Humanities in Crisis, RapGenius, and Digital Pedagogy at Stanford

The New York Times has a front page story today under the title, “As Interest Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry.” I hated most everything about this story: the assumption that students choose either science or the humanities, the over-hyped crisis rhetoric, the manufactured horse race . . . BUT buried in there is a note about classics students at Stanford using a text annotation program called RapGenius, which is interesting.

Screenshot 2013-10-31 09.10.09

Susan Stephens at Stanford has a class called “Teaching Classics in the Digital Age” that deals with many aspects of pedagogy and research in classics. Jeremy Dean of RapGenius was visiting the class one day this month, and the NYT reporter attended as well, hence the inclusion of this in the story.

The attractive thing about RapGenius is its large community of users, and also its flexibility for annotation. You can annotate by sentence, phrase, word, whatever, and easily add images, audio, and other media to the pop up annotations. Though originally designed for obsessive rap fans to analyze lyrics, the potential of the tool for other branches of the humanities is obvious, and recognized clearly by the company. They hired Dean to be their humanities specialist, and they are developing an alternate brand for the same tool, Poetry Genius.

Oh, and it collects statistics on lyrics and creates effortless visualizations, a la Google Ngrams. Here is the graph for the occurrence of the words “love,” “hate,” and “rhyme.”

Screenshot 2013-10-31 09.20.41

As for the humanities crisis, don’t ask a Latinist about that. We’ve taken some hits in the last century or so. On the other hand, my friends in math and science fields certainly don’t seem to feel that everything is ducky in their disciplines. It is a struggle to get students to substantively engage in science and math, just as it is a struggle for us in the humanities. Students are often utilitarian in their thinking, and this should be no cause for surprise or lament. We should use every tool at our disposal to promote learning and intelligent living in all disciplines, and to create connections between, say, computer science and humanities. This is an attractive enterprise to some computer scientists of my acquaintance as well.

Prof. Stephens’ course is a model of this kind of forward, engaged thinking. The description of the course goals lays it out nicely:

This Workshop is predicated on four assumptions: (1) on-line teaching is here to stay; (2) within the career trajectory of those of you who are now graduate students it will replace or force essential modification of traditional classroom and book-centered learning; (3) the field is growing exponentially in tools and sophistication of applications; and (4) we do not all come to these emerging technologies with equal expertise. For those of us with low technical skills, the challenges may often seem to outweigh the rewards.

Therefore the Workshop has as its primary goal to allow us to gain familiarity with a broad range of digital materials currently available for teaching classical subjects (1) initially by engaging with experienced users or designers of various digital media, then (2) by experimenting ourselves with a selection of sites in order to evaluate what works in various teaching environments. You should learn how and in what ways a medium can enhance (or distract from) learning, gain familiarity with various ways of assessing the success of various media in teaching, and understand issues of intellectual property, copyright, and plagiarism. A secondary goal is to facilitate thinking collaboratively about pedagogical issues and to encourage departmental sharing of individual digital classroom materials.

The course is a mix of presentations about all kinds of online resources and digital tools, along with a practicum component in which students create lessons using them. All along there is searching discussion of how to marry tools to learning goals in an intelligent way. RapGenius may not be your cup of tea, but the kind of dialogue going on at Stanford among humanists and those in other fields about digital tools and humanistic methods is exciting, forward thinking, and unfortunately missed by the big media outlets. But then again, I guess that’s why we have blogs.


Typing Polytonic Greek in a Windows Environment

DCC board member Wille Major of Louisiana State University  sends along this handy guide to typing polytonic Greek in a Windows environment—no special keyboard required.

in a Windows environment

This is a practical guide to setting up Windows to type ancient (polytonic) Greek. It does not require you to purchase or install any software, just to activate a feature in Windows.

Step 1:  Activate polytonic Greek in Windows

Setup instructions for Windows Vista or Windows 7
1. Go to the Control Panel.
2. Select Clock, Language and Region (or Regional and Language Options).
3. Select Change keyboards and other input methods.
4. A window will appear. Select Change Keyboards button.
5. A window will appear with three tabs. The “general” tab is open by default. Click the Add button.
6. You will see a list of keyboards based on languages. Scroll down and click on Greek, and then select Greek Polytonic keyboard.
7. Click OK on this tab and then all the previous tabs until you are back in the Control Panel. Close the Control Panel.

