Dickinson College Commentaries presents Latin and Greek texts for reading, with explanatory notes, interpretive essays, vocabulary, and multimedia elements. The format has two columns, one with plain text on the left, and another on the right with three tabs for notes, vocabulary, and media. The commentaries are peer-reviewed, citable scholarly resources, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License (CC BY-SA). Support for the project comes from the Christopher Roberts Fund for Classical Studies at Dickinson College, the Mellon Fund for Digital Humanities at Dickinson College, and Dickinson's Research and Development Committee. The Project Director is Christopher Francese, Asbury J. Clarke Professor of Classical Studies at Dickinson College (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Authors and Contributors
The commentaries are authored by experienced scholars, and created with the assistance of an extensive community of contribitors: teachers, students, editors, and others. We welcome proposals from all qualified authors (guidelines), who should contact any of the senior editors. Commentaries are peer-reviewed, and are also published in print versions, thanks to an agreement with Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK. The editorial board consists of scholars and teachers from around the world based in research universities, liberal arts colleges, and distinguished high schools. Ryan Burke built the site in Drupal 7, based on a design by Chris Francese and Chris Stamas, and continues to maintain it.
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, new maps, and original audio and video content.
- Core vocabulary lists define the most common dictionary headwords (or lemmas) in ancient Greek and Latin. These are the lemmas that generate about 75% of the words found in a typical text. In Greek this means approximately 500 lemmas, in Latin, about 1000.The core lists were created using data provided by the Thesaurus Lingaue Graecae and the Laboratoire d’Analyse Statistique des Langues Anciennes (LASLA).
- All words not in the core lists are fully and accurately defined in running vocabulary lists that accompany each section of text. These lists are created using accurately parsed texts (mostly from LASLA), and English definitions appropriate to the author, typically based on print lexica specific to each author, such as the Vergilian dictionary of Frieze. Custom vocabulary lists based on user-selected criteria can be obtained at our partner site The Bridge, created by Bret Mulligan at Haverford College.
- Notes provide links to the geographic database Pleiades, to the Latin grammar of Allen and Greenough, the Greek grammar of Thomas Dwight Goodell, and to other authoritative reference works.
Reviews and Use
DCC’s digital editions have been praised in reviews for their scholarly quality, interpretive richness, and pedagogical utility (Mahoney 2014; Johnson 2014; Stem 2016), and DCC’s status as a model project is mentioned in the recent Oxford volume on the classical commentary (Kraus and Stray 2016: 492 and 520). Currently (2016) the site garners some 10,000 users and 40,000 page views per month, and is used at universities (e.g. UCLA, and the Universities of Virginia and Iowa) liberal arts colleges (e.g. University of Richmond, Haverford), and at many public and independent high schools. A typical testimonial from a high school teacher: “I’m discovering all kinds of wonderful resources to teach Caesar. Yours is at the top of my list – my students and I LOVE it and find it immensely helpful. I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate all your hard and meticulous work. It makes my work easier and far more interesting!” A university instructor, speaking in a review of the DCC edition of Cornelius Nepos' Life of Hannibal, commented, "As a pedagogical platform for teaching Latin with digital materials, this text is visionary in its design."
A pilot commentary on excerpts from Julius Caesar’s Gallic War, using notes selected from older school editions, was created in 2010 by Chris Francese and a team of Dickinson students on an earlier site using Mediawiki, in response to changes in the Latin Advanced Placement Exam. In 2011-2012 Francese created core vocabulary lists with the help of Wilfred Major, Marc Mastrangelo, and Eric Casey (Greek) and Meghan Reedy (Latin), and a group of Dickinson students. 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. Shortly thereafter new commentaries were added by Bret Mulligan, William Turpin, and Susan Stephens. The agreement with Open Book Publishers brought substantial new content in 2015, and more commentaries are in development. DCC has grown to become the hub of an international community of scholars and students working through the problems and opportunities of multimedia annotation. It now has a sister site for commentaries in Chinese, Dickinson Classics Online. The core vocabularies are available in Portuguese, Chinese, and Polish.
