Rev. Pharos: Doing Justice to the Classics

In the DH seminar I’m taking this semester, we are tasked with reviewing a digital project and posting this review on our blog, aka here. I want to tailor my DH assignments to Classics, since we are graciously given quite a bit of leeway and freedom (Thanks, Dhanashree!). I thought it might be interesting to review a project I’d heard a lot about, but not explored in depth. So, I would like to take this opportunity to investigate the Pharos project which seeks to “document appropriations of Greco-Roman culture by hate groups” and provide a space where scholars (and not just those working for institutions) are able to publicly respond to them. This project was started (presumably) in 2017 by Curtis Dozier at Vassar College in New York and is funded by the Vassar College Department of Greek and Roman Studies and the Vassar College Office of Communications.

I first learned of this project via Twitter and was super excited that someone had finally created a way to document and respond to these hate groups which perpetually appropriate what we study to meet their own ends. Curtis Dozier has set up a static WordPress site, which ensure its longevity and accessibility to future directors and users. The site is hosted on the Vassar servers which lends it traditional credibility in terms of having a ‘.edu’ address but it also ensures longevity. Having started to create a new site for our own Classics museum, I have learned that any site hosted at an collegiate institution is essentially guaranteed oversight and stability.

The overall setup of the site is simple, but thorough. There are four different post tags which allow the reader to filter and search through them: Documenting Appropriations, Response Essays, Scholars Respond, and Site News/Editorial. These four categories adequately describe the different types of posts that concern the project. They are also well-described alongside the overall structure and goals of the site on the home page. In terms of accessibility, this site loads well on all devices and has many methods by which one might read the material.

The material of the site holds itself to a high scholarly standard. It is also incredibly self-consistent with its own ideology: when an article criticizes a how a hate group has misappropriated Greco-Roman culture, Pharos always links the reader to an archived version of the site, so that one may view the original content at the time the article was written without giving the site “revenue-generating traffic.” Thus, this project seems to be supremely grounded in factual criticism and always provides citations as well as a list of the scholars who contributed to the response (many of whom are well-known, respected, paragons of the field).

To illustrate, the most recent topic, for which there is both documentation and a response, concerns the male-supremacy hate group, Return of Kings, and their arguments about Roman virtus. The documentation page begins by immediately linking the reader to an archive of the original post, an article on the group by The Southern Poverty Law Center, a screenshot of the original article title and image, and an updated link to the scholarly response. All of this comes before the actual description of the article, thus prodding the reader to investigate the case for themselves before reading any secondary material. This focus on the primary evidence is compelling and a great way to introduce problematic appropriations.

The response to this document, with seven Classicists listed as contributors (and several very recognizable names), is structured in bullet point format, which makes it easy to dissect the scholarly arguments against Return of Kings’ article and clearly demonstrates the faults, misogyny, and utter incorrectness of their arguments—all while citing many educational sources, all of which are open source and not behind a paywall. I counted ~40 citations to both primary texts and secondary sources which support their points, but mostly provide avenues for non-Classicists to learn about the ancient world through trusted sources. Here we have professors and Classicists pointing the reader to open-access articles, texts, and translations so that they might become more familiar with this material and perhaps prevent the spread of these wrongful appropriations.

Lastly, I would like to draw attention to the sole post (for now, I’m sure) under the tagged section ‘Site News/Editorial’, since it outlines exactly why Curtis Dozier has created this project and why he believes it has significance. Dozier cites incredibly noble and thorough reasons for this project and it is most definitely worth reading, even if you are not a Classicist. In fact, the whole project is approachable by anyone and they need not be steeped in Greco-Roman culture in order to understand the writing or arguments. One need only have a computer, an open mind, and the will to think critically about social justice in terms of the past. This is the kind of digital scholarship that we should be producing, and I’m proud to be a part of a discipline that takes social justice so seriously.

A(n Incomplete) Survey of Digital Tools for Classicists

As I explore the online community of Classicists and their digital products, I keep thinking that it would be incredibly helpful to have a thorough list of all current projects. I hope to provide that here, working off Sarah Bond’s list as well as the extensive list of projects at the Universität Leipzig under the direction of Monica Berti. I hope to add more projects as I learn about them. All suggestions are welcome!

Literary & Textual Analysis:

CLTK: The CLTK is an expansive project undertaken by Patrick J. Burns, Luke Hollis, and Kyle P. Johnson. It aims to provide a thorough Python framework for linguistic analysis of ancient texts. This project extends the NLTK which provides a similar framework for modern linguistic study.

Quantitative Criticism Lab: Started in 2014 by Pramit Chaudhuri and Joseph Dexter, the QCL is project which seeks to

Perseus @ Tufts: The OG workspace for reading ancient texts and their commentaries.

Perseus/Philologic @ UChicago: Chicago hosts a version of Philologic on their site which allows the user to search texts, create concordances, and make mid-level linguistic searches with relative ease.

Perseids: The Perseids editor is a web-based is a text-editing environment that enables the collaborative editing of texts in a framework of rigorous and transparent peer-review and credit mechanisms and strong editorial oversight.

Arethusa: A data tree-banking client-side service for accessing texts, annotations and linguistic services from a variety of sources.

Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG): The TLG is a crazy good platform for analyzing Greek texts and words.

Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (TLL): While the TLL is something I’ve never personally used (too expensive for my department), I’ve heard it’s quite good.

Digital Texts:

All these sites have been created under the Open Greek and Latin Project at the University of Leipzig and are under the direction of Monica Berti.

DFHG: The Digital Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum provides the five volumes of the Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum(FHG) edited by Karl Müller in the 19th century.

First 1000 Years of Greek: This project seeks to record a copy of every extant Greek text, but more specifically, those not already hosted by the Perseus Digital Library.

Digital Athenaeus: A digital version of The Deipnosophists by Athenaeus which describes several banquet conversations on a variety of topics.

Digital Marmor Parium: A digital version of the marble slab found at Paros which records a timeline of Greek history (1581/80-299/98 BC): archons, kings, and short references to historical events from the Athenian perspective.


Pelagios: The Pelagios linked-data project provides a robust network of linked geographical and literary data from Classical literature and scholarship.

Orbis: The Orbis project provides an extensive geospatial network model of the Roman world. It provides a way to calculate travel and associated travel cost associated with the vast distances of the empire.

Map for the DFHG: a digital and interactive map of the fragments from the DFHG, linked above.

Hestia: The Hestia Project seeks to elucidate the literary geography of Herodotus’ Histories.

Map Tiles: This site provides accurate and scalable maps for different periods of history, as compiled by the Ancient World Mapping Center.

Archaeological Resources:

FASTI: a searchable database of archaeological excavations, conservations projects, and surveys since 2000, created by The International Association of Classical Archaeology (AIAC) and the Center for the Study of Ancient Italy of the University of Texas at Austin (CSAI).

Digital Humanities in Classics

Having come to Classics from Computer Science, I was at first astounded to see how many digital projects were being undertaken by faculty members and students in the field. A brief dip in the DH twitter-sphere made it feel as though I had never left CS in the first place with amazing foundational, ever-evolving projects like groundbreaking Perseus, Thesaurus Linguae Latinae (TLL) & Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (TLG), pottery databases; and new ventures like the CLTK, Pleiades, et cetera.

I am constantly astonished by the sheer involvement of the Classics community on Twitter and am eager to involve myself in the multi-faceted discussions taking place. It definitely seems overwhelming at first to come to such a robust community with so many scholars and intellectuals conversing about ideas, projects, and the state of the field.  There are clearly twitter paragons that everyone follows: Mary Beard, Hannah Čulík-Baird, Sarah Bond, and Tim Whitmarsh, just to name a few, as well as several prolific accounts like Rogue Classicist and Sententiae Antiquae. If you stick around for a while, however, you quickly learn that all of these people are eager and ready to accept new members. Dr. Čulík-Baird said it best in her recent article about the SCS 2018 proceedings:

There is a plethora of timely and important projects happening in the Classics DH community. Professors and those not in academia discuss the issues most relevant to the field and its students. This gives rise to projects like Pharos, which seeks to document and respond to appropriations of Greco-Roman antiquity by hate groups. I am proud of my discipline and the transition to make Classics more accessible and relevant to everyone.

In all, there is a thriving community of online Classicists who are eager to tackle large-scale and complex projects with synergy and ever-evolving digital tools. These custom tools that our community has made augments the craft in a novel and innovative way—pushing academia ever further.