Reading Ovid Aloud for Homework

O pandemic, mother of invention. I have started assigning my Ovid students homework of submitting a recording of 10-15 lines, which we read at sight in class, read aloud rather than translated. Moodle makes this easy to submit. It’s amazing how readily you can tell if they understand. I added a part that involves picking five key words and looking them up the dictionary and explaining why they think they are important, which gets in an interpretive element consistent with my learning goals. But that’s not essential, of course. The results of the first round are so good, the ability to hear if they get Ovid’s tone so cool, the interpretations they gave in the written part so perceptive, and the homework so damn easy to grade, I had to share. I emphasized that I was not judging their pronunciation, but rather their pausing and emphasis as it reflects comprehension. I may never go back to grading written translations.

Here is the prompt:

  • Read the passage out loud in Latin with emphasis and pausing that reflect comprehension. Submit a recording.
  • Find the five most important or emphatic words in the passage in your view;
    • write the location in Lewis & Short where the contextually appropriate meaning of each if these five words is listed
    • give the contextually appropriate translation of these five words
    • explain briefly why you believe each word is important in the context

And here is the example I provided:

Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.1–4.

In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas          

corpora; di, coeptis (nam vos mutastis et illas)    

adspirate meis primaque ab origine mundi          

ad mea perpetuum deducite tempora carmen!

nova: “new” (LS novus I.A), or “strange” (LS novus I.B): this is the first significant word, and separated a long way from the word it modifies, corpora, which gives it emphasis. What he has to say will be “new” and/or “strange.” Exciting!

mutatas: “changed” (LS muto II.A.1), going with formas. This whole poem is about change, so it makes sense to foreground this word in the first line. mutatas formas is pretty much Latin for the Greek title Metamorphoses (“Transformations”).

adspirate: “to be favorable to, to favor, assist (the figure taken from a fair breeze)” + dat. (LS aspiro I.A.2), governing coeptis meis (“the work I have begun”). Ovid is calling on the gods to favor his enterprise, so this is a key word, emphasized by being first in the line. It’s imperative, looking back to the vocative di in line 2. Tone is confident (?).

perpetuum: “continuous, unbroken, uninterrupted” (LS perpetuus I.A). Ovid’s song will be “continuous” and extend all the way from the origin of the world to his own time. Very ambitious! Also, if you’ve read the Metamorphoses you know it’s loosely organized, with one story after another in a continuous stream. So he may be giving us a heads up about that.

A few notes:

  • I grade these on a 1-10 scale, and they take under 5 minutes each to grade.
  • The due date is midnight on the day after we read the lines at sight in class. I don’t want it to get stale. Great way to review and reinforce, I think.
  • The students have as a textbook Peter Jones’ superb Reading Ovid. This helps the students by giving them context, interpretive summaries, vocabulary, macrons on the Latin, and excellent interpretive notes. I frigging love this book. This assignment asks them to go beyond it by investigating in the dictionary and saying what they think.

Things That Drive Me Crazy about Plato’s Republic

In a few minutes I have to teach Plato’s Republic (Books 2 and 4) to a wonderful group of first-year students in a writing-based seminar. I dread this. Every time I teach this seminar, I struggle to find something valuable to justify its inclusion in the syllabus with so many great writers, from Homer and Thucydides to Achebe and Du Bois. Every year I investigate how other people teach it. Steven B. Smith’s discussion in Yale Open Courses is available as a free podcast. I find it infuriating, the special pleading, and assertion of the life-changing greatness of the work despite the turgid appearances. The star-studded cast assembled by Melvyn Bragg for BBC’s In Our Time plump for it during the entire program, then end up in the bonus material admitting that his psychology is bogus. I feel like there are not enough people out there just complaining about the Republic, and making this list was cathartic for me. I make absolutely no claim to philosophical insight or subtlety, quite the opposite. I just had to get this off my chest. With that defensive preamble, here is my list of

Things that drive me crazy about the Republic

  1. The narrowness of his political vision. No mention of the successful Persian model of a multi-ethnic empire next door.
  2. The assumption that most people should not and cannot exercise political leadership or know what is best for them.
  3. The exile of Homer. If you can’t see that Homer is humanizing, then something is wrong with you. His view of art as epistemically inferior seems absolutely outrageous.
  4. The assertion that justice involves above all everybody knowing their place and not meddling, staying in their classes or lanes.
  5. The idea that only the educated can have moderation (σωφροσύνη) required for leadership.

On the other hand (and here’s what I find valuable in the work) he does ask some fundamental questions:

  1. How can we create a concept of justice that is separate from what those in power happened to want to enforce?
  2. How do we get beyond a politics based simply on desire and force? I want this, you want that, let’s see who’s strong enough to enforce his will.
  3. What would it look like if reason-driven people, non-self-interested people, ruled and tried to bring about the maximum happiness for the whole?
  4. What are the psychological sources of political failure and corruption?
  5. What is the best kind of education for the elite?

Ok, that’s a non-philosopher’s two cents. If you love the work, please tell me why in the comments!

