WEB 2.0 and Latin

Web 2.0 is leading to a massive resurgence in Latin across the globe: A few months ago, an interview with Evan Millner was published in ‘Iris’ magazine. Evan had just started the Latinum podcast, and the project seemed quaint, and intriguing. Little were we, or he, to know how successful the Latinum podcast would turn out to be. Evan produced latinum.mypodcast.com for free. His podcast has revolutionised Latin study, by making a full course in Latin accessible in even remote parts of the globe, at no cost. In 2 years, it has had over 4 million episodes downloaded. This has occurred with no advertising or production budget.

The new Latin social networking sites on ning.com that have sprung up in the past 2 years have also had a dramatic impact. Three spring to mind – Andrew Reinhardt’s Eclassics.ning.com (in English) and Evan Millner’s Schola.ning.com (in Latin), each with over 1000 members, and Laura Gibb’s Aesopus.ning.com (In Latin and English). These web 2.0 sites are important, having lead to sharing of ideas and collaboration between scattered teachers and students across the globe. Without web 2.0, the productive synergy that exists with Andrew Reinhardt (of EClassics), Evan Millner and Bob Patrick (of the Latin Best Practices email list), and most importantly, Laura Gibbs, who spearheaded much of the web 2.0 activity, this renaissance online would be inconceivable. These new social network architectures do not drive people apart, they do not foster rampant individualism – rather, they throw like minded people together, who can engage in heroic feats of commensual creativity. Schola.ning.com is already, after less than 2 years online, the largest group of people communicating in the Latin language on a daily basis that the world has seen for over 100 years, perhaps far longer. There are daily real-time exchanges in Latin in the chatroom on Schola – watching these unfold before your eyes is a modern-day miracle.

Then there is the wonder that is Google books, an amazing web 2.0 phenomenon, without which much of the above would be impossible. Google has opened up the world’s libraries to classicists across the globe. Books in Latin, that had not been opened or read in hundreds of years, are now freely available to read in living rooms from Mongolia to the Falklands – leading to a huge surge in interest in Latin.

“Latinum’s podcast depends on google – it would have been impossible to make, because it relies on textbooks that were scanned and made available online by Google,” says Evan. “Indeed,” he adds “The key text was initially scanned badly, and when it became apparent it was in demand, Google had it especially re-scanned for the podcast This textbook is so rare, there are ( at last count) only 2 copies in British libraries, and 9 in the USA. Through Google, and publicdomainreprints.com (another web 2.0 application) this, (and any other google scan of an old text), can be reprinted in a decent paperback for around £10.”

Laura’s work also relies heavily on Google scans of ancient texts of Aesop’s fables. Laura is presently engaged in the Herculean task of cataloguing the entire corpus of fable literature in Latin – a task much facilitated by Google.

Finally, the killer web 2.0 app, is the Tar Heel Reader, which burst into the consciousness of Latin teachers in early May 2009. Laura Gibbs, once again, was instrumental in getting this application up and running for Latin teachers. The site was started by the Univerity of North Carolina, as a means of easy publishing, to produce books for teenage kids with learning disabilities. These kids have different needs – they need adult topics in their readers – love, sex romance, but the level still needs to be at the ‘See John, See” stage.
Latin teachers have rapidly colonised the site, which now has its own Latin section. The books are reviewed, (by Laura Gibbs) and get a gold star if they pass the test of having correct grammar. There are already over 50 beginning illustrated Latin readers - all written for free - have been published on the site. Within weeks, there will be dozens more - a burst of publishing in Latin not seen for over a hundred years.

“At present, it is really hard for a beginning student of Latin to find anything to read – most materials are pitched at far too high a level. There are parents all over the world, who would love to start their kids off with Latin. Now, using the resources on the Tar Heel Site, they can.”
These various web 2.0 projects, taken together, have marvellous synergy – a podcast course, an all-Latin communication site, a library of fun books in Latin for kids aged 1 and up, and collaborative sites for teachers and academics. Laura’s collection of resources, in particular, is extremely rich, both for students, and teachers.

Together, these are already having a dramatic effect on students studying the language, especially for the many thousands across the globe who do not have access to actual live teachers, but who are studying the language with online aids, and old fashioned text-books. (Latin teachers are a bit thin on the ground in most of the world). Web 2.0 is enabling the Classics world to build itself up, to pull itself up by its bootstraps, to effectively create a platform to revive Latin.
What is astonishing, is that all this activity has occurred in only 2 years - and it is the power of web 2.0 that has enabled it. The Classics world is by nature very conservative, and slow moving. However, as we have shown here, all it takes is a very small group of determined people with a shared vision, to initiate major change.
Some people have derided the internet and Web 2.0 as being terrible, as though our culture will be destroyed by some lazy Californian geeks, and the corrosive 'Cult of the Amateur'. When it comes to Latin, this is evidently not the case. “Everyone”, said Socrates, “is eloquent in the area of their own expertise.” Web 2.0 is allowing collaboration on an unprecedented scale. It isn't pulling people apart, it is throwing them together, allowing for enormous bursts of creativity.
You can contact me about this article on
evanmillner AT gmail dot com .

The sites mentioned in this article:


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