It seems that we classicists are often stuck in the past beyond just our interest in all things ancient. Fashionable theories in literary criticism finally emerge in our journals ten years after most modern language folks have (nearly) given them up, and many would-be tech-savvy classicists still hold to the long-dead notion that Macs beat PCs when it comes to dealing with Greek texts, etc.
But in many ways technology proves (or has proven) insufficient for us. It’s far easier and more comfortable to pull a book off the shelf than it is to fire up a web browser and ensure that the text encoding and fonts are properly set. This is to say nothing of the relative quality of texts available in printed, scholarly editions (with app. crit., etc.) and the myriad, problematic texts we find online, even from reputable sources. We have a certain revulsion to the ways that a clever user can ‘read’ challenging texts with the aid of morphological tools and parallel translations, and fear that such crutches will keep our students from becoming genuine Latinists and Hellenists. We may even fear that such technology will make us lazy, and that we’ll become lesser readers and scholars ourselves.
There are some legitimate concerns there, but ignoring technology does not remove them. Learning what’s available and learning how to use it well — that should be our goal.
For the cost of a simple USB flash drive you can enter the age of digital scholarship and become a more productive scholar from any computer with an internet connection. You can access virtually any file you need, keep all of your references at hand, and read an overwhelmingly large number of texts at virtually no cost.
Are you ready?
Access your stuff from anywhere
First, get yourself a free Dropbox account, and install the software to your personal computer. You’re given 2GB of online storage space, and whatever you place in your Dropbox folder on any computer on which it is installed will be synced with your online storage space. (Following my link will earn you an extra 250 MB.) You can access this space via the web, make changes, add or remove files, and everything will be synced in all locations. You can earn extra storage by spreading the word, and can purchase storage as well, but you shouldn’t need to. Just be judicious in what you place in the Dropbox.
Next you’ll want to make sure you have a USB flash drive (or just about anything else you can use as an external drive, like an mp3 player). Make sure to keep this handy at all times. If you have access to a computer (virtually any computer, anywhere) you’ll be able to use this flash drive (in concert with your Dropbox) to maintain access to your most valuable resources, to keep your research up-to-date, and to read any Greek or Latin text available online without lugging around any dictionaries.
Here’s what you’ll need to do all that:
Install Firefox Portable to your flash drive. Whenever you’re not on your own computer, you can run this version of Firefox from your flash drive and maintain access to some resources that you would not be able to use otherwise: resources that make research and the reading of classical texts easier in odd places (like high school libraries, coffee shops, or anywhere where your PC and personal library of grammars and lexicons is not at hand).
Don’t forget to bookmark your Dropbox on the web!
From within Firefox Portable, install the Zotero extension. This will enable you to keep your scholarly citations (and so much more) always at hand. This browser add-on has the potential to help you become a better, more productive, and more organized researcher, less likely to lose references or double past research efforts.
That graphic should give you a quick indication of the range of things you do with zotero, which allows you not only to collect your sources, but to access them from other locations where zotero has been installed (e.g., on your home computer), to generate bibliographies in multiple formats, and to share research and references with colleagues.
Also from within Firefox Portable install the Alpheios library extension and both the Greek and the Latin tools extensions. These will allow you to quickly and easily see Perseus-style pop-ups on Greek and Latin words on virtually any classical text online, showing both definitions and morphological analyses.
Simply double-clicking on a word brings up the information you need to work through a text quickly when your usual materials are not available.
These tools, if properly used, should help to make you more productive at times when you might otherwise feel at a loss without your usual resources.
ADDENDUM: Typing in Greek
A very good question from Lydia in the comments has alerted me to something I take for granted. I used an old version of Tavultesoft Keyman for several years, but it seems that all of the newer versions need to be purchased after a month. This utility allows you to install various keyboards to allow you to type in virtually any language with ease by downloading and installing various keyboard files.
A better option for classicists, though, is to give your money instead to the APA by purchasing GreekKeys:
- $30 for APA members
- $40 for non-members.
This utility works in the same way to allow you to type in Polytonic Greek. (Just be sure that you’re using unicode fonts, though these are becoming the norm, so you may be without knowing it.)
When I worked on the new edition of Luschnig’s An Introduction to Ancient Greek: a literary approach I was stationed in the offices of the BMCR, which uses Macs exclusively. I re-typed all of the Greek in the book using a Mac utility called SophoKeys.
The Digital Classicist wiki has more on typing in Greek, including links to a few more keyboard utilities. Schmidhauser’s Graece keyboard looks intriguing. Another may be Sibyllai, though I haven’t tested it.