Fragments of the Roman Historians

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What do we know about the works that have been lost? From the evidence of surviving texts we can recover the names of over one hundred Roman historians who lived and worked in the centuries between around 200 BC and AD 250 (that is, roughly, from the time of Hannibal’s defeat to the start of the barbarian invasions). Some are little more than names, but in most cases we can recover something about their lives and the scope and content of their historical works; the evidence consists of quotations, references and allusions in the works of later authors whose texts do happen to survive. By collecting these fragments (as they are conventionally called) we can attempt to reconstruct at least a vague outline of the lost works, and gain some idea of the history and development of Roman historical writing, as well as extracting crucially important pieces of evidence for Roman history itself.

A new Fragments of the Roman Historians has been published … I can’t wait until its available in my University Library, but I’ll have to wait until they get it. It’s £275.00 to buy in it three-volume hardcover binding. No electronic edition.

Write your thesis in Plain Text!

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I really don't understand why most people in the Humanities insist on using Microsoft Word to write their material. Universities habituate their undergraduate humanities students to Word and they really ought to stop it. I recently got a shock to my anti-Word stance when I wrote an article and was looking to submit it to a journal that only takes MS Word format articles. The journal also had a really nasty custom citation format, which complicated it even further.

In the past I've written about using LaTeX and other tools to write my PhD. I start in Scrivener, and export to LaTeX for layout. LaTeX of course won't export to Word's .docx format without a lot of rigmarole. I needed another tool.

On the other hand Scrivener has excellent abilities to work with snippets of text, which are presented as index cards which you can rearrange – excellent for organising your thoughts and notes. Its only major defect is that it uses RTF underneath the hood to store your text. They suggest using Multimarkdown format (and have some built in tools to support it) but the underlying data is still saved in RTF replete with WYSIWYG markup. You have to fiddle with it in order to force it look like a plain text editor (e.g. set the font to Courier). The developers should just create a "plain text mode" which not only behaves like a plain text editor – it also stores the content as plain text. This one flaw prevents me from fully embracing Scrivener. Nowadays for me it's just an organisation tool I use when my writing needs to be extensively re-organised.

Instead I've fully embraced Markdown syntax in plain text files via a tool called Pandoc. This is a command-line tool that converts to and from many formats. It can convert Markdown to RTF, DOCX, HTML, LaTeX, or PDF (via LaTeX) among many others. Pandoc has saved my bacon! It also has some excellent markup extensions that support things like citations, and it can integrate with bibliography data like .bib files, via bibLaTeX coupled with custom-styled CSL citation formats that allow me to produce the desired citation style in all target formats. So I write in this Pandoc-extended Markdown format and export to LaTeX/PDF or Word or RTF as necessary. The plain text files that make up my thesis and article writing as version-controlled via git on github – not that you'll see my thesis there, as it's in a private repository, sorry!

My editor of choice is Sublime Text. It was BBEdit, which still sometimes gets used for some things. Sublime Text is easily extensible via Packages, and it's easy to program your own. I wouldn't fully recommend Sublime Text to a non-programmer though – even the preferences are just stored as files with JSON objects! I'm still running Pandoc on the command line at the moment rather than using one of the Pandoc integration packages in Sublime Text.

I also had a look at [Ullysses III]. However it doesn't really fully support academically-styled Markdown – it doesn't know how to do Pandoc's citations for example. Also it tends to default to write its files into Apple's iCloud, which means you can't get at them on the command line. Although you can import 'external' folders into it, it's much more of a tool for 'creative' writers who just need simple formatting in plain text rather than academics who need to do complex things with citations and maybe tables, diagrams, and LaTeX math snippets, which are important to people in physics, maths and computer science.

In short, I am quite happily using plain text files and Pandoc to organise all my writing needs. Plain text being plain text, I can easily switch tools to handle specific tasks which that tool is particularly better at. I can write my thesis on my iPad (and I frequently do, using a bluetooth keyboard, which makes a fantastic portable writing toolkit). I can reproduce any journal's custom citation format easily (and switch between them), and target whatever document format they prefer. I can still use LaTeX for its fantastic layout abilities which creates far nicer looking PDFs than Word ever can. And if anyone still requires it in Word format, I can send them that too. You'll find yourself having less nightmares than you will with Word doing weird things to your formatting, and more to the point, when you need to just write using plain text allows you get all those jumping Microsoft distractions and hideous "ribbon" menus out of the way and concentrate on just the thing you need to say.

