Digital Humanities

Student final digital projects

The following students in #newcicero have generously agreed to share the results of their digital projects from Spring 2019. To accompany the results of #newcicero student research, I’ve written a reflection on my experiences with digital pedagogy: “Digital pedagogy with the Ciceronian corpus.”

Cory Willingham (@coriolanus)
“Ciceronian Invective”

Cory Willingham: “This visualization depicts the most frequent invective terms which appear in four Ciceronian invective orations: In Catilinam I & II, Pro Caelio, In Pisonem, and Philippicae II. Terms in green are the names of the people inveighed against most frequently; terms in blue are the terms themselves; terms in black are added by me after the fact, and are categories I believe fairly represent the terms I collected. My hope is that this visualization will serve to help readers consider Ciceronian invective broadly, demonstrating objectively which terms he uses most frequently, which terms he applies to which people, and which people are insulted with the same broad strokes. The categories are admittedly subjective, but should still allow readers to look at what types of invective appear most frequently in Ciceronian invective, as well as further helping connect the types of insults used for different people.”

Kira Solovay (@KSolovay)
“Word to Person Association in Cicero’s Pro Caelio, Displayed with Gephi”

Kira Solovay: “The Gephi I created shows connections between the descriptors that Cicero uses with people in his speech Pro Caelio. The nodes in my Gephi are ‘descriptors’ and people. The edges indicate co-mentions between descriptors; they connect descriptors to other descriptors used in the same description, and descriptors to people being described. I decided that a descriptor would be a noun, adjective, adverb, or participle that described a specific person. After I input my data into Gephi, I filtered out nodes that had a frequency of less than three, which made the chart much easier to read and interpret. I then ran Modularity and changed node color by Modularity Class. This created different colors coding different groups of people and descriptors, categorizing the data in an objective way. Although my Gephi highlights some aspects of the Pro Caelio that likely otherwise would be overlooked, it does not act as a substitute for the speech. Any time that Cicero uses sarcasm, hypotheticals, quotation, or negatives is not displayed in the Gephi. I was more focused on the word association that Cicero creates rather than his literal meaning behind the speech. However, this display of data shows some things in a more efficient way than the speech, like repeated motifs or hidden connotations.”

Joseph Salzo (
“Tiro’s Relationships within the Domus and Its Implications for Freedmen in Ancient Roman Society”

 This depicts the relationships within Ad Familiares 16.4. The blue lines represent the positive relationships, the red lines represent the negative relationships, and the green lines represent the neutral relationships within the text.

Joseph Salzo: “This project titled Tiro’s Relationships within the Domus and Its Implications for Freedmen in Ancient Roman Society focuses on the relationship between Tiro and four members of the family: Marcus Tullius Cicero, Terentia, Marcus Tullius Cicero the Younger, and Quintus Tullius Cicero. Specifically using Cicero’s Ad Familiares Book 16, letters 4, 9, 21, and 27 as a primary source, the social analysis software called Gephi served as a close-reading tool creating graphic visualizations from Tiro’s perspective. The goal of this project is to use Gephi both to gain insight into the relationships between Tiro and the individuals within his ‘family’ observing how they may differ among one another and gain insight into the various roles which freedmen fill in Roman society through relations with their former master/patrons. In short, the project functions as a case study analyzing the role of freedmen in society from perspective of the freedmen specifically through the relationships of Marcus Tullius Tiro.”

The full project is hosted at, where you can read Joseph’s detailed explorations of these letters.

Haydn Kennedy (@scipio_modernus;
“Cicero and Pompey: A Friendship, Visualized”

Haydn Kennedy: “For this project, I looked at the the relationship between Cicero and Pompey through the end of the republic. Specifically, the period of time between 55 B.C., when Pompey and Crassus were joint consuls; and 48 B.C., when Pompey loses the battle of Pharsalus to Caesar and is subsequently killed following his escape. This interval sees the inevitable buildup and ultimate end to the civil war between Caesar and Pompey. Although the conflict concludes with Cicero in Pompey’s camp, his allegiance was no foregone conclusion. Using what we have of Cicero’s correspondence through these years, I aimed to visualize the path leading Cicero to Pompey’s camp, helping to show how Cicero came to reconcile his desire for the Republic’s restoration and the knowledge that it would necessarily crumble. With this in mind, I built several timelines showing how letters of Cicero’s that reference Pompey reflect the state of their relationship. Each timeline displays a bar for each letter included. Each letter is placed in either a positive row, a neutral row, or a negative row (each row also uses a different color). Hovering over a bar will tell you which letter it represents, who wrote it, and to whom it was addressed. When a bar is clicked, it opens the letter in a new tab. The code, raw data and methodology can be found here. Enjoy!”

Joseph Droegemueller
“A Visual Exploration of Comedic Quotations in Cicero”

Fig. 1: The Gephi organized at random. Cicero’s forensic and philosophical works are represented in purple and blue respectively. Terence is represented in red and Plautus in yellow.
Fig. 2: The Gephi organized with a force.

Joseph Droegemueller: “Within the Ciceronian corpus lies a great abundance of references and quotations to a wide range of literary genres, and a sizeable portion of them come from Roman Comedy. Cicero refers to and quotes Roman Comedy throughout his forensic speeches and philosophical treatises, but what purpose do they serve? Does a clear pattern of some sort emerge when these quotations are analyzed more closely? In an attempt to answer these questions, I represented visually all the quotations from the extant comic poets (Plautus and Terence) in Cicero’s forensics and philosophical treatises in Gephi (see my results in Figs. 1 & 2). Immediately one can notice that Cicero heavily favored Terence to Plautus, as only four Plautine quotations occur within the works represented. One can also notice that two line-number nodes appear larger than the rest, and both come from Terence’s Heauton Timoroumenos. These are the only quotes which appear multiple times, as Cicero feels the title character has great philosophical significance, especially within his discussion De Finibus. With a few general observations out of the way, let us move into a more individualized discussion of Roman Comedy in the forensics and treatises respectively.

“If someone learned about Roman Comedy in Cicero exclusively through these two Gephis, they would assume that the genre had almost no part in Cicero’s forensic speeches as only three quotations are represented. This information can be misleading, as a handful of quotations appear from other comic poets, however, since only works of Plautus and Terence survive in extant, analyzing these quotations in the context of both the Ciceronian work and the play itself becomes impossible. Therefore, I elected to remove these quotations from the data set and though this leaves us with a relatively small sample size, there is much to be gleaned. Even Cicero himself gives insight on how he employs Roman Comedy within his forensics in his De Inventione, claiming in section 1.27 that the personalities of characters and plot sequences at times can more easily explain a case to the audience, or in the case of the Pro Caelio, help frame an entire argument. Upon analysis of the quotes from Plautus’ Trinummus and Terence’s Adelphoe in the Pro Caelio and the In Pisonem respectively, one can appreciate Cicero’s skill in manipulation of the crowd. In both instances, Cicero draws upon the comedic stock character of the adulescens, but to completely opposite effects. When arguing for Caelius’ acquittal, he uses the audience’s knowledge of comedic plot convention to convince them that Caelius’ debauched behavior should be forgiven and will pass, but when attacking Piso, Cicero alludes to the same stock character to shame him. Cicero was a master of oratory and rhetoric, and these two comedic quotations help the modern scholar appreciate his ability to illicit the desired response from his audience, as, in the Pro Caelio and the In Pisonem, Cicero creates opposite responses from nearly identical comedic quotations.

