Commentary: Accessing the Ancient Mediterranean Studies Classroom

From time to time, I write about the work of others. The article I discuss in this post was shared on social media. It is:

Accessing the Ancient Mediterranean Studies Classroom

Written by Dr. Daniel C. Smith and published in Ancient Jew Review (AJR) on OCTOBER 24, 2022

Dr. Smith is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion and Classics at Whitman College, and he happens to be blind. There are two main threads in his article.

•            reflections about his chosen field of study, including the doubts and negative assumptions expressed by others.

•            techniques that he developed to get access to acquire information relevant to his studies.

Dr. Smith’s experience of doubt and negative assumptions is a fact of life for blind people in many professional and personal situations. Dr Smith, like many blind people, created nonvisual techniques to access information.

For example, there are braille codes for Ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic. He and Sarah Blake LaRose, developed a braille system for Coptic script.

I particularly enjoyed reading his discussion of how he and his colleagues made tactile drawings of archaeological site plans.

Dr Smith writes: “we took high-resolution images of a text, … enlarged the image, and printed it upon paper that, when exposed to heat, raises the ink to produce a tactile image. This technology (about as advanced as an Easy-Bake Oven) is often used to produce graphs in high school math textbooks for blind and low vision students.”

He describes using common materials to modify a tactile drawing.

“We also found that for certain plans we could start by printing basic information about a temple, like its exterior walls, then add in additional lines while discussing their purpose within the site. These could be added by whatever we had handy, including electrical tape, dots of Elmer’s glue, and stickers you might find on a child’s chore chart.”

I highlighted the techniques for making tactile drawings because blind people need the ability to independently examine a drawing. If his sighted colleagues had given him a text description, he would have received information second-hand, and he could not independently analyze the information conveyed by the drawing.

I will cover the differences between description and tactile exploration in future posts. For now, I will conclude this commentary post with one final observation.

This article is a wonderful example of a blind person using nonvisual techniques to acquire knowledge of his chosen field of study, and to pursue an academic career. Dr. Smith exemplifies the problem-solving abilities that many blind people develop to work past the doubts and negative assumptions of others.

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