Digital Humanities

I haven’t often mentioned my interest in things digital on this blog, but earlier this year, I was fortunate to attend a workshop in Belgium entitled, “Means and Methods for the Digital Analysis of Ancient and Medieval Texts and Manuscripts.”  I got to hear a variety of interesting papers and debates, all while enjoying terrific hospitality.  One of the happy consequences of this visit was that I met several people working on “digital humanities”[1] type projects.  One of my great interests as a budding text-critic is in digital stemmatology.  The question essentially boils down to: how can we use digital/statistical methods to help us map the history of a text’s transmission.  Ideally, the end result is a stemma, or family tree, detailing the copying history of the extant manuscripts.  This is helpful either for traditional philology (establishing the archetypal text), or for those interested in reception history.  Tara Andrews, whom I was fortunate to meet in Leuven, recently wrote a blog post which captures the history and status quaestionis quite well, here. All of this makes me wish I was in Hamburg this week at the Digital Humanities 2012 conference.  There are a number of interesting abstracts listed here.

As a Computer Science undergraduate turned (soon-to-be) Greek and Latin graduate student, I’m naturally very interested in how computers can help us study ancient texts.  Two areas, in particular, hold my interest right now: digital stemmatology and digital stylometry.

Stemmatology I mentioned earlier: I’m attempting to apply these sorts of methods to the Palaea Historica, a 10th century Byzantine Greek retelling of the Old Testament.  One of my professors at NC State is working on a critical edition, and so I hope to put these stemmatological methods to good use.  Time will tell if I’m successful, but I’ll be presenting a paper in Nov. so I’ll definitely have something to say then!

Digital Stylometry is a more recent interest of mine.  The most common application is authorship attribution: can we somehow quantify style and then use that measure to compare different texts?  Perhaps the most common application is authorship attribution.  If the methods develop well enough, this might, for instance, help us sort out anonymous catenae fragments, or anonymous homilies like the ones in the recently discovered CMB 314 (which we’re pretty sure, at least currently, belong to Origen). 

[1]  I still find this phrase frustratingly vague (I’m interested in a narrower type of research), but I employ it nevertheless.

ἐν αὐτῷ,


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