Response of Michael Dewar

As I said to more than one person in the course of the workshop, I had expected that I would learn far more than I would be able to contribute. And so it turned out. The presentations of Marco Büchler and Monica Berti, for instance, were a very salutary reminder of the need to frame useful – that is, usefully defined and limited – questions if you are hoping to hope to make sense of what a vast but searchable digital bank of texts has to offer. The presentation of the ‘Musisque Deoque’ team made clear to me how wrong I have been in thinking that I was making good use of their material: in truth, I now know that I had no idea just what, in particular, ‘pede certo’ is capable of. And Paolo Mastandrea has made me a very happy man by providing so much evidence of one particularly fascinating, and largely unexpected, case of the ‘reuse’ of a canonical poet: the idea that Corippus may have had access to a copy of Ennius, and made repeated use of it, was a true revelation.

Others have already said much of what I would want to say myself. I certainly won’t express the desire ‘pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerunt’, though I can’t resist quoting La Bruyère: ‘Tout est dit, et l’on vient trop tard depuis plus de sept mille ans qu’il y a des hommes qui pensent’. Inevitably, we ask of our texts many of the same questions that a Probus or a Servius must have asked, and just as inevitably we sometimes give very similar replies. I am truly impressed by the sheer bulk of evidence that is now available to us with such astonishing ease and convenience, and could hardly know how to express my gratitude to the teams of both ‘Tesserae’ and ‘Musisque Deoque’, but I know it will take me some time before I start formulating truly new questions. This is of course a matter in part of habit and in part of will power. I am reminded of reading an article that once told me that the average North American supermarket offers customers something like forty thousand food items to choose from, and of then realizing with a sinking feeling that I probably, in a given year, buy considerably fewer than a hundred of them.

 A few somewhat random thoughts and responses.

I am intrigued by the idea of incorporating this kind of material into my teaching more thoroughly, and more thoughtfully, but am immediately left wondering what the appropriate level would be. Senior undergraduate? Or Master’s-level work, when students have read enough to have a better idea of the canon and of what fits where and when? I imagine it is indeed true that ‘digital natives’ will soon learn to make excellent use of the opportunities offered them, though I will also say that it would be a mistake to assume that they will all leap upon it with equal joy. On the couple of occasions when, in response to drafts of  MA research papers, I have introduced our graduate students to one or other of these search engines, they have given me somewhat blank looks and not followed up on the material I brought up on the screen for them. I really am not sure why that is. Although I am certainly not ruling out the possibility that the fault lay with my failure to communicate the excitement attached to the possibilities of exploration, I also wonder whether some students, at least, just aren’t interested in intertextuality, for all that most professional scholars of Latin poetry think it absolutely fundamental to the way that our poets both read other poets’ texts and constructed their own. That is, perhaps in the case of students whose interest in ancient literature is primarily bound up in, e. g., identity politics, I need to find a way of showing them how intertextuality is important in general before I can start working out how to encourage them to investigate it with digital resources. This, of course, is another way of saying that one needs to formulate questions that machines can answer but that people are also interested in.

The question of career structure and ‘professional development’ was raised. I am optimistic that the academy will fairly soon find ways of giving proper credit to people like Neil Coffee and Chris Forstall for the work they are doing, but I am very aware that at the moment this has not yet happened. At any rate, my own institution, in assessing colleagues for tenure and promotion, remains happiest when a CV includes articles in respected journals and, above all, the sheer unarguable authoritative weight of a monograph with an esteemed university press. Deans and Presidents are reassured by unimpeachable evidence of success in its traditional forms, but also like methods of evaluation that can be used across many disciplines. I have a hunch that much of what ‘Tesserae’ has achieved would be classified in my own institution as ‘teaching’ or ‘service’ rather than as ‘research’. I do not think that this is a matter of institutional hostility, but rather that it is bound up with the inclination of universities to play things safe with something as important as a tenure review, the consequences of which both for a department and for an individual can of course be enormous. Until that changes, junior scholars may be less than keen to upload all of their carefully gathered data to the kinds of repositories we discussed than the safely tenured will be. And since our profession rewards influential interpretation, I imagine that many colleagues will still want to be careful about ‘giving away’ anything that might bring them glory and credit.

Lastly, I forgot to say during the workshop that one of the things I myself particularly like about, in particular, ‘Musisque Deoque’ is the way that searches regularly bring up nice long lists of examples from late antique authors and e. g. ‘non-canonical’ poems from the Latin Anthology. Here too I see opportunities for introducing graduate students in particular to a whole wondrous corpus of literature that they simply may never encounter otherwise. If they limit themselves to the compulsory reading list on which we test them in our MA and Ph. D. programmes, our own students here in Toronto could be forgiven for thinking that all Latin poetry, or at any rate all the important Latin poetry that anyone might conceivably want to read, comes to an end with Juvenal and Martial. If they type ‘arma virum’ into ‘Musisque Deoque’, on the other hand, they will see exotic names like Proba and Sidonius and Corippus. They may even be motivated to go and find copies of those authors and have a more detailed look. As things stand, such are our institutional structures at this particular university that our Classics students are given the signal that such authors are the territory not of this department but of the people who live on the floor above us, in our Centre for Medieval Studies. Enlarging their horizons can only be a good thing.

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