Conventiculum Dickinsoniense Covid-19 Announcement

Prof. Tunberg sends the following important announcement regarding the 2020 Conventiculum Dickinsoniense and the Covid-19 crisis:

We have yielded to the force of circumstances, friends, and decided to put off the Conventiculum Dickinsoniense until the summer of 2021.  However, in July of this year, we will arrange a “virtual” Conventiculum via the internet, so that you can still experience a continuous sequence of days this coming summer at least semi-immersed in spoken Latin! We can do this through ZOOM or other conferencing software. Our “virtual” Conventiculum, which will take place from July 9 to July 14, can’t of course be the full equivalent of an event based on all day and face to face immersion, but it can still offer a lot of interaction and practice—and be fun too!

Our sessions will be designed for the sole purpose of giving those who take part maximum exposure to active Latin and a large opportunity to develop their powers in spoken expression and in understanding others speaking. And—yes—there will even be some written composition in Latin. Our conventicula are not aimed at people just beginning to learn the basics of Latin. They are designed to add an ability for some active expression in Latin for people who already have a reasonable passive knowledge of the language. Participants should know the essentials of Latin grammar and be able to read a Latin text of moderate complexity. But no previous experience in speaking Latin is necessary. So, some sessions will be exclusively devoted to people who have no (or very little) experience in spoken Latin communication. Here they will have the opportunity build up their vocabulary and awaken their powers of expression. Of course, we also welcome people experienced in communicative Latin, and we want the Conventiculum be an opportunity for them to develop and refine their proficiency.


The deadline for receipt of entry fees for our “virtual” Conventiculum is June 1, 2020. Indeed, we encourage people to register earlier than this deadline, when possible, since the Conventiculum may well fill up fairly quickly. We will be unable to accept more than 25 participants in this event.


The entry fee for this new “virtual” Conventiculum will be $200. And please note that there will be no refunds of entry fees when they have been deposited in the Conventiculum’s account.

Those interested in applying for admission should write to Prof. Terence Tunberg at this address:


Leo Africanus, De viris quibusdam illustribus apud Arabes

A couple days ago I happened on a mysterious (to me) Neo-Latin text, a minor work by  the great early modern geographer Leo Africanus (born al-Hasan, son of Muhammad in Granada, c. 1494 – c. 1554), “De viris quibusdam illustribus apud Arabes” (On Notable Men among the Arabs). I put it out there on Facebook and Twitter:

Several people responded that this indeed sounded like an interesting project, and some offered to help in editing it for a modern audience. Thanks to some excellent bibliographic sleuthing by Mischa Hooker of Augustana College I can now provide a bit more information for potential collaborators.

The anonymous author of Biblioteca Antica e Moderna di Storia Letteraria vol. 3 (1768), p. xxx, writes (my translation)

Giovanni Leone Africano was a Muslim slave who while in Rome embraced the Christian faith and took the name Gianleone from Pope Leo X. In 1513 he returned to Africa but moved later to Tunis and returned to his original faith. There he wrote in Arabic a small treatise about writers famous among the Arabs. A Latin translation of this work was preserved in the Medici library. Ottingero had a copy from Florence and included it in his Bibliotecario quadripartita, which was printed in 1664, as we said above. Fabricio reprinted it in Book 13 of his Biblioteca Greca, p. 259. I see fit to reproduce this here with a few annotations by the same Fabricio. 

I have no idea where the Arabic original might be. But here is the first printing of the Latin version: J. H. Hottinger, Bibliothecarius Quadripartitus (Zurich, 1664) III. De Theologia Patristica, cum Appendice Leonis Africani hactenus ἀνεκδότῳ, de Scriptoribus Arabicis [pp. 246ff.]

Here is the first reprint, source of the existing annotations: A. Fabricius, Bibliotheca Graeca, vol. 13 (Hamburg, 1726) [pp. 259ff.]

Here is edition I quote from above: Biblioteca antica e moderna di storia letteraria, vol. 3 (Pesaro, 1768) [pp. 312ff.]

And here is a manuscript copy of the third quarter of the 17th century, in Kassel, Germany, deriving from the version in Florence:

Leo’s much larger and more famous work on the geography of Africa (vol. 1; vol. 2)was widely translated and published. According to Wikipedia

A twentieth-century rediscovery of the originally-dictated manuscript revealed that Ramusio, in smoothing the grammar of Leo Africanus’s text had coloured many neutral details,to make it more palatable to Christian European audiences; French and English translators added further embellishments. Modern translations which incorporate this manuscript are thus more true to the original.

See Crofton Black, (2002). “Leo Africanus’s “Descrittione dell’Africa” and its sixteenth-century translations.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 65: 262–272. JSTOR 4135111

De viris quibusdam illustribus apud Arabes seems quite neglected by comparison.

The Level of Poeticism in Latin Synonyms

Two of the students in my senior research colloquium, Beth Eidam and Tessa Cassidy, have decided to write on the question of the level of poeticism of Latin synonyms.  Their work is based on the fundamental article of R.G.G.  Coleman, “Poetic Diction, Poetic Discourse and the Poetic Register.” This 1999 paper is long, technical, and brilliant.  Coleman lists and defines a series of features that are distinctive to the language used by the Latin poets. These include the lexicon, of course, but also features of syntax, the use of proper names, special declensions, distinctive compounds, syncope, diminutives, Grecisms, the usual poetic devices like metaphor and metonymy, among others.

two pidgeons talking, listing synonyms for "sword"

What makes Latin poetry poetic is not just being in verse, or using rare, archaic words, or avoiding certain words. Rather, Coleman shows, there is constellation of features that elevate the language and give it energy. He emphasizes the importance of context.  Words like mollis and tener were quite at home in rustic or horticultural contexts (asparagi molles, tenerae gallinae), but in poetry of a Callimachean type they were polarized with durus and severus to cover in the wider metaphorical range.  Nothing in Catullus 85, he points out, is lexically poetic. It lacks all the other conventional markers of poeticism, like metaphor and archaism. But the combination is distinctively memorable and poetic, partly due to the extreme density of verbs. I recommend this article to all lovers of Latin poetry, if you can hang in with it.

