Notes for Greg Crane “Classics and the Computer: An End of the History”

Key concepts: .

Related theorists: Foucault.

Classicists are ideally positioned to inform texts and technology theories.

(46) Classicists have for thousands of years been developing lexica, encyclopedias, commentaries, critical editions, and other elements of scholarly infrastructure that are best suited to an electronic environment. Classicists have placed great emphasis on systematic knowledge management and engineering. . . . While many of us compare the impact of print and of new electronic media, classicists can see the impact of both revolutions upon the 2,500-year history of their field.
(46-47) A Foucauldian scholar might compare the shift from a few very specialized projects and extremely expensive hardware to the ubiquitous e-mail viewers, web browsers, word processing systems, bibliographic database systems, etc., to the shift from the spectacle of the sovereign to the diffused microphysics of modern power.
(47) For classicists to make successful use of information technology, they must insinuate themselves within larger groups, making allies of other disciplines and sharing infrastructure.
(47) Even in the best of futures, where classicists customize general tools and share a rich infrastructure with larger disciplines, classicists will have to struggle mightily for their voices to be heard so that emerging systems and standard meet their needs. This chapter seeks to explain why classicists needed to create this separate history in the past and to ground current trends in a larger historical context.

Cincinnati 1983: Retrospectives and Prospectives

C program written under Unix in 1983 still usable for searching Greek and other languages: can I use it to search for and present my favorite quotes or are particular data structures implied that vary between 1983 then and now question mark operation running in real time with my software and all the rest PHI.

(48) The benefits which my colleagues and I placed on standards have, to some extent, proven themselves: the 10,000 lines of source code, written in the C programming language under Unix, which provided an efficient searching environment for Greek and other languages, still compiles and can run on any Unix system (including Linux and OS X).

I call them ideological constants, the stable source texts from antiquity around which ephemeral technologies can emerge and dissolve; contrast to traditional conception of rhizome.

(49) He [David Packard] observed that software and systems were ephemeral but that primary sources such as well structured, cleanly entered source texts were objects of enduring value.

Moments of democratic rationalization by academic technologists; need to leverage FOSS technologies.

(50) The academic technology specialists in higher education surely devote at least 1 percent of their time to the humanities, but the staggering disparity in support – government and private – for science, technology, and medicine means that the humanities are trapped at the margins of decision making. . . . We must be proactive and influence the shape of information technology as early as possible, tirelessly exploring common ground with larger disciplines and taking responsibility for pointing out where our challenges do, in fact, overlap with those of our colleagues from beyond the humanities.

Computer power and storage

Likewise theorists dive directly into OOP rather than thinking about how hardware constrained the questions that could be asked.

(51) Machines have grown so fast and inexpensive that it is perhaps difficult for most of us to imagine the extent to which hardware constrained the way we designed systems and thus the questions that we could pursue.

Greek display

Needed for special terminals and custom designed fonts programmed onto chips to display Greek.

(51) To display Greek, we needed to use special terminals that could display customized character sets. We designed Greek fonts on graph paper, converted the dot patterns into hexadecimal codes, programmed the data on to chips and then physically inserted these chips into the displays.

(52) experience near the bleeding of technology tends to generate a schizophrenic attitude, alternating between the visionary and the cynical.

Multilingual text editing

Build versus buy position prior to widespread FOS development practices.

(52) In fact, the Unix text editor assumed an ASCII character set and would have required a complete rewrite to manage any other character sets. . . . We abandoned our editor and resolved never to address a general problem that the marketplace would solve for us.

Text retrieval
(52) In fact, it proved quite difficult to build services that our colleagues would actually use on the generic tools of Unix.
(53) Ultimately, we were able to match the linear search speeds on the Ibycus on DEC VAX computers by rewriting the core search loop in VAX assembly language so that we could utilize a special pattern-matching language.

Search and retrieval challenges of highly inflected Greek example of consequences of ASCII/English bias in system design.

(53) More significantly, Greek is a highly inflected language. The search tools developed under Unix implicitly assumed English – with its minimal system of inflections – as its model.
(53) Ultimately, we developed a multilingual full text retrieval system from scratch. The system used a set of inverted indices, added 50 percent to the storage needs of the
TLG (a significant factor then), but provided almost instantaneous lookups.

From 1983 to 2003: Past Rends and Prospects
Increasingly powerful hardware


Prospects beyond 2003 include visualizations, language technologies, annotation managers, library repositories.

Ocularcentric fantasies for the coming golden age of philology with no mention of audio potential.

(53) These include not only virtual reality displays and geographic information systems but also automatically generated timelines and other data visualization techniques.

Language technologies
(54) The next twenty years promise to introduce a golden age of philology, in which classicists not only explore new questions about Greek and Latin but also explore corpora in many languages which they will never have the opportunity to master.

Annotation managers
(54) The hypertextual nature of web reading is stimulating new tools and new opportunities with classicists, who can bring online a rich tradition of annotations.

Rise of library repositories

DSPACE and FEDORA library repositories; update alienation concept with copyleft and global repositories.

(54) A variety of library repositories are now coming into use. . . . In the world of publication, alienation is a virtue, because in alienating publications, the author can entrust them to libraries that are designed to provide stable access beyond the lifespan of any one individual.

Convergence of needs

Part of cynicism is presupposing minority participation by classicists in democratic rationalization.

(55) Nevertheless, classicists need to reach out to their colleagues and to begin influencing projects such as the NSDL if these science-based efforts are to serve our needs in the future. Otherwise, we may find that simple steps that could radically improve our ability to work in the future will have been overlooked at crucial points in the coming years.

Crane, Greg. "Classics And The Computer: An End Of The History." A Companion to Digital Humanities. Eds. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004. 46-55. Print.