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Teaching Digital Classics in the ICS and Internationally

Written by Gabriel Bodard |

As part of our contribution to the Intercollegiate Masters programme in classics, ancient history, art and archaeology, late antique and Byzantine studies and classical reception, the ICS offers two one-semester modules on Digital Classics. These modules are: ICS02 Digital Classics: Linking Written and Material Culture and ICS03 Digital Approaches to Cultural Heritage: Places, Artefacts and Images.

The Digital Classics module, which currently runs in the spring semester, focuses primarily on text, art, literature and language, including sessions on text encoding, text and image annotation, translation alignment, morphosyntactic annotation, computational linguistics and a short introduction to programming for text analysis. Other sessions we have sometimes incorporated include palaeography, collaborative editing, pedagogy, philological tools, or data structuring and visualization. As part of this module, students prepare a small digital project, which may involve one or several of the methods, tools or materials presented in the course, and attempt to demonstrate through a small research project the academic potential (or shortcomings) of the method. Along with a short report on the experiment and its results, this project forms the assessment for the module, and contributes to the MA result at the students’ home institution.

The Digital Approaches to Cultural Heritage module, currently led by Valeria Vitale in the fall semester, focuses on material and cultural heritage from the classical world and beyond, and several key methods for studying these areas. Topics covered by this module generally include geographic technologies (geo-annotation, gazetteers, visualization, analysis and GIS), 3D imaging and modelling (including using the computers, VR headsets and printers at the Institute), network analysis crowdsourcing, and public engagement. Other topics have included prosopography, data structuring, visualization and querying, linked open data, and copyright. The assessment for the Cultural Heritage module is similar to that for Digital Classics, combining a practical project and written report applying and then assessing a method or tool.

Both of these masters modules contribute to and draw on the international, massively collaborative Sunoikisis Digital Classics programme, founded at Leipzig University by Dr Monica Berti in 2015. SunoikisisDC is made up of about 25–30 sessions per year, divided into three semesters, that are presented online via GoogleHangouts sessions and YouTube videos. A few dozen scholars from universities and cultural heritage institutions from Georgia to Brazil, Iran to Canada, and Finland to Egypt, via almost all of Europe, contribute to the individual sessions. Each session usually involves 2–3 presenters, and a mix of lecture, software- or web-demo, and discussion. We aim for an overview of theoretical background, concrete project examples or case study, and practical exercises for the students.

Sunoikisis Digital Classics web page at Leipzig

Each participating scholar or department has a slightly different relationship between their home teaching and the SunoikisisDC programme; some use the Youtube videos as a loose backbone for their teaching semester, others see the programme as a list of resources to be offered as “further reading” on certain topics for students, but not central to the course itself. In all cases, student recruitment, tuition, supervision and assessment are entirely the responsibility of the local tutor.

Here at the ICS, we use the fall and spring semesters of SunoikisisDC as the main information-provision element of the taught modules, each hour of which is then supplemented by two hours of discussion seminar and practical tutorials to work on the concepts and topics of the course. An average of 2–3 students from the University of London intercollegiate MA programme take each module, and about the same number of PhD students or early career scholars audit the seminars. For those who take the module for credit, assessment is by a practical project, for which each student brings together methods or tools from one more session and some text or material of interest to their own studies, and attempts to bring about some original creation or new knowledge production using it. A short written report combines discussion of the background of the topics and methods applied, and an assessment of their effectiveness in the declared aim.

SunoikisisDC session on Translation Alignment using Ugarit

In past years, our students have built 3D reconstructions of buildings at Pompeii or other ancient sites, visualized geographic information or annotations in mapping software, used EpiDoc to encode small epigraphic corpora, assessed the pedagogical value of translation alignments, and build and queried small bodies of morphosyntactically annotated (“Treebanked”) ancient texts for linguistic research. The standard of work has been incredibly rich, and students have without exception risen to the challenge of approaching very new and very difficult materials as part of their Masters or later research.

by Gabriel Bodard