Classical studies facing digital research infrastructures: from practice to requirements

Agiatis Benardou (Digital Curation Unit, R.C. "Athena")

Institute of Classical Studies Digital Seminar 2011

Friday July 1st at 16:30, in Court Room, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

This paper reports on work conducted during 2009-2010 in the context of Preparing DARIAH: Preparing for the construction of the Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and Humanities, a collaborative European project co-funded by the ESFRI e-Infrastructures programme, aiming at providing the foundations (strategic, financial, legal, technological and conceptual) for the timely design and construction of the digital infrastructure requisite for scholarly research in the arts, humanities and cultural heritage in Europe (Constantopoulos et al., 2008).

The Digital Curation Unit-IMIS, Athena Research Centre, engaged in a research programme within the technical work-package of DARIAH consisting partly of an empirical study of scholarly research activity, based on the elicitation, transcription, encoding, analysis and interpretation of open-question interviews with humanities scholars across Europe.

Interviewees covered a wide scope of disciplines within the arts and humanities, ranging from history (ancient, modern, contemporary), classics, history of art, Byzantine studies, archaeology (iconographic research, experimental archaeology, archaeological site-based research, archaeological survey) and anthropology (anthropology of material culture, ethnomusicology). The largest groups of interviewees by discipline were archaeologists, historians and classicists (Benardou et al., 2010).

What emerged clearly from the twenty-four semi-structured interviews was the diversity in the evidence and sources, methods and interpretative and methodological frameworks associated with Classical Studies nowadays. Researchers in Classics and Classical literature interviewed were at different career stages, ranging from doctoral candidates to full professors; they held both academic and non-academic positions; and, they displayed widely varying familiarity and intensity of use of ICT tools, ranging from laggards to early adopters and innovators. Across the board, they indicated that in addition to text-based research they also use objects, sites, and other historical-cultural evidence (e.g. as in the study of historical geography, and iconographic systems). This challenges earlier perceptions considering that the objects of research in Classics are only textual, and that Classicists employ at all times strictly linguistic/textual methods of research. The heterogeneity of research objects, and the evidence brought forward to support contemporary research in Classical studies is matched with a theoretical and methodological diversity of methods employed, and, it appears, both are corrolaries of the evolving nature of Classics as an increasingly hybridized, thematic, and multi-methodological interdiscipline.

The empirical work conducted in the context of DARIAH contributes to a substantive discussion on evidence-based requirements for Classicists’ (amongst other arts and humanities researchers) needs relevant to the planned European digital research infrastructure. Through a detailed discussion of the interviews we had with Classicists, and an analysis of their objects and methods, this paper will seek to demonstrate how the tools and services DARIAH will be advancing / focusing on will aim at meeting Classicists’ user requirements. It will also attempt to advance some questions on how the affordances of infrastructures, tools and services such as those advanced by DARIAH may further inform the practice of Classical scholarship.


The seminar will be followed by wine and refreshments.

Audio recording of seminar (MP3)

Presentation (PDF)