What’s a Classicist like me doing in a digital intensive workshop like this?

student sitting at table looks off to front of room

Patricia Hatcher
DRI Participant, Winter 2024

That’s right, I’m a Classicist— the kind who works on Greek and Latin literature. The kind
whom you imagine to be holed up in a library somewhere, surrounded by dusty old books.
The kind who is in a field that is slowly realizing that, to remain relevant in the modern
world, it needs to more fully embrace technology.

As a PhD student in a field that has traditionally been seen as “stuck in the past,” it is
challenging to know where the path forward even begins. In many ways, Classicists are in a
limbo created by two issues. First, we usually lack any formal education in software skills
beyond using basic computer programs (I understand that there are exceptions). Second,
programming has a technical language that can be a barrier for newcomers. So we don’t
know the language to articulate the type of software that would be helpful for our research,
we don’t know where to go for help, and even if we find help the basics are still beyond our


I am a student at the CUNY Graduate Center, and our school is serious about digital
initiatives. Thanks to support from the Provost’s Office, the Graduate Center was able to
once again hold their annual Digital Research Institute (DRI) in January. Three students
from the Classics department were selected to attend the five-day workshop series on core
digital research skills such as HTML/CSS, Python, command line, and pandas. Dare I say
that another student who wasn’t selected for this iteration still trekked to my apartment to
sit and learn next to me? That is how important the education and support of the DRI is to
the GC’s Classics students. We understand that this workshop series will positively impact
both our research now and our job searches later.

Over the course of 5 days— plus a weekend break— we learned from the ground up. No
knowledge was assumed; no condescension was present. We all had very little to no
background with the software side of computers, yet by the end of the first day we were
using bits of code to run small programs.

I probably won’t use some of the programming languages, but now I know why I won’t. I did
fall in love with HTML, and pandas will be extremely helpful for my research. Through
pandas, I can pull data from open institutional databases and parse the information in a
fine-toothed way. I had no idea this was possible before January’s workshop.

The other amazing aspect of the DRI is its continued support as the semester progresses.
We still have access to the very step-by-step guides created by the GC Digital Fellows who
facilitated the Institute. These same Fellows have offered opportunities each month for us
to come into the GC to ask questions and work on projects with their guidance.

Do I know everything about programming languages now? Nope. But I do have the vocabulary to articulate my software research goals, and I feel very comfortable asking for help from the Digital Fellows from the DRI.