Dickinson College Commentaries began in 2010 with a basic web site containing the Latin text of selections from Caesar’s Gallic War that were to be included on the newly revised AP Latin course. It included vocabulary lists, notes on language and cultural context, audio recordings of the Latin, maps, and several videos. It has since grown into a thriving open publishing venture, with seven multimedia commentaries currently available in various Latin and Greek texts, edited by scholars from Stanford University, Haverford and Swarthmore Colleges, Cambridge University, and more on the way. The editorial board consists of twenty-one scholars from around the world based in research universities, liberal arts colleges, and distinguished high schools. The site has had over a million page views. The average number of users per day in Sept. 2015 was about 600, up from 200 in the same period in 2012. DCC is used widely in colleges, universities, and high schools. Reviews praise its scholarly accuracy and wealth of resources, effective, user-friendly design, and pedagogical utility. “DCC provides a comprehensive and usable technology that rivals other online resources used by the other languages in my department,” writes one teacher, “the Latin program is on the cutting edge now!” A key feature of DCC is its core vocabulary database, with carefully designed lists of the most common words in Latin and Greek. These lists are used as assessment standards by national exams, and have been translated so far into Polish, Chinese, and Portuguese. Database development, web design, and content uploading is done partly by professors and staff at Dickinson, and partly by freelancers paid through a grant from the Roberts Fund for Classical Studies at Dickinson and a Mellon grant for digital humanities at Dickinson. The content itself is submitted and accepted on a peer-reviewed basis, with contributions from dozens of participating faculty, teachers, and their students. Contributing faculty at other institutions often use their own research funds to hire student collaborators. The classics field has been drawn to this project because of its solid peer-reviewed scholarship, effective resources for learning, and innovative use of the digital medium.
DCC publishes born digital scholarly commentaries on classical texts intended to provide an effective reading and learning experience for classicists at all levels of experience. In contrast to other digital projects that conceive of classical texts as a database, or foreground hypertext—focusing on chunking or linking the text—DCC aims at a readerly approach, and one responsive to the needs of readers, teachers, and students. Texts are presented in a clean, readable format, with custom-authored or edited notes, specially selected images and maps, and original audio and video content. Core vocabulary lists of the most common Latin and Greek words are provided, and all words not in the core lists are fully and accurately defined in running vocabulary lists that accompany each section of text. DCC commentaries are peer-reviewed, citable scholarly resources, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License (CC BY-SA). Funding for this project comes from the Roberts Fund for Classical Studies at Dickinson College and the Mellon Grant for Digital Humanities at Dickinson College. The Project Director is Chris Francese, Professor of Classical Studies at Dickinson College (email@example.com). We welcome proposals from qualified authors (submission guidelines). Interested authors should contact Chris Francese.
Ancient Greek and Latin texts have been at the center of innovation in the digital humanities, and their digitization is virtually complete. One problem that remains unsolved is the presentation of often difficult or obscure works so as to provide the ancillary information necessary for readers and scholars. Before the advent of printed books such texts were often equipped with marginal notes, or scholia, that provided lexical, grammatical, and cultural information necessary to comprehend and interpret them. Modern printed books allowed indexing, lexica, maps, and running references to secondary scholarship. The early stages of digitization allowed for hyperlinking and searchability. Dickinson College Commentaries provides a new model of textual commentary that takes fuller advantage of digital medium, harnesses the best of traditional philological, historical and archaeological scholarship, and crucially focuses on the user experience in a way to enhance actual reading, rather than just searching.
The running textual commentary is central to the discipline of classical studies, and commentaries represent some of the finest products of philological scholarship. To date no digital equivalent of the philological commentary has emerged that takes full advantage of the digital medium to improve on the book. The digital environment is ideal for presenting geographical and archaeological data relevant to a particular passage in a text; for the delivery of audio recordings of poetry and artistic prose; and for providing better organized lexical and cultural information so that the reader can quickly find what is wanted. Attempts so far have emphasized sheer quantity of information, and machine-generated linguistic data which, while helpful, does not provide the kind of scholarly guidance that readers of traditional book-based commentaries take for granted. The DCC are “hand-made” in a way that enhances the reader experience, rather than deluging the user in information whose relevance to the specific passage and a specific reader is unclear.
In its start-up phase the DCC focused on solving the conceptual and design problems: what kinds of information to display in addition to the text itself, where, and how. A pilot commentary on excerpts from Julius Caesar’s Gallic War, using notes selected from older school editions, was created by Chris Francese and a team of Dickinson students on an earlier site using Mediawiki. It was equipped with audio recordings, Google Earth map animations; links to grammar books and other online reference works; and custom made vocabulary lists. A second pilot commentary, on Sulpicius Severus’ Life of St. Martin, with original notes by Francese, also began in Mediawiki. In 2011-2012 both pilot commentaries were transferred to the present Drupal site, which was designed by Chris Stamas and built by Ryan Burke. The Caesar excerpts chosen were those to be used in the College Board's Advanced Placement Latin course, and this site is already in use in schools, colleges, and universities across North America. Starting in the fall of 2012 it will have a ready audience of approximately 6,000 AP Latin students per year.
In 2011-2012 Francese created core vocabulary lists, with the help of Wilfred Major and Marc Mastrangelo (Greek) and Meghan Reedy (Latin). These represent the most common dictionary headwords in ancient Greek and Latin, the lemmas that generate roughly 70% of the words found in a typical text. In Greek this means approximately 500 lemmas, in Latin, about 1000. These lists are intended to give the common words that will not be glossed in the running vocabulary lists, and to aid the intermediate level student in acquiring a useful base of common vocabulary for reading.
The two pilot commentaries debuted in the new Drupal format in April, 2012, and are already in use in schools, colleges, and universities across North America. The implementation phase will involve the creation of several new peer-reviewed scholarly commentaries on classical texts, using the new Drupal design. A review committee of distinguished scholars and teachers is in place, and we are actively soliciting sets of notes from qualified editors (submission guidelines). Interested authors should contact Chris Francese.