About the Project
"Greek in the Wild: Inscriptions Explained" is a collaborative effort between Hollins University classics professor Christina A. Salowey; students Pria Jackon, Amanda McVey, and Amelia Verkerk; and technical services & metadata librarian Taylor Kenkel. You can find their reflections on the project below.
Christina A. Salowey
When I started working with JStor forum in 2015 (then Shared Shelf) under the aegis of the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) Consortium for Digital Resources, I had in mind to employ this tool in pedagogical service. The stars aligned in the academic year 2017-2018 when I returned to Hollins refreshed and energized from a sabbatical year in Greece and discovered that three talented students (Pria Jackon, Amanda McVey, and Amelia Verkerk) to whom I had taught ancient Greek, were up for the challenge of studying ancient Greek inscriptions on works of art. I had a photographic corpus of pertinent materials from museums and sites in Greece and the U.S. and the inspiration to create a web page for novices in the study of ancient Greek to learn about inscriptions and the meaning they add to works of art and architecture. The addition of Taylor Kenkel, the metadata librarian in the Wyndham Robertson Library at Hollins University, was also fortuitous in that she was our guide through the back rooms of JStor Forum, Omeka, and metadata intricacies. Without Taylor, this project would not have been possible – we provided the material, but she created the infrastructure to contain that content.
Working with students collaboratively to create an informational website has been both more challenging and more rewarding than I imagined. The first half of the semester was spent learning ancient Greek alphabets, beginning to decipher letters on stone, thinking about context of inscriptions, and grappling with often bizarre grammar and vocabulary. Then we were ready to take on our individual objects with inscriptions. We catalogued them, studied them, and wrote brief commentaries to contextualize the object and illuminate some difficulties or peculiarities of the text. Watching these young scholars become knowledge producers rather than just knowledge consumers has been transformative for me. I saw each student devise creative solutions to problems and become responsible readers of Greek and scholarship. I am proud of their efforts, thrilled with the outcome of the course in the ‘Greek in the Wild – Inscriptions Explained’ Omeka webpage, and thankful for the opportunity to work collaboratively with everyone in this project.
While I’ve collaborated with groups before, working on a project of this size is new. I’ve never created an interactive website, and working on this exhibit allowed me the opportunity to work with others to develop one. I found that creating commentaries on the individual items was difficult because I’d never written one before, and trying to write them in a style that was both easy to understand and not boring proved rather challenging. I considered what I might want to see in a commentary and did my best to make sure that the content was not only helpful, but also engaging. I did enjoy looking at the different objects in depth, and I’ve especially liked seeing everything come together as we finish this project. Everyone has put a lot of work into this project, and I’m glad to see it come together.
I learned a fair amount about drafting commentaries and how much work actually goes into making a functional interactive website. I knew that there would likely be many steps, but trying to make one myself allowed me to experience all the steps firsthand. In the future, I hope to use the skills I learned to help create other fun and helpful activities to facilitate learning.
"Greek in the Wild" was an incredibly unique and fun project to work on because it combined something old with something new— Ancient Greek and Digital Humanities. The project was different than other classes and coursework I have completed because my translations were being published instead of simply being kept in my notebook for only me to see. My Greek had to be more precise and more thought out with detailed commentaries and notes so that other people will be able to understand the Greek and my translations. I had the chance to use my translations and my notes beyond the classroom and I learned new skills in the budding field of Digital Humanities. The most challenging part for me was keeping up with all the minor details that together make a huge difference for the website. While we worked individually on different parts of this project, our group needed to remain uniform in our publications so the collection would turn out as navigable and user friendly as possible. For example, if each contributor had a different style commentary, a viewer might find the website to be disorganized and confusing. I have learned so much about both Ancient Greek and digital collections, and this project was an amazing opportunity for me to discover more about potential career fields in Classical Studies.
I think I can safely say that since the inception of the field, learning ancient languages through daily translations and rote memorization has been a core, time honored pedagogical tradition within classical studies. And while nothing can stand in place of just simply knowing your declension endings, classical scholars have never been a bunch to get stuck in the past. There has been a wave of many new and innovative resources that attempt to augment and enhance the core learning experience of up and coming scholars. This project and this class comes directly from that wave. Websites like this one aim to create an online, accessible resource for classical students who've just left their introductory textbook. Creating this new resource certainly wasn't easy. In order to create this we had to learn both the basics of epigraphical Greek at the same time as we've had to learn how to teach it. It was a challenge but the reward of getting to participate in the creation of the future of Classical studies made it all well worth it.
Much of the labor involved in planning, creating, and maintaining digital collections and exhibits winds up seeming hidden or invisible— so I was excited at the prospect of bringing it out of the “back rooms” of the library and embedding it into the curriculum when Tina suggested that she had a group of Greek students who were up for the task of creating a digital exhibit.
This project presented the perfect opportunity to introduce students to alternative and cross-disciplinary outputs for scholarly work in an actionable manner as we co-created a venue through which they could share their knowledge with the world. In order to successfully complete the intended course outcome, students had to think critically not only about the content and quality of their translations and commentary, but also about the structure that would contain their work. During the process they had to consider everything from big-picture ideas (Who is our audience?) to structural concepts (What are some specific ways a user might get from one page to another?) to granular details (What color do we want the dots on the map to be?) in order to create a cohesive exhibit. Collaborating with the class on the project also pushed me to think critically about and adapt quickly to the needs of the course and the students as I applied my skillset to a subject area (Greek/Classical Studies) in which I had no expertise.
It’s impossible to overstate how rewarding it was to witness the pieces of the exhibit coming together bit by bit over the second half of the semester and realize in the end that we had created a truly unique resource for teaching and learning. I could not have asked for a better faculty member or set of students to work with on this project, and I’m excited to see where their work takes them next.