Doing Digital Classics at Stanford

From a Stanford News release:

Rap Genius is a popular lyric-annotating website that allows music lovers to upload lyrics and share comments about them.stanford-white@2x

Stanford classics students are using it too, but for a decidedly academic purpose.

Jacqueline Arthur-Montagne, a classics graduate student, began using Rap Genius to comment on and annotate Greek texts. Shortly after Arthur-Montagne started to work with Ancient Greek texts on the site, she got an email from Jeremy Dean, the “Education Czar” at Rap Genius, who wanted to talk to her about the potential of using Rap Genius in the classroom.

Twelve weeks later, Dean was interacting with 10 graduate students in a Classics Department workshop called Teaching Classics in the Digital Age .

“After we talked about the possibilities, I invited him to come to our workshop, and he came to present to the class. He did a great presentation, and it is clear that people – faculty, students, the university – are interested in this,” said Arthur-Montagne, the research assistant for the workshop.

Susan Stephens , a professor of classics, leads the workshop, which was offered for the first time this quarter.

Digital tools

A scholar of ancient Greek literature, Stephens says the ability to use digital tools is helpful for graduate students who are looking for teaching positions.

“Technology is here and here to stay. There is a lot of interest at Stanford in helping people do pedagogy better, and digital pedagogy is critical. This is where we are going and we have to embrace it,” she said.

Stephens saw a need to offer a formal workshop that would address the needs of graduate students as the next generation of teachers. “We wanted a workshop in which graduate students could experiment with different sorts of digital tools and resources.”

The result was a weekly workshop, offered to graduate students, which focused on harnessing the most useful digital resources in the classroom to enhance the undergraduate learning experience. A small grant from the Stanford Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education’s Center for Teaching and Learning supported the workshop.

Stephens cited graduate student Israel McMullin, who has already started to use Rap Genius in a class he teaches about Biblical Greek. “The students can comment and see comments on the passages they are working on in real time, and this live functionality and ease-of-use helps improve the learning experience,” Stephens said.

For Arthur-Montagne, the workshop was founded on a straightforward question: “Could I use pre-existing technology like Rap Genius for classics? They upload lyrics and comment on them, so how about doing the same with classical texts?”

She continued, “We are looking at practical applications, things that can be implemented in the classroom right now. We hope that the workshop can help us efficiently and succinctly incorporate technology as teachers, and therefore improve the learning experience for our students.”

Capturing the student imagination

Stephens, who has used many digital resources in her own research and teaching, said that she could not find any other workshops of its kind as a model that allowed hands-on experimentation with resources under expert guidance from professionals.

Each week a digital humanities specialist speaker presented on his or her field, and the task at home was to practice. The following week, students led discussions on their findings and their experience – whether they had filmed themselves teaching, set up a class blog or used Rap Genius.

For Stephens, the use of digital humanities allows for a more stimulated classroom. “You can approach a sophisticated scholarly question that through more traditional techniques you could not talk about and make it intriguing to the students,” she said.

The workshop also allowed graduate students to share projects they are working on that make use of digital tools.

One student, Scott Arcenas, presented the ORBIS project, an initiative headed by Classics Department chair Walter Scheidel. The digital mapping project aims to create a cohesive and interactive map of the Roman Empire by bringing together information from many different sources.

Another graduate student, Jon Weiland, presented on his work in geographic information systems and digital mapping.

Weiland uses interactive maps in his work on gladiators to bring together multiple sources to provide a more comprehensive picture of gladiatorial history, including the arenas where they fought and how they traveled.

Most important, he said, is that “all this technology is available and relatively easy to learn how to use.”

A unique moment of opportunity

Stephens sees the digital changes in education as marking the next step for, rather than the end of, the humanities.

As Arthur-Montagne said: “The humanities have been helping arrange, contextualize and organize masses of information forever, even before technology, which is more relevant than ever in this age of information.

“I am interested in digital tools not because there is a crisis, but rather because there are new avenues and opportunities for presenting the same sort of findings that we always have been finding.”