Philosophy and Approach
Digital annotation of classical texts has many potential advantages. In theory, it could provide easy access to all comments written on a specific passage (the so-called “digital variorum,” Helsin 2016). It could also provide a new freedom from space restrictions imposed by the print medium (“infinitely large margins,” Fowler 1999), and multiple-audience commentaries, with the ability of users to choose the level of notes they want. Digital annotation could also open up authorship through wikis and user comment features (Carlisle et al. 2016), and allow for machine-generated comments that would parse word forms and disambiguate geographical and proper names based on automatic language processing tools or voting features (Crane 2009).
In practice, however, various problematic issues—partly technical and partly related to scholarly culture—have emerged: a machine-readable form of citation that would enable aggregation of comments on a single passage is still under development (Rebillard 2009, Blackwell and Smith 2013). A usable TEI syntax for linked annotations is not yet available (Schmidt 2014). Design issues make it difficult to include all relevant information on limited screen space, and the dividing lines between different “levels” or audiences of classical commentary are not as clear cut as initially thought (Anderson 2016). “Open” commentaries on classic works have not been productive so far, and readers of such texts typically value scholarly expertise and are reticent about adding their own notes. Automatic parsing tools are not yet up to the standard of quality demanded by classical scholars (Francese 2012). Finally, the publishers that identify authors, ensure quality and consistency, and carry out peer-review for print commentaries do not yet exist for digital work. In this turbulent context there are no routines, no standard accepted formats, and little likelihood of pleasing all audiences.
DCC focuses on the needs of Latin and Greek learners and non-professional students. It prioritizes accurate scholarship, pedagogical utility, and attractive design, while remaining mindful of issues of infrastructure and networked data. It avoids the pitfalls of providing too much information, and of relying on open or wiki annotation, which would deprive the reader of the comfort of expert guidance. Our emphasis is on the humanistic learning and intellectual skills to be cultivated by reading the classical texts: precise appreciation of poetic language, close reading, cultural literacy, and skill in translation.
Anderson, Peter J. “Heracles’ Choice: Thoughts on the Virtues of Print and Digital Commentary.” In Kraus and Stray (2016), pp. 483–493.
Blackwell, Christopher and Neel Smith, “The CITE Architecture.” Last modified May 19, 2013. http://www.homermultitext.org/hmt-doc/cite/
Carlisle, David et al. “Cyrus’ Paradise: The World’s First Online Collaborative Commentary to an Ancient Text.” Accessed March 10, 2016. http://www.cyropaedia.org/
Crane, Gregory. “Cyberinfrastructure for Classical Philology.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 3.1 (2009). Url: http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/3/1/000023/000023.html
Fowler, Don. “Criticism as Commentary and Commentary as Criticism in the Age of Electronic Media.” In Glenn W. Most, ed. Commentaries/Kommentare (Göttingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 1999), pp. 426–442.
Francese, Christopher. “Do the Flaws in the Perseus Word Study Tool Matter?” Dickinson College Commentaries Blog. Last modified July 10, 2012. http://blogs.dickinson.edu/dcc/2012/07/10/more-on-the-perseus-word-study...
Heslin, Peter. “The Dream of a Universal Variorum: Digitizing the Commentary Tradition.” In Kraus and Stray (2016), pp. 494–511.
Johnson, Patricia J. Review of Turpin, W. Ovid: Amores I (Dickinson College Commentaries). Bryn Mawr Classical Review (2014): 2014.03.30. http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2014/2014-03-30.html
Kraus, Christina S. and Christopher Stray. Classical Commentaries: Explorations in a Scholarly Genre. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Mahoney, Anne. “Latin Commentaries on the Web.” Teaching Classical Languages 5.2 (2014): 133–143.
Rebillard, Eric. “Canonical Citation Linking and OpenURL.” Project Description. Last modified May 26, 2009. http://cwkb.org/pubs/report-20090526.pdf
Schmidt, Desmond. “Towards an Interoperable Digital Scholarly Edition.” Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative 7 (November 2014): 1–20. DOI: 10.4000/jtei.979 URL: https://jtei.revues.org/979
Smith, Neel. “Citation in Classical Studies.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 3.1 (2009). URL: http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/3/1/000028/000028.html