Coleman’s discussion of synonyms (like ensis and gladius, fera and bestia, amnis and flumen) notes that we can often tell which was the more poetic and which was more associated with common speech by looking at the presence or absence of derivatives in the Romance languages. He points out that Vergil’s Dido is always pulchra, not formosa (although Vergil did not avoid formosa in the Eclogues).  Pulcher is likely to have been more poetic and literary and removed from common speech, since, unlike formosa, it left no trace in the Romance languages.

Beth and Tessa are planning to add some data the discussion.  Coleman made no attempt to assess the relative frequency of Latin synonyms in a poetry and prose.  But we now have the ability to do so with some degree of confidence, thanks to the data collected in Opera Latina. As Patrick Burns wrote in a 2017 SCS review,  

Opera Latina is a search interface from the Laboratoire d’Analyse Statistique des Langues Anciennes (LASLA) at the University of Liège that draws on over five decades of linguistic research on Latin literature. The database currently includes 154 works from 19 authors: Caesar, Cato, Catullus, Cicero, Horace, Juvenal, Lucretius, Ovid, Persius, Petronius, Plautus, Pliny the Younger, Propertius, Quintus Curtius Rufus, Sallust, Seneca the Younger, Tactius, Tibullus, and Vergil.

The database currently includes 2,104,866 words of Latin, 385,258 of them from poetic works, 1,719,608 from prose.

Every word in the corpus has been annotated with the following information: the lemma, or dictionary head word (following Forcellini’s 1864 Lexicon totius latinitatis); the form of the word as it appears in the text; a citation with the word’s location in the text; the word’s morphology; and its subordinating syntax. Records are also flagged to distinguish ambiguous forms, mark proper nouns, and call attention to notable miscellany.

The plan is to work with the sets of synonyms collected in Doederlein’s Handbook of Latin Synonyms, collect the counts of those lemmas in Opera Latina, and create a database that will show the frequency of each synonym relative to the others (is gremium or sinus more common? As it turns out, sinus is commoner by a count of 317 to 78), and relative frequency in poetry and prose of each word.  Since the overall number of prose tokens is higher, the poetry count will be adjusted up so they are comparing apples to apples.  When those calculations are done, it will be possible to determine whether each word is relatively more common in prose or poetry. The plan is to express this as a number between zero and one, with zero assigned to a word that occurs exclusively in prose, 1 to a word that occurs exclusively in poetry.  On this scale (with the counts adjusted), gremium comes in at 0.89, sinus at 0.79–both are poetic.

The plan is to collect as much of this data as possible in one half semester. Beth and Tessa will divide up Doederlein and get as far as they can. Then they will turn to individual passages in Latin literature that actually use the synonyms and do the kind of analysis and close reading Coleman does, but backed up with data. Ideally, when the complete data is collected, we can create an online, enhanced version of Doederlein and put it up on DCC for all Latinists to enjoy. I would love to hear any comments or suggestions you might have for this project. 

Your Personnel Committee Has Questions

The following derives from SCS 2020 panel Evaluating Scholarship, Digital and Traditional, Organized by the Digital Classics Association and Neil Coffee (University at Buffalo, SUNY). I would like thank Neil and my fellow presenters for a stimulating session (fairly well-attended and lively given that it was in the very first slot of the conference, 8:00 a.m. Friday Jan. 3!)

The lack of regular procedures and opportunities for peer-review for digital work poses a serious threat to the future of digitally based scholarship and publication in the academy. The absence of routine peer-review is already acting as a brake limiting the time and energy which scholars with a healthy regard for their own professional futures will spend on digital work. Even those committed to the ideals of openness, access, and collaboration that draw us all to this area often don’t fully commit because of the lack of serious peer-review, and I put myself in this category. What kind of amazing open digital projects would be created if scholars could get the same recognition for this kind of work as they get for books and journal articles? Think of digital humanities as a faucet turned three-quarters off  by the disincentive resulting from lack of regular peer-review. The NEH and the Mellon Foundation have done much not only to finance expensive projects, but also to create structures of evaluation and prestige around digital humanities. But what if Mellon and NEH turn to different priorities in the future? Much of what impedes the progress of digital humanities is beyond the power of any individual to change: the dominance of legacy print publishing houses and print journals, the conservative nature of graduate training, the expense required to mount an effective digital project, the scarcity of grant money. These are intractable structures and economic facts. What can an individual scholar do but wait patiently for things to change? My message today is that there are two things we can, as individual scholars, do immediately: initiate conversations with personnel committees at our institutions about evaluating digital scholarship, independent of our own personnel reviews; and ourselves review a project through the SCS digital project review series.