“Moving to the philosophical treatises, the Gephis may yield false information about them as well. In order add the element of time to the project, I chose to include to publication dates on the nodes displaying the titles of the work, however, the outburst of philosophical composition at the end of his life may give the impression that Cicero only began to frequently interact with Roman Comedy towards the end of his life. Though Roman Comedy appears less frequently earlier in Cicero’s life, he references a variety of plays and this suggests that Cicero had become familiar with a large selection of plays earlier in his life, most likely through his education. Nevertheless, a relatively large selection of quotations from Roman Comedy appears in Cicero’s treatises, yet after a closer look at the individual quotations, neither does a clear pattern emerge nor does Cicero provide any insight on his own use of Roman Comedy in philosophy. Therefore, in order to truly appreciate Cicero’s familiarity with the genre and ability to employ it within his own work. After individual analysis, one can see the variety of ways in which Cicero quotes Roman Comedy. In both the De Natura Deorum and the De Finibus, Cicero creates an argument and a counter-argument from the same comedy, creating continuity and flow within his works. In the De Amicitia, Cicero’s quotation of Terence reminds the reader of proverbs in modern society, shedding light on the greater role of Roman Comedy at the end of Republican Rome. One can even find instances of Cicero potentially quoting from memory in De Divinatione and Disputationes Tusculanae. These are only a few examples. Individual analysis of these quotations allows the reader to not only appreciate Cicero’s mastery of his craft, but also gain a deeper understanding of the function of the genre in Roman culture during Cicero’s lifetime.

“Cicero’s works have been studied since even before his own death in 43 BCE. From one generation to the next, scholars have looked at the Ciceronian corpus through a variety of lenses in order to glean new information about Cicero and the world around him. Though this lens has its flaws and failed to concretely answer my research questions, it nevertheless yielded intriguing information about the relationship between Roman Comedy and Cicero’s forensics and philosophical treatises and has opened new doors for further research on the subject.”

Digital Humanities

Introduction to the Digital.

1. Eileen Gardiner and Ronald Musto, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars (2015: 2):

‘…is the term digital humanities a redundancy? That is, are the humanities, like all contemporary scientific research and teaching, already digital to all important extents and purposes? Or – an even more vexed question for professional humanists – has the arrival of the digital forever changed the way humanists work, in the way they gather data and evidence or even in the very questions that humanists and the humanistic disciplines are now capable of posing? Is technology determinative? What role does the solitary scholar – the centuries-old model of the humanists since Petrarch – have in a digital environment that is increasingly collaborative, data-driven, report-oriented, ephemeral, “social” and unmediated?’

2. Eileen Gardiner and Ronald Musto, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars (2015: 3):

‘The array of platforms, applications, techniques and tools, all developed under the rubric of “digital,” have been dramatically changing the way that humanists work, how they do research, gather information, organize, analyze, and interpret it and disseminate findings. How does the digital affect this basic work? While some believe that the digital is fundamentally changing the work of the humanist, others continue to believe that the digital merely helps humanists to work better. Some even believe that the digital may be undermining the fundamental nature of this work.’

3. Eileen Gardiner and Ronald Musto, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars (2015: 12):

‘In 1964, sponsored in part by the American Council of Learned Societies, the famed Commission on the Humanities…could define the humanities as follows:

“The humanities may be regarded as a body of knowledge and insight, as modes of expression, as a program for education, as an underlying attitude toward life. The body of knowledge is usually taken to include the study of history, literature, the arts, religion, and philosophy. The fine and the performing arts are modes of expressing thoughts and feelings visually, verbally, and aurally. The method of education is one based on the liberal tradition we inherit from classical antiquity. The attitude toward life centers on concern for the human individual: for his emotional development, for his moral, religious, and aesthetic ideas, and for his goals — including in particular his growth as a rational being and a responsible member of his community.”‘

4a. Eileen Gardiner and Ronald Musto, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars (2015: 67-69):

‘In the case of Antonello da Messina this [=the toolset of the humanist] expands out in a grand contextualization of the scholar within a far broader environment: St. Jerome set amid the sacred space of the Church. Finally we might also think of the tools as the public aggregations that humanists use: the archive or library, the collection of objects, whether in a cabinet of curiosities or a gallery of drawings, prints, paintings, or sculpture…all these provide the immaterial, performative and material base for humanistic work.

