Response of Damien Nelis

As part of a research project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and devoted to the study of intertextuality in Flavian epic poetry, the Classics Departments of the University at Buffalo, SUNY and the University of Geneva organized an international workshop to discuss intertextuality and the digital humanities. The Fondation Hardt in the Commune of Vandoeuvres, on the outskirts of Geneva provided an idyllic location for two days of rich and intense discussions about. Interaction between scholars involved in on-going digital projects and scholars who have done important work in the field of Greek and Latin intertextuality based on traditional scholarly methods helped to clarify a number of key issues and raise some important questions:

Several projects relating to the whole question of text re-use in Classics are already up and running. While informal contacts exist between those involved, it seems obvious that in the future more formalized collaboration is a major desideratum.

  • The existing tools are not yet perfect, but extraordinarily exciting work is going on and it seems certain that further significant advances will be made in the near future. 
  • The capacity of computers to undertake rapid searches in vast corpora of texts enables scholars to revisit old problems and ask new questions. Searches of a type that 20 years ago could take years of work, can now be done in seconds. So great is the mass of recoverable data that one doubts the capacity of scholars to analyse it adequately. This problem illustrates the need for computerised analysis of certain kinds of intertextual phenomena, which in turn implies that the machines will have to go beyond their role as search engines. Appreciation of these matters lead to significant discussion of the relationship between automatic digital searches in corpora and the need for texts to be marked up in various ways in order to enable more refined searching and basic textual analysis and improve detection of the remarkably complex intertextual strategies that modern scholarship is uncovering in Greek and Latin literary texts.
  • Consideration of digital searching and analysis lead on to discussion of publication. When new techniques can help gather rapidly masses of data, what are scholars to do with material they are unable to analyse in the form of traditional scholarly production, in the form of theses, articles and monographs? Should we in future be thinking of a combination of traditional publication in book form and the use of digital repositories as part of a digital eco-system (to borrow a term used by Marco Büchler)? This question seems particularly relevant in relation to traditional commentaries on classical texts, a form of scholarly enquiry that inevitably leads to highly selective retention of the mass of intertextual material gathered in the course of research, even when only traditional methods are employed.
  • The Tesserae Project has preliminary versions of an electronic Greek – Latin dictionary that lie behind its prototype Greek – Latin intertextual search. Improved versions of the dictionary should be explored seriously both as a public resource for any researchers to use and for incorporation into improved intertextual search.
  • In addition to paying attention to research questions, serious thought must be given to the impact digital humanities will have on teaching of the Classical languages, language acquisition and digital philology. The Leipzig LOFTS project presented by M. Berti is at the forefront of thinking about these crucial matters.
  • As digital techniques improve and their use becomes more widespread, serious attention will have to be to the question of peer-review in digital philology and also to the issue of accreditation. These matters are of great concern to younger scholars.
  • If we ever organise a second workshop on digital intertextuality, I suggest that two topics should be central to the discussion:
    1. the relationship between automatic detection in static corpora and the provision of searchable, marked up texts in order to try to enable more refined searching.
    2. the future of teaching the Classical languages in digital environments.

Damien Nelis, University of Geneva:

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