Micah Myers presented a paper co-authored with Joseph M. Murphy, titled “Teaching Roman Mobility: Digital Visualization in the Classroom and in Undergraduate Research” at the conference “Digital Cartography: New Maps, Ancient History” co-sponsored by the Ancient World Mapping Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Duke University’s Departments of Classical Studies and of Art, Art History & Visual Studies. Below is an abstract for the paper.

Teaching Roman Mobility:
Digital Visualization in the Classroom and in Undergraduate Research
Micah Myers & Joseph M. Murphy  (Kenyon College)

This paper looks at pedagogical applications of our web-based digital visualization project, Mapping Ancient Texts (MAT). We discuss: (1) a course in which students use the web application Carto to create visualizations from geo-spatial information in Cicero’s Letters; and (2) a student-researcher developing a digital visualization of Hannibal’s movements during the Second Punic War. This paper explores how these projects teach important technical skills and engage students in detailed analysis of Roman mobility and history. We also discuss the challenges of using evolving technologies in the liberal arts setting.

The “Mapping Cicero’s Letters” project approaches epistles as travel texts, in so far as they move from author to addressee and frequently make reference to the journeys that Cicero and his correspondents undertook. The data for “Mapping Cicero’s Letters” was created by Kenyon students enrolled in “The Ends of the Earth in the Ancient Imagination” in 2016 and 2018. The project was taught collaboratively by Assistant Professor of Classics, Micah Myers; director of the Kenyon College Center for Innovative Pedagogy, Joseph M. Murphy; and, in 2016, a student-researcher. Students, working in pairs, created their own digital visualizations as well as contributing to a collective dataset. To make visualizations, students learned to use the web application Carto, to analyze Cicero’s letters for information related to travel and geography, to find geographical coordinates using the Pleiades gazetteer, to create properly formatted tabular data, and to use SQL and CSS to manipulate their data and style their visualization. Students also wrote brief reports and gave presentations of their work.

All the groups succeeded in creating visualizations, although they faced challenges. In particular, students’ baseline experience with technology varied greatly, and Carto, like many apps, has bugs that occasionally present issues. Moreover, Carto released a new version of its application between the first and second iterations of the project, which required the instructors to learn new methods and adapt instruction. These challenges, however, encouraged students and instructors alike to develop resiliency, troubleshoot problems, and refine their work until the visualizations were completed.

In addition to bringing digital visualizations into the classroom, Myers also is advising a student, already contributing to the research side of MAT, as he develops his own related project, “Mapping Hannibal”, a geo-spatial narrative based on the Second Punic War, funded by a Kenyon Digital Summer Scholarship. “Mapping Hannibal” uses Carto, Leaflet, JSON Objects, and GIFs to visualize Hannibal’s movements around the Mediterranean. It employs digital technology to make Hannibal accessible in a new medium to college and advanced high school students. The project is an example of the exciting innovations that an engaged student with technical skills can bring to digital visualization. It also demonstrates some of the challenges of undergraduate research that involves proficiency in both classics and technology.

The paper concludes by discussing possible future pedagogical applications of digital visualization in the classics classroom.


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