Alexander von Humboldt Professor of Digital Humanities
University of Leipzig
Professor of Classics
Editor in Chief, Perseus Project
This paper began as a contribution to the debate on whether or not the APA should change its name. A hundred and forty years later, the central leadership of the American Philological Association (APA) has resolved to abandon the name of philology and proposed to adopt for the association the name “Society for Classical Studies.” I would argue against this on three grounds. First, we need to retain a qualifier in our name that reflects the fact that the APA is the organization to which most professional students of Greco-Roman culture in the United States turn. Second, classics and classical studies are now problematic names for a group that focuses primarily upon Greco-Roman culture because the term “classics” has been used to assert the primacy of Greek and Latin and of Western culture in general.
Most of what follows, however, focuses more generally upon a third point, the nature and role of philology. The challenge for students of Greco-Roman culture is not to run away from, but to make the case for, philology. The members of the American Philological Association may draw upon the material record and upon methods from around the academic world, but they combine these sources and methods with the written record to understand the Greco-Roman world as broadly and deeply as possible. If few now in the English speaking world understand what philology is, then that presents an opportunity for those of us who have the privilege to work with Greek and Latin for a living. We should blow the dust off the ancient and (I believe) easily explained term philology — easily explained and easily justified if we use the term in its broadest and most dynamic sense. Philology entails — or should entail — everything that we can learn about the past from the linguistic record. Philology is neither narrow nor antiquated. It is an expansive set of practices, now undergoing a rebirth as students of the past adapt to the new opportunities of a digital space. If the twentieth century saw the rise of Classics in modern language translation, the digital technologies already at our disposal allow us to make the Greek and Latin sources directly accessible to a global audience.
For the full discussion, see Rediscovering Philology.