CA2007 abstracts

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Digital Classicist panels presented at the Classical Association 2007

Panel 1: Research into people and places

Convenor: Dr Gabriel Bodard, King's College London

This panel consists of four papers that each present a traditional research question of the kind typically asked by classicists, and addressed by analysis of evidence and methodology. All of these papers make use of, in additional to primary evidence about ancient people and places, computational methodological approaches, and interest will be paid to the description of the value of these digital methods and the new evidence they can bring to a research question. It will be stressed that the primary evidence and research agendas are still those of trained classicists, historians, and archaeologists borrowing new skills to enhance their work. The nexus of research skills that can be collected around the term Digital Classics augment our traditional work in a variety of ways. Digital presentation mechanisms offer many advantages over black-and-white paper publications, from improved accessibility to information, through novel use of media such as images, hypertext, and interactive multimedia, to an "open source" approach that makes the digital data behind a research project available for checking, reproducibility, and re-use. Other digital methods mean information can be retrieved more quickly, as with searching a large relational database or an interactive concordance of text corpora. Most interesting, however, are those digital approaches which do not merely reproduce existing research questions in more streamlined or efficient ways, but allow us to approach the ancient evidence in an entirely new light, enabling new questions to be asked, and new research topics to be formulated. So long as the scholar conducting this research is a classicist with a grounding in the traditions of scholarship, this level of innovation is to be embraced.

All of the presenters are classicists whose historical perspective is at least as profound as, and usually stronger than, their familiarity with the technologies they are discussing. Bodard has been studying the inscriptions of Aphrodisias for the last five years, and will apply XML and database tools to the study of relationships in the prosopography of the site. Tupman is completing a PhD on the cupae of Roman Iberia, and will show how a sample of her data in an epigraphic interchange format, EpiDoc, can cast new light on the relationship between texts and archaeological context. Dunn is an Aegean archaeologist whose work on place and space in the Greek world is enhanced by new tools for geographic and topographic analysis. Isaksen's work on ancient travel itineraries and on Ptolemy's geography leads directly into an analysis of the issues surrounding the tagging of place references and names in ancient texts.

Prosopography of Aphrodisias: a new database-driven study

Dr Gabriel Bodard, King's College London

The Inscriptions of Aphrodisias (InsAph) is a three-year AHRC-funded project led by Professor Charlotte Roueché at King's College London, building on a previous one-year project during which we published 250 Late Antique inscriptions from the same city. We aim to publish the 2000 or so inscriptions which are being edited by Dr Joyce Reynolds, in May 2007. The purpose of the project has also been to develop and trial the EpiDoc system and related technologies for the digital study and publication of epigraphic documents.

One of the main research agendas of the InsAph project will be to record and identify the many individuals from the city of Aphrodisias whose names are preserved in the inscriptions. With upwards of 2000 inscriptions, collecting the names alone will be a major task, as a single honorific or funerary inscription may record up to six or seven generations of a single family, along with marriages, relationships between families, dated stephanephorates, and other offices. Identifying individuals and attaching them to these names is an even bigger task, and one that could clearly be assisted by the use of semantically encoded database technologies. The ability to compare sets of alternately named male lines, with reference to approximate dates, palaeographical and other internal data, known relationships, status information, cognomina, and the like will radically enhance the researchers' ability to carry out their task.

The greater proportion of the inscriptions are unpublished and will require all new work, but we shall have to combine work on these texts with reference to and revision of the previous prosopographical and onomastic work carried out on the published inscriptions by projects such as the Prosopographia Imperii Romani, Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, Prosopography of the Byzantine World, and the (as yet unpublished) database of the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, all of which have proved willing to collaborate and share data.

This paper will report on the InsAph prosopographical database, which is currently in the planning phase. The database will call upon the expertise in such matters among colleagues at the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at KCL, as well as recent work on the personography module by the Text Encoding Initiative, on which we have actively collaborated. Tools for analysing and manipulating the prosopographical information in this dataset will also be discussed, including network analysis of individual and family relationships. Preliminary conclusions and new discoveries facilitated by these methods may also be previewed.

XML Presentation and Analysis of Inscribed Cupae

Charlotte Tupman, University of Southampton

Several hundred semi-cylindrical and barrel-shaped tombstone monuments, known as cupae, were set up at sites within the Iberian Peninsula during the first three centuries AD. The thesis upon which this paper draws considers that commemoration with inscribed stone monuments is best understood within the context of the local monumental practices of the sites concerned, and aims to illuminate our understanding of the cupae through a comprehensive analysis of the text and decoration of these monuments at the sites at which they were set up. The study embraces recent criticism of the traditional separation of the epitaph and the iconography, and utilises both the epigraphic and the stylistic evidence of the tombstones to address the question of how different identities could be created within the funerary environment.

