05 January 2008

APA Saturday, Jan 5th — Fewer Handouts

I just got back from a papyrological session, Culture and Society in Graeco-Roman Egypt. Several of these were fiercely technical, but one paper on the distribution of postponed γάρ was short, sweet and full of numbers, which always makes me happy (Stephen Bay, Postponement of Conjunctive γάρ in the Papyri). He noted the contexts in which this postponement occurred. It turns out it frequently keeps company with prepositions, which immediately brought to my mind that in Modern Greek some ancient prepositions have merged with the article so tightly that they're written as one word. *εἰς τὸν γὰρ... or the like might sometimes have seemed like natural enclitic behavior.

The morning session, "The Future is Now? Digital Library Projects and Scholarship and Teaching in Classics," was somewhat exasperating to me. Last spring I attended a giant workship about "cyberinfrastructure" in the University setting, and there was a rather serious disconnect between the haves up on stage and the have-nots in the audience. It was hard to get the big computing centers to really take the problems of smaller departments seriously. This same issue showed up today. The people on stage might be getting tenure by virtue of their digital publications, but in my life graduate students are often unprepared to admit in public they use Perseus.

Second, the orthodoxy of Moore's Law was the sole faith represented. In the traditional publishing model you write a book, it goes to reviewers and an editor, finally gets typeset and is sold for a modest fee (ha!) and at the end you have the most reliable mass storage and retrieval device for text so far ever created. In the brave, new digital and open world you have to do all of that and commit to maintaining the work indefinitely. We know almost nothing about really long-term digital storage, and we need only look to Perseus for the sad state of even short-term reliability. My books never crash for an entire weekend. Doing this correctly will cost beaucoup bucks, and neither I nor other people in the audience were able to get firm comments on funding except for catechismic recitation about ever-cheaper disk storage.

It was also suggested that some of these issues should be foisted off on university libraries. This is doubtless correct in the long term, since librarians have some experience in storing and, rather more importantly, finding again intellectual production. But university libraries are for the most part just as squeezed for resources as everyone else, at least those in the Humanities.

Once again I heard it said that, at least for infrastructure, the Humanities should parasitize the hard sciences, who get much more funding for giant digital projects. This just makes me sad.

In terms of facts, one thing that struck me is that evidently a lot of digitial Humanities resources are very poor at identifying to the world what they are and how you would use them.

I played my "gloomy sysadmin" role and asked everyone if they knew what would happen to their data when the died. We need data wills, including a list of executors so it doesn't get deleted by accident.


By now I have several poems I want to work up for Aoidoi, thanks to papers.

I look forward to flitting between this evening's many receptions, where I can think happy thoughts.

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