Who are the classicists?

An interesting article from Vitruvian Design on  how non-scholars are pushing the boundaries of technology in a way that must revolutionise much of what scholars do.

We heard from the Alpheios project about recent development of their language learning tools. I’m thrilled to be using alpheios this fall both as a teacher of intermediate Latin and a student of first-semester Arabic, but what continues to impress me most about the project is the thoughtfulness of its architecture. The lexica (such as Liddell-Scott-Jones for Greek, and Lewis-Short for Latin) and linguistic information (very comprehensive morphological analyses, and for some sets of texts, syntactic tree banks of the kind David Bamman’s research uses) are cleanly organized as services that are accessible over the internet. …

Also in attendance was Google’s Will Brockman, who was able to comment on the recent public release of scans of over 500 Greek and Latin texts. (Six copies from three different editions of Pomponius Mela! Can you do that in your home library?)

A dynamically constructed lexicon; network services exposing Greek and Latin lexical and linguistic information to the internet ; a corpus of freely available texts — individually, these are major contributions to the study of Classics. Collectively, they really do lay the foundations for a radically altered discipline — and they exist today. If I wasn’t constantly hearing from fellow classicists that our discipline is in crisis, I would think that there has never been a better time to study Greek and Latin. …

I’ve been involved in all three projects, and know some of the back stories. None of the junior members of the original Perseus project were tenured at their original home institutions: all moved to other jobs, or left the field altogether. When an external review committee visited the University of Kentucky in the 1990s, after an extensive presentation about the Stoa prominently including the Suda On Line, a classicist asked the late Ross Scaife, “In what way does any of this constitute scholarship?” (A curious question about the first effort ever to translate into any language the rich and complex text of the Suda.) …

I draw two conclusions: first, that the study of classics is far too important to leave to classicists; and second that the study of Greek and Latin is still exciting enough to attract brilliant contributions from committed scholars who are not shackled with a title like “Professor of Classics.” In 2010, I’m starting to envy my students, and wish I had a few more decades to continue this work.

I agree.  We’re only starting to explore what is possible.

Scholars for a century have been using essentially the same methods to handle sources.  Paper journals and so forth provided the majority of the infrastructure.  This is now changing, and has been changing for some time.  The TLG has made a huge difference.  Google Books must make a huge difference.  JSTOR, although only accessible to the privileged, is making a difference.

The best is yet to come.


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