BMCR 2022.06.08

Digitale Altertumswissenschaften: Thesen und Debatten zu Methoden und Anwendungen

, , , Digitale Altertumswissenschaften: Thesen und Debatten zu Methoden und Anwendungen. Digital classics books, 4. Heidelberg: Propylaeum, 2020. Pp. 240. ISBN 9783947450923 €41,90.

Open access
[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This edited volume, collated by Stylianos Chronopoulos, Felix K. Maier, and Anna Novokhatko, is the result of the 2015–2018 research project ‘Der digital turn in den Altertumswissenschaften: Wahrnehmung – Dokumentation – Reflexion’, led by the editors and funded by the Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften. Focussing strongly on digital editions, it synthesises the results of three research conferences on the digital turn in Classical Philology and Ancient History, particularly on issues such as methodological principles and elementary concepts, consequences of using digital tools, advantages and disadvantages of digital editions, and the relationship of analogue media and digital approaches. It aims to discuss, analyse, and document the state of digitalisation in Classics and the extent to which digitalisation has affected classical scholarship. To this end, the editors have chosen contributions representative of prototypical developments and topics to present instructive insights into different debates and to explore effective cooperations between analogue and digital media and methods. Given the rapid developments regarding digitalisation, the editors are conscious that this volume will soon be (partially) obsolete; nevertheless, they argue that by documenting contemporary reflections and the current state of the art, they are providing a point of reference both for current debates and for future analyses.

The volume is separated into three sections, each of them introduced individually by the editors. The first section offers a survey of digital methods in philological and historical scholarship in general and is addressed mostly to newcomers to Digital Classics. The second discusses three different digital editions of Greek and Latin texts in an exemplary fashion, focussing on elementary considerations and the structural challenges of such editions. The third section analyses the application of digital tools for language instruction, historical scholarship, and publishing, highlighting questions such as the relationship between traditional and digital skills, conceptual and methodological changes, and the tension between the enhanced visibility and diminished prestige associated with Open Access publications. Each contribution is introduced by a brief abstract in both German and English, and they all share a bibliography at the end of the volume. In what follows, I will briefly summarise each chapter (or edition, respectively), focussing particularly on key ideas and main points.

Guided by questions such as whether and how humanists and classicists perceive a paradigm shift caused by the digitalisation of the field, what consequences changed classical methods entail, and how scholars perceive these changes, Charlotte Schubert discusses elementary questions regarding the epistemic potential created by Digital Classics. She argues that the “data-driven turn” has replaced the traditional deductive evaluation of well-defined and hermeneutically justified hypotheses with inductive perspectives of analysis whereby algorithms are used to discover patterns and relationships, which then become the basis of hypotheses. The new forms of openness created in this process circumvent both traditional hierarchies and time-honoured methods and standards of quality control. Even though (classical) scholarship has hitherto been quite resilient vis-à-vis the disruptions brought about by digitalisation, guidelines and principles are needed to ensure the continuity of scholarly practices, Schubert notes, particularly regarding the question of whether and how digital sources and data should be published in order to ensure transparency and reproducibility in ‘born-digital’ publications.

After this more general opening chapter, much of the edited volume is devoted to the presentation and analysis of three specific digital editions of ancient and medieval texts. S. Douglas Olson warns against too eager an adoption of online editions because they either reduce editors to content-providers and overwhelm readers or are virtually indistinguishable from printed ones both in content and usage. As there are too many open questions regarding the sustainability and durability of online editions, he believes we would be well-advised to invest the limited resources available to our field in more durable if less flexible printed editions. Samuel J. Huskey, on the other hand, is more optimistic about the potential of digital editions, particularly regarding flexibility, updateability, and comprehensiveness. Presenting the case of the Library of Digital Latin Text as an example of a successful collaboration between philologists and computer scientists, he suggests that the editorial work should be separated from the technical aspects of online publishing: just as nobody would expect an editor of a print edition to be tasked with typesetting, paper production, and printing, an editor of an online edition ought to delegate the technical aspects such as programming, UX design, and maintenance to experts.