I served on my institution’s personnel committee for two recent years and participated in reviews that included digital scholarship (2016–18). Before that, for four years I chaired a committee that distributed DH funding that came in a grant from the Mellon Foundation. In the process I helped to evaluate proposals from many different fields (2012–16). These grants were mostly quite small, typically a few thousand dollars for a course release or the labor of a student assistant, or to purchase some software. I have managed a medium-sized digital classics project myself for about 10 years. I currently chair the group that produces the SCS digital project reviews (2017–pres.). Depending on the day, then, I’m involved both as a gate crasher (advocating for the acceptance of digital scholarship, my own or others’) and as a gate keeper (turning a critical eye to digital scholarship). My experience leads me to a certain optimism that DH scholars can make the case for acceptance, and succeed in the academic personnel process, if they consider the legitimate needs of institutions to evaluate and assess their faculty.

How should personnel committees approach evaluating digital scholarship? Sam Huskey and his colleagues at OU arrived at two lists of evaluation criteria. The first list gives the essentials: conference presentations or publications related to the project, the use of accepted coding standards, openness of data, and a strategy for data preservation. The second list gives optional elements, the nice-to-haves: grant support, collaboration, contribution to the field, pedagogical applications, and evidence of adoption and use. This framing is an unquestioned advance. We can argue about the relative importance of each item, and whether some items might be moved from one list to the other. Contribution to the field, for example, seems like it might be an essential. But the powerful OU formulation deserves to be adopted, adapted to local conditions, and widely used. If there is problem with the OU approach it is that some of its central elements, coding standards, data preservation, open data, and the advisability of collaboration, derive from preoccupations within the DH community, priorities that may not be shared by personnel committees; other aspect of the OU criteria, like pedagogical applications and contribution to the field, are things that the committee undoubtedly wants to know, but cannot simply find out from the candidate alone. Independent peer-review is the only real solution. Committees routinely consult outside experts at tenure reviews and full professor reviews, and having the OU lists as a way to prompt reviewers on what to talk about is a huge help.

I want to come at the problem from a different angle, not from the perspective of the evaporators, but from that of the candidate. How should we best present our work to the committee? How can we persuade the persuadable and placate those who are not completely implacable? I applied to be on this panel because it so happens that the personnel committee at my institution drafted guidelines on how it would like to be talked to regarding digital work, and I think their list of questions is a good one. It is more diffuse than the OU lists of criteria, but I think it has the merit of coming from non-specialists. I suspect that the questions they formulated are representative of the types of questions many other non-specialist committees would have.

The Dickinson guidelines are based on work by Todd Presner and were developed after a consulting visit by him to campus. They deal with topics such as platforms and technical requirements (how do I as a committee member actually examine your work?); user experience (how might a user use the tool or progress through the site?); scholarly context (what kind of research did you do, what’s the scholarly argument? Who is the audience? Where does this fit in the scholarly landscape?); the relationship of the project to teaching and service (has it been used in courses or other contexts within the institution?); impact (how have others used the project?); the life cycle of the project (how has it evolved? What are future plans? What about data preservation?); defining roles within a project (what, specifically, did you do, and what did other team members do? What kind of new technologies did you have to learn?). The Dickinson document covers some of the same issues as the OU document, but poses them as questions that can be used a guide to create a persuasive story about your project, its life, and its value.

Good rhetoric means knowing your audience, its desires, its fears, and its values. Assuming they are trying to do their jobs, which I think is generally a fair assumption, most committees want above all to make the right decision, and to avoid having to render a verdict on the quality of academic work by themselves alone. This is something which they correctly feel unqualified to do, and which they do not have the time even to attempt. The job of evaluation is hard enough, given the field-specific criteria for length, venues, genres, and styles of scholarship (to say nothing of field-specific pedagogy and the hard-to-assess complexities of institutional service). DH adds yet another element of field-specific complexity, which is perplexing and anxiety-producing, given the stakes and the potential downsides of making a bad decision. Allaying that anxiety is the key task of the candidate, as much as making the case for one’s own work.

There is no denying that all this discussion and rhetorical framing takes effort. The dispersed, evolving nature of DH imposes added burdens on DH scholars to explain and justify their field, their work, and their chosen modes of publication. This is not fair. One does not have to explain the desire to write a journal article. On the other hand, seen from the committee’s perspective, it is undeniable that there are people who publish on the internet mainly as a way of avoiding the hassles, scrutiny, and compromises of peer review. We all know that there are projects that, for whatever reason, are poorly conceived, vaporous, or over-ambitious. There are some projects that are methodologically blameless, but not terribly interesting or useful to anyone but the scholar who decided to undertake them. There are projects that seem to neglect the manifest needs of their potential audience, projects that have no clear sense of audience at all, projects that mainly repackage material readily available elsewhere, projects that needed a lot more work, but the author got distracted, projects that were good in their day but fell into neglect, tools that produce error-filled results, tools that mislead and mystify rather than elucidate, tools that over-promise, or don’t explain clearly how they work and what they are for. It is not unreasonable for committees to be wary.

Of course, the same intellectual flaws and more can be seen in print scholarship, mutatis mutandis. The immaturity of digital scholarship creates problems of assessment for those not familiar with the medium. The professional apparatus of evaluation is underdeveloped. But the intellectual values are not different: relevance, usefulness, contribution, and significance. As Greg emphasizes, in many cases DH is actually truer to the core missions of humanistic scholarship than much of what is produced by print culture. Finding and articulating that common ground and those shared values is the surest strategy when speaking to a traditionally minded personnel committee. The act of engaging in this dialogue about evaluation on an institutional level will also, I believe, have salutary effects on digital projects themselves, as they come to better articulate their purpose and place in the intellectual landscape. If you have trouble talking about the purpose of your project in these terms, it may be time to rethink the aims and methods of the project.

