Author Archives: Chris Francese

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. 

Words Take Flight


by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

When hundreds of Japanese fighter pilots attacked a Hawaiian naval base on Dec. 7, 1941, they steered a two-year conflict, distant to many Americans, onto U.S. soil. Ralph Leland Minker ’47, a first-year history major at Dickinson, had just finished a roast beef dinner and was on his way to Conway Hall when he heard the news.

“At first there was a period of intense excitement and anxiety: What was going to happen?” Ralph—known as “Lee” to his family—later wrote. “After the New Year, a nervous calm prevailed but war became more real.”

This snippet is from just one of hundreds of letters Ralph penned to his family from 1942-45, chronicling his journey from undergrad to World War II commander and bomber pilot. Together with hundreds more mailings from his parents and sisters, the letters provide a vivid account of the war, viewed from battleground and homefront alike.

Two generations of Dickinsonians

The Minker family’s story begins at Dickinson, where Ralph Minker Sr., a senior in the class of 1920, met Edna Jones, class of ’24. They married three years after Ralph Sr.’s graduation, and Ralph Jr. was born in 1924. Shirley followed in 1926; Bernice, in 1928.

The Minkers settled in Wilmington, Del., where Ralph Sr., a Methodist pastor, also worked as a reform school superintendent, and for a decade, the family lived on school grounds. Ralph Jr. was a high school class president and, despite his small frame, played second-string quarterback. He arrived at Dickinson at age 17 in the fall of 1941.

Too young to enlist when America entered the war, Ralph volunteered for a military preparation program on campus that included accelerated classwork and rigorous phys-ed courses. Fourteen months later, he’d completed three semesters of credits and was ready to ship off to Florida for basic training.

Getting his wings

That train ride south was an adventure for the 18-year-old, who’d always wanted to travel, but had only ventured about 125 miles from home. And within just a few months, Ralph saw another boyhood dream come true when he climbed into a cockpit and learned to fly.

“There seems to be nothing at all around you—you’re floating in midair, but with the awful roar of the Franklin 65 H.P. engine in your ears,” Ralph wrote home from flight camp in Nebraska. “The ground looks just as if it were a picture by Stephen Curry.”

Ralph went on to pass his flight tests with flying colors, “feeling rather cocky,” he wrote from the classification base in California where he was stationed along with Joe DiMaggio. By the time he was assigned his B-17 crew, however, the weight of responsibility was beginning to sink in. “I hope I’ll make a good leader,” he wrote to his father. “Now is when it counts.”

Dispatches from the homefront

Ralph Sr. sent his son encouragement, advice, Dickinson updates, baseball scores and news of his anxious congregation and dwindling school staff. He also discussed his role as civilian defense warden, organizing government bond fundraisers, purchasing air-raid sirens and addressing jammed phone lines when too many soldiers called home.

When Ralph Sr.’s secretary joined the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) reserve, Edna filled in. In June 1943 she wrote to her son, “Maybe you will be surprised to learn that your mother is a ‘working lady’ now.”

Writing twice-weekly letters on the school typewriter, she provided church and family news and work gossip; she also sent packages of cookies and hard-to-find items, like film.

As Shirley finished high school and began college, she saw many friends leave for war. She wrote to her brother of military leaves and school goings-on, including an informal and female-dominated prom.

In between jokes and news, Bernice discussed a program to keep soldiers’ farms afloat, a teacher who joined the Red Cross, the scarcity of Hershey bars and a school air-raid evacuation in December 1943: “I had to get all of the ‘Ag’ boys in from outside. They were in the chicken house, and if you know what bedlam is, you can well imagine me trying to holler, ‘Air Raid, follow Plan B,’ over the chickens’ protesting clucks.”


A close shave

Ralph received his wings and commission as a second lieutenant on March 12, 1944. After co-piloting two missions, the youngest member of the 447th Bomb Group was ready to take command of his own crew.

Ralph went on to aid battles in Rhineland, the Ardennes region and central Germany flying 15 missions in support of ground troops during the Battle of the Bulge. His most nail-biting moment arrived when he nearly ran out of gas after bombing a Berlin train station and landed the B-17 on little more than gas fumes. Ralph was promptly inducted into the “Lucky Bastards Club,” reserved for those who flew 35 successful missions. He also earned the distinction of being the youngest 447th pilot to complete a 35-mission tour.

When V-E Day arrived, Ralph sent news of “the joy and thanks deep in the hearts of those of us in the service,” while his father wrote about “how the Nazi ideology could so completely grip people … the ‘spanking’ we have given them is just the beginning of the work necessary to a changed point of view.” The Minker women’s letters were less introspective. Edna focused on her son’s safety, his sacrifices and work yet to do, while Bernice was outright unimpressed: “I rather expected shouting and parades, but it’s just another day when we sit with ears glued to the radio, hoping for news.”Although his job was officially over, Ralph volunteered to stay on and fight, much to Edna’s dismay. By war’s end, he was a captain with an Air Medal and five oak leaf clusters, and he’d flown 37 missions—all before age 21.  

Memorializing a life of service

Ralph set sail for home on the HMS Queen Elizabeth, playing cards with fellow pilot Jimmy Stewart during the voyage. He returned to Dickinson and graduated with his history degree in 1947, followed his father’s footsteps to Boston University of Theology and was ordained in 1951.

Two decades later, after serving 11 churches and raising two children with first wife Peggy Ann, Ralph launched a career-counseling business. He married Sandra O’Connell in 1980, and they lived in Reston, Va. After Ralph’s 1995 Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he and Sandra decided to donate the family’s 656 WWII letters, recognizing their value to history.

The originals are housed at the Delaware Historical Society (DHS), with copies in the Dickinson archives; Ralph and Sandra also co-published a 2005 book about the collection with historian Harry Butowsky. In 1999-2000, Patrick Stevenson ’01 conducted an oral history of Ralph, published on the Dickinson website; they remained friends until Ralph’s death in 2008.

Last year, Sandra spearheaded a project to digitize the letters, with additional support from her sister, Sharron E. Juliano, and the Ralph Minker Peace Fund for Student-Faculty Research at Dickinson College. Patrick Kennaly ’17, a double major in history and Russian, helped prepare letter abstracts through a Dana Research Grant-funded project led by Associate Professor of History Jeremy Ball. The Minker family collection was made available on the DHS website last spring.

“Reading the letters was quite a privilege for me, especially as a history major, as I was able to work with such a large collection of primary sources that were very personal to the family,” said Kennaly, who was struck by the letter-writers’ distinctive tones.  

As Sandra notes, the online collection invites people worldwide to discover “not only the history of World War II, but also the values of doing your duty, love of country and family and shared sacrifice,” and she’s already tapped the online resource to help teach students about history and the value of letter-writing. Sandra is working with the DHS to develop online resources for further educational use.

“This is a legacy that is continuing to share the values of the generation that won our freedom,” she adds. “Seventy years later, young people are learning about the war and the people who lived through those days through these letters.” 

Learn more

Published January 16, 2017

How far will core vocabulary get you?

One of the claims that scholars make about vocabulary acquisition in Latin and Greek is that a relatively small number of high frequency lemmas (dictionary headwords) accounts for a high percentage of word forms in a typical text. John Muccigrosso and Wilfred Major, for example, estimate that the number of lemmas that will generate 80% of a typical text in Latin is 1500, in Greek, about 1100. (Muccigrosso, 2004, p. 416; Major, 2008, p. 7). Of course it stands to reason that this figure will differ between texts, and within texts, since some authors use relatively simple vocabulary (Nepos, Lysias), while some do not (Juvenal, Aeschylus), and some passages within an author have more unusual words than others. I and others have long wanted a way to calculate the “core percentage” in a given piece of text, that is the number of word forms in a section of a text that derive from high frequency lemmas. This would be both interesting from the point of view of literary criticism, and helpful pedagogically. Some data on that is now emerging in the case of Latin, thanks to the work of LASLA, of Bret Mulligan and his Bridge application, and the Excel skills of Derek Frymark (Dickinson ’12). If we take the 1000-word DCC core Latin vocabulary as the definition of high frequency lemmas, then 78% of Caesar’s Gallic War consists of core lemmas, excluding proper names. The core percentages by book in Caesar’s Gallic War look like this:

Book      Percentage

1             0.80

2             0.78

3             0.77

4             0.79

5             0.77

6             0.78

7             0.75

Individual chapters range from a high of 100% (7.61) to a low of 57% (7.72).

