5Q with Classics Professor Dr. Chris Forstall
Dr. Chris Forstall is an assistant professor in the Classics department at Mount Allison and a digital classicist.
1. What is your research area?
My work focuses on digital humanities, specifically Classics. My interest is in Ancient Latin and Greek epic poetry and especially in the ways that poems refer to and influence one other. I am also a digital classicist, which means I use digital technology extensively in my studies around ancient texts.
2. Why classics?
When you look at Classics as a discipline, it’s such a blend of the old and new. It’s awesome to look at an ancient text on a digital repository and analyze the language and structure of it using computer programming.
3. Do you work with collaborators outside of Mount Allison?
All my work is collaborative, with colleagues both at Mount Allison and outside the University. Right now, I’m working with fourth-year classics major Alex Kaminski on a project that includes collaborators at the University of Geneva. We’re looking at type scenes in epic poetry—storm scenes, for example, or banquet scenes—pulling the structure of the poems out of the Latin.
I am also just finishing up a book with Walter Scheirer, a computer scientist at the University of Notre Dame. Before I came to Mount Allison I worked for a while as a post-doc in Walter’s lab. Together we write about pattern recognition in Digital Humanities: how people recognize similarity in language and beyond; me more from the literature side, Walter from a computational perspective.
4. What classes do you teach?
This fall I’m teaching Digital Methods in the Humanities, a new third-year course designed to help students from across the humanities build their research skills. Knowing how to use digital resources and computational methods is important for students in all disciplines. Janan Assaly, a fourth-year Classics student, is working with me as a research assistant to develop infrastructure for the course.
I teach Mythology at the first-year level, and upper-level courses on classical literature in English translation. I also teach Ancient Greek language on a rotating basis with colleagues in the department.
5. Best part of your job?
There are two that stand out for me:
First, the close contact with students at Mount A. Not every campus has this kind of environment. It’s great to work one-on-one with students like I do in my upper-year Greek classes and to have undergrads working directly with me on research projects. The students bring fresh insight to the work, and they’re gaining valuable experience at the same time.
The second is the freedom to pursue interdisciplinary programs in research and teaching. Being hired as a digital classicist was a huge benefit for me, and Mount A’s Classics department has long been known for its interdisciplinary and digital research. Being able to use technology properly and efficiently is essential for students today, so I’m excited to be part of the broader digital curriculum that’s evolving here at the University.
Bonus: If you could give one piece of advice to a first-year student, what would it be?
Remember that everything you study here will have relevance in your life, even if the connections aren’t obvious. In fact, the results are all the more impressive when you make connections no one else has seen yet.
Before my PhD in Classics I did a Master’s in Environmental Science. I remember a class where it seemed like we spent hours analyzing digital satellite photos, when I wanted to be out in the field. But later, when I was working in Classics, I used the same skills I had acquired in that class to analyze digital texts of Homer—and that became the basis for my dissertation. When I ran into my former prof again one day, I thanked her.