In the end, a lively culture of public peer-review will be the single most important factor in making it easier for personnel committees to distinguish confidently between the good, the better, and the best. A question arises, however. When it comes to a DH project, who are the peers, really? Is the proper context for public evaluation of digital scholarship the traditional academic discipline, or the emerging DH discipline itself, the average user rating, or some combination? Several review projects have arisen within DH and attempt to sidestep traditional disciplinary identities, the latest being Reviews in Digital Humanities, the first issue of which is dated Jan. 2020. But even these folks admit ominously in their about text that “similar endeavors have been largely unsuccessful in the past.” Perhaps print journals could pick up the slack? The journal American Quarterly announced a digital review series in American Studies with some fanfare in 2016, but it has produced as far as I can see only one actual review. Print journals in general seem like a strange venue for such reviews. Reading a print digital project review is a bit like looking at a stuffed bear at the zoo. It fails to satisfy.

I would argue that professional associations like SCS have a valuable role to play. Many of the projects in question aim to help students and scholars of traditional academic subjects, and the associations themselves are collections of field experts in those subjects. The scholars there may be less than current in DH methods, but they can certainly evaluate how useful a project is to students and scholars in their own disciplines. The professional associations typically publish print journals, but they are not themselves print journals. They all have stable websites and, more importantly, stable organizations.

The SCS publishes about one digital project review per month, but honestly it has been hard to identify willing reviewers. There are guidelines for digital project reviews posted on its website, and they are pretty straightforward. Much of it was borrowed from The Bryn Mawr Classical Review and tweaked to apply to digital projects.  The trick will be getting more people in the associations interested in doing the work. In our own field, while BMCR chokes our in-boxes (that faucet is 100% open), while reviews of digital projects are few and far between. It is difficult to find qualified scholars to write digital project reviews without the offer of something tangible like a book in return. BMCR has, it seems, essentially given up on digital projects.

In the dispiriting landscape  of failed DH review efforts, the SCS series has been modestly successful. But, honestly, I worry about the uniformly positive tone of digital classics project reviews the SCS has published so far. We need critical reviews. DH has a culture of mutual support, collaboration, and generosity—which is wonderful if you are involved but damaging to the credibility of the field as a whole in the long run. I urge you to volunteer to review a digital project for the SCS, to apply the standards that are being discussed in this panel, and not hold back. Be the peer review you want to see in the world. If everyone in this room commits to doing a single review in 2020, we will set an example that will get the notice of he entire DH field, and pave the way for a golden age of digital classics to come.


“Evaluation of Digital Scholarship at Dickinson” Memo, Dec. 20, 2013 

Cohen, Daniel J., and Tom Scheinfeldt, eds. Hacking the Academy: New Approaches to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013.

Todd Presner, “How to Evaluate Digital Scholarship,” Journal of Digital Humanities, 1.4 (Fall 2012).  


DH at Dickinson, 2019

We are now five years past the period of the $700,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation that spurred a good amount of new digital humanities activity at Dickinson and strengthened existing projects. The Dickinson projects, it seems to me, are in various ways good examples of the pursuit of humanistic goals using digital means. They help put the humanities in Digital Humanities. DH, of course, means various things to different people, for example:

  • the use of databases for literary analysis, distant reading, the computational humanities project of running computer programs on large corpora of literary texts to yield quantitative results which are then mapped, graphed, and tested for statistical significance
  • natural language processing and machine translation
  • online preservation and digital mapping
  • data visualization and digital publishing

What most of these things have in common is the use of large datasets and computational methods to try to understand human cultural products. There has started to be a substantial backlash against this kind of work. To some, the phrase digital humanities may even appear a contradiction in terms. The digital values large data sets of often messy and imperfect information, speed, and countability.  Humanistic ideals of exacting scholarship, searching debate, high-quality human expression, exploration of values, and historically informed critical thinking may seem incompatible. Nan Z. Da recently found a receptive audience when she surveyed computational approaches to literary texts and found them lacking.

When you throw social media in there, the digital seems like a positive threat to the humanistic. Jill Lepore speaks for many in her recent history of politics in the United States, These Truths, when she identifies a new, digitally enabled model of citizenship, “driven by the hyperindividualism of blogging, posting, and tweeting, artifacts of a new culture of narcissism, and by the hyperaggregation of the analysis of data, tools of a new authoritarianism.” She sees the Internet as having “exacerbated the political isolation of ordinary Americans while strengthening polarization on both the left and the right, automating identity politics, and contributing, at the same time, to a distant, vague, and impotent model of political engagement.” (p. 738) Digital media have taught us anew how to like and be liked, she points out, but also how to hate and be hated.

Despite these malign trends it is quite possible to pursue, promote, and defend the humanities in the new medium, and it is being done right here at Dickinson, in projects like the Carlisle Indian Industrial School Resource Center (Jim Gerencser and Susan Rose); Jim Hoefler’s “Caring During Serious Illness: Advice from Caregivers”; House Divided, the Civil War history site overseen by Matt Pinsker; and the project I direct, Dickinson College Commentaries.

