Hack Your Latin Supplemental: Get a Grip on quidem

Fontaine scripsit

Get a grip on quidem. It’s a particle, one of the only ones in Latin. Either translate it “yes” or “(it’s) true” or don’t translate it at all. It implies or points forward to a contrast, usually marked by the word sed (but). For example, the sentence homo stultus quidem est, sed bonus means “The guy is an idiot, it’s true, but he’s good.” You could also translate that “The guy is an idiot, yes, but he’s good” or “The guy is an idiot, but he’s good.” Never translate it “indeed” since it doesn’t mean that in the English of 2016.

aliqua exempla collegi

meus vir hic quidem est. “This is my husband” (Plaut. Amph. 660)

me quidem praesente numquam factum est, quod sciam. “This never happened in my presence, as far as I know.” (Plaut. Amph. 749)

facile id quidem edepol possum, si tu vis. “I can easily do that, if you want.” (Plaut. Cist. 234)

ne id quidem tam breve spatium potest opitulari. “Not even that brief amount of time can help.” (Cornelia, mater Gracchorum, epistula, fragmenta 2.8)

nimis stulte faciunt, mea quidem sententia. “They behave very stupidly, in my opinion.” (Plaut. Men. 81)

adeo veritatis diligens, ut ne ioco quidem mentiretur. “So careful about the truth that he did not lie even for a joke.” (Nepos Epam. 3)

utinam quidem istuc evenisset! Sed non accidit. “If only it had turned out that way! But it did not happen.” (Nepos Eum. 11)

simulacrum Cereris unum, quod a viro non modo tangi sed ne aspici quidem fas fuit. “A statue of Ceres that it was forbidden for men to touch, or even to look at.” (Cic. In Verr. 2.5.187)

How consistent is Latin punctuation in PHI?

Latin punctuation is one of those classicist trade-secret things. To understand it fully takes intense study, and most classicists have views, no doubt dogmatically held. I am no purist. The bottom line for me is that Latin punctuation is just not as rule-bound as punctuation in English. Not that that is a bad thing. It’s just a different tradition. School texts have far more punctuation than scholarly critical editions. Some of the I Tatti editions seem almost allergic to punctuation. Editing a Neo-Latin text has made me newly aware of this issue, since I am frequently having to make decisions about where to put commas (trying to keep them to a minimum consistent with clarity), whether to use semi-colons (almost never), and so on. Early modern printed editions are notoriously punctuation happy. It sometimes seems as if the printer loaded a shotgun with commas, colons, and periods and fired at the page. Here is a taste:

Latin text with lots of punctuation

Joannis Petri Maffeii Bergomatis E Societate Jesu Historiarum Indicarum Libri XVI (Vienna: Bernardi, 1752; orig. 1588), p. 6.

A more minimal, modern punctuation might be:

illud praesertim summo conatu pervestigare num quis ab Atlantico in Eoum Oceanum vel mari vel terra transitus foret. Quippe iam tum, praeter acerrimum propagandae Christianae fidei studium, ad beatas etiam Arabiae gazas et Indici litoris opulenta commercia mentem et cogitationem adiecerat.

Although as a rule I would rather not have commas around prepositional phrases like praeter .. studium, it seems useful for comprehension in this case.

Various authors have explained their practices recently. My main guides are Cynthia Damon, who has an excellent discussion in the preface to her Oxford Classical Text of Caesar’s De bello civili, and Milena Minkova, whose wonderful Neo-Latin anthology I recommend heartily to anyone who wants to sample the best Latin writing in the early modern period. They both recommend a restrained approach, but Minkova insists that ablatives absolute, for example, should almost always be enclosed in commas. Damon (wisely, in my view) reserves semi-cola for independent clauses in indirect discourse. Given the flexibility available to editors, the golden rule is: a well-punctuated text shows that the editor understands the text.

