Switched-on Classics
July 5, 2014 8:52 PM   Subscribe

Digital Classicists: Scholars who study the ancient Greek and Roman empires are creating a growing array of 21st-century interactive, multidimensional presentations about people, places and events from the world of antiquity. If you dig around you'll uncover some deep and meticulous work by geographers, historians, archaeologists, and art historians working in digital space.

Some examples I found interesting:

Linked Ancient World Data Institute

Pelagios and the Emerging Graph of Ancient World Data (abstract with link to PDF): Based on a corpus of linked open data sometimes called the Graph of Ancient World Data (GAWD), "PELAGIOS stands for 'Pelagios: Enable Linked Ancient Geodata In Open Systems' - its aim is to help introduce Linked Open Data goodness into online resources that refer to places in the historic past." (Example: a Pelagios-based heatmap linked to references and relevant datasets)

The Hestia project combines a database and narrative time map into a classroom tool for reading and discussing Herodotus. A group of classical studies, geography and digital humanities scholars extracted all place-names from the Histories, then used GIS, Google Earth, and Narrative TimeMap to create interactive visualizations that dynamically display the "cultural geography of the ancient world through the eyes of one of its first witnesses."

Hellespont blends the German Archaeological Institute's database Arachne with the Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University. This makes one of the most comprehensive collections of Greek and Roman antiquity available free for public and scientific use. Hellespont combines text and object data (using the metadata format CIDOC CRM, enabling scholars to map ancient text content to other artifacts and sources. The tool then uses Google's GapVis code to render a multi-pane interface connecting text with interactive maps.

Orbis is the Stanford geospatial network model of the Roman world (previously).

"Current Practice in Linked Open Data for the Ancient World" points the reader to a collection of relevant articles about how the datasets, metadata and tools are shaping up.
posted by GrammarMoses (34 comments total) 99 users marked this as a favorite

posted by glaucon at 9:12 PM on July 5

I have conflicting opinions on the Ancients. As horrible as the Republican Romans were, they had an ethos that a Citizen is a Citizen, and Citizens had a say. Yes, the established and monied elites had more of a say... but in every civilization around them (save Greece), the only say you had was "Don't kill my kids, I'll do as you demand."

These conflicting opinions are made much worse examining my own civilization, and seeing the parts I despise and the parts I all moonwalk and display my butt at members of other civilizations over, and how they both come from the same distant antiquity.

Google delenda est.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:24 PM on July 5

posted by oneswellfoop at 9:25 PM on July 5

Oh, so when they say "classic", they mean this tiny area around the mediterranean a few thousand years ago?
posted by runcibleshaw at 9:42 PM on July 5

posted by The Whelk at 9:47 PM on July 5 [25 favorites]

Oh, so when they say "classic", they mean this tiny area around the mediterranean a few thousand years ago?

That is the traditional meaning of the academic term "Classics" - Greek and Roman Language and Literature. When used as an adjective (Classical World, Classical History), it refers to the larger Greek and Roman empires. It's a very ... traditional, old school definition but still has that distinction. Other cultural studies were relegated to Anthropology/Archaeology, History, or Cultural courses in specific language and literature departments (From Chinese to Scandinavian; Near Eastern Languages to a general Languages department). It was what you might expect from a tradition of people who gloried in their western tradition and culture.

That said, Classics encompasses a lot of time and material within a small geographic footprint. It makes sense that folks would focus their work on a specific culture and connect with others studying within the same milieu.
posted by julen at 9:52 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]

And now, what I came here to actually post:

I used to run a generalist ancient world survey site, and I had a front row seat to the wonderful tradition of working together, sharing technologies and efforts not just within the various groups of ancient scholars and enthusiasts (by discipline, by geography, by time frame, by language), but crossing those boundaries as well that goes back to the beginning of the web. It makes me so happy to see scholars pushing the boundaries and taking advantage of the technologies available now and working together to make this information more accessible than ever.

Some of the earliest pioneers of digital humanities projects were students of the ancient world, and classicists made up a great number of them (because traditionally our culture has valued study of Rome and Greece over other cultures). So much has happened with the web since 1993, when I saw my first attempt to reconstruct an ancient 3-D structure or a webpage showing Phoenician influences of Greek vases; it's great to see that some things are the same - but even better.
posted by julen at 10:07 PM on July 5 [8 favorites]

PELAGIOS stands for 'Pelagios: Enable Linked Ancient Geodata In Open Systems

Hey! Isn't a recursive acronym cheating?

Perhaps this is a precursor to the realization of Dan Simmons' Ilium
posted by sourwookie at 10:26 PM on July 5

*grabby hands*
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:42 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]

You mean all of these links aren't web applications that were created in the course of monumental academic efforts in honor of Coca-Cola Classicâ„¢? Why then that's not the real meaning when you capitalize "Classic"!
posted by XMLicious at 11:29 PM on July 5

> Oh, so when they say "classic", they mean this tiny area around the mediterranean a few thousand years ago?

I like the way you've raised a point by questioning the premises underlying the post. How did you ever come up with that idea?
posted by benito.strauss at 11:32 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]

This is a good post! Thanks for making it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:34 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]

posted by the man of twists and turns

Well you would have to say that, wouldn't you Mr. O?

