(Report by Bartolo Natoli on the digital classics panel, April 6, 2013.)
Last week, I had the privilege of participating in the Classical Association Annual Conference at the University of Reading, UK. One of the panels that I attended struck me as particularly intriguing and important in today’s world of Higher Education: the Digital Classics panel. In fact, at the same time at which the CA Conference was occurring, the first annual Digital Classics Association Conference was happening at the University of Buffalo, a fact that further underlines the growing importance of this emerging side of Classics.
The CA panel consisted of three papers that provided three unique methods of blending Classics with technology. In the first paper, Daniel Kiss (Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität München) shared his experience with creating Catullus Online, an online repository of conjectures for all the manuscripts of Catullus. The website boasts the texts of the entire Catullan corpus, interlinear commentaries and apparatus critici for all the poems, and embedded images of 3 of the 4 major manuscripts in which the corpus was transmitted (T, O, and G). In addition to being a tremendously useful project for Latinists around the world, Catullus Online is also instructive as to the potential problems of Digital Classics. Kiss pointed out the concerns he had regarding whether or not his work would be considered in the same light as traditional publications, a major concern that is developing in Higher Education.
In the second paper, Olga Vartzioti (Univeristy of Patras) presented research being undertaken at Patras to bring the Latin language into the UNL (Universal Networking Language) structure. UNL is a language designed to represent semantic data extracted from natural language texts in an effort to create a foundation for the representation of all languages in a systematic fashion (It’s helpful to think of UNL as fulfilling the same role in regard to standardizing representations of grammar and syntax as the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) does in regard to standardizing representations of phonetics and pronunciation). The hope of the project is to use UNL to better our understanding of how Latin grammar and syntax works and to make transitions between Latin and any other language an easier task.
The final paper, given by Alexander McAuley (McGill University), shared the successful use of the Internet to house genealogical scholarship on the Seleucids. The paper chronicled McAuley’s development of the site from brainstorm to publication and raised critical issues for the implementation of technology in Classics, such as the ability to link content from multiple sites together in one location. Since online Classics resources are relatively fragmented and searching them resembles pulling individual books off of a library shelf, embedding information from various sites provides a faster, modern, more interactive experience. As a conclusion to his talk, McAuley shared circulation numbers for the leading Classics journals and compared them to the unique visitors to his site. The results were quite shocking, as his small-scale site reached triple the number of people traditional journals did in a calendar year. Such numbers served to emphasize both the opportunity and the necessity of carving out a space for Classics in cyberspace.
All of the papers presented furthered the basic appeals made by Charlotte Roueché in her plenary lecture: it is necessary for the Classics to return to the sense of collaboration and intellectual fellowship of the mid-19th century, and technology, with its roots in open access, provides a tremendous means of doing so. This panel presented three unique methods of increasing intellectual collaboration and networking. As we move further into the digital revolution, let us all hope that open access, collaborative projects such as these will continue to push Classics forward and imbue the field with renewed vitality and flexibility.