Setup instructions for Windows XP
1. Go to the Control Panel.
2. Double-click Regional and Language Options.
3. Click the Languages tab,
4. Click Details under “Text Services and Input Languages”
5. Click Add under “Installed Services”
6. You will see a list of keyboards based on languages. Click on Greek Polytonic from the list.
7. Click OK on this tab and then all the previous tabs until you are back in the Control Panel. Close the Control Panel

After you activate Polytonic Greek, you should have a language button or taskbar similar to one of the images below.
• The English keyboard is represented by the letters EN.
• The Greek keyboard is represented by EL.
By clicking on this symbol, you can toggle between the English and Greek keyboard at any time! You can move and manipulate the appearance of the bar if you wish.

EN bar

EN toolbar 2

If you want, you can pull up keyboard images and type directly on them.
• Go to START:
• select “On-screen Keyboard”

IMPORTANT: No matter how you input polytonic Greek, you must use a Unicode font. If the basic alphabet and vowels with acute accents appear correctly, but other accents and breathings do not appear correctly, it is because the font you are using is not consistent with Unicode. There are many Unicode fonts available, but a good one that comes with Windows is “Palatino Linotype.”

Step 2. The keyboard layout of the Greek alphabet and punctuation

These layouts show the placement of the letters. This arrangement is the same for Ancient and Modern Greek keyboards. The keys in yellow will be used for placing polytonic diacritical marks:

keyboard maps


  • The period and comma are the same as on the standard English keyboard.
  • Half-stop: hold the <shift> key & right-hand <alt> key, then type the ] key: type <shift>&<right alt> ]  → ·
  • Question mark: type q <space> → ;

remember: “q for question”!
Make sure to type the space after the q. Otherwise, if you type a vowel next, it will put an accent on the vowel. (See below.)

  • For the acute accent, type the semi-colon (;) key, then the vowel: for example: type ; a → ά

Ancient polytonic Greek in Windows-3

Workshop: Ancient Corinth and Roman City Planning

The Dickinson College Department of Classical Studies will sponsor a full day Saturday Workshop of interest to teachers and students of the classical world and of archaeology.

Ancient Corinth and Roman City Planning

Saturday, November 16, 2013, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tome Hall Room 115.


Dr. David Gilman Romano, Karabots Professor of Greek Archaeology at the School of Anthropology, University of Arizona, and Director of the Corinth Computer Project and the Archaeological Mapping Lab

Dr. Nicholas Stapp, Director of Geospatial Research at the Archaeological Mapping Lab at the University of Arizona

There will be four hour-long sessions, with time for questions and discussion. Lunch will be provided. The workshop is free of charge, but to order materials and food we need to have an accurate count of attendees. To register please contact Terri Blumenthal at by November 10, 2013.


When the former Greek city of Corinth was settled as a Roman colony by Julius Caesar in 44 BC Roman land surveyors were called upon to lay out the urban as well as the rural aspects of the new colony. In the 70s AD when a second Roman colony was founded there, again the agrimensores were involved in new organization of the city and landscape. The agrimensores were Roman land surveyors responsible for the planning and measurement of cities and landscapes all over the Roman world. They were a professional group, usually a part of the Roman army, and we know a good deal about their work from a compilation of ancient texts known as the Corpus Agrimensorum Romanorum. The Corpus was originally compiled in the fourth or fifth century AD, but includes texts as early as the first century AD. These texts give us substantial information about the training of the agrimensores and their day-to-day activities as well as some of the practical issues that they faced in the field.

Since 1988 a research team from the Mediterranean Section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania has been involved in making a computerized architectural and topographical survey of the Roman colony of Corinth. The leader of this team, Prof. David Gilman Romano (Karabots Professor of Greek Archaeology at the School of Anthropology, University of Arizona), will present a workshop on the results of the Corinth Computer Project, as they relate to the ancient written evidence for Roman city planning. He will be joined by Dr. Nicholas Stapp who has worked with Dr. Romano on the Corinth Computer Project since 1995. He is an archaeologist and an expert in the use of new emerging technologies in higher education and research.

In the workshop participants will learn some of the Latin terms that refer to Roman surveying and city and land planning and, in addition, they will learn about high tech methods utilized in the research: electronic total station survey, digital cartography and remote sensing, utilizing air photos, balloon photos and satellite images, all in the study of an ancient city. The planning of the urban and rural aspects of two Roman Colonies at Corinth are outlined in detail, including some of the social, economic and political implications of these foundations.

Anyone with an interest in Roman culture and archaeology; digital cartography, GIS, and spatial analysis; ancient and modern surveying techniques; or city-planning and urban design will find this a rewarding workshop.

Funding for this workshop is provided by the Roberts Fund for Classical Studies at Dickinson College.