Humanities goals include:

  • historically informed critical thinking
  • self-knowledge in line with prior understandings, the exploration of values
  • the cultivating of powers of thought and expression, including civil and substantive debate

Historically informed critical thinking

Tens of thousands of young people from Indian communities all across America were sent to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania between 1879-1918. What was the purpose, the strategy, the outcome? What can we learn from interrogating this historical, educational experiment about the goals of its founders, the students who were sent there, the impact on their families and communities, U.S. military and domestic policy related to Indian tribes, the history of American education, about race and ethnic relations? The CIIS site gives you the tools to do this, from massive troves of digitized documents and photographs, to teaching modules for various levels, including close reading modules that teach how to interpret documents and discuss them productively.

The House Divided Project aims to bring alive and explain the turbulent Civil War era in American history.  Using Dickinson College as a both a window and a starting point, the House Divided Project hopes to find in the stories of thousands of individuals a way to help illustrate how the Civil War came, why it was fought so bitterly, and ultimately how the nation survived. The site provides thousands of documents, photos, and records of individuals to sift through, and provides guidance in the form of key themes such as Civil Liberties, the Dred Scott case, Ft. Sumter, the Gettysburg Campaign that link out to the records of places, people, documents, timelines, and images.

Self-knowledge in line with prior understandings

Most patients who live with serious illness (and their family members) will typically need to make a number of important decisions about the kinds of medical treatment that is provided in this time. Hoeffler’s Caring During Serious Illness site is devoted to providing patients and their loved ones with advice about these decisions, offered by Clinical Advisors whose unique perspectives derive from devoting  their professional lives to caring for patients with serious illness. The site gives you interview excerpts from dozens of advisors from different medical specialties, different faith traditions, with the aim to help us care for aging relatives in a sensitive and kind way, and to give us ways of thinking about death, to help us understand it for ourselves. Rabbi Feinstein, for examples says, “Death the most frightening thing in life. The only thing that is more powerful than the fear of death is gratitude for the blessings of life.”

Cultivated powers of thought and expression

Dickinson College Commentaries presents commentary and annotation on classical texts that guide readers through understanding and appreciation. We try to model humanistic reading practices and to infuse good teaching into the site: not too much information, close reading, provide varying perspectives. The Chinese sister site Dickinson Classics Online focuses on intercultural understanding, with Chinese commentaries on Greco-Roman classical texts, and (soon) Latin and English commentaries on the Chinese classics.

Two areas are in my opinion being neglected by DH scholars, here and elsewhere: translation and podcasting. If you want humanities to be global, good translations are crucial.  Literary translation on the open internet is abysmal, and this needs to change. Dialogue and debate are crucial to the humanities, and podcasting is absolutely golden opportunity to model humanistic dialogue and publicize humanities research. Edward Collins’ Kingdom, Empire and Plus Ultra: conversations on the history of Portugal and Spain, 1415-1898 is a great example.

The world needs historically informed critical thinking, high quality expression, and self-knowledge in line with prior understandings. The world needs the humanities. Our political system is in crisis for lack of a culture of democratic discussion. Social media seems to be doing everything it can to crush our capacity for understanding and dialogue. We have the digital tools to promote humanism. Dickinson is leading the way, and I am proud to be working among the scholars, librarians, and teachers who are creating these fine resources. 

Concordance Liberation: Terence

Scantily clad young woman holding theatrical mask.

Thalia, Muse of Comedy, from the Goddesses of the Greeks and Romans series (N188) issued by Wm. S. Kimball & Co.,1889. Metropolitan Museum.

The plays of Terence (P. Terentius Afer) are widely admired for their pure Latin style, but there is as yet no parsed text in digital form that would permit valid statistical analysis of his language and the creation of accurate vocabulary lists to ease reading via tools like The Bridge. If and when DCC publishes an edition of a play of Terence, having a text in which each word form is associated with its correct dictionary headword (lemma) will make the creation of the vocabulary lists a relative snap. Computers can’t accurately parse texts on their own, but humans used to do it routinely in the genre of book known as the concordance or index verborum. With the help of Dickinson computer scientist Michael Skalak, Bret Mulligan of Haverford and I have been working on project to convert older concordances and indices verborum into parsed texts by essentially unscrambling them so they are organized by text location rather then alphabetically by headword, and putting the data into an openly published and freely available spreadsheet. We have successfully completed the transformation of print concordances to Lucretius, Apuleius, and Eutropius, and now we are on to Terence, based on a professionally digitized version of Index Verborum Terentianus by Edgar B. Jenkins (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1932, Pp. ix +187). (Worldcat record).

Jenkins’ book was meticulous, and it was well-received. Writing in Classical Review 47.1 (1933) 22-23 J.D. Craig called it “a miracle of compression without obscurity,” and he spotted only a small number of errors. Jenkins based his index on the text of Knauer and Lindsay, which is still in use (and on PHI). In each case, transformation from an alphabetical word list into a sequential parsed text requires careful examination of the system of listing lemmas, word forms, citations, and textual variants. Classical concordances are all slightly different in the conventions they employ.

The main peculiarity of Jenkins’ books is that he used a system of hyphenation, presumably to save space. This will have to be overcome by alteration of the base code for Michael Skalak’s Concordance Processor (code on Github). For my part, I had to filter out some information that was evidently important to Jenkins, but is not to us. For example, Jenkins put in parentheses all citations for words that are in parentheses in the text itself. Whether or not a word is in parentheses is immaterial to us, and having those citations in parentheses would have meant those citations were misinterpreted by the processor.