At the same time, everything from the scholar’s desk and shelves, study, studio, rehearsal and performance space, lecture halls, campuses, research institutes and convention halls can also legitimately be considered environments. Only most recently with the digital has this kit of tools begun to change rapidly and fundamentally. Yet in many ways these new digital tools carry on, in analogous ways, the same functions of traditional humanities. We are only now discovering and analyzing how these new digital tools may be transforming these methods and this basic work. Is the very computer upon which humanists rely so heavily still a tool, something akin to their medieval writing tablets? Or has it become an environment, its screen no longer a blanket sheet on which to write but a window or portal into the entire digital realm, which acts upon the humanist as much as or much more than she acts upon it?’

4b. Antonello da Messina, “Saint Jerome in His Study” (c. 1475). Image: The National Gallery.


5. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, Remediation: Understanding New Media (2000: 23):

‘The desktop metaphor, which has replaced the wholly textual command-line interface, is supposed to assimilate the computer to the physical desktop and to the materials (file folders, sheets of paper, inbox, trash basket, etc.) familiar to office workers. The mouse and the pen-based interface allow the user the immediacy of touching, dragging, and manipulating visually attractive ideograms. Immediacy is supposed to make this computer interface “natural” rather than arbitrary… What designers often say they want is an “interfaceless” interface, in which there will be no recognizable electronic tools — no buttons, windows, scroll bars, or even icons as such. Instead the user will move through the space interacting with the objects ‘naturally’, as she does in the physical world. Virtual reality, three-dimensional graphics, and graphical interface design are all seeking to make digital technology “transparent.”‘

6. Sarah Bond (@sarahebond), “Mapping and Teaching the Classical World,” Society for Classical Studies Blog (Jan. 16 2017).

‘In Roman Gaul, a large map of the known world stood on display at the school of rhetoric at Augustodunum (modern Autun). Around 300 C.E., when the school had fallen into disrepair, a man named Eumenius made a pitch to the Roman governor to allow him to rebuild the structure with his own money. He put particular emphasis on the importance of the map:

“In [the school’s] porticoes let the young men see and examine daily every land and all the seas and whatever cities, peoples, nations, our most invincible rulers either restore by affection or conquer by valor or restrain by fear. [They can] learn more clearly with their eyes what they comprehend less readily by their ears…” (Eum. Pan. Lat. XI.20, trans. Talbert).”

It was as clear to Eumenius as it is to modern teachers that students respond well to visual aids. Then as now, students more easily understand the world, their studies, and their place within the cosmos with the help of a good map.’

Augustodunum as visualized by the Pelagios Project’s Peripleo. Tiles by AWMC-UNC (CC)


7. Mona Chalabi (@MonaChalabi) interviewed by It’s Nice That (March 8 2018): ‘“If it’s about farts, draw a butt for god’s sakes”: Mona Chalabi tells us how to illustrate data.’

‘I was inspired by the fact that I was bored out of my tiny mind in a dead end job. My desk was in a little booth so it was easy to doodle discreetly. Slowly though, when people started to respond to my early work, I found it enormously encouraging that there was another way of doing data visualisation — one that would reach more people without compromising on precision. A big part of my philosophy is that computer-generated images overstate certainty, my hand-drawn graphics show the real margin of error in the numbers while reminding people that a human was responsible for the data gathering and analysis… Also, hand-drawing isn’t always slower. If there’s a sudden news event, sometimes I can really quickly draw something and snap it – although it might look shoddy af, it’s clear it was made in a rush. It’s transparent about its lack of certainty.’

8. Eileen Gardiner and Ronald Musto, The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars (2015: 69):

‘Scholars usually date the beginnings of this collaboration [=between humanities scholars and computer scientists] to 1949 when Thomas J. Watson helped Roberto Busa with tools for indexing the works of Thomas Aquinas. The tools that have been developed since that time have helped scholars to collect material, encode it, study it with text mining and data analysis, map it using anything from Google Maps to geographic information systems (GIS), visualize it — sometimes using video, 3D, or virtual reality recreations — create digital archives, incorporate and analyze sound — anything from speech to music to noise. All these tools help with organizing and analyzing and thus facilitate the real work of the humanist, which, as noted, is to interpret the evidence of human lives, thoughts, and actions.’