In investigating this issue I have been intrigued to see the degree of variation among the modern edited texts (mostly Teubners and OCTs) reproduced in PHI, and I have never seen any collection of instances of variation or consensus among them. So, for those who might be interested in such things, here is my working list. The second column represents my policy, based on my own intuition and observations from PHI.

non modo …, sed include the comma before sed
partim …, partim include the comma before the second partim
dubium quin no comma before quin in phrases like “neque erat dubium quin”
ea lege ut comma before ut? PHI examples go both ways
non tam X … quam Y usually no comma
adeo … ut
comma before ut? Editors seem to differ a lot on this point. Some religiously include it (e.g. Marshall’s Nepos), others tend not to. In the Livy editions on PHI they tend to leave it out, which I prefer in most circumstances.
primum … dein clauses usually separated by comma if short, semi-colon if longer http://latin.packhum.org/search?q=%5BLiv%5D+primum+~+Dein%23
his dictis no comma after this introductory formula
factum est ut comma after est? editors seem to vary on this
eo magis quod comma after magis? Generally not
vel … vel This seems to vary a bit, but generally comma can be omitted before the second vel
introductory ablative absolute These seem to go without a comma if they are only two or three words
x adiuvante no need for commas around this kind of very short ablative absolute
primo … ; dein or primo … dein, or primo …. Dein? Check out the examples from Livy
make sure to use the comma if a subordinate clause (ubi, cum), or abl. abs., immediately follows.
ut fit, ut assolet
these parenthetical expressions are normally enclosed in commas, though sometimes ut fit is not in PHI
is cum no comma

The Fables of Elizabeth Jane Weston

Elizabeth Jane Weston (1582-1612; English, but active in Prague) was one of the most talented Latin poets of the early modern period. Much celebrated in her own time, she is rarely read today, though she has achieved some measure of gaming fame as a character in Assassins’ Creed. Donald Cheney and Brenda Hosington translated her collected works in a book published by Toronto University Press in 2000. A digitized transcription of her three-volume collection Parthenica (1606?) is available at the Neo-Latin site CAMENA, published by scholars at the University of Mannheim. This is how I first encountered her works. There are, as far as I know, no editions meant for students of Latin, with vocabulary glosses, notes, and so forth, with the exception of this interesting 2017 blog post, which discusses a poem by Weston addressed to Ovid in exile. As a small step in remedying this I asked the students in my recently concluded Ovid class at Dickinson to produce, as their final projects, individual editions of her fables, Quaedam Fabulae Aesopicae (Parthenica vol. 2) and here they are for your enjoyment. Each includes a Latin text, vocabulary list and notes, English translation, text and translation of kindred Aesopic material, a short discussion interpreting the fable (Weston gives no explicit morals), and suggests about how they might be relevant to the author’s circumstances.

young woman holding quill pen

Fan-made image of Elizabeth Weston from Assassin’s Creed wiki

Leo et Rana (The Lion and the Frog), commented on by Jocelyn Wright

Cassita Sola (The Captured Lark), commented on by Lexi Chroscinski

Sus et Canis (The Sow and the Dog), commented on by Nick Morris

Anseres et Grues (The Geese and the Cranes), commented on by Jack Tigani

De Pulice et Milite (On the Flea and the Soldier), commented on by Carl Hamilton

Columba et Tabula Picta (The Pidgeon and the Painting), commented on by Katrina Falkner

Those looking for more detail on her interesting and difficult life are directed to the excellent introduction in the book of Cheney and Hosington, or to J.W. Binns, Intellectual Culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England: The Latin Writings of the Age (Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1990), pp. 110-114. Binns’ book is now hard to find, so here is a bit of what he has to say (p. 110): 

The writings of the Anglo-Latin poet best known on the continent in the early 17th century were never printed in England. Elizabeth Jane Weston is nowadays completely ignored by literary histories; but in her day, she was widely celebrated and earned for herself the sobriquet the ‘Maid of England’. A few details drawn from her own work and from later accounts may however be given. According to the traditional view she was born in England circa 1582 and left the country in her youth, along with her parents and brother, after her father, who fell into disgrace for political or religious reasons, had lost all his property. In 1597, when the Weston family was in Bohemia, Elizabeth’s father died, and the family seemed to have been saved from destitution by the unusual talents of Elizabeth Weston herself, who attracted the notice and patronage of various influential men, especially Georg Martin von Baldhoven, a Silesian nobleman with whom she corresponded. In April 1603 Elizabeth Weston married a jurist at the Imperial court, Johann Leon, and by him had four sons, whom she outlived, and three daughters. She herself died on 23 November 1612, and was buried in Prague in St. Thomas church. (p. 110)

After surveying the letters and verse she wrote to the Emperor Rudolph II and other possible or actual patrons, Binns continues (p. 113),