An electronic presentation of these epigraphic texts in the XML schema recommended by the EpiDoc Collaborative ([1]) would enable related elements to be studied and presented in parallel. As with all inscriptions, perhaps the most difficult relationship to express is that between the textual object, which is read as words, and the archaeological artefact with the wealth of contextual, architectural, artistic, and other historical information associated with it. Inscriptions have often been marginalised in traditional scholarship because of the difficulty of accommodating their multi-faceted nature.

An EpiDoc presentation of a small group of inscriptions from a single site will serve to demonstrate the value of the approach for both research and publication of inscribed artefacts. The objects can be displayed in their archaeological and spatial contexts, with rich photographic images and plans as well as detailed descriptions. Data about both the text and the object will be indexed and can then be compared with other inscriptions both within the corpus and to other texts in the EpiDoc system using categories including monument type, findspot, personal names, and word forms. This approach, applied to a large body of texts, becomes an immensely valuable scholarly tool. Electronic publication of these inscriptions will also prove useful given their particular cultural context: most of the Iberian cupae are published in Spanish. EpiDoc can offer multiple versions of a single document in various languages; simplified or modified translations for students and diplomatic editions; different layouts can be used to highlight certain elements of the commentary, and so forth. I shall demonstrate both the flexible publication features and the powerful research elements of the EpiDoc presentation of these inscriptions.

Mapping Classical Locations

Leif Isaksen, Oxford Archaeology

An ever increasing number of ancient texts are becoming available electronically, and with them the possibilities of exploring, comparing and representing aspects of their content in new ways. Geographic, spatial and locational information in particular is often present in one form or another, but the diversity of means by which it is expressed has usually led to the creation of genericizing maps and atlases which must inevitably mask the variegate nature of the sources, greatly limiting our ability to ask sophisticated questions of them.

This paper will look at a number of historical documents, including the Antonine Itineraries, the Geography of Ptolemy and the Peutinger Table in order to explore alternative means of encoding and analyzing such disparate texts. That there are advantages to recording this spatial information in a structured manner will become clear. However in maintaining such structures, the different spatial frameworks that underlie them will also be highlighted, leading to the question as to whether and how such information can be integrated into a meaningful composite whole.

  • Adams, C. & Laurence, R. 2001. (eds.) Travel and Geography in the Roman Empire. London: Routledge
  • McCormick, M. 2002. Origins of the European Economy: Communications and Commerce AD 300-900. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
  • Pitts, F. R. 1965. 'A Graph Theoretic Approach to Historical Geography'. The Professional Geographer, Vol. 17, No. 5 pp. 15-20
  • Ptolemy, Berggren, J. L. & Jones, A. 2001. Ptolemy's "Geography": An Annotated Translation of the Theoretical Chapters. Princeton Univeristy Press: Princeton
  • Talbert, R. J. A. & Brodersen, K. 2004. Space in the Roman World. Its Perception and Presentation. Antike Kultur und Geschichte, Bd. 5. LIT Press: Muenster

New Approaches to Ancient Places: Perceiving landscapes in ancient writings using geospatial computing

Stuart Dunn, King's College London

From Homer’s Odyssey to the comedies of Aristophanes and beyond, and the rise of periegetic literature in the third century BC, there is a wealth of references to places in a great variety of contexts. Collectively this forms the visible (at least visible to posterity) face of a literary construct that captures a physical landscape familiar (whether by reputation or experience) to the contemporary Aegean inhabitant. Within this construct is a complex structure of spatial references and meanings. Place emerges as a literary topos alongside oral traditions, which must have played a key role in social cohesion.

Perceptions of space on a much smaller scale go hand in hand with this. As in many modern societies, concepts such as ‘male’ and ‘female’; ‘religious’ and ‘secular’; ‘public’ and ‘private’ and so on guided, and were guided by, architectural layout and the identification of certain spaces for certain purposes. Textual references to Greek thinking in such matters, in fragments and allusions in literature, are complemented by depictions of non-mythic scenes in vase painting and other media. Again, the research questions involved are well-known.

Although recent attempts have been made to address such concepts of space and place from a philosophical point of view [1], what is lacking is a common mechanism for approaching them in a systematic way across large text and/or epigraphic corpora. One way of achieving this is to expose references in texts to place-names (e.g. ‘Athens’); types of place (e.g. ‘poleis’); regions (e.g. ‘Boeotia’), as well as features familiar from the archaeological record, to geospatial analysis in a digital environment. This involves far more than simple georeferencing, or the assignation of computer-readable latitude/longitude coordinates to named places or features; it is about relating together such computer-readable (geo)references and their contexts within and across texts in a way that makes sense. This paper will demonstrate a prototype database structure for managing such data, and present georeferenced datasets for a number of sample texts. This will show how a common machine-readable coordinate system can be used to compare, contrast, and (in a software platform such as ArcGIS) visualize, different structures of spatial references in different textual settings.

