Digital pedagogy with the Ciceronian corpus

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In Spring 2019, I taught a class at BU which I called “New Approaches to Cicero.” In my course design, I aimed at “newness” in two ways: 1) I wanted to have students read a wider variety of Ciceronian works than is usually done in one class (in the end, we read examples of every genre: speeches, oratorical treatises, philosophical treatises, letters, poems — see the schedule of readings); I also wanted to emphasize how the reception of Cicero has impacted how he has historically been read. And 2) instead of writing a traditional essay for their final project, I wanted students to apply a digital technique to a Ciceronian text (or set of texts). The class was an experiment in many ways, but the results were successful and interesting, so I wanted to share my reflections. If you want to skip ahead and look at samples of the student’s final projects, they are available on the Cicero course blog

The class revolved around a course blog: https://cicero.blog/. Here, the students found the schedule of readings (there was no physical syllabus for them to lose track of), and other pertinent pieces of information, such as an outline of tasks and expectations, guides to digital tools, and general Cicero bibliography.

Students in this class were required to give two in-class presentations: 1) a text report: an analysis of an assigned passage of Cicero (e.g. In Pisonem 21-22); 2) a scholarship report: summary and comment on an assigned scholarly work (an article or a book chapter). If they were not giving a classroom presentation, they were required to send me a ‘selection’ (a small excerpt either of Cicero, or of a secondary source which we had read) by email before each class. I then collected these and put them in the blog post for that day’s meeting.

When we met in person, I projected the blog in the classroom and would read out the passages one by one. In class, I would ask the student who sent it in why they were interested in it, they would respond, and then we opened it up to general discussion. I would myself occasionally add Cicero passages from the readings which I felt were really important, but I did this less and less as the class continued. This was technically a class in translation, but we regularly looked at the Latin and took the time to consider different translator’s choices. (My general outlook was: those who had Latin should use it; those who didn’t could still take the class and find it fruitful.) Over time, the students were individually developing their specific interests, and we also, as a class, had a set of questions that we would regularly return to. I would also always include an image of a Cicero manuscript – as a constant reminder of how Cicero’s texts are remediated. Take for example the week in which we read the Tusculan Disputations (I included TD 1.3, but the rest were student selected):

tusculan disputations gif.gif

For their final projects, the students were to develop a research question, based on their own interests, and to use a digital tool to explore it. They knew from the beginning that this was where they had to end up; in week 9, they had to submit a written prospectus of their intended research (which helped them commit to their topic, and begin early prep work).

In the first week we discussed some of the options: mapping, textual annotation, data visualization. I understood going into this class that some students might be intimidated by digital approaches, so I included the option of doing something visual and remediating that would not necessarily be “data” heavy. And none of the tools which I suggested required the students to have any knowledge of coding (I don’t know how to code).

Not all data visualization has to be done digitally (or even visually). With that in mind, in the first week we discussed the work of the British data journalist, Mona Chalabi (@MonaChalabi) who draws her data visualizations by hand. Chalabi’s visualizations aim at immediate “reader” comprehension, and usually include part of the object of study as part of the image. I had it in mind that this class would help students theorize continuity and discontinuity with ancient and modern cultural practices and knowledge production (a discussion that digital humanities helps very much to facilitate), so I was attracted to Chalabi’s outlook on data that emphasized the humanness of data-gathering and its presentation. An excerpt from an interview with Chalabi in It’s Nice That (March 8, 2018)

A big part of my philosophy is that computer-generated images overstate certainty, my hand-drawn graphics show the real margin of error in the numbers while reminding people that a human was responsible for the data gathering and analysis.

The digital tool which we spent the most time with, and which the majority of the students used for their final project, is Gephi, which provides an interactive visualization and exploration platform for all kinds of networks and complex systems. Caitlin Marley has recently explored the entire Ciceronian corpus using the software programs R and Gephi. Our own Ryan Pasco (@rympasco, PhD student in BU Classics) has been working on small batch applications of Gephi to Cicero’s letters; and a UROP project by Ryan with BU undergrad and Classics major, Joseph Salzo (who was also in this class), is currently underway looking at how a specific historical event in the beginning of 56 BCE can be charted via social relationships in Cicero’s letters. In week 6, Ryan came to the class do a Gephi workshop with the students. Afterwards, Ryan wrote a twitter thread recapping his presentation. Read it here: 

I owe Ryan enormous thanks for his help with this class. Not only did he do this workshop, but he also helped students troubleshoot problems with Gephi as their research developed. 

