Is the revival of a dead language breathing new life into the humanities?

Grafton_latinlives_ba_img_0Anthony Grafton at The Nation:

Three or four years ago, something happened. I found myself rising before dawn every day in February and March, since that was the only way to work through the essays and thesis chapters that students were submitting: undergraduate scholarship based on untranslated manuscripts and rare books in Latin (and English, and French, and German, and Ottoman Turkish). Their technical virtuosity impressed me deeply. But so, even more, did the energy that powered it: the engagement, the passion, the deep love of and feeling for very distant realms of the past. In a long and happy career of undergraduate teaching, I hadn’t experienced anything quite like this outbreak—or epidemic?—of inspired work.

An infestation of undergraduate genius doesn’t have a single cause. To be a humanist nowadays, you have to be a refusenik. The students who have remained with us on the burning deck are not only intelligent but also independent-minded. The resources available to them are far richer than they were a generation ago. They can call the rarest of sources from the vasty deep of the Internet, or go to the library or archive that houses them and make their own digital copies. Even in the hours between midnight and 4 am, when the world quiets down and students do their most intensive work, they have access to a library without walls, bigger and richer than any that has ever existed. Other factors must also play a role. But it turns out that for a surprising number of students, Latin—and Latin study of a special kind—has been the fuse that sparked this explosion.

more here.