The middle part of the volume is dedicated to the discussion of three digital editions. The editor of each of these presents their project in the form of a praefatio and one or two reviewers then review on the edition. The first edition discussed is Franz Fischer’s edition of William of Auxerre’s Summa de officiis ecclesiasticis, a medieval text not previously edited. In his review, Leonardo Costantini praises Fischer’s edition as being “at the forefront of a fortunate union between digital humanities and textual criticism applied to medieval literature in Latin” (89), and particularly welcomes the fact that it is possible to check textual variants synchronically and mechanically with great precision. Olson’s review is less sympathetic and criticises Fischer specifically for focussing on three sample manuscripts instead of offering a complete report on all manuscript readings. The next object of study is Dániel Kiss’s Catullus Online, an online repertory of all conjectures ever made for Catullus’ poems. His edition is reviewed by Donald J. Mastronarde, who commends the edition for its size and scope as well as the many high-quality images but criticises the tailor-made programming infrastructure for being fragile and the long and dense apparatus for being somewhat overwhelming. Mastronarde then presents his own repository of the Euripides scholia. His edition is reviewed by Stylianos Chronopoulos, who favourably assesses the methodology of the edition and the greater amount of detail and comprehensiveness in comparison with Schwartz’s late 19th century edition, as well as the high-quality apparatus, comments, and translations of the scholia. Chronopoulos locates Mastronarde’s edition between two different editorial paradigms: it is strongly guided by the tradition of printed editions but open for future expansions and updates, with the potential of becoming better than a comparable printed edition ever could be.

The third section comprises three contributions that analyse specific examples of digital applications in classical scholarship. The first one is the CALLIDUS project and its application, the Machina Callida, a context-based online tool for Latin language instruction and acquisition in secondary school. Andrea Beyer and Konstantin Schulz present their research on the application of corpus-based methods, used for context-based lexical expansion in modern language acquisition, to secondary school and university-level Latin instruction. They report that the application is now able to create cloze tests and assignment exercises and can be integrated into the online learning platform Moodle. However, a three-year pilot programme at a German school did not demonstrate a significant improvement of in lexical competence. Nevertheless, they are optimistic that with a broader user community and better tailoring to different textbooks, the approach has the potential to leverage the knowledge gained from linguistic research into modern language acquisition by drawing on the capabilities provided by digital media.

In his chapter, Andreas Hartmann challenges the notion that the increasing use of digital tools has led to a methodological paradigm shift within Ancient History. While it is certainly true that personal computers and online databases have greatly facilitated scholarly work, he does not see a recognisable change in the way historians go about their research; given that they are not primarily interested in the texts themselves, there is little potential for truly novel applications such as distant reading. The manageable size of the corpus, combined with the uneven distribution of texts across time, space, and issues, neither requires nor allows for computational and statistical analysis. Furthermore, even if much of the preliminary work can be undertaken digitally, the interpretation of said material remains the result of human deliberation. He concludes that much of what is perceived as new digital methods is in truth simply a digital version of traditional practices, concepts, and materials (e.g. online databases as digital ‘zettelkasten’), and that there is no fundamental methodological change in the way historical analyses are conducted. This is particularly true, Hartmann argues, because an efficient use of digital historical tools usually requires a high degree of proficiency in the relevant discipline.

Finally, Martin Hinze discusses the reasons why digital publishing is not more widespread in the (German-speaking) humanities. He argues that, apart from fundamental issues such as long-time storage or digital fragility, the reason for this is the lack of prestige of digital publications, particularly with regard to monographs and qualification theses: having published one’s work online can be perceived as a failure to convince the traditional gatekeepers (publication houses, journals, series) of the quality of one’s research. This issue is compounded when one publishes in open access formats, even though funding agencies increasingly require researchers to do so and there is a growing distaste for the high prices that publishing companies demand for subscriptions to their journals. However, Hinze argues that digital publishing and citation indexes will sooner or later also become established within the humanities.

Three larger issues are highlighted in virtually all contributions. First, the fragility of digital resources: standards and platforms change rapidly, the required infrastructure is costly and time-consuming, and there exists a tension between the wish for standards and a centralised infrastructure and the need for flexibility and diversity. Second, the question of how much skill in programming humanists and particularly classicists should develop, and what the relationship should be between traditional training in languages, literature, and classical methods on the one hand and new technical skills required to fully participate in digital scholarship on the other. Third, the transformation of language and writing through data technologies is an ongoing process which the authors analyse and interpret both from within and without: virtually all of us are using digital tools and technologies in some form or another, but most of us continue to be shaped by an analogue, pre-digital perspective. This not only engenders widely different ideas about what an online edition is and can or should be, but also fundamentally limits our understanding and use of these new tools and techniques.