Stephens said the humanities are witnessing a unique moment of opportunity in an era of mass information, communication and digitization: “Being more on top of who the students are and what they use is vital. In this sense I think the humanities is really exciting right now.”

A New Metrologist: Odysseus

An interesting citation project discovers, inter alia, the work of a hitherto unknown metrologist. Froma CORDIS press release:

A research conducted at the Department of Classical and Romanic Philology has led to the creation of a pioneering database of bibliographical citations on authors of Ancient Greece and Rome, whose works, in many cases, have not survived in full until our days. The work of the team led by Professor Lucía Rodríguez-Noriega Guillén has conducted to, for example, the discovery of previously-unknown authors, such as Odysseus, a metrologist that offers the definition of “verse”, and whose existence and contributions had not been documented until now.

This is the first research that seeks to thoroughly analyze all the citations (whether literal or not) of an ample scholarly corpus, highlighting the special value of the literary tradition of the Late Antiquity. The references to other authors and their works (in literal or free citations, imitations, testimonies, etc.) detected in the 28 writers that compose the full cast of grammarians, rhetoricians and sophists of the 3rd and 4th Centuries, make up this open database. The exahustive analysis of these materials will help to better know not only the works of the authors who are being studied, but also the contributions and the impact that the contributions of other authors had, and whose legacy has not been directly preserved until today.

The new technologies have allowed that those materials are offered freely to experts from all around the world in a website that is updated as new milestones are achieved in the project. The innovative nature of the initiative and its strategical value as a source for consultations make the portal, inaugurate last October, a future reference for the international experts on this field.

The selection of authors and period is not an accident. “Grammarians, rhetoricians and sophists are writers who very frequently quote others, especially as a model or example, and that is why, in their works, there is an abundance of testimonies and fragments from past philosopher’s, poets, grammarians, orators, historians…”, explains Lucía Rodríguez-Noriega Guillén. On the other hand, the Greek authors of the 3rd and 4th Centuries BCE are specially valuable to recover the works of their unknown predecessors, since the popularization, starting on the 4th Century CE, of the book as we know it today, substituting papyrus rolls, was a critical moment that led to the loss of a sizable portion of Greek and Roman literature, since it was not copied into the new format. These authors, however, were still able to access many works that would, eventually, disappear.

The research project titled “La tradición literaria griega en los ss. III-IV d.C. gramáticos, rétores y sofistas como fuentes de la literatura greco-latina“, funded by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, aims at documenting the indirect transmission of the works of classical authors cited by others in the aforementioned corpus of scholars. The researchers from the University of Oviedo started their labor by thoroughly analyzing the works of the selected authors. “We extract absolutely every single reference to works or authors, regardless of the type of citation they are found in, and whether their authorship is explicitly stated or not. From there, we compose a file for each one of this citations, tracing its history from the original author to the late Byzantine period”, explains the main researcher of the project.

This task of thorough analysis creates a network of relations between authors and expands the information on those who are less known for the general public. The dedicated working of tracing each citation to find its origin and presence throughout history leads to, for example, knowing that Homer is the most cited author, and to be precise, his work The Illiad. “Homer would be the “trending topic” of the moment”, explains Lucía Rodríguez-Noriega, establishing a comparison with today. In the case of philosophers, the two most cited ones are Plato and Aristotle, in that order.

The researchers from the University of Oviedo work in collaboration with Philologists of the University of Zaragoza, who conduct their own coordinated project on Los gramáticos latinos tardíos como fuente para el conocimiento de la tradición gramatical greco-latina. The project also has the collaboration of researchers from the University of the Basque Country. […]

Greek Texts to be Digitized

From a UCL press release:

A grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation will create an online digital library containing rare books and art works related to Greek history and culture which will be available to everyone, across the world.

For the first time, hundreds of key texts by the notable Greek mathematician, Euclid will be made available to all. Other materials will include copies of early Greek bibles, illustrations and plaster models created by John Flaxman, a key figure in the development of British Neo-classicism and excavation reports from Greek and Roman archaeological sites.

