Monthly Archives: August 2015

Mellon DH Fund supports the creation and development of Urbanatural Roosting

By Ash Nichols (Walter E. Beach ’56 Distinguished Chair in Sustainability Studies & Professor of English)

My DHAC-funded Student-Faculty Summer Research Project (2015) was a complete success. My student researcher, Kerin Maguire, turned out to be a hard worker, an excellent researcher, and a writer with a prose style well in advance of her years. Over the summer, we produced a new website, Urbanatural Roosting: Planetary Living for the New Millennium, and wrote content for three (3) pages. Individual page links are included below the image:



These pages required extensive research—both library and online—as well as a wide range of reading from books, essays, and online materials. In addition, we added dozens of illustrations, often requiring permissions acquisitions, technical layout details, and digital design. We worked closely with the Dickinson Multimedia and I.T. staff to improve the look and technical details of the site as well.

Activities of Student Researcher

My student researcher, Kerin Maguire, was completely involved as a collaborator in every aspect of the work on our project. She researched, read, and wrote to at least the same extent that I did. In a number of instances, she was completely responsible for the addition of new material, from conception of the idea to all of the research, writing, and site design. In one instance, she even took her own photographs to illustrate the “Pine Barrens” section of our Natural Urbanatural Roosting page. Our page is her work as much as it is mine; this felt as completely collaborative as any student-faculty research project in which I have been involved. Even her academic plans for the coming semester—and two years—have been affected by our work.

Potential Long-Term Benefits of Project for Student

Kerin’s own words will form the basis for this part of our report. Please see the attached news story that appeared on the Dickinson Web-Page at the completion of our project:

Urbanatural Living, Digital-Style

The article clearly sets out a number of ways in which Kerin benefitted from our work together:

“It involved a lot of reading … Professor Nichols just kept handing me these stacks of books,” Maguire says with a laugh, “but now that I know a little more about this topic, I am interested and invested. It reels you in.”

Indeed, Kerin informed me as the project drew toward completion that our work had even had an impact on her future academic plans. She now wants to add environmental studies courses to her academic program as an English major:

As the weeks progressed, Maguire began to find connections to the work during non-research hours; an article in her hometown newspaper, for example, was the catalyst for her final post of the summer. She also uncovered environmental issues in familiar settings—in the pinelands of her home state, and along the fragile shoreline of Cape Cod, a favorite family-vacation spot, where the population has increased 400 percent in the past 40 years, creating significant pollution. “I go there all the time, and I never knew there was a problem,” says Maguire, who plans to keep contributing to the portal, at Nichols’ request. “Once you learn about statistics like that, how can you not want to share them with the world?

This is a perfect example of the way our project worked. I would assign a specific section of our web-portal to Kerin, or she would come up with her own suggestion, as in our “Cape Cod” entry or our “Artificial Reefs” section. One final quote from her will make clear the future benefits of our work together:

I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge on the subject and am interested in finding ways to implement the concept of urbanatural roosting into my own life and that of my family. . . In addition to learning about fascinating subject matters, working closely with Professor Nichols improved my writing and research skills. . . I also improved my technological skills using WordPress, as well as editing and revising my work.

There is clearly nothing for me to add to Kerin’s own words in this regard.

Future Plans

Like my earlier website, Romantic Natural History: 1750-1859 (praised by the New York Times, the BBC in London, M.I.T., and others), the Urbanatural Roosting site will continue to grow over the coming years. I have assured Kerin that she is welcome to continue work on this resource at any time she would like. She is welcome to make additions to our existing pages or propose new cities for our Urban Urbanatural Roosting page or natural sites. I did the same in the past with students who worked with me on Romantic Natural History, and two of the three took me up on this offer and added to the site after their summer research assignment had ended. In addition, two of my research students have said that they got their first job after graduation at least partly as a result of being able to show their future employers the work they had done on our web-portals and web-pages.

Bryan Alexander visits Dickinson

Well-known and well-bearded Higher Ed. consultant and futurist Bryan Alexander returned to Dickinson this week to deliver a stimulating talk about economic, cultural, and technological trends affecting higher education. The seminar was integrated into the week-long Willoughby Institute for Teaching with Technology. Alexander’s talk was opened to the broader community as well, and the lively audience included representatives from surrounding institutions such as the Bosler Free Library, Bucknell University, and Messiah College. While the event was not recorded, the material he presented is based on his Future Trends in Technology and Education report, which is available here.

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Dickinson Classics Online Seminar in Shanghai



By Chris Francese

Marc Mastrangelo and I traveled to Shanghai in June, 2015 to meet some leading Chinese scholars of the Greek and Roman classics, with a view to exploring possibilities for collaboration on a Chinese version of the Dickinson College Commentaries websites. Our contacts in China were made via Jinyu Liu, who is Associate Professor and Classics Department Chair at DePauw University, and also Shanghai “1000 plan” Expert/Distinguished Guest Professor at Shanghai Normal University, where she resides in the summer months. The conference was jointly sponsored and funded by Dickinson College, thanks to Dean and Provost Neil Weissman, and by Shanghai Normal University, thanks to Chen Heng, Professor of Humanities and Communications there. Participants included Liu Chun (Peking University), Chen Wei and Bai Chunxiao (Zhejiang University), Zhang Wei and Huang Yang (Fudan University), Xu Xiaoxu (Renmin University of China), Xiong Ying (Nanjing University), Zhang Qiang and Wang Shaohui (Northeast Normal University), and a contingent from Shanghai Normal itself: Kang Kai, Li Shangjun, and Yi Zhaoyin. Unable to attend but interested in the project were Li Yongyi (Chongqing University), and Michele Ferrero (Beijing Foreign Studies University).