Update: If this sound terribly technical, this is a sample of how to write in Pandoc/Markdown:

#The header of this text is easily readable#

Writing in Pandoc is super-easy. Fire up your plain text editor 
(e.g. Notepad or TextEdit) and start writing now! A guide - this 
is in *italics*, this is **bold** and this has a footnote.[^footnote] 
Blank lines separate paragraphs.^[this is a pandoc-only inline 
footnote]

[^footnote]: the 'footnote' reference text must be unique. Pandoc will 
auto-number it. The footnote text can be at the end of the document or 
after the paragraph, it doesn't matter. You can also create references 
as follows: [@ACitationReference1999 p. 1] says so. Pandoc will invoke 
your chosen bibliographic software to extract the reference and format 
the citation according to your chosen citation format.

Academic publishing. Broken but not for these reasons.

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I think this article by Erica Price about academic publishing is highly problematic, but nowhere near as problematic as some of the back and forth which she had with people from the writering community which can be found here.

erikadprice:

strange-radio:

erikadprice:
In order to succeed in academia, you must succeed in academic publishing. The length of the published works section of your CV (the academic equivalent of a resume) determines your job offers, promotions, pay scale, whether you get grants, and whether you get tenure. If you do not publish, you…

This is (bitterly) fucking hilarious, because in fiction publishing, all of the things she’s talking about here are giant red flags that signal “fake vanity publisher scam DO NOT USE DO NOT USE.” Not that fiction publishers don’t have their own set of major issues, but there is at least the understanding that everyone involved in the process is doing work that they should get paid for, even if it’s a lot of work for shitty, risky, or long-delayed pay. Like, something went wrong if nobody made any money.

THIS. Academic publishing functions the way mainstream publishing SCAMS function.

So, to make my objections specific. What the original poster is actually complaining about is the academic jobs market not the publishing market. All the movement to Open Access (OA) publishing (which is in itself a good thing, to make knowledge open) are only going to make all those original poster's complaints actually worse.

If you want "vanity publishing" just wait until you see the "Gold OA" model. Academics are increasingly required to publish their articles in a format that anyone can access (which I think is unequivocally a good thing). However the so-called "Gold" model which is preferred by many of the funding agencies and the journal publishers (especially in the UK where there is a big shit-fight over this),1 requires the Author to pay the Journal to get all the peer reviewing, editing, etcetera, done (and of course the peer reviewing work is still unpaid labour). Only rich authors or those from rich institutions will be able to publish extensively in this model.

Now that is really much more like "vanity" publishing, and it's already been reported some slimy commercial journal outfits are scanning through conference programmes and emailing likely presenters with offers to publish their work in their shitty little journal, for a fee, in the name of Open Access – and that is actual vanity publishing. This sort of thing has happened to PhD theses for years. Plus look what happens to scholarly monograph publishing in the world of pay-for-play open access. The "Gold" model will likely destroy or deeply cripple academic publishing in the Humanities (as opposed to the "Green" model which means placing articles after a short period of embargo, into freely accessible institutional repositories).

I have some additional objections to some of the points raised in the original article. The situations described in that piece are potentially different for different fields (the author's field is social psychology if I read the 'about' page correctly). It is a huge error of misattribution to assume that experience in one field is mirrored in all the others. Also it seems the author may also be involved with creative writing, which already has a commercial market for the primary output of creative writing (magazines, books, novels, New York Times bestseller list, etc).2

In areas like Ancient History and Classics (I can't really speak for any other areas), the journals are nearly all published by scholarly societies and the journal is usually included in the price of society membership (it not usually "a few hundred dollars" but more often in the range of about a hundred dollars or less). The journal itself is actually the paramount "good" the society produces.3 The comparison of the New Yorker to e.g. the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies is a category error.

However, and to extend my objection further, I do think that article refereeing – this is the "peer review" process which is what makes academic journals, actually academic journals – does necessarily need to be "unpaid" labour. I am not convinced that putting any sort of economic motivation in the peer review process is anything like an excellent idea. The point is that you are supposed to be paid for your time by your employing institution. The problem is therefore, the academic employment market, in this regard.

