The fragmentary is everywhere: we encounter fragments in social media (Tiktok, Twitter), in personal memories from our childhood, and in traditions from our cultural heritage.
- 2022 - 2026
- Antje Wessels
- NWO Open Competition
Like riddles and unsolved criminal cases, their attractiveness results from the tension between deficient and (former, future) complete information. Fragments can be stimulating and thought-provoking, because they invite us to be active and to ‘fill in’ the gaps by bringing in our own thoughts.
Yet, for the very same reason, fragments are dangerous: interpreting something fragmentary always requires making decisions about the missing context, and these decisions are frequently based on shaky assumptions or prejudices (biases).
Behind each process of reconstruction there are biases. It is difficult, and often impossible, to discard our biases. But it is important to become aware of them and how they affect us.
We shall explore how people reconstruct and experience fragments and what kind of biases we employ within this process.
Roman Republican Tragedy – the perfect case study
In our project, we shall focus on a textual corpus which has survived exclusively in fragments and at the same time has an illuminating history of interpretation: the fragments from Roman Republican Tragedy. Scholarship has been dominated by agendas, such as the ‘philhellenic’ bias, and we can see that scholars, both ancient and modern, have tried to adjust the transmitted content, style, and sound (metre, rhythm) of these fragments to the features of their alleged models, Greek tragedy, instead of acknowledging their specific 'Romanness'.
An exploration of the ways how scholars have interacted with the fragments of Roman Republican Tragedy is a perfect case study to understand the modes and challenges of experiencing fragments, and how this is affected by biases
The need for the Digital Humanities for research on fragments
Until now, the fragments of Roman Republican tragedy have been provided in paper editions, and it is difficult to escape the decisions made in these editions.
We shall develop a digital platform which will help to identify and manage the biases about these fragmentary texts.
One of the features of this platform will be a multidirectional playground which will allow users to experiment creatively with the existing fragments, to reconsider scholarly decisions in previous editions and to cooperate with other scholars and students who are working in the field.
This project was preceded by several pilots. In 2019, we started developing a first version of our current online platform. As part of this development we brought the platform into the classroom to use with a seminar of ResMA-students, who helped create content for the pilot. In 2021-2022, we developed an automated scansion tool, hosted on the platform.
The project personnel includes four Classicists, Antje Wessels, Matthew Payne, Basil Nelis and Thomas Kluitenburg, and two Computer Scientists, Luuk Nolden and Philippe Bors.
The most intriguing part of the project has always been the close collaboration between Classics and Computer Technology and the combination of ‘hardcore’ philology and a research question which is relevant for everybody and in all parts of our society. We are planning to develop the digital platform so that it can be used with school teaching as well as at the university level, and we are excited to have the opportunity to try new things like a Roman tragedy Twitterbot.
Want to follow our work? You are welcome to have a look at our online platform at: oscc.lucdh.nl.