I gave the students complete freedom to choose what they wanted to research, and as a result they individually produced very different projects, even if they were using the same digital tool. The samples of the final projects demonstrate the range: an exploration of Ciceronian invective (Willingham); a verbal analysis of the Pro Caelio (Solovay); a study of Cicero’s quotation of Plautus and Terence (Droegemuller); an exploration of the difference between Cicero’s relationship with Atticus and Terentia while in exile (Jiang); an analysis of the relationships between Tiro and the Cicero family (Salzo); a chart of the relationship between Pompey and Cicero between 55 and 48 BCE, as it appears in Cicero’s letters (Kennedy). In the last two cases, the students (unprompted by me), decided to present their findings in a digital format as well: Salzo used a blog format to present his annotations on the Gephi images produced for different letters involving Tiro; Kennedy used github to present his categorizing of 150 Cicero letters (!) – with each point of data linked to the actual letter in Perseus:

Haydn Kennedy

Going into teaching this class, I wondered whether the use of digital tools would produce something superficial, but in fact the result was quite the opposite. My broader intention with this course was to demonstrate that Cicero’s works, while by no means simple representations of Roman life, could nonetheless be pushed through, in certain ways, to reveal things about Roman cultural practices, as well as about Cicero himself. In this I was inspired, at any early stage in my career, by my predecessor at BU, Professor Ann Vasaly, and her 1993 book, Representations – widely believed to have produced a seachange in Ciceronian scholarship. 

By the time students began to put together their projects, they were well aware of the problems with Cicero. They knew that his oratory was so often a smoke screen; they knew how complicated his enomorous corpus of letters was a source (we spent some time with Peter White’s Cicero in Letters, 2010); they knew that if they wanted to hear the voices of women or former slaves, they would have to work hard to disentangle them from Cicero’s own voice. In addition to giving me a prospectus of their research idea early on in the semester, they had to present their results to their peers in the last two weeks of class, and, after incorporating their classmates’ suggestions, submit to me a written reflection alongside their images and data.

The student presentations were striking: all of the students reflected on how their research focus had shifted and complexified as they worked to create and visualize their data; and they all talked about the potential limitations and subjectivities of their particular approach. That is, they displayed a level of self-reflection and the knowledge of their own relationship to the research problem in a sophisticated and nuanced way. Each student was able to stand up and talk for at least 20 minutes on the intricacies of their project, and all the students ended up submitting write-ups on their data visualizations which were longer than a traditional essay would have been (!); and in many ways more sophisticated. Since the majority of the projects examined Cicero’s use of specific Latin terms, the students ended up with a greater intimacy with the text than either they or I had anticipated.

Overall, then, my fears about superficiality were unfounded. Their efforts to create data visualizations resulted in more writing, and better writing, than perhaps they would have otherwise, because the digital tool allowed them a close intimacy with the text. 

A final note that I will add is that alongside what we did in and outside of the classroom, there was a twitter hashtag for this course: #newcicero. For the most part, this is populated by my tweeting out Cicero materials and links to the lessons twice a week. I.e.: students would send me their ‘selections’, I collected them and posted them to the blog, and then I would tweet out the link to that blog (the same thing which I projected in the classroom so that we could work through and discuss their selections). This meant that anyone who was interested could see what we were doing. E.g.: 

I offered extra credit to students for tweeting on the hashtag. The student who deserves kudos here is Cory Willingham (@coriolanussum), who not only tweeted out an early version of his Gephi results (first tweet), but regularly reflected critically on the reading materials (second tweet). 

Although I would understand anyone’s reservations regarding exposing students to twitter in the social climate of 2019, I have found that it has had enormous benefits. Last semester, in my Women in Antiquity class (#womenancient), we were reading translations by Emily Wilson (@EmilyRCWilson) and Josephine Balmer (@jobalmer), as well as Adrienne Mayor’s (@amayor) recent book on the Amazons; all of the scholars engaged with the class hashtag, and the students were thrilled to see the immediacy and power of Classics playing out textually and interconnectively via social media. 

The Cicero course may have been the most explicitly digital class which I have taught, but all of my non-translation classes have course blogs. I also teach Women in Antiquity and World of Rome (Roman civ.) via a digital medium. 

 

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#Itinera

In July 2017 after the Pac Rim in San Diego, Dr Scott Lepisto (@scottlepisto) interviewed me for an episode of the #Itinera podcast, where Classicists discuss their research, teaching, and lives as scholars. Notable guests have been: Alex Purves, Helen Morales, and Amy Richlin. Listen to my interview here.

Proseminar in Classical Pedagogy

Note: Feel free to pick and choose from what follows; some things will appeal or seem helpful to you, others not so much. When it comes to teaching, given the personal nature of it, you yourself will develop best practices from your own readings, explorations, and experience. Long story short, what follows is not prescriptive.

1) introductory remarks re the ethos of teaching, emphasizing the role of the personal in the teaching persona

2) brief outline of responsibilities in student safety/wellbeing (title IX, immigrant students); be sensitive + mindful with your language

3) a basic structure of a “lesson” plan; suggestions how to plan a lesson, how to create discussion; how teaching languages requires different kinds of planning and structure

  • for language instruction: 
    • handouts for Wheelock: http://www.wheelockslatin.com/wheelocksteacherguide.html 
    • have specific daily lessons dictated by the textbook; e.g. one chapter of Wheelock a session is a good pace
      • first part of class introduce new material, second part of class use practice sentences with students to solidify that material
    • for language instruction testing is an important and useful way to make sure students commit to memorizing vocabulary/internalizing constructions; I usually do two a week:
      • one short quiz just on vocabulary/principal parts [an example];
      • one more substantial test on material covered in class that week [an example] (both egs from Latin 2 class taught 2015).
    • take at least one session a week to read a longer passage with your students so that they can get used to longer translation
    • try to foster a good group dynamic with your Latin students; one idea is to make them a facebook group, so that they can arrange study sessions together (I did this and it was very successful)
    • if you can, it can be nice to offer extra credit reading sessions outside of class, where students can come and sight read Latin together with you in an informal (but rewarded) setting
    • here is the structure I use for beginning Latin language instruction (can be adapted for different schedule)

Monday: vocab quiz (10 mins) + go over homework (a longer passage from Wheelock, or from 38 Latin Stories)
Tuesday: chapter of Wheelock
Wednesday: chapter of Wheelock
Thursday: weekly test (15-20 mins) + read a longer passage from Wheelock

  • for discussion section:
    • set the tone for discussion sections by setting up rules and expectations up front (don’t take for granted that students know how to disagree respectfully!)
    • structure the class around specific questions which have arisen out of the course lectures
    • but don’t be afraid to bring in external material from outside the classroom to generate discussion

    • try to engage all students by having a variety of possible formats (small group, pair, written)

    • ask individual questions, specifically varying Bloom’s taxonomy

    • offer support for developing paper assignment ideas 

    • have a handout/powerpoint with specific texts or images which you discuss together with your students; giving your students material to respond to which is immediately in front of them can help break the silence
    • split your students into groups to discuss specific passages of text or images
    • have your students submit questions to you ahead of time for discussion
    • have your students use an online forum format to discuss the week’s material in advance (an example: Miranda Butler’s use of tumblr and blackboard)
    • have your students do short (5 min) presentations on primary materials
    • show your students excerpts of other media (audio, video) which relate to ancient material; can be helpful for helping imagination and creating inroads, e.g. this video taken by someone walking to the Purpose Built Lupanar in Pompeii demonstrates the narrowness of space; or this video of the Nikandre Kore demonstrates the surprising slimness of the statue, and what it looks like in its museum context

4) brief overview of digital tools/resources:

5) brief overview of pedagogy bibliography/other resources:

Write-up — Pedagogy of the Empowered: Teaching as an Act of Resistance in 2017 and Beyond

On April 6th 2017, the University of Southern California’s Center for Excellence in Teaching held an event entitled “Pedagogy of the Empowered”. Four Teaching Assistant Fellows — Leslie Bernsten, Mary Donhoffner, Rima Basu, and Lizette Solórzano — spoke individually about how to be inclusive in classroom dialogues on political or difficult topics, providing us with strategies and practical advice on how to deal sensitively with specific scenarios that can and do happen. This is exactly the kind of event that is essential in the current political climate, and I left the session feeling that everyone who is teaching right now should attend an event like this at least once. I was grateful to be able to attend.