The diversity of topics and ideas collected in this volume is also reflected in the form of the different contributions. Some are what one might call more traditional articles that could equally have been published in a journal, while others are reminiscent of essays and op-eds. Including digital-edition presentations (praefationes) and reviews of these editions in an edited volume is certainly a novel idea. Several contributions also convey a certain amount of antagonism, which is surprising given the editors’ assurance—confirmed by a conference report—that even in view of the differences, the conferences were amicable affairs that managed to dissolve the apparent ‘digital vs. analogue’ dichotomy and reach several generally agreed conclusions. That being said, the volume discusses the issue of online editions in a wide-ranging manner and manages to carefully consider their advantages and disadvantages. Thanks to the discussion of the three examples of digital editions, even those readers who are not intimately familiar with this format are able to understand and appreciate their characteristics and their potential.

The four chapters that do not focus primarily on online editions are each interesting contributions in their own right, as their breadth of coverage well illustrates the range of digital topics and methods available today. Given the subject matter, it is only fitting that the volume has been published online as an open-access digital work, with the option to have hard- and softcover versions printed on demand. Both the PDF and the printed version are well designed and have an appealing layout, a handful of typesetting errors notwithstanding. Overall, the volume is a valuable discussion of the current state of digital editions and highlights many important issues we as a discipline must address in the future, both with regard to the epistemic and methodological underpinnings of our research and to the requirements that are needed to make digital tools truly useful for us.

Authors and Titles

Inhaltsverzeichnis, pp. 5–7
Digital Classics – eine Bestandsaufnahme zu fließenden Grenzen (Stylianos Chronopoulos / Felix K. Maier / Anna Novokhatko), pp. 9–18

Ein digital turn in den Altertumswissenschaften? Grundlegende Überlegungen: pp. 19–54
Einleitung (Stylianos Chronopoulos / Felix K. Maier / Anna Novokhatko), pp. 21–23
Von der Gutenberg-Galaxis in die digitale Welt: Neue Wege und neue Arbeitsmethoden (Charlotte Schubert), pp. 25–35.
Digital Editions: Some Thoughts on the Relationship Between Editor and Reader (S. Douglas Olson), pp. 37–41
Scholarly Digital Editions: A Wise Investment for Scholars and Institutions (Samuel J. Huskey), pp. 43–54

Zwei neue alte Gattungen: praefationes und Rezensionen zu digitalen Editionen, pp. 55–144
Einleitung (Stylianos Chronopoulos / Felix K. Maier / Anna Novokhatko), pp. 57f.
guillelmus / revisited. Einleitung zur kritisch-digitalen Edition von Wilhelm von Auxerres Summa de officiis ecclesiaticis (Franz Fischer), pp. 59–87
Critical Texts beyond Print Layouts: Review of the Edition of Summa de officiis ecclesiasticis (Leonardo Costantini), pp. 89–94
Between Two Worlds. Review of the Digital Edition of Summa de officiis ecclesiasticis (S. Douglas Olson), pp. 95–97
Catullus Online: A Digital Critical Edition of the Poems of Catullus with a Repertory of Conjectures (Dániel Kiss), pp. 99–114
Curated Data for Textual History: A Review of Catullus Online (Donald J. Mastronarde), pp. 115–118
Preface to the Scholia Editions at (Donald J. Mastronarde), pp. 119–138
Euripides Scholia: Eine digitale kritische Edition zwischen den Medien (Stylianos Chronopoulos), pp. 139–144

Anwendungen von Digitalisierung in den Altertumswissenschaften, pp. 145–206
Einleitung (Stylianos Chronopoulos / Felix K. Maier / Anna Novokhatko), pp. 147f.
CALLIDUS – Korpusbasierte, digitale Wortschatzarbeit im Lateinunterricht (Andrea Beyer / Konstantin Schulz), pp. 149–167
Datenbanken in der Alten Geschichte: Beobachtungen aus der Alten Welt (Andreas Hartmann), pp. 169–190
Die digitale Online-Publikation in den Geisteswissenschaften – ein ungenutztes Potential? (Martin Hinze), pp. 191–206
Literaturverzeichnis, pp. 207–227
Über die Autoren, pp. 229–232
Gesamtregister, pp. 233–237