For RU Classics thesis writer Brienne Cignarella, a Henry Rutgers Scholars Award

Brienne Cignarella’10, a double major in Classics and Art History in Rutgers’ School of Arts and Sciences (SAS), has won a Henry Rutgers Scholars Award, which recognizes 15 outstanding theses for the academic year.  Each award carries with it a cash prize of $1,000.

All Rutgers SAS students who are completing a department-based honors thesis or an Interdisciplinary Honors Thesis are designated as SAS Paul Robeson Scholars. And all SAS Paul Robeson Scholars are eligible to be considered for the Henry Rutgers Scholars Award. SAS Honors Dean Sarolta A. Takács announced the prize earlier this month.

CignarellaCoinBrienne Cignarella in RU Special Collections/University Archives, working with the Rutgers collection of Roman Republican coins

Cignarella, who hails from Hopewell NJ, wrote an unusually ambitious thesis entitled “Simulacra Database Management System: An Object-Oriented Approach toward Knowledge Retrieval.”  In essence, what Brienne has done is used the numismatic collection of Princeton University to formulate a new descriptive ontology for coins—or indeed for any type of object.

Cignarella presented her thesis in April in a poster presentation at Rutgers’ Aresty Research Center for Undergraduates, and before that, at a highly competitive juried international conference, the 2009 CAA [= Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology]. That was held in Williamsburg VA from 22 through 26 March.

The CAA is one of the premier venues for presentation of work on computer applications to the humanities, with many of the leaders in this rapidly emerging academic field appearing on the program. The Aresty Research Center provided support for Cignarella to participate in the event.

For the CAA conference, Brienne submitted a paper based on her thesis to a grueling jury process of three referees.  The work was accepted for the 26 March session “The Semantic Web: 2nd Generation Applications”.

In the paper, Brienne Cignarella outlined the conceptual model and major components of her new ontology, which is stored in a system of classes and properties. That is typical of object-oriented databases. But what is novel here is the choice of object, and the sophisticated querying system, which has applicability well beyond coin databases.

The jurors called her “clearly written” abstract “a valuable contribution that should be of great interest to the CAA community”, while urging her to investigate “interoperability…beyond the walls of a single institution”.


In fact, Brienne is doing precisely that, for this summer she will start the work of organizing—at least conceptually—Rutgers’ impressive Roman coin collection (housed in Alexander Library Special Collections) along the standards that she developed for the Princeton coins. Her thesis adviser T. Corey Brennan remains involved in the project.

This term Cignarella took a graduate level seminar in numismatics at Princeton University, with Alan Stahl, a world-renowned expert on ancient and medieval coins, and Curator of the Princeton collection. She also was elected at Rutgers to Phi Beta Kappa.

Brienne is contemplating graduate study in ancient studies, with the eventual aim of entering the rapidly emerging field of electronic humanities.

00308q00Aes grave from the pre-Hannibalic period: a rare variant as (Crawford 35/1 = Sydenham 71) in the Rutgers Roman Republican coin collection

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