The verses which Elizabeth Weston wrote to such great men, known personally or by letter, are only part of her poetry. She can recount vividly incidents from her own life, such as the flooding in Prague and her recollections of the garden of Johann Barvitius. Some poems describe the effects upon her of poverty, and her emotional states: one deals movingly with her brother’s death, and in another she compares her own fate as an exile to that of Ovid. Some handle religious themes, for instance her verses on the life of Jesus. There are poems in which she gives moral advice, and epigrams on secular and sacred subjects, including love, friendship, greed, charity and the evils of riches. She writes occasional verses on St. Andrew’s day and on her own name day. In one poem she attacks the faithlessness and duplicity of the Jews. There are several verse paraphrases of some of Aesop’s fables, including these stories of the Lion and the Frog, the Eagle and the Tortoise, and the Sow and the Dog. Certain poems allude to her weaknesses as a writer of poetry. The accomplishment and sweetness of her verse was much praised … (p. 113).

My own personal favorites so far are her poems about printing, one an ingenious celebration of Gutenberg, the other an amusing account of her visit to the shop of some hard-working and hard-drinking printers. It reminded me of the final scene of the 2019 film adaptation of Little Women, in which Louisa May Alcott watches her books being produced in pride and amazement.

Dickinson Ancient Greek Workshop 2021: Against Neaira

Want to improve your reading fluency in Ancient Greek and learn more about ancient Greek culture? Please join us for the Dickinson Ancient Greek Workshop.

What: Dickinson Ancient Greek Workshop

When: August 9-13, 2021

Where: Zoom link to be provided to registered participants

Text: Ps-Demosthenes, Against Neaira

Fragment of a terracotta lebes gamikos

Fragment of a terracotta lebes gamikos, ca. 440 BC. Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Delivered sometime in the late 340s BCE, Against Neaira traces Neaira’s life from her youth as a sex worker and argues that her children with an Athenian citizen man are illegitimate. The speech is highly revealing of Athenian society, citizenship, religion, women, and law. Its Greek is straightforward and enjoyable to read, making it an ideal text to improve reading fluency. The text we will use (edited by Deborah Kamen) has notes and complete running vocabulary lists, so if you have mastered the DCC core Ancient Greek vocabulary of 500 words a dictionary should not be necessary.

Meetings: to accommodate participants from multiple time zones, the workshop will meet daily from 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m, Eastern Daylight Time US (UTC -4:00), with the rest of the day reserved for study.

Intended audience: Readers at all levels of experience are welcome, but knowledge of the basics of Ancient Greek grammar and familiarity with core vocabulary are expected. Letters of completion for purposes of professional development for teachers will be available, for 56 hours (including preparation time).

Moderator: Prof. Scott Farrington, Dickinson College. Scott is an ancient historian who earned his PhD at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His publications have focused primarily on the Histories of Polybius and the nature and development of literary prose in antiquity. His most recent article (Classical Philology, 2021) reinterprets the ancient proverb “Nothing to do with Dionysus.” He has offered classes in the Greek and Latin languages, the history of the ancient world and its reception, and Athenian law.

Registration and fees: to register, please email Mrs. Terri Blumenthal, Classical Studies Academic Department Coordinator (blumentt@dickinson.edu). A fee of $200 is due by July 23, 2021 in the form of a check made out to Dickinson College, mailed to Terri Blumenthal, Department of Classical Studies, Dickinson College, Carlisle PA 17013. 

 For more information please contact Scott Farrington (farrings@dickinson.edu)


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.] https://books.google.com/books?id=hOFaAAAAQAAJ&pg=RA16-PA4#v=onepage&q&f=false

Here is the first reprint, source of the existing annotations: A. Fabricius, Bibliotheca Graeca, vol. 13 (Hamburg, 1726) [pp. 259ff.] https://books.google.com/books?id=muVEAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA260#v=onepage&q&f=false

Here is edition I quote from above: Biblioteca antica e moderna di storia letteraria, vol. 3 (Pesaro, 1768) [pp. 312ff.] https://books.google.com/books?id=orBOshjAEzYC&pg=PA312#v=onepage&q&f=false

And here is a manuscript copy of the third quarter of the 17th century, in Kassel, Germany, deriving from the version in Florence: https://orka.bibliothek.uni-kassel.de/viewer/image/1384356226837/19/LOG_0002/

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 https://www.dickinson.edu/download/downloads/id/4510/evaluation_of_digital_scholarship_at_dickinson 

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. www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv65swj3.

Todd Presner, “How to Evaluate Digital Scholarship,” Journal of Digital Humanities, 1.4 (Fall 2012). http://journalofdigitalhumanities.org/1-4/how-to-evaluate-digital-scholarship-by-todd-presner/