The meetings took place in a seminar room in the humanities building at Shanghai Normal University. We were assisted by a wonderful group of SHNU students.

The meetings took place in a seminar room in the humanities building at Shanghai Normal University. We were assisted by a wonderful group of SHNU students.

Prior to the seminar itself Marc and I gave public lectures attended by students and faculty at SHNU. Marc spoke on June 9, on the topic of “Plato’s View of Poetry and the Early Christian Poets.” I spoke on June 10 on the topic of “Sebastian Brant: An Early Modern Editor of Vergil and Multimedia Text Annotation.”

The conference itself began on Friday, June 12. It started with a presentation from me on the topic “Digital Commentary on Classical Texts: Problems and Prospects,” which outlined the goals of the current DCC project within the context of unsolved problems of text annotation in a digital environment. I ended by emphasizing the collaborative nature of this kind of work, and urged the group to think about what kinds of resources are most needed for Chinese students and scholars. Throughout the seminar we talked with Chinese students as well, learned about their needs, and heard about current teaching practices and materials.

Friday afternoon we were treated to a field trip to see the Bibliotheca Zikawei (Xujiahui Library), a historic collection of western and Chinese books and manuscripts, including an impressive collection of Greek and Roman materials, gathered by the Jesuits and now maintained in their original setting by the Shanghai Library. Thanks to Prof. Chen we received rarely-given access to the sections closed to the public. (The library is the subject of an excellent article by Gail King, pdf)

On Saturday morning work began in earnest translating the Greek Core Vocabulary into Chinese, starting with the grammatical terms and categories. The Chinese scholars appreciated this exercise in particular, since the special terms to describe Greek and Latin grammar have yet to be fully standardized in Chinese. They repeatedly said that the opportunity to discuss such issues as a group was very valuable. Saturday afternoon, while work continued, Marc and I took the participants outside one by one and interviewed them on their hopes for the project, and on their views on the importance of the Greek and Roman classics in contemporary Chinese intellectual and cultural life. This video was captured by Eleanor Yan (Dickinson ’18). Her father, who works for a Chinese television station, provided the camera. We plan to edit this video into an introduction for the project on the website when it is developed.

Since the participants arrived having previously done translations of a subset of the Greek and Latin core lists, the editing work proceeded quickly once they got going. Part of Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday was devoted to the Latin list. The latter part of Sunday afternoon was spent on a discussion what direction they would like the project to go.

The most urgent immediate needs identified were:

  • Reliable lexica
  • Introductory readers based on good pedagogy, with accurate translations, and high quality audio recordings
  • Intermediate readers that included key ancient passages dealing with particular themes, such as Athenian Democracy, Roman history, and Greek philosophy
  • A glossary of unfamiliar terms from Greek and Roman culture

Greek and Latin grammars were also identified as an important project, though one that may take longer to complete. And it was agreed that the long term goal would be to produce reliable translations and commentaries on all the major of the works of the Greco-Roman classical canon, an undertaking that will take many years.

As will be apparent from the video, enthusiasm for the project was very high. The group worked together with splendid collegiality, humor, and good will, and with a sense that this is the beginning of something very important for the field. The climax of the event was the agreement on a new Chinese name for the Project and the formulation of a Chinese logo for the new “Dickinson Classics Online.”

Chinese name logo

The team that met in this seminar now constitutes our Editorial Board, the team of classicists who will oversee the development of essential infrastructure such as lexica and grammars, high quality language teaching tools for Latin and Greek, and expert commentaries and translations by Chinese scholars that make the classics fresh, relevant, and interesting to Chinese students. All resources will be provided free of charge on the internet, giving direct access to the words and ideas of the Greek and Romans to millions of people for the first time. A reasonably priced mobile application will allow serious students to learn on a convenient and portable platform.

This initial meeting included a concrete beginning, the production of a communally edited Chinese version of the DCC Greek and Latin Core Vocabularies, which is one of the most widely used features of the DCC site. We plan to have that up as a website this summer, and will work with computer science students to begin creating the mobile application.

In the meantime some prominent western scholars have signed on to be part of an Advisory Board: Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer (University of Chicago), Walter Scheidel (Stanford University), and Jeremy McInerney (University of Pennsylvania). With a distinguished team on both sides of the Pacific, we hope to be in a good position to raise substantial outside funds to make the ambitious project a reality. Our hope is that DCO can bring Chinese scholars to Dickinson to work alongside each other and with the scholarly and web development team that creates the DCC.

Left to right: Bai Chunxiao (Zhejiang University), Zhang Wei (Fudan University), Li Shangjun (Shanghai Normal University), Chen Wei (Zhejiang University), Chris Francese, Xiong Ying (Nanjing University), Jinyu Liu (DePauw University), Marc Mastrangelo, Xu Xiaoxu (Renmin University of China), Zhang Qiang (Northeast Normal University), Huang Yang (Fudan University), Liu Chun (Peking University), Wang Shaohui (Northeast Normal University)

Left to right: Bai Chunxiao (Zhejiang University), Zhang Wei (Fudan University), Li Shangjun (Shanghai Normal University), Chen Wei (Zhejiang University), Chris Francese, Xiong Ying (Nanjing University), Jinyu Liu (DePauw University), Marc Mastrangelo, Xu Xiaoxu (Renmin University of China), Zhang Qiang (Northeast Normal University), Huang Yang (Fudan University), Liu Chun (Peking University), Wang Shaohui (Northeast Normal University)