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Princeton Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Egyptian Miracles of Mary (PEMM) project

PEMM Publications: Is a Spreadsheet a Database?

By Rebecca Sutton Koeser

February 11, 2021

An article about the advantages and disadvantages of using Google Sheets as a lightweight relational database.

Read the full article here.

Is a Spreadsheet a Database? 

Plenty of people use Google Sheets for data curation; what would it look like to use Google Sheets as a lightweight relational database? For the Princeton Ethiopian Miracles of Mary (PEMM) project, led by Wendy Laura Belcher, we had a chance to experiment with this. Our hope was to set the PEMM team up with a solution that they would be able to manage themselves, instead of implementing a custom relational database, which would require developer time to make changes and incur a heavier maintenance cost.

The PEMM project is gathering information on a collection of Ethiopian folktales called the Täˀammərä Maryam (The Miracles of Mary), written from the 1300s through the 1900s in the ancient African language of Gəˁəz (classical Ethiopic), with the goal of answering important questions about dating and story origins, and determining whether there is a particular order or set of stories that typically appear together in manuscripts.

In the first year of dataset curation support from CDH, Wendy and one collaborator worked on a semi-structured text file based on a digitized version of an early catalog of the miracles of Mary. We wanted to get her data into a more structured environment where more collaborators could get involved, there would be checks to ensure accurate data entry, and Wendy could start to do analysis and begin answering her research questions.


pricenton ethiopian eritrean & egyptian miracles of marry project

The Princeton Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Egyptian Miracles of Mary (PEMM) project is a comprehensive resource for the 1,000+ miracle stories written about and the 2,500+ images painted of the Virgin Mary in these African countries, and preserved in Geʿez between 1300 and the present.

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