Another objection I take is to the characterisation of the "conference" market. The simple fact of the matter is the author thinks an academic conference presentation is a "TED-worthy" talk. If I went to an academic Classics conference and got a TED talk I'd be incensed. I don't want a popularised dumbing down for a generalised audience who each paid many thousands of dollars to attend. I want to see the cutting edge of research in my academic field.4 And a $300 registration fee? What sort of conferences is this person attending? Again I think the case is they are assuming their own field's experience is extended to every other field and generalising their own feelings about that to the "academic" area in general. The range for conference fees I find is more typically $100 to $200 but I will concede it does vary somewhat,5 so it might be up at $300 for some conferences. Anyway every single one of these conferences take a lot of hard work by volunteer labour (I know as I was just involved in organising one) and they are rarely run "for profit".

In short, I think this becomes part of a generalised grumbling about academic publishing, which is surely full of various inequities. But it's damned if you do, and damned if you don't. The real inequity in academic publishing is the exorbitant fees charged to access knowledge in the form of academic articles. But the solutions to that problem only make the specific complaints of the post even worse than they are now. The specific complaints in the post are about the academic job market, and the value of academic labour and how it is compensated (for it is labour). But I can't see how paying authors for academic articles or paying for people to peer-review those articles, is going to be solve either of these issues, when I think they will make it much worse. This is on top of what is already happening in academic publishing, in order to solve one group of problems, will likely make existing successful and currently viable publishing models (by Societies) far worse than they are now. But instead of working to a solution to address those set of new problems, what happens is then a lot of non-specialists misinterpret the undifferentiated pile of complaints as "academic publishing is shit" and all you've achieved is denigrating all of us in everyone else's eyes without ever having a specific set of addressable issues that can be overcome in specific ways. So the entire beautiful project of knowledge accumulation which has been underway these last 250 years will just be torn down by a baying mob and replaced with … what exactly?


  1. I have to point out the Robin Osbourne's arguments in the linked article really do seem to make him out to be an out of touch harrumphing Oxbridge Classics Don of the first order and therefore do our discipline a great disservice. However, he does make some valid points, and I do agree as you can see with the general thrust of the idea that "Gold OA" is a disaster for publishing in many Humanities disciplines. 

  2. No-one apart from an academic publisher in Classics wants to publish my highly technical philological/narratological arguments about Livy's representation of Hannibal as basically a divinely-controlled agent of the natural landscape! The audience for my work is optimistically in the hundreds, at most, and the people interested in it, who don't already have a degree in Classics, I would guess would be countable on my fingers. It is highly specialised, and it needs to be highly specialised (it also needs to be finished, lol procrastination with publishing meta-issues on my blog!). 

  3. The societies do generally make a lot of money from "institutional" subscribers (e.g. libraries) and this money is used to fund other society activities. The societies are going to have to find a new way to fund those activities – what I guess will probably happen is that the membership fees will rise slightly to cover the journal production costs and then the "cream" from the institutional subs will have to be made up elsewhere. But societies may also have to scale back their activities if they can't get an economic model to fund them, which would be a terrible harm to come from the Open Access model.  

  4. Also I not only want to see the math (to use a Americanism) I would like you lay bare your working, and then ask you questions about it if I don't understand something you've said. 

  5. Including varying downwards to free

Barbarians at the gates

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Poor fellow, my country.

This is pretty indicative of the type of ignorant twits in charge of my country now.

In the linked blog post, Orlando makes a pretty good case for the study of the arts in economic terms for our very export-orientated tertiary education sector. I would like to point out the intrinsic value of the arts in Australian society in general. Where people spend their leisure time, and money, is perhaps indicative of what they truly value. And of course, entertainment industries, including TV, books, and films, and even self-education, are generally big on people’s discretionary budgets (where they have any).

But these fools* that now run the country don’t even see that all those accountants and doctors and lawyers and mining engineers often use their spare income to do things like … install home cinemas to watch movies (for instance, movies like Gladiator – a very popular bloke’s movie); and they get cable TV subscriptions for the endless (and very poor quality) History Channel documentaries on Romans, Hitler, and Stalin (throw in the Egyptians and you have 99% of the History Channel content). But since all of those things are obviously of no interest to anybody (especially the unimaginative Craig Kelly MP), why would anyone study any of things in any depth or subtlety?