[1] Ramo, H. 1999: An Aristotelian Human Time-Space Manifold: from chronochora to kairotopos. Time & Society, Vol. 8, No. 2-3, 309-328.

Panel 2: Interdisciplinary approaches to research and pedagogy.

Convenor: Simon Mahony, King's College London


  • Research
  • Pedagogy
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Collaboration


  • New tools for research
  • Collaboration of computing and Classics
  • Literary criticism and computing
  • New approaches to textual material

How might research projects utilising new technologies be constructed so that they foster collaborative working practices and the sharing of knowledge generated? Collaboration often involves sharing methodologies with other disciplines. This is one of the great strengths of the digital humanities approach as it stands at the interface between scholarship and technology, taking methodologies from one discipline area, developing them and repurposing them in another. How might research projects be set up such that the expertise developed might be fed back into teaching to encourage and stimulate interdisciplinarity amongst upcoming young scholars?

The digital humanities provides many opportunities for scholars to integrate their research interests with their teaching, and, as McCarty will show, to bring that research to the classroom. These portable digital methodologies need to become part of the training of new scholars in traditional humanities disciplines such as Classics so that practitioners will be able to respond to future developments that will occur and maintain their research projects at the forefront of scholarship.

Mahony and Terass both use the Digital Classicist as a vehicle to argue for the need for collaborative working in our discipline. Computer scientists and classicists will have a different focus and research agenda so common ground must be sought when seeking to use advanced computational techniques. The research questions of the digital classicist must appeal to the computer scientists and feed into their agenda if their collaboration is sought. The developing area of social software in the form of blogs and wikis opens up new opportunities for sharing thoughts, ideas and scholarship in innovative ways that encourage collaborative working as well as more interactive learning.

Collaboration in the form of cross-over research projects such as that outlined by Toufexis allow the sharing of methodologies and the pooling of resources to maximise research potential. The approaches outlined here focus on diglossia across a wide range of Greek texts creating lexical research material for Classicists, Medievalists and Neohellenists.

New tools for learning and collaborative research: the Digital Classicist Wiki.

Simon Mahony, King’s College London

The Digital Classicist: [2], set up by practitioners interested in the application of the digital humanities to the study of the ancient world, provides a web-based focus for research interest in this rich, diverse and multi-national field of scholarship. The main website gives the opportunity to add to an annotated list of classical projects that use computing technology as well as links to freely available tools and web resources. The Digital Classicist fills an important gap in the existing scholarly documentation by creating concise, reliable and critical guidance on crucial technical issues for scholars. One of the stated aims of the site is to bring scholars together and addresses head-on the issues of collaborative working.

The tools chosen were the weblog (now joined with the Stoa) and the wiki: [3]. Central to this wiki is the FAQ list which provides the means for collaborative authoring of full-blown guides to practice. It will be shown that these need to be considered as research outputs in themselves and in addition that the list is a legitimate end in its own right, answering useful questions on typographical issues, digital publication, the nature of digital humanities, as well as addressing other user issues and research questions.

Discovery is at the heart of all educational and research practice and along with annotation should be considered one of the basic building blocks of scholarship or the fundamental operations that are performed during the research process. The ability to add the personal thoughts of a scholar to electronic texts or any other digital medium poses many challenges. With the wiki authoring material, annotation of that material, changes, corrections and amendments are greatly speeded up thus knowledge creation is also greatly speeded up.

This paper will argue that these new tools open up new opportunities for collaborative authorship, the exchange of ideas, and the opportunities to add thoughts and comments in the form of annotation. It will show the use of this wiki both in the areas of research and pedagogy; argue for both the value of the research output and the usefulness of the site itself as a research tool as well as for the teaching and learning potential of this type of collaborative authorship; engage with the pedagogical as well as the research implications of this activity.

A Schema for Teaching Digital Classics

Willard McCarty Reader in Humanities Computing, King’s College London; Contextualizing Classics Programme, University of Sofia St Kliment Ohridski (Bulgaria)

Various research projects in the digital classics have for decades shown transformative effects on research. Strong arguments have been made as to the possibilities. These would appear to be generally accepted by practicing classicists. Yet the teaching of digital methods is seldom given a place in the curriculum. Its absence in the programmes may partly be due to the false belief that IT training in the schools is sufficient. Partly, however, it is due to our widespread ignorance of how to integrate advanced training in these methods into the various disciplinary specialities.