Leslie Bernsten opened the session by saying that teaching is a caring profession; research supports that the best teaching is that which is above and beyond the call of duty. She mentioned the anxiety that some may have of being a teacher at an R1 university, where you might not be expected to make teaching a priority, and perhaps will receive less support from the institutional framework around you. But she affirmed something that I have always felt — that the best teaching happens when human beings treat others as human beings. Here are some tools and strategies which I took away from this event:

  • If you want to respond to a recent political moment in the classroom, be clear with yourself and your students on why you are doing so. The classroom is not the right place to rant about how you feel about what’s going on in politics. If you want to talk about something that is happening, make sure you tie it in to part of the curriculum, and take the time to present it in a way that does not simply reflect your own political beliefs, but allows students — who have many different beliefs and experiences — to be able to engage with it.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare. If you want to talk about a politically charged issue, prepare as much as you can in advance.
  • Create a classroom contract. How do you set up your classroom so that serious conflicts do not occur? How can you make sure that everyone feels fairly treated, and that the class discussion is productive for everyone? One way to prepare is to be clear from the first day what your students can expect from you, and what you expect from them. Guide them through the syllabus to show your expectations. How will late work be dealt with? How will grading work? How will conflict in the classroom be handled? An effective strategy is to have the students workshop community guidelines: have your students work together to write a charter which describes how they will behave towards each other. And always explain to your students why you’re having them complete a task; doing this can help avoid a sense of being infantilized.
  • Be aware of how you can help marginalized students. Many students have had experiences which leave them emotionally and legally vulnerable. Recent studies show that at certain universities up to 30% of female students are survivors of sexual violence. That means that you need to keep in mind that there is a very high probability that several of your students (male and female) have had this experience. If a student confides in you that they have been sexually assaulted, you are legally obligated to report this to the Title IX officer at your university. Many of your students may also be undocumented, or their family members may be undocumented. These students are living with a very real threat of deportation. If a student confides in you that they are undocumented, you must not tell this to anyone else. This is an example in which maintaining confidentiality is crucial. Teachers at the university level are not necessarily (and perhaps even usually) trained to be able to give students the support which they need; instead, we have to know where to send them when they need help. So we should know what the counseling services are, and whether our university has an immigration clinic. In these cases, we must send our students to trained professionals who can help them emotionally and legally.

The Latin dictionary — digital or physical?

Welsh Latin dictionary 1632, John Davis Mallwyd.JPG
Welsh-Latin dictionary 1632, John Davis Mallwyd (wikimedia)

I’ve been writing a syllabus for an undergraduate Latin seminar and thinking about whether or not to have my students buy a specific Latin-English dictionary. After seeing some slides from a presentation on twitter that came out of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conference on the burden of the cost of textbooks on students, I became reaffirmed recently in my dedication to try to make as many of the readings (and visual/material culture) on my syllabuses come from Open Access or at least online sources. With the way things are going, this is becoming easier and easier. But a dictionary should be part of a Classicist’s arsenal, right?
I went to twitter first to ask what Latin-English dictionaries instructors have assigned to their Latin students. The one that I used as a beginning Latin student, and still sometimes use, is the Langenscheidt pocket dictionary. But it’s not so easy to get your hands on in the US. The most popular suggestions from twitter were Cassell’s, Chambers Murray, with some votes for Traupman; although one respondent mentioned that they got into trouble with Traupman when doing Latin prose composition, and switched to Lewis & Short. None of these is especially expensive (under $10), although both Chambers Murray and Langenscheidt are tricky to get new copies of.  It’s clear that we hold on to the tools that we begin learning with very fondly — even though I teach in the US now I still can’t give up Kennedy’s Latin primer, whose table of principal parts I have given to every Latin class I’ve ever taught. (The reason why Kennedy’s is a problem to use with US students is that the case order is N./V. Acc. Gen. Dat. Abl. rather than Nom. Gen. Dat. Acc. Abl.).