I would like to remind these education-hating barbarians now in charge of our country that no-one takes up accountancy as a hobby.

To illustrate my point, just this year a medical doctor (gasp) recently donated several million dollars to our department at my university so we could create a prestigious chair in Classics! This is a man who saves the lives of cancer patients, and what does he think about research into the Humanities? Well, this:

It is not just one faculty that makes a university. They are all important, but to forget about where you came from is bizarre.

Read Dr Eliadis’ comments and compare and contrast them to the attitude of the oleaginous Craig Kelly MP. As this is a Classics blog, a sample of the sorts of Classics and Ancient History and related topics the galahs now in charge of my Government think are wastes of money (you can read the entire odious speech here, if you can stomach it):

A cool $150,000 went into a study of the impact of locally mined silver to make coins in Athens between the years 550 BC and 480 BC

Let us not forget the $85,000 that was given to a researcher for the study of Renaissance garden statues.

This is a little bewdy, too: $164,000 for a study of magical spells and rituals from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD to achieve success in personal relations—a most important expenditure!

It goes on: $265,000 for a study to understand the context and purpose of philosophy within higher education in the eastern Roman Empire in the period 300 BC to 500 AD.

Under the previous Labor government $253,000 of taxpayers’ money also went to study archaeology in the Central Caucuses.

This last one I include because it betrays the Government’s real agenda:

It goes on: $112,000 of taxpayers’ money spent on a study on rural communities in South Australia and how they will adapt to health challenges from climate change. The only problem is that according to our bureau’s records the hottest day ever recorded in South Australia was back in January 1960.

In other words, if he doesn’t already agree with it, or if he doesn’t already understand the issue and have a pre-determined position on it, Kelly’s not interested in it. Science and the Humanities must serve his narrow ideological interests. The man, and yes in fact most of the Government, are essentially intellectually incurious people. They are, in other words, dullards. I would say the real waste of money here is the money spent paying, and feeding, Kelly and his ilk.

A pox on this Government.

* In private I use much stronger language than that to describe them. Armando Iannucci style language. They thoroughly deserve it.

Barrington Atlas for iPad: Review

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This is a superb resource particularly if you think that the full atlas costs many hundreds of dollars. The maps are extraordinary to look at on an iPad Air. For a first effort, highly commendable.

I’ve got one or two observations for improvement, however. They are all in the main about the navigation of the maps.

  • The navigation buttons, etc, are still IOS 6 style.
  • The page curling animation in the “introduction” section is cheesy.
  • Over half of the pages in the “introduction” are credits and preface. Perhaps split into separate documents?
  • The way it opens with two logos and stops at the second one is actually not a great iOS interface practice. It should open with the menu on the left open and ready to go. The app opens first with a Princeton Uni Press logo, and after this first logo splash screen, that you get another logo splash screen (the “Barrington Atlas Logo”). This second logo you have to tap or slide in order to reveal mere navigation (which would be zero cost to show first up!). This is doubly wrong. So far I’ve seen two logos and no functionality. When I tap on this second logo (and it’s a nice bit of art) all what happens is that the logo slides right a bit and reveals a menu on the left. That menu, with the lovely bit of Barrington Atlas artwork on the right, should be right there when it starts up, not the third screen visible.
  • By far, the most annoying thing about the app is, every time it starts, you have to go through the navigation of the logos all over again. If I background the app and then reload it, I have to navigate all over again to find the map I was looking at. So if I was reading some a text online with my iPad, and I wanted to consult the map, I have to start from the beginning (find the right map, zoom in to the map I was looking at) every time I open the app. When I switch back to reading, and want to look at the map again, I would have to find the entire map all over again. Which is a major interface failure.
  • When you go to the “maps” section with the “Cover Flow” style view, it’s slow, and not terribly responsive (on an iPad Air! I’d hate to try it on my old iPad2). Also, this is the area that seems to cause instability (it just crashed then I was verifying the behaviour as I wrote this paragraph). The app has crashed twice on me in this part of the navigation.
  • It’s not entirely obvious that up in the right hand corner there is a list icon which gives a simple list view of the maps, with a regional overview (not a tape target, annoyingly). To be honest, I find this view preferable to the “Cover Flow” view. But when I select a map, then go “back” to the Maps, I’m back at the “Cover Flow” view of the maps, not the list view I started from.
  • The best view of all though is the big overview map! However, can this be please made conventionally zoomable? If you wanted the ‘Attica’ Map (No. 59) there’s no way you could accurately select its tiny square in that view. There is a loupe device which appears when tap-and-hold but once it appears I could not work out how to accurately control it and better than just trying to tap the tiny targets. Just make this map zoomable with a pinch gesture please.
  • I wish the topographical measurements on the map were in metres – the international standard – not in feet. A minor quibble.