For the benefit of anybody who wants to try to do this kind of work in the future (and there are innumerable concordances that could be liberated in this way), here are my working notes and analysis of Jenkins. A random chunk of the .pdf looks like this:

selection from Terence concordanceAfter digitization by NewGen Knowledge Works it looks like this:

<il> -o (ab): An 941</il>
<il> -e: Hc 78</il>
<il> -ari: E 548</il>
<il><B>scite</B> (3): Ht 729 764 785</il>
<il><B>scit-us</B> (pa; 5):</il>
<il> -a (ns): P 110</il>
<il> -um (ac): E 254</il>
<il> -um (n): Ht 210; P 821</il>
<il> -us: An 486 (in tmesis w per)</il>
<il> -um: P 689(4)</il>
<il><B>scort-or</B> (2):</il>
<il> -ari: Ad 102; Ht 206</il>
<il> -atur: Ad 117(F)</il>
<il><B>scortum</B> (ac; 2): Ad 965; E 424</il>
<il><B>screatus</B> (ac): Ht 373</il>
<il><B>scrib-o</B> (19):</il>
<il> -am (ind): P 127</il>
<il> -at: P 3</il>
<il> -endo (g ab): E 7</il>
<il> -endum (g): Ad 25; An 1</il>
<il> -ere: Ad 16; E 36; Hc 56</il>
<il> -eret: Hc 27</il>
<il> -ito (3): P 668</il>
<il> -undis (ab): An 5</il>
<il> -unt: Ht 43</il>
<il> scripserit (subj): Hc 7a(DT); Ht 7</il>
<il> scripsit: E 10; Hc 6; Ht 15; P 6</il>
<il> scripta (sunt): An 283</il>
<il> scriptam (sc esse): P 329</il>

Skalak’s concordance processor will convert this into a spreadsheet with each piece of information in its proper category: lemma or headword (column 1), lemma homonym distinguisher, if any (column 2), citation for specific word forms (column 3), the word forms (column 4), word form homonym distinguishers or other information about a single word form (column 5), and textual variant information (column 6). The trick to the pre-processing analysis is to find the machine-readable characteristics of each kind of information, so the processor can be adjusted to the specific conventions used by the index. Examination revealed the following:

  • Lemmas [column 1] are introduced by <il><B> and terminated by a colon. The closing </B> tag may follow or precede the colon, but it will always be there. Only lemmas are enclosed with <B>…</B> tags. The colon is followed by </il>, </B></il>, or by one or more citations and </il>.Examples:
    • <il><B>abrad-o:</B></il>
    • <il><B>a</B> (prep; 87):</il>
    • <il><B>accurate:</B> An 494</il>
    • <il><B>abhinc</B> (3): An 69; Hc 822; P 1017</il>
  • Lemma distinguishers [column 2] sometimes precede (but never follow) the colon, and are in parentheses. This either indicates the number of times that the lemma occurs, or homonym distinguishers, or textual information, or some combination of the three, set apart with semicola. This info needs to go in column 2 next to every word form under that lemma.
    • <il><B>ac-er</B> (2):</il>
    • <il><B>act-us</B> (subs):</il>
    • <il><B>ad-eo</B> (verb; 26):</il>
    • <il><B>dehinc</B> (de(h)inc=KL; 8): Ad 22; An 22 79(dein=4) 190 562 (dein=4); E 14 296 872</il>
  • Word forms [column 4] sometimes directly follow the lemma after the colon and before the closing </il> tag (as just above). But in most cases they are listed on a new line, preceded by <il> and a tab, and followed by a colon.
    • <il><B>depecto:</B></il>
    • <il> depexum (ac): Ht 951</il>
    • <il><B>deper-eo:</B></il>
    • <il> -it: Ht 525</il>
    • <il><B>delir-o</B> (5):</il>
    • <il> -ans (n): Ad 761</il>
    • <il> -as: Ad 936; An 752; P 801</il>
    • <il> -at: P 997</il>
  • Word form modifiers [column 5] sometimes follow the word form in parentheses, before the colon. This information can be syntactical (most common) or textual, can indicate matter to be assumed, differentiate homonymns, or indicate frequency. Put this in column 4 next to every instance of the word form.
    • <il> aspexerit (subj): Ht 773</il>
    • <il> -andus (est): Ad 709</il>
    • <il>ante (adv; 6): An 239 556; E 733; Hc 146 581; P 4(antehac=DU)</il>
    • <il> -quid (-quit=U sometimes; ac): Ad 38 150 401 518 856 857 948 980; An 250 259 265(om=DU) 615 622 640; E 210 308 661 999 1001; Hc 333; Ht 69 339 533 670 763 1003; P 42 190 770 874</il>
  • Citations for instances of a word form [column 3] in each of the six plays follow the colon. Semicola separate instances for each play. Multiple citations from a single play are separated by a space only. </il> closes off the word form.
  • <il><B>de-us</B> (121):</il>
  • <il> -o (ab): P 74</il>
  • <il> -orum: An 959(sp=U); Ht 693</il>
  • <il> -os: Ad 275 298 491 693 699 704; An 487 522 538 664 694 834; Hc 476 772 772; Ht 879 1038; P 311 764</il>
  • The string “ae” followed directly by numerals (no spaces) should be treated as part of the numeral. This indicates the line numbers in the alternate ending of the Andria. Some line numbers will have a letter suffix, like 7a, 7b
    • <il> -averis (ind): An ae16</il>
  • Citation modifiers in parentheses [column 6].These are all textual variants. Depending on what it says, sometimes the parenthetical material only will be deleted, sometimes the citation will be deleted as well. This can be done after the creation of the spreadsheet. If the citation-distinguishing parenthesis in column 6 contains ‘=’, delete just the parenthesis. If it does not contain ‘=’, delete the entire citation and the parenthesis. Column 6 will then be gone.
    • <il><B>ergo</B> (38): Ad 172(ego me=F) 324 325(FT) 326 572 609 854 959; An 195 565 711 850; E 162 317 401 459 796 1062; Hc 63 610 611 715 787(4); Ht 398 550 821 985 993 (ego=FU) 1046; P 62 202 539 562 685 718 755 882 948 984 995</il>
    • <il><B>et</B> (538): Ad 2 19 30 34 35(om=4) 43 57 64 65 68 78 107 121 121(F) 122 129 138 144 207 230 251 263 272 279(F) 285 285 305 316 319 340 352 380 389 (U) 391 423 429 446 495 511 521 523 558 566 580 584(ei=F) 591 596 600(esse=FTU) 602 603 609 609 648 675 680 683 692 (4)
  • Lemmas sometimes have hyphens to indicate that subsequent inflected forms may be abbreviated. They may or may not actually be abbreviated. Word forms can be reconstructed by combining.
    • <il><B>adfer-o</B> (25):</il>
    • <il> -: Ht 223</il>
    • <il> -am (ind): Ht 701</il>
    • <il> -ant: Ad 300</il>
    • <il><B>admitt-o</B> (13):</il>
    • <il> admiserit (subj): P 270</il>
    • <il> admisero: E 853</il>

