A Look at MID’s Hackathon 2021

Stacey Kaliabakos ‘23

Features Editor

Every year, the Holy Cross Classics Department’s Manuscripts, Inscriptions, and Documents Club (MID) hosts the Hackathon, an all-day event designed to allow high school and college students to come together to analyze, read, and transcribe ancient manuscripts. Typically (at least not during global pandemics), high schools close to Holy Cross are invited to come to the Levis Browsing room in Dinand Library for the day to learn how to code Latin manuscripts. The high school students, along with a number of Holy cross volunteers (who are also members of MID), look at digital images of Latin manuscripts in groups on computers. Upon reading the text (which is handwritten in Latin), students transcribe and upload the manuscript’s content from a computer program to a repository. The goal is that the transcribed text can eventually be published globally, allowing wide and free access of ancient texts to people all over the world.

The Hackathon requires a lot of organization and planning, and, therefore, requires not just the oversight of the department, but that of a student who is familiar with the transcription process enough to help coordinate the event. This year, MID’s Hackathon “Czar” is Rose Kaczmarek ‘23. When asked why she wanted to be this year’s Hackathon Czar, Rose said “I had a lot of fun as a first-year student volunteer at the 2020 Hackathon and I knew that as a sophomore I wanted to be more involved. Also, MID is a passion of mine and I want to show younger students how interesting the club is.” 

Last year, the text we looked at during the Hackathon was called the Leiden Aratea (or, more formally, the Universiteitsbibliotheek, VLQ 79) by Germanicus. The manuscript is an illustrated copy of an astronomical treatise based upon Aratus’ Phaenomena. It is said that the manuscript dates back to the 9th century, and many translations and copies of this text have been circulated widely though the Middle East and Europe. This year, students will be working on the Aratus latinus from the manuscript St. Gallen Stiftsbibliothek 250, which has many striking similarities in its text to the Aratea

Of course, there have been benefits and drawbacks to the online nature of this year’s Hackathon. Rose said “It has been more difficult to plan the Hackathon because of COVID – I can’t have in person meetings with the faculty members I work with to organize the event. However, the Hackathon itself works better in an online environment because we all have to use our computers to transcribe anyway.” Of course, it will be disappointing to not be able to meet the enthusiastic high schoolers in person, but it will undoubtedly still be fun to look at the fascinating manuscripts at our disposal and to get to know one another, albeit over Zoom.If you are interested in learning more about the 2021 Hackathon, taking place on May 1st, please visit our website at https://hcmid.github.io/ms-hackathon-2021/.

Graphic Courtesy of Hui Li ’21

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