My next question (via a twitter poll) was whether Latin instructors encourage their students to use online dictionary tools.  My assumption, just based on casual discussions or passing comments with colleagues IRL, is that many would be against it just in principle. But perhaps asking Latin instructors on twitter is not the venue for cynicism about digital tools. As I write the poll isn’t closed yet, but the majority of respondents use digital tools in some form. Cillian O’Hogan () replied that he had that day taught his students how to use Logeion’s online version of Lewis & Short; he also mentioned that he gives lessons in how to use physical dictionaries, including a demonstration of their shortcomings. The important thing here, whether you have your students use physical or digital dictionaries, is to dedicate time to demonstrate how to use them. It’s not degrading to anyone to take the time to meditate on issues or forms which seem self-evident — in fact, it can be quite a profound experience.

I recently read a discussion by Geoffrey Nunberg of the limits of the physical editions of the Oxford English Dictionary that have been overcome in its online edition:

The advent of online historical corpora has also altered the lexicographer’s method. Word sleuthery has become a game that anyone with access to a search engine can play. It’s not hard to find examples that antedate the OED’s earliest citations for words, particularly in the modern period. The first use of Ms. listed in the second edition was from 1949; the Wall Street Journal’s language columnist Ben Zimmer tracked it back to 1901.

The issue with online Latin dictionaries is probably not so much about the quality of its contents as much as the question of whether use of a digital dictionary is detrimental to the student’s progress in language acquisition. Anecdotally, we classicists as a group seem to think that using a physical dictionary leads to better vocabulary retention. After I posted the twitter poll, Clara Shaw Hardy () responded with a blog piece in which she described her own experiments with students, who tried both physical and digital dictionaries and reported their experiences; Hardy also cites an article in Teaching Classical Languages by Jacqueline Carlon arguing that students retain vocabulary that they learn “the hard way.” Hardy also put forward the suggestion that online dictionaries develop a means of quizzing students on the words which they have looked up in a given session. Patrick Burns responded to this with a blog piece of his own, which is a tutorial on how to use Learning with Texts (LWT) to learn vocabulary in context. 

All in all, I’m encouraged by the fact that many classicists are not ideologically opposed to using digital dictionaries. Although there is evidence that doing things the old fashioned way has better results, in a world where students are more naturally inclined to turn to the internet as a source of knowledge, I think that there is something to be said for using rigorous, philological online lexical tools like Logeion. Whether physical or digital, dictionaries are a technology that need to be explained, explored, and contextualized. I feel that a lot of the resistance to digital forms probably comes from an inherent conservatism within classics that says more about the discipline than it does about the functionality or pedagogical outcomes that result from use of digital dictionaries. The important thing is to explore different avenues with an open mind, rather than allowing cynicism to hold you back from new teaching opportunities.

 

Known works of early Roman playwrights (3rd – 1st c. BCE)

Publius_Terencius_Afer_Comoediae_[comédies_[...]_btv1b8458135g
Terence’s Andria – Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal MS 644 – 15th c.
Literary fragments are not easy to access, and are often difficult to make much sense of. But for those who are interested in Roman Republican literature, the majority of the works of which we know are fragmentary. In this blog post I list the known titles of the following Roman playwrights from the 3rd to 1st centuries BCE: Livius Andronicus, Gnaeus Naevius, Plautus, Caecilius Statius, Quintus Ennius, Marcus Pacuvius, Terence, Lucius Accius, Trabea, Atilius, Sextus Turpilius, Titinius, Lucius Afranius, T. Quinctius Atta.

If I give no English equivalent for a title, the title is the name of a character in a play (e.g. Andromacha = “Andromacha”, like “Hamlet”), or sometimes a place (Naevius’ Clastidium, named after the victory over the Celts at Clastidium by M. Marcellus in 222 B.C.E).

Lucius Livius Andronicus
Tarentum
3rd century BCE; b. 290?

Tarentum Pleiades
Tarentum
source: Pleiades Project

Odusia, “Odyssey,” in Saturnians. Latin translation of the Odyssey. Warmington II:24-43.

Titles of Livius Andronicus’ tragedies (10 or 11?): Achilles, Aegisthus, Ajax Mastigophorus (“Ajax the Whip-Bearer”), Andromeda, Danae, Equos Troianus (“Trojan Horse”), Hermiona, Ino, TereusTeucer (Varro LL 7.2). Warmington II:2-21. Schauer 2012.

Titles of Livius Andronicus’ comedies: Gladiolus (“The Dagger”), Ludius (“The Gamester”). Warmington II:20-21.

Continue reading “Known works of early Roman playwrights (3rd – 1st c. BCE)”