In the Aeneid (taking the chunks of the text as presented in Perseus) the average is 70% core, with a high of 88% (7.1–4), and a low of 46% (6.417–425).

Two Dickinson students, Seth Levin and Connor Ford, are working on visualizing the core percentage data for the Aeneid and the Gallic War as part of Dickinson’s Mellon-funded Digital Boot Camp, led by Patrick Belk, starting this week. I look forward to sharing the results in the next few weeks, and hearing what you think of them!


Major, Wilfred E. (2008). It’s Not the Size, It’s the Frequency: The Value of Using a Core Vocabulary in Beginning and Intermediate Greek. CPL Online, 4.1, 1-24.

Muccigrosso, John (2004). “Frequent Vocabulary in Latin Instruction.” Classical World, 97, 409-433.

January Digital Boot Camp for Dickinson Students

Student applications to Digital Boot Camp 2016 are due Friday, November 20, at 5:00 PM. Please invite students who may be interested in this two-week, paid opportunity. This year’s program includes an all-day “humanities hack-a-thon,” and the theme will be “Humanities at the Crossroads of Tradition and New Technologies.” The application form is available on the website, DBC 2016.

Out of the dozens of applications we received last year, eleven students were accepted into Dickinson’s Digital Boot Camp held in Waidner-Spahr Library (January 12-16). Funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Dickinson’s Digital Boot Camp 2015 was a two-week series of tutorials and on-campus workshops designed to help students develop the skills to produce and display, organize, and analyze digital content and information online.

Based in current Web technologies, students learned fundamentals of using Drupal (CMS) to design and display content, ArcGIS (Geographic Information Systems) for identifying and analyzing geographic relationships in humanities-based research, and Gephi (an open-source data visualization software) for mapping large complex sets of data for visualization, discovery, and network analysis.

This year’s upcoming program (January 11-22, 2016) will mark the third anniversary of DBC @ Dickinson, and be the first in which students have the opportunity to interact in Waidner-Spahr Library’s two new digital humanities workspaces, the Willoughby Digital Scholarship Lab and the <TEI Lab/>. Here they will be learning last year’s application technologies in addition to XML encoding and the markup language of TEI, which support the next-generation Web technologies that are already shifting scholarship away from today’s Web of Display to tomorrow’s Web of Data and Meaning.

For an example of Web 3.0 collaboration in the humanities, see the ARC BigDIVA (Big Data Infrastructure Visualization Application), a dynamic catalog of over 200 research projects in the digital humanities which students at Dickinson have been involved in building through textual markup of early 20th-c. magazines and internships in the <TEI Lab/> this year.

“The taxonomies we develop [through ARC] will be taken up by contributors to our nodes and could potentially become one of the standards for the semantic web. This is a big responsibility: we can at this moment have an impact on the way that literature is found on the Internet, not just by search engines but by data-mining and information systems that create encyclopedic definitions of the world. We are participating in the emergence of knowledge organization for the future, beyond Dewey and Library of Congress schemes.” — Dr. Laura Mandell, Professor of English, Texas A&M University, Director of ARC, 18thConnect and General Editor of The Poetess Archive.

Read what students last year are saying: Student Experience and Kristina Rodriguez’s Article from The Dickinsonian (Oct. 25, 2015); and learn more about the National Endowment for the Humanities and support for humanities computing, The Rise of the Machines

Patrick Belk

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)

Mycenae Lower Town Excavations and 3-D Reconstruction

Prof. Christofilis Maggidis sends along this report on his work documenting the Lower Town at Mycenae. The 3-D scanning and reconstruction work was partly funded by Dickinson Digital Humanities grants over the summers of 2013 and 2014.

