ePhilology: when the books talk to their readers

November 15th, 2006 by Ross Scaife

Curious about where classics might go in a digital world? See the preprint of a new article about ePhilology (by Gregory Crane, David Bamman, and Alison Babeu of the Perseus Project at Tufts University) that will appear in The Blackwell Companion to Digital Literary Studies.

From the introduction: “The term ePhilology implicitly states that, while our strategic goal may remain the scientia totius antiquitatis, the practices whereby we pursue this strategic goal must evolve into something qualitatively different from the practices of the past.”

And the conclusion:

Some emerging technologies could, if applied to classics and to other philological disciplines, have a swift and dramatic impact upon the questions that we pursue: machine translation, parallel text analysis, named entity identification, syntactic analysis, cross language information retrieval and a range of text mining methods are well suited to a range of needs. The impact of digital technology will, however, be far broader and more pervasive than any particular tools we can deploy in the immediate future. The future of classics depends less upon particular tools than upon an emerging digital environment that integrates an increasing number of tools together into a dynamic world, constantly evolving to answer our questions and support the life of the mind. From the nineteenth century through the twentieth, we were able to take our scholarly infrastructure for granted: we had our publishers and libraries, our editions, commentaries, lexica, journals, monographs, and encyclopedias. We now have the merging of print, broadcast media and gaming, new commercial entities planning universal access to a better library than the wealthiest academic institution on earth could provide to its faculty; we have new forms of intellectual production such as blogs and wikis; we have ontologies and knowledge bases at the core of reference materials; we have a world of dynamic information – books that read and learn from each other and from their human readers. The challenge now – and it is perhaps the greatest challenge classicists have faced since they found themselves pushed out of the center of the academy – is to shape this world and negotiate a new place for classical studies within it.

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