The material on the Digital Library website will be accompanied by information and commentary written by UCL academics to enhance engagement and understanding. The digital capture and curation proposed will allow wider, easier, long-term access to these extraordinary materials which will benefit UCL staff, students, scholars from the international community, school children and the general public.

In particular, widening access to these materials for scholars will yield more interdisciplinary and innovative research projects and more unique research papers. The new digital library will create a virtual community of scholars and interested individuals and therefore encourage debate. UCL plans to work closely with partners like the British Library and the Institute of Classical Studies to share this new resource as widely as possible.

The material will also be used by UCL and other universities in schools to inspire children and young people to take an interest in subjects like Ancient History and enhance their understanding of the unique opportunities university provides. Members of the public across the world will have online access to hundreds of fascinating texts and artworks at the touch of a button.

Dr Stelios Vasilakis, Senior Program Officer for Strategy & Initiatives at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, said: “The grant reflects the Foundation’s commitment to educational projects that can benefit as wide of an audience as possible. We are very pleased that our support will help create a digital library, making a large number of rare books and artefacts accessible to scholars, students and the general public alike.”

Paul Ayris, Director of UCL Library Services, said: “When Euclid was alive, only a tiny number of people would have been privileged enough to read his works. Today, thanks to the generosity of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, we are able to make these available for the whole world. I am very much looking forward to working with the Foundation to create this wonderful new resource for everyone who is passionate about Greek history and culture the world over.”

About the Stavros Niarchos Foundation: The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is one of the world’s leading international philanthropic organizations, making grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and medicine, and social welfare. The Foundation funds organizations and projects that exhibit strong leadership and sound management and are expected to achieve a broad, lasting and positive social impact. The Foundation also seeks actively to support projects that facilitate the formation of public-private partnerships as effective means for serving public welfare.

Some Online Projects of Interest to Classicists

A few items that are ‘project related’  have been laying in my mailbox for various lengths of time and it seems useful to gather them together in one post.

First, a tip ‘o the pileus to Charles Jones for alerting us (via his AWOL blog today) of this very interesting and potentially useful (French) web project dealing with cataloging curse tablets from various parts of the Roman world.  The Tabella Defixionis Project seems to be a work in progress, and not every entry has a photo, but there is some very useful bibliography for each one. Some areas of the greco-roman world have better coverage than others (Israel seems a bit scant). Whatever the case, check it out at:

Next, we have the Online Coins of the Roman Empire project, which was actually announced a couple of weeks ago (and plenty of people have nudged me about it), but I was unable to connect to it for ages for reasons unknown. Its goals are to publish every type of Roman Imperial coin out there and link to images of them whenever possible. It has search capabilities and is very clearly laid out. It’s definitely off to a good start, with over 8000 items already cataloged:

Fulfilling the scholastic rule of three, Stephen Jenkin of Classics Library fame tweeted about UPenn’s Vergil Project, which actually began years ago (before the turn of the millennium, in fact) but which seems not to have had much publicity along the way. Here’s their official description:

The Vergil Project is a resource for students, teachers, and readers of Vergil’s Aeneid. It offers an on-line hypertext linked to interpretive materials of various kinds. These include basic information about grammar, syntax, and diction; several commentaries; an apparatus criticus; help with scansion; and other resources.

… and what you get is the Latin text on the left side, with numerous useful linked things in the sidebar, including commentaries (including Servius), a concordance, translations (both ‘nice’ and ‘literal’) and other things of use. Definitely worth a look and possibly the sort of thing that should be emulated for other works (it seems to make use of Perseus’ materials, but I might be wrong with that). All that’s missing (in my view) would be a continuously-updated bibliography and/or comment facilities (but given the nature of the internet, comments might not be a good thing).

That said, perhaps some central agency could organize a project whereby a particular Classics department did one or two authors, perhaps based on the interests of some senior academics, in a similar format? Might be a good project for some upper level undergraduates … just sayin’. In any event, here’s the link: