A Day in the Life of A Classicist is a monthly column on the SCS blog, celebrating the working lives of classicists. In this month’s edition, we speak with Hamish Cameron, who is a digital humanist, game designer, and lecturer in Classical and Medieval Studies at Bates College.
I’m an ancient historian who specializes in the Roman Near East, ancient geography, and borderland theory. I am beginning to branch into the reception of the classical world in contemporary pop-culture, especially games and movies.
I am a professional hairdresser with a BA degree in Drama. My only other significant job experience was a brief career in Academic Computer Database Administration in the 1980s, managing the Dartmouth Dante Project. I have no formal training in Archaeology or Classics, except for my dismal performance in high school Latin — but somehow this didn’t prevent me from becoming the authority on technical recreation of ancient Roman hairstyles.
How can digital humanities projects within the field of Classics preserve and allow public access to endangered materials? The Wisconsin Palmyrene Aramaic Inscription Project (WPAIP) is already addressing theses question head-on. WPAIP is a digital humanities project housed at the Digital Collections of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and established by Jeremy M. Hutton. Similar to the Palmyra Portrait Project of Aarhus University in Denmark, which works to collate and digitize Palmyrene portraiture, the primary goal of WPAIP is to collate and digitize Palmyrene Aramaic inscriptions. This allows researchers to then analyze the language of Palmyrene Aramaic, the development and variations of its script, and other features.
Q. How did you first get interested in Classics and the ancient world?
In the 6th century CE, a Scythian monk named Dionysius Exiguus was sent to Rome. Dionysius may have taken the monastic nickname of "the small" (exiguus), but his humility sheathed both his incredible abilities as a translator of Greek and Latin and his mathematical skills. He wrote and translated numerous saints lives, transcribed debates on heresies, and was known for his work with canon law. However, what Dionysius would be remembered for was his modifications to the dating system used within the Church and his attempts to use tables, called a computus, in order to track the date of Easter.
I recently sat down with John Ochsendorf, the new Director of the American Academy in Rome to discuss Classics, the American Academy in Rome, and his own work in historical preservation. He is the Class of 1942 Professor of Architecture and Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT, was a Rome Prize Fellow in Historic Preservation in 2007-2008, and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2008.
CB: You’ve just begun your time at the American Academy in Rome, which has such a rich history for the study of Classics. Can you speak about Classics and Ancient Studies at the Academy?
As the name suggests, the Digital Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum (DFHG) is an online edition of Karl Müller’s Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum (1841–1873). Müller’s work was a five-volume collection of fragmentary Greek historians, to which were added (in Latin) overviews of each author (with embedded testimonia), translation of fragments, and, often, brief commentary. Its online successor is elegantly presented, meticulously cross-referenced and admirably accessible— if somewhat quixotic. I will begin with an overview of what the FHG contains, describe the DFHG’s interface and features, and then offer some thoughts about the usefulness of the project in a context where Jacoby Online (recently reviewed in this forum by Matt Simonton) already exists.