Why we need user profiles and a new Perseus

Alison Babeu called my attention to a recent blog by a Princeton Classics undergrad that really captured a major challenge and opportunity for a new Perseus. Solveig Lucia Gold described her own reaction to the ups and downs of using the reading support that Perseus has offered for Greek and Latin for decades (and, indeed, since before many of our undergraduates were born, if we consider the CD ROM versions of Perseus). The situation will be even better — or worse — when we finally integrate treebanks and alignments between the source texts and the translations. At that point, you can puzzle out almost any text in any language. We have treebanks (morphological and syntactic analyses) for every single word in the Homeric Epics, for example — you have interpretations for any sentence in these epics.

But you can’t read Plato’s Rebublic or the Iliad or the Diwan of Hafez (to shift to Persian) by looking up every single word — true reading and true appreciation requires that we internalize as much of a language as possible.

The goal is not to replace learning but to provide a scaffolding whereby we can go from no knowledge to as much internalized understanding as we have the time and determination to acquire. If I were to pick one challenge for the coming ten years, it would be to create the framework to foster such learning. (And here I look forward to the next generation of work from Alpheios.)

There is no greater topic for research in historical languages than enhancing the ways in which we human beings are able to learn those languages — a question that is technical, social, and profoundly intellectual, for it challenges us to understand why we care about the past as much as we do — and why we should care even more.

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