One way is to offer minor and joint honours degree programmes in which students spend some portion of their time studying digital methods separately. This has the advantage of emphasizing the portability of these methods and thus encourages students to apply them in new situations. (Such an approach is taken by the Centre for Computing in the Humanities at King’s College London.) Another, complementary way is to combine digital with non-digital analytic approaches in the same course, basing the work of the course on a core research problem in classics. There are two advantages to the second approach. The first is that it integrates humanities computing with classics explicitly and that this integration is done by the lecturer(s) rather than by the students, who are ill-equipped to handle such a challenging task. The second is that it puts the truth of a long-standing claim to the test: that computing gives researchers an effective means of bringing their research into the classroom.

In this paper I will present a general schema for such courses, using as a concrete example a literary-critical analysis of figurative language in the Metamorphoses of Ovid. This schema is designed as a full-year series of lectures accompanied by laboratory-tutorials, extensive readings and a major assessed project. Depending on the teaching staff, the lectures can be given by one person or by two working closely together. Variations on the schema will be described, e.g. change in focus to archaeological, historical or philological research, or in level of difficulty to accommodate implementation at undergraduate as well as postgraduate levels. The intention of the paper is not to describe a single course but a flexible template on the basis of which many courses could be designed.

The Digital Classicist: Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Melissa Terras, University College London

Analysis and understanding of ancient manuscripts and texts through the use of advanced computational techniques and information technology is only useful, and indeed, possible, when there is enough knowledge and understanding regarding both the classical and computational elements of the research project. In such cases, the technological tools developed can aid both the classicist and the computer scientist, in the development of novel techniques which are applicable elsewhere.

A demonstrative case is recent work done on building an intelligent image processing and artificial intelligence based system to aid in the reading of the Roman stylus texts from Vindolanda (Terras 2006). In this case, a joint project between the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents ([4]) and the Department of Engineering Science ([5]) at the University of Oxford resulted in a system which both aided the scholar in reading the Vindolanda texts (Terras and Robertson 2005) and developed innovative image processing algorithms (Molton et al 2003, Schenk and Brady 2003, Brady et al. 2005), which are proving useful in a range of applications, including the detection of breast cancer in mammograms. Due to problems in establishing interdisciplinary research projects such as this one, and securing adequate funding, the question remains how other research projects in classics and computer science can be established which would benefit both discipline areas.

Although many younger classical scholars are developing better computational skills and knowledge, it is often the case that projects depend on collaboration with computer scientists and engineers to develop tools, techniques, and methods which may be applicable to the further understanding of classical texts (and computational algorithms). This poses many problems for both the classicist aiming to utilise advanced computational techniques and the scientist aiming to use the classical research question as the "real world" problem: not only have they to find interested collaborators, but to engage with the discourse, habits, and different focus of other disciplines in order to answer their own research questions (Evans 1995, Becker and Trowler 2001, Monroe 2002).

What can be done to increase collaboration between those in computing and engineering science and classics? How can classical research questions be made more interesting to computing science? How are funding agencies coping with cross disciplinary research proposals? What can the research questions posed by the digital classicist feed back into the development of advanced techniques in computer science itself?

One era's nonsense, another's norm: Diachronic study of Greek and the computer

Notis Toufexis, Grammar of Medieval Greek project, Cambridge University

“Greek” as a linguistic label covers a span of almost three millennia. In academic discourse it refers in most cases (and languages) to “Classical Greek”; teaching and research in other periods of the language is denoted with different descriptive labels (“Hellenistic”, “Byzantine”, “Medieval”, “Modern Greek”). One could argue that the categories “old” and “new” with reference to the Greek language are merely shifting points within a large linguistic continuum. This perspective is sometimes lost due to the fragmentation of the study of the Greek language across different disciplines.

This paper will focus on the consequences of this situation for the creation of electronic tools for the study of Greek. I am approaching the subject from the perspective of the Medievalist conducting descriptive linguistic research on Medieval Greek who, in the search for evidence of the “spoken” language, is confronted with the complexity of linguistic registers of the Byzantine period and their interaction with older forms of Greek (spanning a periods from Homer to George of Pisidia, i.e. texts from the 8th c. B.C. to the 7th c. A.D.).

I will focus on two main subjects:

  • the design of new electronic editions of texts of different periods, with features that will allow both Classicists, Byzantinists and Neohellenists to conduct linguistic and other research based on their own interests;
  • the creation of new tools for the diachronic study of Greek vocabulary with the use of both text mining techniques from existing corpora and merging of available digitised lexica.