Monthly Archives: October 2013

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.

–Chris Francese

Digital Boot Camp @ Dickinson College January 6-18, 2014

The Digital Boot Camp at Dickinson College is an intensive 10-day paid training program to help students develop skills to produce and manage digital media content. During the program you will learn and practice the basics of how to manage and display content in WordPress, edit audio and video, use Geographic Information Systems to create custom maps, and more. You will practice skills on sample data provided by Dickinson faculty-led digital humanities projects. At the end of the experience, you will display the results of your work to interested faculty members, and be ready to apply for employment on faculty-led digital projects during the summer or during the academic year. Even those who do not find such employment will learn valuable skills that can be used both in academic work and later in professional settings. The program focuses not just on digital tools but also covers the theory and practice of how to communicate ideas and convey information effectively in the digital realm.

The program is split between online tutorials and on-campus instruction (see schedule). It is limited to 18 attendees, each of whom will receive housing, access to software and proprietary online training materials, and a $350 stipend to cover living expenses for the on-campus portion. Participants must be on campus the morning of January 14, and are approved to access their campus housing on January 14. Those who will require housing for the night of the 13 should indicate that on the application so arrangements can be made. Those students accepted into the workshop will be notified the first week of December, and will be required to attend one of two mandatory orientation sessions: Monday, December 9, 12:00-2:00 p.m. or Tuesday December 10, 12:00-2:00 p.m. To apply, fill out the application form and email it to  Please submit your application on or before Monday, November 26 at 5:00pm.

The program is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Digital Boot Camp Schedule

Digital Boot Camp Application

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.

Russian Rooms: Summer 2013 Progress

Russian Rooms is a multimedia project created and curated by Maria Rubin, Visiting International Scholar at Dickinson for the 2012-2014, showing portraits of average Russians in their home environment. You can read about each person and listen to an interview with them (in Russian) while viewing their portraits and the picture of the room they call their own. As discussed an earlier post, all the material created in this project becomes a part of the open teaching resources of the Dickinson Russian department, and is available to anyone else who wishes to use it.

My goal this summer was to do 15 new portraits and interviews; in the end, with funding from the Mellon Digital Humanities grant at Dickinson, I managed to interview and photograph 20 subjects and the rooms they live in.

boris_1Five of the subjects were of non-Russian ethnicity, specifically two Tatars, one Tajik, one Azerbaijan and one British. Four of them are Muslim. I sought out these subjects to give a more accurate account of Russian diversity today. Other subject varied widely in age and occupation, which also added diversity to the range of portraits.

The project involved travelling throughout Moscow, as well as through the extensive Moscow countryside, arranging interviews, taking photographs, and often returning to improve the portraits or to take another picture of the room where the subject lives. All in all, one portrait could take up to five hours work.

I now have about 40 photographs (two for each). They will require further editing, and I also need to do further work on writing a bilingual Russian-English text for each subject putting the information from the interviews together to compile brief biographies. I hope to have finished doing this and putting the results onto the Russian Rooms blog by the end of October.

The major (unforeseen) result of this summer’s work was a conceptual reorientation of the project: I moved from thinking about Russian individuals and their personal space to thinking more deeply about what Russianness means. This was triggered by the fact that I was travelling and photographing between Russia and America: I discovered that a “Russian room” can be a room in Russia where a non-Russian (Tajik, Tatar) can live; but one can also have “Russian rooms” outside of Russia – that is, places where émigré Russians have made their homes. Some questions arise: What unites them? How do they differ?

In future I would like to expand the number of photos, and move outside the Moscow region in my search for subjects (perhaps to a region of Russia where different ethnicities live, such as Tatarstan). I would also like to continue taking pictures of Russians and their rooms in America.

Maria Rubin