I made some alterations to the concordance to make it easier to process:

  • To avoid confusion, citations that are themselves in parentheses had to be removed from parentheses. Otherwise they will be treated as supplementary info for the previous citation.
  • Alphabetic headings had to be removed, since they looked superficially like lemmas.
  • Spurious lines in square brackets were removed.
  • All 59 instances of “*” were removed. The asterisk indicates that some minor point applies, e.g. that est is to be inferred with factum, or that ipsa is spelled eapse in F’s edition. This information was not significant enough for our purpose, which was to get each word form sitting next to its proper lemma.

After the spreadsheet is done I’ll check it, then hand it over to Bret Mulligan, who will ingest the parsed text into the Bride, adding Bridge display lemmas and definitions. Custom vocabulary lists can be created from there. The original .txt and the spreadsheet version will also be made available on our Github repository.

Fresh translations of the DCC core vocabularies

Five new translations of the DCC Core Latin and Ancient Greek Vocabularies are now up and downloadable in various formats (download buttons can be found at the bottom of the pages):  Greek-Italian, by Elisa Ruggieri, Latin-Italian by Gian Paolo Ciceri, Latin-Portuguese by Vittorio Pastelli, Latin-Spanish by Francisco Javier Pérez Cartagena, and Latin-Swedish by Johanna Koivunen. We at DCC are extremely grateful to these scholars for their work. Thanks are due also to developer Lara Frymark, who figured out a way to upload the lists efficiently. If you would like to contribute a new translation (no German yet?! What about French? Russian?) please see this page.


DCC 2018 analytics

This is the time of year when I examine the site analytics for DCC, ahead of the editorial board get together at the SCS annual meeting. Use of DCC continues to grow, according to Google Analytics. In the last calendar year the site had a total of 1,033,730 page views, a new high. The graphs below show (1) the growth over last year; (2) the most popular parts of the site (Allen and Greenough continues to prevail there), and (3) the most popular commentaries, excluding the reference works. All this is for December 2017-November 2018. Monthly data in four different metrics for each commentary is on the site. Thank you to all the many scholars—students, secondary teachers, and college and university faculty—who have contributed to DCC this year. Thanks are also due to the editorial board for their work on peer review and editing, and to our fine Drupal developer Ryan Burke of Dickinson’s Academic Technology office. Happy Holidays, everybody!


DCC total monthly page views, 2017-2018

1: DCC total monthly page views, 2017-2018


DCC analytics by content type, December 2017 to November 2018

2: DCC analytics by content type, December 2017 to November 2018


DCC analytics, Nov. 2017 to Nov. 2018 just commentaries, not reference works

3: DCC analytics, Nov. 2017 to Nov. 2018 just commentaries, not reference works

Analytics term definitions:

Pageviews: the total number of pages viewed over the date range in question. Repeated views of a single page by the same user are counted. A Pageview is counted every time a specific page is loaded.

Unique Pageviews: the number of sessions during which the specified page was viewed at least once. Unique Pageviews are counted for every session, including distinct sessions by the same user during the specified date range (30 minutes of inactivity ends a session). A Unique Pageview is counted for each page URL + page Title combination.

Users: distinct IP addresses that have had at least one session within the selected date range. Includes both new and returning Users. A User is counted in every session that User visits the site or a commentary during the selected date range. Subtracting the figure for New Users from this figure yields the number of people who visited, left, and returned.

New Users: the number of first-time Users (distinct IP addresses) during the selected date range. They may be returning Users from a time before the selected date range.