Brent Seales Awarded NEH Grant to Rescue the Hidden Texts of Herculaneum

(March 6, 2019)

Brent Seales, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Kentucky, is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant for his groundbreaking project, "Reading the Invisible Library: Rescuing the Hidden Texts of Herculaneum."

Seales was among 253 recipients of NEH grants, totaling $14.8 million, awarded to humanities projects across the country.

“From cutting-edge digital projects to the painstaking practice of traditional scholarly research, these new NEH grants represent the humanities at its most vital and creative,” Jon Parrish Peede, NEH chairman, said. “These projects will shed new light on age-old questions, safeguard our cultural heritage and expand educational opportunities in classrooms nationwide.” 

The collaborative research grant of $325,000 will allow Seales, and his dedicated team, to continue development of computerized techniques to recover writings from the Herculaneum library. The collection of undecipherable papyrus scrolls were carbonized during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE (Common Era).

More specifically, "Funding from the NEH is being used to develop a machine learning approach that will enable us to see hidden writing that is otherwise very difficult to visualize in X-ray based images," Seales explained. "The funds will support the construction of a large-scale neural network, including student and staff time for software development."