OSCE Roueche Paper

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Digital Texts for Classical Philologists (positioning paper)

Charlotte Roueché

Some of my first points will be negative. I am not lying awake in bed at night worrying about people who want to read Plato or Virgil, in the original or in translations. My principal concerns are with more obscure texts – firstly inscriptions and other documentary material; and secondly late and Byzantine texts. Materials of this kind are simply very hard to come by, except for people in very central places with huge libraries. They are published in small print runs, at high prices. Simply enhancing access to such material is my prime concern at present.

From this standpoint, what is the added value when texts are published on the web which are relatively easily accessed in standard forms? I would like to make two suggestions.

Firstly, material published in this way may be accessed by anyone on the globe. It is the duty of the OS scholar, I think, to consider long and hard what that wider audience might need. We have a fabulous opportunity, to increase the fanclub of the ancient world. This requires more than simply an English translation to accompany a text. We need to be alert to the needs both of people outside the conventional scholarly community, and also the non-English speaking world (yes, there is one!). I think it could be helpful to discuss these challenges, and appropriate responses.

Under this heading I propose to address:

  • Audiences: their identification, and there requirements
  • Teaching: the interface with research
  • Language issues

Secondly, insofar as our colleagues are concerned – what will be the benefit? I think that what they will expect is new levels of openness about the decision-making process: a bright light shining on the exercise of critical judgement. Again, for Byzantine texts I am developing a clear idea of what I want to do – I want to replicate the many layers of published editions which lie behind most classical texts. For classical texts, I think that the virtue should lie in a much clearer indication of the decisions underlying readings.

Under this heading I want to address

  • Identities: who is the editor?
  • Levels: How do we conceive the distribution of the various scholarly tasks? Who is responsible for what? How does the user identify their voices?
  • Authenticity: what level of support do statements in this medium impose? (e.g. should a proposed reading be linked to an image of the MS)?
  • Afterlife: How are we going to express the status of my product after other people have remodelled/enriched it?

Both of these approaches share an element of danger. The raison d'être for such publication is fullness and clarity: it needs to be 'warts and all'. I see this as a very real source of fear and mistrust among colleagues: and we need to work to overcome these feelings.

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