interaction lab:
‘I was one of the few psychology students who really was into programming so I got the job. That was mainly due to my father, who started me out with BASIC programming when I was about 10 years old. He bought me my first computer and encouraged it.’
With a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, Slaughter could as well have become a psychologist.
‘I’m not sure why I didn’t become a psychologist, because I am definitely interested in human cognition,’ she says to us and continues: ‘However, I’m equally interested in informatics.’
For the past two years, Slaughter has been working with Coptic Digital Humanities. This has resulted in building a new lexical resource, Coptic Wordnet, to be used to automatically process Coptic texts. In the APOCRYPHA-project, Slaughter is excited to have the opportunity to work with digital humanities topics.
Hanserud got interested in the field through linguistics – a field he has also previously studied. The master thesis he is currently working on is about one of the languages in Ethiopia.
‘A recent translation of the New Testament into the language provided a supporting source of data in addition to field interviews,’ Hanserud tells us.
‘With the APOCRYPHA -project, I feel that my academic interests in both language and faith are combined.’