What Robert Pounder is Up To

From the Vassar publication called The Miscellany News:

Professor Robert Pounder will lecture in the Villard Room entitled “Carl and Libbie and Bert and Ida: Re-defining Family.” The lecture will center around Pounder’s research concerning the intertwined relationships between four American archeologists in the first half of the twentieth century: Vassar alumnae, Ida Thallon Hil1, Class of 1897, and Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, Class of 1910, and their husbands Bert Hodge Hill and Carl Blegen, respectively, and will be held on Thursday, March 31 at 5:30.

When he last gave this lecture in December 2009, Pounder examined the lives of these four archeologists and the influence archeology had on the analytical study of ancient civilization. Pounder’s new lecture aims will build on this by exploring these relationships through examining journals and personal letters belonging to the two couples.

These spouses came to re-define popular understandings and notions of “what constitutes a family” by creating a menage to help solve marital problems while strengthening the love they had for one another. Though unconventional, the marriages between these two couples created a family unit which affirmed the love these couples had for one another and lasted for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, Pounder aims to look at the interplay between the personal and professional lives of these archeologists, and how these two facets of their lives were deeply connected.

The work and lives of Elizabeth Peirce Blegen and Ida Thallon Hill have had a long lasting and profound impact on Vassar College as an institution. Blegen was one of the most impartial and influential women classicists in the Vassar Greek and Roman Studies Department. From 1915-1922 Blegen taught ancient art and served as the assistant curator of the Lehman Loeb Art Gallery. Hill also taught as a classicist in the Greek and Roman Studies Department from 1906-1924. Both Blegen and Hill spent the majority of their professional lives in Athens, Greece at the American School of Classic Studies, where they met their husbands. The bond which Vassar alumnae turned professors shared with Vassar as an institution as well as the bond which they shared with one another were exceptionally strong. In Athens, Blegen, Hill, and their husbands shared a house and supported one another professionally, academically and emotionally. During the lecture, Pounder will explore and reflect on the private and academic lives of these four archeologists, and speak to both their individual and collective influences on the progress of archeology in Greece. Aside from examining the impact which these archeologists’ research had on archeology in Greece and here on Vassar campus, Pounder’s lecture will also address the LGBTQ narrative and history of these couples.

The legacy of these couples has also had a profound and lasting impact upon the current-day Vassar College community, which can be seen in the form of the Blegen Fellow, a visiting professor housed annually by the Greek and Roman Studies Department. In addition, their legacy could also be seen in the form of Blegen House, the former Vassar LGBTQ center, now located in the College Center. Blegen House served as Vassar College’s LGBTQ center until 2008 when, due to the College’s financial situation during the recession, the campus LGBTQ center was permanently moved to the College Center room 235 and the former Blegen House became a single-family dwelling for Vassar professors.

Pounder first came to Vassar in 1973 to fill a one-year teaching position while working on his Ph. D. at Brown University. He currently serves as Professor Emeritus in the Greek and Roman Studies Department as well as the Special Assistant to the President of the College. Pounder’s main area of academic interest is Greek inscriptions and he has published several reviews, essays and articles pertaining to the subject. He is also currently working on a book centered on the basis of his lecture.


Mark Shiefsky is Digitizing Classics!

Interesting project … from the Harvard Gazette:

Long before the Italians rediscovered original Greek sources during the Renaissance, Arab scholars recognized the importance of ancient science and philosophy and began translating precious writings into Arabic. Now, Classics Professor Mark Schiefsky wants to transform those ancient Greek texts and their Arabic translations into an open-access digital corpus that could provide important insight into the development of science in the classical world.

During the Abbasid period, which began in the mid-eighth century, Islamic caliphs started sponsoring the translation of ancient Greek and Roman texts. While Arabs had their own literary traditions and did not systematically translate Greek literature, they were interested in Greco-Roman mathematical and medical treatises and philosophical writings.

“People recognized that Greek texts contained a lot of knowledge that superseded the knowledge available in the Arab world at that time, and realized that it would be fruitful to adopt that knowledge,” Schiefsky explained.

He added that the decision to translate these texts was motivated in part by a desire to compete with the Byzantine Empire to the West.

“The Arabs wanted to say they were the true inheritors of the Greek tradition,” he said.

But many ancient texts were also translated for practical reasons. The writings of Galen, a prominent second century physician, had an important influence on medicine in the Arab world, while the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s writings on logic were exploited in disputes over Islamic law. Even today, classical texts continue to resonate in the Arab world, Schiefsky said, citing Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini’s study of Plato’s “Republic” in creating the Iranian state.

Schiefsky recently received a two-year grant from the Mellon Foundation to support the creation of this new, structured corpus of digitized Greek and Arabic texts. The corpus, a collaboration with the Perseus Project at Tufts University, will be used for studying translations of Greek texts and their reception in Arab culture up until the present.

The Greco-Arabic “bilingual lexicon,” as he calls it, is not the first project in which Schiefsky has used sophisticated technological tools to serve humanistic research. The Archimedes Project, which he led in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, assembled myriad scientific texts in different languages, allowing for new investigations into the history of mechanics. As with the Archimedes project, the vastly wider body of information that will be available in the bilingual lexicon will enable researchers to pose new statistical questions about how particular features of texts change over time. The lexicon thus represents a kind of shift from the traditional philological approach, with its focus on words and details, to a more comparative approach.

“How do conceptions of medicine, say, or mathematics, change over the long term when we move from Greek to Arabic to Latin sources?” Schiefsky asked. “To address such questions in a comprehensive way requires taking a huge corpus of material into account. Modern information technology offers many new tools and approaches for such analysis, which are only now beginning to be applied in the humanities on a large scale. Despite a large number of digitization efforts over the years, there is still a lot of work to do just to get the basic data in a suitable form.”

A large body of Greek writings from Homer up to 600 A.D. has already been digitized by the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, though the thesaurus is not available in the public domain.

Schiefsky’s project will contribute additional Greek texts in areas like science, medicine, and philosophy, as well as Arabic texts that are mostly, but not entirely, translations from the Greek. One of the database’s most important features, he said, will be correlating parallel sections of text, allowing scholars to compare phrases or passages page to page.

“Searching is very nice, and Google is very good at searching. But you can do a lot more than search every time a word appears,” Schiefsky remarked, citing examples like determining how frequently certain terms were used at different points in history.

“I’m interested in the development of knowledge and the development of science, so you need good linguistic tools to do that,” he said.

A member of Harvard’s Digital Humanities Working Group, Schiefsky believes strongly in harnessing open-access technology for the benefit of collaborative scholarship. The digital corpus will be entirely open access, using a Creative Commons license that allows other scholars to use and improve the software.

“We’re moving away from a way of working in the humanities with one scholar making a change to a text that is incorporated into future editions for eternity, and toward more collaborative methods,” Schiefsky said.


This Day in Ancient History: pridie kalendas apriles

pridie kalendas apriles

  • rites in honour of Luna at her temple on the Aventine
  • c. 130 A.D. — martyrdom of Balbina
  • 250 (?) A.D. — birth of the future emperor Constantius I Chlorus
  • 307 A.D. — Constantine marries Fausta, the daughter of Maximian
  • 1596 — birth of Rene Descartes (author, of course, of that bit of Latin which a pile of folks know)