Once they clear up the stability and navigational issues with the app, my additional feature wish list is pretty simple, although fiendishly complex to implement: Vector based maps with selectable period layers. I realise that would mean all-new cartography though and probably make the price a lot more than $20.

My thanks to the team who developed and assembled this.

Links

Barrington Atlas for iPad from Princeton University Press

Barrington Atlas for iPad – direct iTunes link

The magic disappearing act of Flaminius

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I’ve written a couple of conference papers on the the story of Flaminius in Livy’s book 21 and 22, and his ‘magic disappearing act’ at Lake Trasimene in 217 B.C. If you’re interested in reading my paper, (formal title ‘The Seen and The Unseen’) you can download it (plus the powerpoint and the translation handout) from my page at at academia.edu. (one slight warning; because the latest version of the paper was presented at a generalist conference there’s a page of overview at the start which Classicists won’t need to read, but I think otherwise this version of the paper makes overall argument better).

Review of Papers 3 – Academic papers search tool and citation manager

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I’m a user of Mekentosj’s Papers 2. They’ve just released Papers 3.

It’s currently “beta” and they want you to pay $79 for this beta version. There is a 30 day demo. I just spend about two or three hours demoing it.

In that two hours I have just filed about seven support items against it. Three of them are data corruption issues relating to importing the Papers 2 library, although thankfully, the Papers 2 library files remain uncorrupted and it’s just the new Papers 3 library that is junk. I get:

  • blank authors on some items
  • these blank authors are not deletable
  • book chapters do not import correctly (book title in “subtitle” field)
  • most of my periodicals are missing from the periodical list even though the papers are in the database
  • when you do a search, it doesn’t ask you for the ezproxy password if ezproxy is configured and just gives you no results instead

This is just what I found in three hours. I did not try actual citations or exporting the data into .bib files but given what I’ve seen so far I would not be very confident of success. Do not buy this program until they can report these issues fixed. This is quite apart from the fact that there are outstanding Papers 2 issues, like the fact that my iOS/iPad database incorrectly swaps authors names on the iOS data when imported. Oh look, an unfixed database corruption issue! What chance of Papers 3 being fixed? I rate this as none. Papers is a “data corruption ‘r’ us” special. For an application where data reliability is the key indicator of quality (research database!), this is very, very, poor quality, indeed, an amateurish effort. The company is focussed on making a pretty interface and churning major versions without fixing critical data reliability bugs.

This is a massive fail. 0.5 stars of 5.

If only Mendeley Desktop could search the online databases directly! Despite that limitation I am thinking about switching off Papers 2 onto Mendeley forthwith.

UPDATE: see my comparative review of Mendeley and Papers

Metropolitan Museum NYC

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Metropolitan Museum NYC, a set on Flickr.

In July, I was in New York City for a conference at Columbia (the 2013 Pac Rim Roman Literature Seminar, which was enormously enjoyable); of course the collection at “the Met” was high on my list of things to do while in NYC – this is a selection on Flickr of some of the photos that I took of some of the objects there. (Some of the header images that appear at the top of this site are cropped from these images – all of the photos are taken my me)

A new classics blog – Spare a Talent

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My RHD colleague Yvette, no; former colleague, now that she is Dr. Yvette Hunt, has decided to enter the classics blogging field with her blog, Spare a Talent, which you will definitely find a valuable resource and on your regular reading list. It is described in the byline as “A sometimes humorous view of ancient history, archaeology and reception”, and I can personally vouch for Yvette’s keen wit and sharp observations. Her first article is the text of her speech in the UQ Classics and Ancient History Society’s debate earlier this week.