Seriously, I now have a new course resources/time waster. Thank you.
posted by bibliowench at 11:52 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]

I really thought when I saw this post that it wouldn't just be ancient Greece and Rome and was disappointed. It makes sense now that this is just a thing for scholars of those cultures to geek out on, but I was hoping for something that tackled some cultures you don't see much about. Is there something along these lines for any cultures throughout the rest of the world?
posted by runcibleshaw at 1:11 AM on July 6

The integrated research frontier sounds fascinating. Academia aside for a moment, are any of these organized so that a layman-enthusiast-traveller could dive in to gain some historical perspective on a given location in Greece?
posted by progosk at 3:29 AM on July 6

Another awesome resource like this Previously,
The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World
Spanning one-ninth of the earth's circumference across three continents, the Roman Empire ruled a quarter of humanity through complex networks of political power, military domination and economic exchange. These extensive connections were sustained by premodern transportation and communication technologies that relied on energy generated by human and animal bodies, winds, and currents.

Conventional maps that represent this world as it appears from space signally fail to capture the severe environmental constraints that governed the flows of people, goods and information. Cost, rather than distance, is the principal determinant of connectivity.

For the first time, ORBIS allows us to express Roman communication costs in terms of both time and expense. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic, this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity.

Taking account of seasonal variation and accommodating a wide range of modes and means of transport, ORBIS reveals the true shape of the Roman world and provides a unique resource for our understanding of premodern history.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:32 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]

posted by Sticherbeast at 4:21 AM on July 6

Fabulous. Thank you.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:37 AM on July 6

For those who prefer their digital history a bit older, there's the Theban Mapping Project. Their interactive Atlas of the Valley of the Kings is wonderful digging.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:47 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]

Excellent post - thank you, GrammarMoses!
posted by jammy at 5:36 AM on July 6

I really thought when I saw this post that it wouldn't just be ancient Greece and Rome and was disappointed. It makes sense now that this is just a thing for scholars of those cultures to geek out on, but I was hoping for something that tackled some cultures you don't see much about. Is there something along these lines for any cultures throughout the rest of the world?

I understand the feeling but I think it's worth pointing out the immense (for the humanities) amount of time and resources that went and continue to go into digital Classics stuff. Most of these tools were literally years in the making, and they all rely on a core network of a handful of dedicated digital classicists with data/tech chops who are willing to do lots of unpaid or very underpaid work. There are starting to be some grants for this kind of stuff but for the most part scholars basically moonlight on their digital projects while still working on teaching/mainstream research/traditional publishing. I've worked on some smaller projects like this and am not sure I'd do it again because it takes so much time away from what you're "supposed" to be doing.

The only other field I know of that's starting to embrace digital data/mapping stuff is medieval Europe, led mostly by Mike McCormick at Harvard, who has been able (because of his distinguished position) to finagle summer funding for undergrads to do data entry. I'm sure other premodern fields would be interested, but this stuff is really a pain in the ass to get done and takes a critical mass of people who believe in it.

Oh, and this is also medieval Europe, but Mapping Gothic France is a model of the genre.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:00 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]

A thousand thanks for this!
posted by Busithoth at 6:22 AM on July 6

The term "classics" or "Classics" for this field of study is certainly not unproblematic for use in an academic setting that aims to be inclusive. In its derivation, it has elitist and indeed military connotations. When I was in college, there were professors who talked about using different terms.

Otherwise I echo a lot of what julen said. The digitalization of culture changed the field so much. Greek and Roman archaeology, in particular, has undergone a real revolution in terms of comparing data and questioning methodologies. It is also absolutely amazing to be able to get texts so easily. I was on vacation last winter when a new fragment of Sappho emerged and was able to download it onto my phone and see discussion from one of my old professors.
posted by BibiRose at 6:36 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]

[Just a note before we get too enmeshed in a derail: The post explains who, what, and where very clearly in the first sentence. If you'd rather talk about other Classics, that might be a great idea for another post, but let's go ahead with the discussion of the linked material here.]
posted by taz at 7:22 AM on July 6

Brilliant. Thanks.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:00 AM on July 6

Another one of those posts that makes me wish I were still in academia so I could dig into and bring something out of these resources. Thanks.
posted by immlass at 8:24 AM on July 6

progosk, you might take a look at Historvius.
posted by GrammarMoses at 8:25 AM on July 6

This is amazing... and a classic MeFi post!
posted by languagehat at 8:58 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]

posted by the man of twists and turns

Well you would have to say that, wouldn't you Mr. O?

Only because he's working some kind of angle, that spoiler of cities.

On an unrelated note, has anyone seen my team of chariot horses? Thracian horses, the elder black as the char of sacrifice, his brother white as ivory new sawn, the both alike in their eyes, like silver afire? Two stamping wonders, fit for the traces of a god? Anyone? They were just here.
posted by Iridic at 9:38 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]

For readers who are interested in cultures beyond the Mediterranean rim, note that the as-yet unbuilt Pelagios 3 will extend the methodology to cover medieval Christian, Islamic, and Asian geography.

From the project description (PDF):
"The Pelagios 3 project will extend the reach of our network both temporally (from the late Roman through to the Medieval period) and spatially (from the Mediterranean and Europe to China and India)." Content workpackages are as follows:
  • CWP1: Latin Tradition
  • CWP2: Greek Tradition
  • CWP3: Early Christian Tradition
  • CWP4: Early Maritime Tradition
  • CWP5: Early Islamic Tradition
  • CWP6: Early Chinese Tradition
posted by GrammarMoses at 10:07 AM on July 6

Awesome awesome awesome.
posted by COBRA! at 11:02 AM on July 6

but.... I have things to do today! Really, though, this is amazing. Thank you!
posted by korej at 2:11 PM on July 6

posted by the man of twists and turns

Well you would have to say that, wouldn't you Mr. O?

No-one could have done it better.
posted by atrazine at 2:30 PM on July 6

Holy dangnabbit.

I had plans for next week, you know?
posted by jokeefe at 6:18 PM on July 6

« Older Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation   |   29 Celebrity Impressions, 1 Original Song Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments