The Perseids team is delighted to announce that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has funded a second two-year phase of development for the Perseids project. Read more at the Perseids Project site.
Part 1 (of 3)
Alexander von Humboldt Professor of Digital Humanities
Professor of Classics
Winnick Family Chair of Technology and Entrepreneurship
I have published some data in a summarizing essay about Greco-Roman studies in Germany. There is a semi-autobiographical opening that can be skipped and a series of 19 tables that can be quickly skimmed. The essay has a very particular point of view: as an Alexander von Humboldt Professor in Germany, my job is to help make Germany as attractive a center for research as possible. I thus begin by exploring the use that my American colleagues make of German Greco-Roman scholarship. The paper published so far is primarily descriptive, invites comment and seeks to lay partial groundwork for further analysis and possible suggestions.
Table 1 basically says that if a Humanist wishes to publish in German and attract an American audience, Classis seems to be the field to do it. Students of Greco-Roman culture cite (and presumably read) German.
Tables 2-4, however, present preliminary but suggestive evidence about the widely perceived decline of German scholarship in English-language publications on Greco-Roman Studies. In the 1956 and 1957 issues of the Transactions of the American Philological Association, only 48% of the citations pointed to English sources and 32.5% citations pointed to German. By 1986, the percentage of citations to German had fallen to 24% (it was 22.4% in the 1986 American Journal of Philology). By the 21st century, German citations had dropped to c. 10.9 in AJP 2002, 8.5% in TAPA 2006, 8% in AJP 2014, and 10.9% in TAPA 2014. For a quick (and obviously preliminary) comparison with a British journal, I analyzed the first ten articles of Classical Quarterly 2015 and found that 10.3% of the citations pointed to German. Where I had done the analysis myself and had the data, I was able to calculate the percentage of German scholarship among cited publications that were thirty years old or less. In AJP 1986, 17% of citations thirty years old or less pointed to German. In AJP 2014, TAPA 2015 and the first ten articles of CQ 2015, I found that 4.7%, 8%, and 6.1% of citations pointed to German. The numbers behind these statistics are not large but the fact that the results are so consistent is striking.
Tables 5-7 look at the extensive, even brutal, cuts to which German chairs in Ancient Languages, Literatures and Cultures have been subject. Between 1997 and 2011, the number of chairs for Greek declined from 39.5 to 32.5 — a loss of 7. Latin declined from 57 to 48.5, a loss of 8.5. And Greek and Latin were comparatively lucky — Indo-European lost 8.5 of 22 chairs, Egyptology 3.5 of 18 chairs, Assyriology 5 of 21. Ancient History fared relatively well (losing only 2 chairs and declining from 79 to 77), but Greco-Roman History plays a crucial role in training primary and secondary school teachers and a German report on Small Fields suggests that this is responsible for Greco-Roman History’s survival in this form.
Table 8-10 provide some additional background. Of these table 9 is worth noting: even as Greek and Latin lost chairs from 1997-2011, the number of students was increasing. The German universities managed this by increasing the number of non-Professorial positions. The number of students per professor rose from 36.5 in 1997 to 46.1 in 2007 to 56.2 in 2011, while the number of students per academic staff remained steady at about 10 (9.9 in 1997, 10.8 in 2007, and 11.1 in 2011). This may indicate an institutional shift away from a research orientation and towards a service orientation for Greek and Latin philology and a corresponding judgment on the perceived value of research in this field.
Tables 11-13 describe how often current professors received their Phds from German universities, German-speaking universities, and from elsewhere. For Greek and Latin Philology, Ancient History, and Greco-Roman Archaeology, 190 of the 200 (95%) professors that I could identify had German Phds, 6 had PhDs from Austria or German speaking Swiss universities. Thus, 98% of German chairs had received their PhDs from the German speaking world (or the Deutschsprachiger Raum, as we say in these parts). Of the remaining four, two were Germans who had received Oxbridge degrees and two were from countries adjacent to Germany (Denmark and the Netherlands). No one with a PhD from outside of Europe holds any of these chairs. I must admit that while these numbers did not surprise me, actually seeing these numbers so starkly defined left me personally a bit shaken. Table 13 presents some figures for international students: 18.6% in Greek (110 of 592), 15% in Classical Philology (89 of 591), and 10% in Ancient History (36 of 345) — Latin has only 3% (125 of 4,268) but that probably reflects the fact that most students of Latin aim to teach in the German school system. Of the 200 professors, I could only find two (one from Spain and one from Greece) who had moved from their home country to study in Germany. Thus more than 10% of the students are international but perhaps 1% of the professors started as international students.
Table 13 lists where these German professors most commonly received their PhDs: Heidelberg, Freiburg, Munich (LMU) and Cologne emerge as the big four, accounting for 40% of all chairs (80 or 200).
Tables 14-17 look at gender balance. The figures are low — 22% of professors are women — but this number also reflect the percentage of all academic staff in Greco-Roman Studies in 1997 (22.8%). In 2013, the percentage of women among the academic staff had, however, risen to 39.7% and the percentage of female professors may well increase accordingly in the future.
Finally, tables 18-19 report an analysis of the relative percentage of publication in German vs. English (based on looking at up to 10 publications on the public websites of each professor). Greco-Roman Philologists and Archaeologists publish 90% in German and 10% in English, while Ancient Historians publish 97% in German and 3% in English. (I undertook this analysis to see if the decline in German citations reflected a shift to publication in English.) By contrast, in Egyptology, 71% of the publications are in German and 29% in English while in Assyriology 73% are German and 29% English.
Full text at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1BMvclzEY2cYGuc_QUett3HqtGHw0lLqGZu2hk0MmKio/edit#heading=h.fpm48lmr1ow6
The full text is here.
June 28, 2015
As a by-product to a larger study of Greco-Roman studies in Germany and the United States, I have published some figures on where faculty from ranked PhD-granting departments got their PhDs.
For the data, click here.
Leipzig and Tufts Universities
June 25, 2015
[For the earlier version, see: http://tinyurl.com/pg7lloc]
On June 11, we published a discussion of the programs from which the top ten departments in a particular ranking of Classics PhD programs chose their faculty. We here publish an analysis based on all thirty-one departments in that ranking. We have sorted the results based upon numbers of assistant professors — this reflects activity over the past decade or so (if we consider both the PhD training itself and the period that assistant professors have served).
The statistics do change a bit. Four PhD programs — all in the US — now stand out, each having placed 6 or 7 of 65 assistant professors in these 31 programs and, altogether, accounting for 40% (26 out of 65) of all the assistant professors in this group. A second cluster of 11 programs (including Oxford and Cambridge) placed 2 or 3 of their PhDs in these departments. A third cluster of 12 programs (8 of them situated outside the US) placed one of their PhDs in these departments.
For the full update, check here.
Leipzig and Tufts Universities
June 11, 2015
Abstract: As part of another study, we analyzed websites for the ten US graduate programs in Classics most highly rated at http://www.phds.org/rankings/classics. These ten departments represent 3.6% of the Classics Departments in the US but the 159 Assistant, Associate and full Professors that we identified would (if we count all Assistant Professors and Associate Professors as tenured or tenure-track) account for 11.3% of 1,410 tenured and tenure track faculty in Classical Studies Programs identified in a 2014 American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Roughly half of all Assistant and Associate Professors from these ten departments (13 of 26 and 17 of 36, respectively) come from five institutions, only three of which (Harvard, Berkeley and Princeton) appear in the US rankings — the other two consistent members of the top five, Cambridge and Oxford do not, of course, appear on the US list. For full professors, the bias towards the top five was even more noticeable, with more than 60% (58 of 97) full Professors coming from this set of five institutions. Of the Assistant Professors (i.e., junior faculty hired in the past six years), just over a third, 9 out of 26, had PhDs from Harvard (5) or Berkeley (4). Whether this patterns will hold true in coming years is unclear, given the changing nature of United States higher education. Programs would do well to pay close attention to the ways in which the new graduate program at the Institute for Study of the Ancient World had begun developing a broader view of the ancient world and including new digital methodologies in the research that they support (http://isaw.nyu.edu/).
June 8, 2015
Alexander von Humboldt Professor of Digital Humanities
Universität Leipzig (Germany)
Professor of Classics
Winnick Family Chair of Technology and Entrepreneurship
Tufts University (USA)
Alexander von Humboldt Professors are formally and explicitly “expected to contribute to enhancing Germany’s sustained international competitiveness as a research location”. And it is as an Alexander von Humboldt Professor of Digital Humanities that I am writing this essay. Two busy years of residence in Germany has allowed me to make at least some preliminary observations but most of my colleagues in Germany have spent their entire careers here, often in fields where they have grown up with their colleagues around the country. I offer initial reflections rather than conclusions and write in order to initiate, rather than to finish, discussions about how the Digital Humanities in Germany can be as attractive outside of Germany as possible. The big problem that I see is the tension between the aspiration to attract more international research talent to Germany and the necessary and proper task of educating the students in any given nation in at least one of their national languages, as well as their national languages and histories. The Big Humanities — German language, literature and history — drive Digital Humanities in Germany (as they do in the US and every other country with which I am familiar).
In my experience, however, the best way to draw new talent into Germany is to develop research teams that run in English and capitalize on a global investment in the use of English as an academic language — our short term experience bears out the larger pattern, in which a large percentage of the students who come to study in Germany enjoy their stay, develop competence in the language and stay in Germany. Big Humanities in Germany, however, bring with them the assumption that work will be done in German and have a corresponding — and entirely appropriate — national and hence inwardly directed focus.
But if it makes sense to have a German Digital Humanities, that also means that Germany may have its own national infrastructure to which only German speaking developers may contribute — 77% of the Arts and Humanities publications in Elsevier’s Scopus Publication database are in English, very few developers outside of the German speaking world learn German and the Big Humanities in the English speaking world tend to cite French as their second language (only 0.3% of the citations of the US Proceedings of the Modern Language Association pointed to German, while the Transactions of the American Philological Association, with 10% of its citations pointing to German, made the most use of German scholarship).
The best way to have a sustainable digital infrastructure is to have as many stakeholders as possible and, ideally, to be agile enough to draw on funding support from different sources, including (especially including) internationally sources of funding. We also need to decide what intellectual impact we wish German investments in Digital Humanities to have outside of the German speaking world and the related question of how the Digital Humanities can expand the role that German language, literature and culture play beyond the German speaking world.
Details and the full text are available here.
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Just as I had finished off a blog about bad news on enrollments for Greek and Latin in the US (and Germany), I came saw a story on Al Jazeera about big cuts being planned for Latin and Ancient Greek in France. The BBC news reports that “the government wants to reduce teaching of Latin and ancient Greek, scrap an intensive language scheme and change the history curriculum.”
[Image drawn from the BBC story: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32792564]
There does seem to have been some good news on this, with Greek and Latin reemerging in at least one proposal, but the fact that Greek and Latin are so vulnerable is the issue — if not now, when will they be hit?
I don’t know the details of what is happening in France (and I would welcome pointers to blog coverage) but, whatever the details, I don’t see how “business-as-usual” is going to help us. The time for change was ten years ago. Let’s not go down without a fight — but a fight must mean fighting to use the new tools at our disposal to reimagine and redesign what our students — and what society as a whole — can get from the study of Ancient Greek and Latin.
A note on Modern Language Association’s Enrollments in Languages Other than English in United States Institutions for Higher Education: Fall 2013 (released, February 2015)
Comments to email@example.com
Summary: According to statistics published by the Modern Language Association in February 2015, between fall 2009 and fall 2013, enrollments in Ancient Greek and Latin at US postsecondary institutions suffered their worst decline since 1968, the earliest year for which the MLA offers such statistics. The number of enrollments in Greek and Latin declined from 52,484 to 40,109, a drop of 24%. This precipitous and rapid decline may reflect the lingering aftershocks of the financial crisis of 2008, which certainly raised student anxiety levels and may have driven students away from intellectually idealistic activities such as the study of Ancient Greek and Latin. The study of Greek and Latin in the United States weathered a tremendous challenge between 1960 and 1976, when secondary school enrollments in Latin declined from a steady state of c. 7.5% of all secondary school students to c. 1 – 1.5%. The opening years of the twenty-first century saw an overall surge in Greek and Latin enrollments (from 42,000 in 1998 to 55,000 in 2006) but the current total of c. 40,000 is the lowest since the MLA began providing data in 1968. Even if enrollments prove to have recovered in 2014 and 2015, no supporter of these languages — whether we are professionalized faculty members or not — should assume that the downturn is temporary and that we have developed a model for survival in what has always been, and always will be, the Darwinian space of human intellectual life. If we weathered the challenges of the late 20th century, we now must face the challenges and seize the opportunities of the early twenty-first century.
The full text of the discussion is here.
The Modern Language Association’s report on “Enrollments in Languages Other Than English
in United States Institutions of Higher Education,
Fall 2013″ is here.
For the last few years we have been laboring to bring the Perseus Digital Library into the next generation of digital environments, freeing the data it offers for others to easily use, reuse, and improve upon, while continuing to offer highly curated, contextualized and optimized views of the data for the public, students and researchers. This has proven challenging in an environment where standards for open data are still evolving, the infrastructure to support it is still nascent or non-existent, and funding to improve and sustain pre-existing solutions is hard to come by. We have been tackling it bit by bit, and have been making real progress, but still have far to go.
Today’s vision of the ultimate solution might look something like this:
In this vision, Perseus 5 is an up-to-date version of the current Perseus 4 interface, which still offers all the texts and related analytic and search services across highly curated collections (and readily supports this on a variety of different screen sizes and devices) but also:
- provides the ability for users to annotate and add their own contextual information
- can easily incorporate data as it comes off the OCR pipeline
- seamlessly incorporates data from other open access platforms
- in return easily makes its own data available to these platforms (both inside and outside the Perseus ecosystem)
- archives all data used by and in Perseus for the long term in institutional repositories
Making this happen requires thinking of each and every item in the Perseus Digital Library as a distinct, addressable, shareable and preservable piece of data. This includes:
- Primary source texts and their translations
- Secondary source texts and reference works
- Bibliographic metadata
- Lexical entities
- Lexical tokens
- Person entities
- Place entities
- Linguistic and Textual Analyses
- Assertions of relationships between any of the above data types
- Assertions of occurrences of any of the above data types as a fragment of or region of interest in another type
- Collections of like and disparate groupings of any of the above data types
At any given point in time, any data object in the library may be in a different stage of its digitization or curation lifecycle. We want to make what we have available as soon as it can be put online, and offer progressive improvements to the data as they become available, so the targets and scope of our publications and citations are constantly changing. We want to represent this data in a way that allows us to incorporate the millennia of accumulated data and scholarship on classical texts and languages seamlessly with the newly generated representations of today. And we at Perseus want not to be the only stewards of this data — we want our institutional repositories to help us preserve it for the next generations to come.
To do this scalably, we need an infrastructure which offers us general purpose solutions for the things that are common about each of the data types, while at the same time giving us the flexibility to treat each type of data as distinct when the need arises. For example, when dealing with a citation of a passage in a text, we need a solution that understands canonical citation schemes (Hom. Il. 1.1) and how to translate those into a string of lexical tokens from a specific version of the cited text. And when dealing with a citation of a region of interest on an image, we need a solution that can translate x and y coordinates into a box or polygon on an image itself. But we would also like the systems that manage the persistent identifiers for our data, and those that retrieve the metadata and objects associated with those identifiers, to be general enough to apply to all our objects, regardless of type. In this way, we don’t have to constantly reinvent core common functionality for each data type. And we would like the interfaces to such systems to be consistent not only within Perseus itself, but also across the ecosystem of data providers and consumers in the wider world of classical and modern texts, as well as linguistic and humanities data, so that we can share and interoperate.
The Center for Hellenic Studies’ Homer Multitext project did pioneering work in developing the CITE architecture to define machine-actionable, technology independent standards for identifying, citing and retrieving texts and text-related data objects. This has given us a solid framework within which to begin addressing some of these needs, especially when it comes to working with canonical texts and citations to them. Implementing the Canonical Text Services (CTS) URN specification component of CITE allows us to produce a semantically meaningful identifier which represents the position of a text in the hierarchy in which it is traditionally cited. This same identifier scheme can also be used to cite into the text at the passage level, within a specific version or instance of that text, or within the notional work the text represents. So, for example, while a traditional reference to Book 1 Line 1 in Homer’s Iliad as cited in literature might be “Hom Il. 1.1”, this can be represented as urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0012.tlg001:1.1, as a citation to the notional work The Iliad, or as urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0012.tlg001.perseus-grc1:1.1 in the specific ‘perseus-grc1’ edition of this work. (The CTS specification and the Perseus Catalog documentation explain these components more fully, but briefly, the other components of the URN here are a namespace, greekLit, a textgroup identifier, tlg0012, for the group of texts attributed to the author Homer, a work identifier, tlg001, for the work The Iliad and a passage identifier, 1.1).
But as a domain-specific protocol, CITE has also introduced interoperability questions, particularly when we want to leverage more general data management solutions from other domains and to be interoperable with institutional repositories. It is essential that we be able to leverage software and tools for working with our data that come both from within and outside our domain, and that are backed by communities of developers, in order to ensure the long term sustainability of those solutions. We need solutions which allow us to implement the domain-specific advantages of CITE within the context of a broader, more general framework.
The following use cases offer a closer look at a few of our highest priorities.
Persistent, domain-sensitive, identification of a text throughout its lifecycle
We need to be able to apply the aforementioned CTS URN scheme through the entire lifecycle of a text in the digital library, starting at the point at which a digital image of a manuscript exits the OCR process and is available in uncurated HOCR. At this point we should be able to put this text online, have it catalogued and assigned a CTS URN identifier so that it can be citable and reusable as data under this identifier. As the text is further curated, whether by the crowd or by individual scholars or groups of students, and undergoes revision and change on its way to a fully curated TEI XML edition, new versions are created, requiring new version level identifiers, all of which should be resolvable backwards or forwards to their ancestors or descendants. Annotations and derivative versions and analyses which are made on the early versions should be easily and automatically portable to the newer, improved versions as they come online. Citations which reference fragments of the text should be robust and automatically resolvable across versions. And while perhaps not every distinct version of a text in this lifecycle should be preserved for the long term, certain points will be flagged as requiring an archive copy – for example, at the end of a semester after a classroom of students has undertaken collaborative curation as a scholarly exercise. These archive copies which might normally be assigned handles as persistent identifiers by the institutional repository need nonetheless to retain a link to the CTS URN based identity.
Concurrent annotation and curation in a distributed architecture
Going hand-in-hand with the need to be able to persistently identify a text and its derivative versions throughout its lifecycle is a need for annotation and curation tools which can operate both independently and together on texts as data, retaining the identity of the original data source(s), capturing and adding to the provenance chain details of any transformation of other operations the tool or its user performed on the text, and returning the improved data immediately back to its source repository for versioning and archiving. The following diagram depicts such a workflow in which a text is identified in a repository, a passage of it is extracted for annotation (in this case treebanking and translation alignment), in the process of annotation corrections to the underlying text are made, the improved text is returned to its source and the annotations are preserved separately:
Thinking about the requirements implied by these use cases, there is a core set that can be applied regardless of which type of data we are talking about. We want actors (be they people or machines) to be able to:
- assign a persistent identifier to a data object
- associate descriptive metadata with a data object
- reference a data object
- reference a fragment of a data object
- associate provenance information with a data object
- aggregate like objects
- aggregate disparate objects
- create templates of object types for reuse
- reference a specific version of an object
- reference an object before it has been published and have the reference be valid throughout the object’s lifecycle
- create data objects which reference other data objects
- reference a data object which comes from an external source
- update a data object which comes from an external source
- update a data object which we create
- assert relationships between data objects
- reference assertions of relationships between objects
- preserve data objects
- perform analyses across sets of data objects
- produce visualizations of collections of data objects and their relationships
- reference visualizations of collections of data objects and their relationships
- preserve visualizations of collections of data objects and their relationships
- notify consumers when new versions of data objects are available
- consume updated information about data objects from external sources
- provide data object metadata in a variety of standard output formats
- associate users with data objects
- search and filter data objects by various criteria, including access rights and provenance data
- identify users
- authenticate users
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s enough to give us an idea of what we might need when we talk about infrastructure for managing this data, particularly when we look at them in the context of our workflows. And we are not alone in these needs. The Data Fabric Interest Group of the Research Data Alliance (RDA) recently issued a call for use cases for data management across a variety of different research domains in the sciences and humanities. Analysis of these use cases resulted in a position paper identifying core components of a data management infrastructure. These include:
- Persistent Identifier (PID) Systems
- Identity Systems for Actors
- Registry Systems for Trusted Repositories
- Metadata Systems and Registries
- Schema Registries
- Category/Vocabulary Registries
- Data Type Registries
- Practical Policy Registries
- Reusable Policy Modules
- Distributed Authentication Systems
- Authorization Record Registries
- Protocols for Aggregating and Harvesting Metadata
- Workflow engines and components
- Conversion/Transformation Tool registries
- Repository APIs
- Repository Systems
- Training on and Documentation of Solutions
There are some things that may be missing from this list as well, particularly around the needs for dealing with collections, referencing data fragments, and annotations on data which is undergoing curation or change, but the point is that the need is real, it transcends domains, and solutions will be developed.
If at Perseus we had access to these solutions today, we could focus on the things that are unique about our data, designing the user interfaces, visualizations, annotation, curation and analytical services that would drive new research, without worrying about building the underlying infrastructure to support the data. But in order to take advantage of the solutions as they are built, we must be part of the discussion about the requirements, push for our use cases to be considered in their design, and take part in testing, implementing and sustaining the solutions.
I see participation in RDA’s interest and working groups, presenting our use cases and helping to build the collective solutions, as a long-range tactic, but we also need to make concrete progress today with those tools and services that are available now and that might be able to become part of a broader digital infrastructure supporting the humanities. With the Perseids project we are building a platform for collaborative editing, annotation and publication from a core of existing tools, services and standards. In the process we are experimenting to see how we can use APIs and data transformations to connect the tools and produce sharable data. It is a messy process at times, but we are beginning to see real results.
Our strategy therefore is to participate at both ends of the spectrum, so that when things meet up in in the middle we will have a solution that is sustainable for the future.
[DRAFT as of April 28, 2015]
Alexander von Humboldt Professor of Digital Humanities
Department of Computer Science
Professor of Classics
Winnick Family Chair of Technology and Entrepreneurship
This paper describes two issues, the need for an independent Digital Humanities and the opportunity to rethink within a digital space the ways in which Humanists can contribute to society and redefine the social contract upon which they depend.
The paper opens by articulating seven cognitive challenges that the Humanities can, in some cases only, and in other cases much more effectively, combat insofar as we have an independent Digital Humanities: (1) the assumption that new research will look like research that we would like to do ourselves; (2) the assumption that we should be able to exploit the results of new methods without having to learn much and without rethinking the skills that at least some senior members of our field must have; (3) we focus on the perceived quality of Digital Humanities work rather than the larger forces and processes now in play (which would only demand more and better Digital Humanities work if we do not like what we see); (4) we assume that we have already adapted new digital methods to existing departmental and disciplinary structures and assume that the rate of change over the next thirty years will be similar to, or even slower than, that we experienced in the past thirty years, rather than recognizing that the next step will be for us to adapt ourselves to exploit the digital space of which we are a part; (5) we may support interdisciplinarity but the Digital Humanities provides a dynamic and critically needed space of encounter between not only established humanistic fields but between the humanities and a new range of fields including, but not limited to, the computer and information sciences (and thus I use the Digital Humanities as a plural noun, rather than a collective singular); (6) we lack the cultures of collaboration and of openness that are increasingly essential for the work of the humanities and that the Digital Humanities have proven much better at fostering; (7) we assert all too often that a handful of specialists alone define what is and is not important rather than understanding that our fields depends upon support from society as a whole and that academic communities operate in a Darwinian space.
The Digital Humanities offer a marginal advantage in this seventh and most critical point because the Digital Humanities (and the funders which support them) have a motivation to think about and articulate what they contribute to society. The question is not whether the professors in the Digital Humanities or traditional departments of Literature and History do scholarship of higher quality. The question is why society supports the study of the Humanities at all and, if so, at what level and in what form. The Digital Humanities are important because they enable all of us in the Humanities to reestablish the social contracts upon which we always must depend for our existence.
The Digital Humanities provides a space in which we can attack the three fundamental constraints that limited our ability to contribute to the public good: the distribution problem, the library problem, and the comprehension problem. First, all Humanities have the power to solve the distribution problem by insisting upon Open Access (and Open Data) as essential elements of modern publication. Here the Digital Humanities arguably provide a short-term example of leadership because of the greater prevalence of open publication. The second challenge has two components. On the one hand, we need to rethink how we document our publications with the assumption that our readers will, sooner or later, have access to digital libraries of the primary and secondary sources upon which we base our conclusions. At the same time, developing comprehensive digital libraries requires a tremendous amount of work, including fundamental research on document analysis, optical character recognition, and text mining, as well as analysis of the economics and sociology of the Humanities. Third, the comprehension problem challenges us to think about how we can make the sources upon which base our conclusions intellectually accessible — what happens when people in Indonesia confront a text in Greek or viewers in American view a Farsi sermon from Tehran, artifacts of high art from Europe or of religious significance from Sri Lanka, a Cantata of Bach or music played on an Armenian duduk?
The basic questions that we ask in the Humanities will not change. We will still, as Livy pointed out in the opening to his History of Rome, confront the human record in all its forms, ask how we got from there to where we are now and then where we want to go. And we may still, like Goethe, decide that the best thing about the past is simply how much enthusiasm it can kindle within us. But the speed and creativity with which we answer the distribution, library and comprehension problems determines the degree to which our specialist research can feed outwards into society and serve the public good.
The more we labor to open up our work — even the most specialized work — and to articulate its importance, the better we understand ourselves what we are doing and why. Non-specialists include other professional researchers as well as the general public. We may think that we are giving up, in practice if not in law, something of our perceived (and always only conditional and always short-term) disciplinary autonomy but, in so doing, to win the freedom to serve, each of us according to the possibilities of our individual small subfields within the humanities, the intellectual life of society.