Hidden Figures: How Digital Humanities Helped Students Rediscover Ancient Women Philosophers

In the realm of Ancient Philosophy, many people immediately think of philosophers such as Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato. However, ancient women philosophers such as Hypatia and Diotima rarely come to mind. Not only is information about ancient women philosophers quite scarce, but many sources even have contradicting or unreliable information.

Students in Professor Sara Protasi’s Ancient Greek Philosophy class were challenged to research ancient women philosophers and create digital archives of their research. The goal of this project was to develop skills in library and database research using ancient women philosophers as a topic. This project was meant to be challenging for students due to a variety of methodological issues. The first main problem is the paucity of primary sources and the scholarly debate over the authenticity of those few remaining texts. The second main issue is the validity and veracity of second-hand commentaries, all of which were authored by men, who were prone to the sexist biases characteristic of their times.

The contributions of educational technologist Kaity Peake and Humanities librarian Katy Curtis were crucial to the good outcome of the project. Katy Curtis remarked that the topic of ancient women philosophers is “very effective for fostering an exploration of the library resources and … the students were invested in learning more about the topic and grappling with the particular challenges of doing this type of research.”

One student, Holden Chen, reflected on his experience with the project thus:

“In creating our digital archive entry, it felt satisfying to apply the knowledge I have gained from this course and others in a collaborative way, in turn creating an informative entry that other people can access and share.

Pursuing this project in a collaborative way channeled meaningful conversations about the texts we were researching and in that process we were philosophizing in a way that encouraged the study of women. Overall, I think this project and similar ones reflect what a liberal arts education is really about.”

The digital archives created by the students of Phil 210 can be found here: http://edblogs.pugetsound.edu/fa17-phil210a/

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