The archaeological investigation of the Lower Town of Mycenae (2001-to date) aims to reveal the relationship between the citadel/palace of Mycenae and the surrounding settlement, and to show land development and public works (fortification walls, roads, bridges, dams, irrigation, terracing). The Geometric settlement (houses, workshops, silos, graves) dates to the 9th-8th century BC; these Geometric ruins are the first and only ones discovered so far at Mycenae since Schliemann’s excavations in 1874, and establish the cultural continuity of the site in the transition from the end of the Bronze Age, after the collapse of the Mycenaean world, to the historical period of the Early Iron Age. The underlying Late Mycenaean urban settlement (fortification walls, gates, houses, storerooms, dams, etc) dates to the 13th century BC, This is the first time that the very existence of the Lower Town is archaeologically established.

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The Mycenae GIS database built by the Dickinson team includes geology, terrain and topography (based on digitized Hellenic Military Geographical Service topographic maps, geological maps, satellite photos, and Total Station points), geophysical survey (subsurface architectural features detected by remote sensing), architectural remains, archaeological contexts, features, and finds (embedded and catalogued by date, accession number, material number, layer/context number, geodetic coordinates, grid-square and locus, photos and drawings).

The G.I.S. geodatabase further integrates a 3-D digital reconstruction of the Lower Town. . This comprehensive 3-D digital model of the site will constitute an interactive learning tool, but also a pioneer and dynamic digital publication platform with a powerful database, incorporating and illustrating the architectural development of the buildings with all successive construction or modification phases, their finds, and their surroundings.

The site scanner shoots millions of georeferenced points from many different angles and locations to compose a highly accurate (5mm) georectified ground plan

The site scanner shoots millions of georeferenced points from many different angles and locations to compose a highly accurate (5mm) georectified ground plan

This past summer, all excavated architectural structures of the palatial workshops at Mycenae, including buildings, walls, floors, deposits, gates, and roads were scanned with a 3-D Terrestrial Laser Scanner, which was leased for a period of three weeks from the Demokritos University of Thrace (Prof. Nikolaos Lianos). The site scanner shoots millions of georeferenced points from many different angles and locations to compose a highly accurate (5mm) georectified ground plan, thousands of cross-sections of orthogonal axial tomography (like a Cat-scan), and a ‘walk-through’ rotating 3-D model of the site, which forms the basis for the 3-D digital reconstruction of the workshops. Next year, the plan is to scan and photograph from the air the whole valley of the Lower Town and the cyclopean walls of the citadel in the backdrop using a videocamera-equipped drone in order to digitally recreate the precise terrain and background for the 3-D town/citadel model which will then form the basis for the georeferenced 3-D digital model of the ancient landscape.

For more information about the Mycenae Lower Town Excavations, see here and here.

Two New Historical Simulations

Three Dickinson students, Shayna Solomon, Patrick Schlee, and Edwin Padilla, working with Todd Bryant of Academic Technology, and Ed Webb, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies, have created two historical scenarios using the game “Civilization V” and the software “ModBuddy.” Todd Bryant passes along this report.

The first scenario is an updated and expanded version of a mod created by Todd Bryant in “Civilization IV” covering Europe and the Americas in 1492. The second scenario was developed from scratch and covers Europe and Africa beginning in 1876. To the greatest extent possible, each scenario accurately depicts the size of empires, geography, resources, diplomatic relations, military strength, scientific progress, and religion for the major civilizations of the time period. In addition to accurately recreating variables already within the game, the students used XML to change the underlying database of the game to create additional resources, military units, and social policies. Additional logic was also built using the coding language LUA to include the Atlantic slave trade in the 1492 mod and Rinderpest, the Berlin Conference, and malaria for the Africa/Europe 1876 mod.

