Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Vingt ans après

Tonight, several of the Perseus project's original musketeers are gathering to observe the twentieth anniversary of the grant proposal to the Annenberg Foundation that jump-started the project. I'm sure that gray hair, sagging waist lines and altered career paths will prompt private reflections, but here's the fact that grabs me now: the Perseus project is older than three quarters of the undergraduates I teach.

My current students were still toddlers when the first public version of Perseus was released on CD. I doubt any of them have heard of, much less remember, Apple's HyperCard; it will be hard for them to imagine how exciting it was when a hypertext system first became available on personal computers.

They were learning to read or just beginning elementary school when Perseus made its astonishingly rapid transition to a Web delivery system. They probably are unaware that the internet was not always open to commercial use, and have little experience that would help them appreciate the importance of design decisions early in the history of Perseus. Can they grasp how the choice of SGML for markup of texts made it possible to generate both HyperCard stacks and Web pages from a single source?

Now they are in college, and the Perseus project has open-sourced both its code and key data including all its ancient texts (as I observed on Thanksgiving). Will they understand how this opens up to them unprecedented opportunities to build on the work of their predecessors, or have we conditioned them to see themselves only as passive consumers?

Are we raising up a new generation to join in the hard work ahead of us? All for one, and one for all!

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