Ancient MakerSpaces at SCS 2017

By Patrick J. Burns

The 2017 Annual Meeting of the Society for Classical Studies in Toronto saw the introduction of a new event in the conference program: Ancient MakerSpaces, an all-day Digital Classics workshop organized by Head Librarian David Ratzan and Digital Projects Associate Patrick Burns. Ancient MakerSpaces featured a wide variety of hands-on demonstrations and research papers, and concluded with a state-of-the-field panel. (The full lineup appears at the end of this post.) By the end of the day, well over 100 people visited Ancient MakerSpaces, including leading digital researchers and passersby curious about emerging, innovative methods in the field.

The intersection of ancient world studies and technology was a prominent theme in the SCS 2017 program, with the Digital Classics Association leading a session on “Digital Classics and the Changing Profession” and SCS President and ISAW Emeritus Director Roger Bagnall convening a presidential panel on “Digital Publications and the Future of Classics.” Ancient MakerSpaces complemented these overarching perspectives by taking up Digital Classics in practice, that is it provided an opportunity for hands-on, peer-based learning for core Digital Classics resources, tools, and methods.

Ancient MakerSpaces demonstrationThomas Beasley (Bucknell) started off the workshop with a presentation on visualizing networks in the Ancient Mediterranean, a blend of mapping and network analysis built on linked data principles. Beasley made an excellent case for the pedagogical benefits of a digital “reading” of important moments from Greek history such as the Peace of Kallias, namely that network maps complement traditional materials while immersing students in the evidence and exposing them to controversies.

Further immersion into ancient-world data was on display at the next two workshops. First, Rodney Ast (Heidelberg) introduced participants to the Digital Corpus of Literary Papyri, a project designed to promote better discovery, access, curation, and dissemination of an underrepresented papyrological corpus and one built on open-access data, open-source tools, and standards such as EpiDoc. A highlight of the day was Ast editing a text in realtime, that is making a permanent contribution to the scholarly record on the fly before the Ancient MakerSpaces audience, as he restored to a genre-bending ostrakon a quotation of the Odyssey that had not been transcribed previously because it was not considered “documentary.” Similarly, innovative digital explorations of text and material was the focus of the Ancient Graffiti Project workshop. Rebecca Benefiel demonstrated the ways in which databases and mapping can be used to publish up-to-date, reliable editions of graffiti with bibliography and spatial context.

Hands-on skills development took centerstage for the late morning workshops. ISAW professor Sebastian Heath led a workshop of making 3D models, demonstrating how to build a model of Constantine’s foot using a series of digital photographs. Heath was able to take a highly technical, cutting-edge technical skill and demystify it by breaking down the modeling process into a series a more familiar steps. From how to model the workshop moved on to how to map. Ryan Horne (UNC), accompanied by Sarah Bond (Iowa) and ISAW Associate Director for Digital Programs Tom Elliott, helped participants better understand the underlying data and metadata necessary for generating maps that are useful for research and teaching. As Horne explained, the goal was to get the audience to think not so much of “maps as images,” but rather of “maps as data” through examples from his Antiquity à la Carte platform. Featured prominently in this maps-as-data presentation was the Pleiades linked-data gazetteer of the ancient world, which earlier in the weekend won the AIA award for Outstanding Work in Digital Archaeology Award.

Ancient MakerSpaces demonstration

Joseph Dexter (Harvard) and Ariane Schwartz (Harvard/I Tatti Renaissance Library) delivered the second paper of the day, "Phylogenetic profiling and the reception of classical drama,” presenting work from the newly founded Quantitative Criticism Lab. (The paper was also co-written by Pramit Chaudhuri [Texas].) Dexter and Schwartz showed an example of data-driven research methods in Classics by tracing the presence and absence of characters in Plautine adaptation from antiquity to the present. It stood out as a creative example of interdisciplinary crossover with reception studies being investigated through methods from computational biology.

Ancient MakerSpaces took a textual turn in the afternoon. First, James Gawley (Buffalo) and Caitlin Diddams (Buffalo) led a workshop on Tesserae, a text-comparison platform designed to assist researchers in uncovering potential allusions in classical texts. Gawley and the Tesserae team walked participants through sample workflows for literary critical work in Latin literature, including lemma searching, semantic matching, and cross-language intertextual discovery. Then, in the final workshop of the afternoon, Marie-Claire Beaulieu and Bridget Almas presented on three recent contributions from the Perseus Digital Library team pertaining to collaborative and experimental Classics pedagogy: the Perseids treebanking and annotation software, the Alpheios translation alignment platform, and the Plokamos platform for building semantic search.

The state and future of Digital Classics was the subject of the Ancient MakerSpaces concluding panel. The panel was moderated by Patrick who was joined by Bridget Almas (Perseus), Neil Bernstein (Ohio) and Sarah Bond (Iowa). As is only right for the setting of an academic conference in Classics, the panel began with a Socratic angle, asking “What is making?” and quickly moving on to questions like “Is Digital Classics about making or doing?” and “What are roles of work and play in ancient world scholarship?” From this starting point, panelists discussed the future of quantitative scholarship in philology, the need for promoting digital scholarship in hiring and tenure decisions, and how to promote a culture of curiosity for our field using social media as a vehicle for outreach in the discipline.

Ancient MakerSpaces Panel

Two threads in particular that emerged during the panel discussion reflected conversations heard throughout the entire workshop. First was the necessity for digital projects in classics to build upon existing infrastructure. Long-running projects such as the Perseus Digital Library, the Pleiades gazetteer, and the Son of Suda Online showed up as data sources, model interfaces, and software services for many new projects. Almas noted how this demonstrates the power of infrastructure and its reuse. In addition, it was clear that participants promoted open-source and open-access values as the best path to achieve a sustainable digital research environment in the field. Second was the emphasis on community. Ast spoke of the family. Long lists of sponsors and contributors appeared in the slides of several presentations. One of the more fruitful discussions in the concluding panel was about the importance of bringing students into the Digital Classics research community as early as possible through micropublications, that is peer-reviewed content submission and annotation of the sort currently in place through projects such as Perseids and Pleiades. The collegial, collaborative atmosphere of Ancient MakerSpaces, was the heart of the event. In a room full of computers, people took centerstage.

ISAW played an active role at the workshop: Sebastian ran the workshop on 3D modeling with graduate student Georgios Tsolakis assisting; David led a hands-on demonstration during the literary papyrology workshop; Tom introduced the mapping workshop; and Patrick moderated the concluding panel. This level of participation in the workshop is in keeping with the ISAW Library and Digital Programs’ commitment to digital humanities programming focused on ancient world study, building on recent efforts such as this fall’s Introduction to Digital Humanities for the Ancient World course, December’s Digital Antiquity Research Workshop, and Linked Ancient World Data Institute (LAWDI) meetings in 2012 and 2013. As Digital Programs’ mission states, the goal is to “create key information resources for ancient studies, together with the platforms and communities that enable them.” This ethos was on display throughout Ancient MakerSpaces.

As you might expect from a Digital Humanities event, Ancient MakerSpaces received a great deal of attention on social media. Because of the reach of Twitter, Facebook, and the like, the event attracted attention well beyond the walls of the conference space, and this was undoubtedly helped by coverage from one of classics most prominent bloggers, David Meadows aka Rogue Classicist. You can visit the following Storify collection to get an idea of the event’s reach on social media.

The success of Ancient MakerSpaces suggests that there is a growing interest in digital work at the SCS annual meeting and that perhaps there is a need to provide a regular space where the entire SCS community can experiment with new and evolving resources. The workshops captured the breadth of development and research going on in the field, the papers showcased this in action, and the panel offered a chance to reflect on our position within the discipline. We are optimistic that Ancient MakerSpaces will make another appearance in the SCS program next year in Boston and hope to see you there.

Ancient MakerSpaces at the 2017 Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting on January 7, 2017 included:

- Thomas Beasley (Bucknell U. / Visualizing Networks in the Ancient Mediterranean): Visualizing Networks in the Ancient Mediterranean
- Rodney Ast (U. of Heidelberg/ Digital Corpus of Literary Papyri): Digital Corpus of Literary Papyri
- Rebecca Benefiel (Washington & Lee U.), Holly Sypniewski (Millsaps Coll.), Jacqueline DiBiasie Sammons (Sewanee: U. of the South), Kyle Helms (Creighton U.), Erika Zimmermann Damer (U. of Richmond): Ancient Graffiti Project
- Sebastian Heath (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World / NYU): Make Your Own 3D Models
- Ryan Horne (U. of North Carolina): Make Your Own Map
- Pramit Chaudhuri (U. of Texas at Austin / Quantitative Criticism Lab) & Joseph Dexter (Harvard University / Quantitative Criticism Lab): Phylogenetic Profiling and the Reception of Classical Drama
- James Gawley (U. at Buffalo / Tesserae), Caitlin Diddams (U. at Buffalo / Tesserae): Intertext Mining With Tesserae
- Bridget Almas (Perseus Digital Library / Perseids), Marie-Claire Beaulieu (Tufts U. / Perseids), Timothy Buckingham (Tufts U. / Perseids): Perseids: Infrastructure for Research and Collaboration
- State of Digital Classics panel: With moderator Patrick J. Burns (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World / NYU) and panelists Bridget Almas (Perseus Digital Library / Perseids), Neil Bernstein (Ohio U.), and Sarah Bond (U. of Iowa)