Tag Archives: Classics

Computational and Biological Approaches in the Study of Literature

By Sarah Schuster, HI Graduate Research Assistant

Pramit Chaudhuri, Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin, led the Faculty Fellows seminar on November 7th. Dr. Chaudhuri presented his current work on Latin literary genre, using methodologies from the digital humanities. With collaborator T.J. Bolt, a Mellon postdoctoral researcher in the Classics department, and other researchers Chaudhuri is exploring the stylistic boundaries between literary genres in Latin, such as the relationship between epic and drama. Bolt and Chaudhuri used quantitative methods to uncover what differences and similarities exist between genres of Latin poetry, seeking distinctive features that accurately describe a given genre. Building from this work, Chaudhuri expressed interest in other ways to apply computational analysis or to present the data to a scholarly audience.

Chaudhuri opened the seminar by considering the lens of analysis other Fellows had used to discuss “Narrative Across the Disciplines.” Rather than focusing on the analysis or construction of individual narratives, Chaudhuri suggested that narrative across disciplines could be a research discussion in its own right. He encouraged Fellows to discuss primary and secondary narratives, to consider what narratives felt familiar to them, and whether genre was a meaningful or valuable classification for work within their fields. Chaudhuri noted that these questions were meant to aim Fellows towards considerations of form, rather than content.

After a brief discussion of these questions in small groups, the Fellows reconvened to discuss Chaudhuri’s project more broadly as part of his work as Co-Director of the Quantitative Criticism Lab. Given the range of disciplinary interests, Chaudhuri expressed his curiosity toward what considerations of form and genre might be most influential for the Fellows in their own work. Fellows responded with a variety of answers, but they also posed questions regarding Chaudhuri and Bolt’s computational method. Fellows were interested in the assumptions embedded in the project regarding machine learning, and to what extent computational approaches offer insights beyond that of more traditional methods. Some in the group wondered if the project could be expanded or combined with similar projects in linguistics, while others noted concerns regarding generalization over historical periods that might lead scholars in some disciplines to resist digital humanities projects. A lively discussion of Chaudhuri’s use of the term “cultural evolution” revealed how scholars in various disciplines deal with change. The seminar closed with the Fellows speculating on the implications of the project for Classics departments, from possible considerations (or reconsiderations) of genre to novel examinations of intertextuality at the level of syntax.

March 27-31, “Orality and Literacy XIII: Repetition”

By Deborah Beck
Associate Professor, Department of Classics
Organizer, Orality and Literacy XIII

One of the most important contributions that the Humanities Institute makes, both to the UT community and to Central Texas, is to bring together groups of people interested in the Humanities from a wide range of different perspectives. Academics in different disciplines; people at different stages of their professional life; people in the academy and in the community; all of these find a home at the Institute. A conference being hosted at the University of Texas at Austin on March 27-31, “Orality and Literacy XIII: Repetition,” is known for being similarly wide-ranging and cross-disciplinary.

This three-day conference has something for everyone. The largest number of the twenty-odd papers relate to various aspects of the Classical world of ancient Greece and Rome, spanning literature, oratory, philosophy. art, and religion. But Orality and Literacy, which has been meeting every two years since 1994 in different spots around the world, ranges beyond the Greeks and Romans to religious traditions of the ancient world, including the Quran, the Hebrew Bible, and religious texts of India and the Ancient Near East.

Each iteration of this conference is called “Orality and Literacy,” a common theme tying all thirteen meetings together. But each of the thirteen “Orality and Literacy” conferences also has a unique theme that relates in some way to the dynamic interplay between orality and literacy as modes of creating and sharing meaning. Our theme this year is “repetition,” which applies not only to the formulaic language that underlies the Homeric epics, the ritualistic modes of expression in religious texts and practices, and the rhetorical patterning of oratory, but also to our conference itself.  It, too, incorporates repetition into both oral and literate modes of communication, to create and to share meaning.

Our keynote speaker, Ruth Scodel, is an expert in Greek poetry equally renowned for her insights into ancient literature and the engaging and accessible style in which she presents her ideas. Her scholarly research focuses primarily on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and ancient Greek tragedy, and she regularly writes and speaks for a general audience. Perhaps most prominently, her book An Introduction to Greek Tragedy (2010), which assumes no prior knowledge of the subject, has been translated into Spanish. Professor Scodel’s lecture, entitled “Reperformance, Writing, and the Boundaries of Literature,” will take place in RLP 0.102 (305 East 23rd Street, Austin, TX) at 7:30 p.m. on March 27. This lecture is free and open to the public.

Thanks to funding from a number of generous donors, including the Humanities Institute through the Barron Ulmer Kidd Centennial Lectureship, there is no fee or registration required to attend any of the conference paper sessions. There will be a full day of papers on Thursday, March 28 and Saturday, March 30, with a half-day of papers on Friday afternoon March 29 and a final three papers on Sunday morning March 31. The full schedule of papers can be found on our conference Web site. For further information, please email us at oralityliteracyxiii@austin.utexas.edu.