1492: Aztecs: Playable civilizations include the Aztecs, the Quiche Maya, the Tarascans of Michoacan, the Incas, the Songhai, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, France, England, the Netherlands, Venice, and the Papal State.

1492: Aztecs: Playable civilizations include the Aztecs, the Quiche Maya, the Tarascans of Michoacan, the Incas, the Songhai, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, France, England, the Netherlands, Venice, and the Papal State.

A more detailed description of the 1492 mod as well as links to download can be found here, and for the Africa/Europe 1876 mod here. Students also wrote an extensive ReadMe file for each mod describing the research on which each mod was based. Each ReadMe file also explains decisions they made due to the limitations of the game and important historical factors that were unable to be included. Both are published and available online and as a ReadMe file within each download where the mods were published. The 1492 ReadMe file is available here, and the 1876 Africa/Europe mod is available here.

Two of the students, Shayna Solomon and Patrick Schlee, worked primarily as researchers on the project. Shayna focused on the Africa/Europe 1876 mod while Patrick worked on 1492. Although they spent most of their time conducting research and learning the variables used in the game, they also used the ModBuddy software to design the very extensive maps and modify some of the XML that held any changes to variables in the database.

Edwin Padilla was in charge of the technical aspects of both mods. This included learning the database structure underlying the game and how to write database queries in XML to make changes to variables in the database when the mod is loaded. He also learned a scripting language, LUA, which he used to introduce new logical elements to the game including the Atlantic slave trade, Rinderpest, and malaria.

The students in charge of research, Shayna Solomon and Patrick Schlee, gained a great deal of experience working with primary historical sources covering a very broad range of topics. They learned to analyze these documents for inaccuracy and historical bias as well as how these variables interacted in order to create as accurate a simulation as possible.

For Edwin Padilla, who was in charge of the technical aspects of both mods, he learned two new languages, LUA and XML. He also became familiar with the differences between writing code to create a program from scratch and using an API to modify someone else’s code. Finally, he worked with shareholders, including the other two students and Professor Webb, who were largely unfamiliar with the possibilities and limitations of coding via the API, to determine overall project goals and set priorities.

All three of these students can now point to a very public project in the rapidly evolving areas of games in education and the digital humanities. It allows them to showcase their individual skills while working as a member of a team.


The mods have been submitted to (a University of Harrisburg website tracking the use of commercial games in education), (a web forum for the Civilization game series and mods) and Steam (mainstream game and mod distributor).

Direct Download Links:

Via CivFanatics:

Colonization of Africa –

1492 –

Via Steam:

Colonization of Africa –

1492 –

This work was carried out in the summer of 2014, and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Digital Humanities Grant, administered by Dickinson’s Digital Humanities Advisory Committee.

Dickinson President’s Report

The annual report from Dickinson’s President Nancy A. Roseman and the senior staff is out, and I wanted to highlight the statements there on technology, scholarship, and learning, which nicely sum up the approaches being taken at Dickinson. President Roseman begins with her vision for the academic program, a statement which concludes with the following:

Lastly, we will seek new ways to leverage our work in the digital humanities, highlighting the value of technology to enhance, not replace, our high-touch, intensely collaborative approach to education.

Provost and Dean of the College Neil Weissman expands on this as follows:

Finally, technology. Despite all the talk of “disruption” and the threat of displacement of residential education epitomized by MOOCs, computing makes the liberal arts taught through direct student-faculty contact more, not less, germane. Rather than being replaced, liberal learning is enriched by technology as a tool. Each year, select Dickinson faculty in the Willoughby Institute for Teaching with Technology explore approaches to pedagogy ranging from the use of tablet computers in the classroom to new models of commentary on Greek and Latin texts. Supported by a $700,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, faculty are investigating digital approaches to the humanities. Another Mellon award has made possible a Central Pennsylvania Consortium faculty project on “blended learning” through the use of technology.

Students and faculty at Dickinson are fortunate to have strong administrative support for digital initiatives. Watch this space for details about some exciting faculty-driven and student-faculty collaborative projects, and news from the recently completed Digital Boot Camp.