Kindles in the Classics

December 14, 2010

I found out last week that a grant proposal I wrote was approved.  A team consisting of me, a fellow librarian, and an English professor applied for a Learning Technology Grant from the Center for Teaching and Learning at UGA.  Here’s the abstract:

As students shift to reading texts on screens, faculty and librarians must prepare to support their digital reading, writing, and research. This project proposes the purchase of a set of e-book readers, Amazon’s Kindle 2.0, to be used as an integral part of the classroom experience; students will receive Kindles for use during the semester to read all of their class texts. They will be surveyed regarding their experience using the e-reader, and the instructor will explore how the device changes pedagogy. After the pilot is complete, the Kindles may be used by other classes or circulated to UGA students.

I am going to be embedded in the class, a 4000-level class in Environmental Literature (Thoreau to Annie Dillard, essentially), which should be a lot of fun in its own right.  Once I get my hands on a Kindle, I will be developing online resources for the students in the class that cover how to acquire the class texts (including scholarly articles) and also how to find free or low-cost e-books on any subject, including leisure reading.  I am excited to explore the annotation features the Kindle provides, and to see how the experience of reading changes on a Kindle.  I am very curious to see what the students’ attitudes are!

I’m also thinking about what’s next for the Kindles.  Could they be used in a Classics class?  I don’t know much about availability of Classical texts or scholarly works in Classics on the Kindles, and I don’t think there is currently the kind of built-in dictionary for ancient languages that the Kindle has for English.  Have any Classics publishers considered special formatting for e-books that would allow direct access to endnotes or a lexicon?  Has much been done with computerized language learning in Latin or Greek?  I’ll be trying to talk to faculty to find out, but if anyone can comment with experiences or links to articles on e-books in Classics or digital language learning, I’d be very interested!


  1. For academic reading (texts with notes), I find navigating between text and notes (basically all endnotes in e-format) cumbersome. Hopefully the apparatus will change soon!

  2. I have a Kindle myself (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) and enjoy them tremendously. A large number of classic works are available either free or for very low cost (Mobile Reference makes their list available for less than a dollar apiece). However, you get what you pay for. These have mostly been entered via optical character readers and, as a result, are full of typos. There is a Latin dictionary on the Kindle but I don’t know about Greek. One can highlight a passage by underlining and enter comments oneself in a type of virtual “PostIt” note system. Newer models will also read PDF documents. I hope my comments are of some assistance.

  3. Does the Kindle itself actually support page numbers? I’ve only used the Kindle Reader (on the iPad and iPhone) and have been immensely disappointed to find that there is no way to refer to page numbers. Which makes academic texts useless.

  4. John, I think not, but I’ve had more experience with the Sony Reader, which also does not support page numbers. I’m not sure why this is the case. It seems like it would be both easy to implement this feature and be very helpful. As you imply, referencing texts—obviously necessary for academic materials—is impossible without this feature.

    Another problem with e-readers, so far at least, is when the text has diagrams, charts, etc. These are simply a large opportunity for what is meant to have been communicated more clearly to be garbled far beyond usefulness!

    • What one needs in a reader, in fact, is the option to retain paper format (i.e. read a dynamic PDF, allowing the rights-holder to protect his interests) or to use an optimised flexible format. Surely that wouldn’t be a problem for a properly-designed e-reader? But even simple tags as used in the electronic Encyclopedia of Islam to mark print pages would do. And with pop-up links to end-notes so one retains one’s place in the book, rather than having one’s ‘furthest-read’ point set to the notes section. But I suspect that the Kindle isn’t what we’re looking for yet. Do you know about the other formats, Adobe e-book format for one?

      • Finally Kindles do have paper page numbers – for some books… Thus Nutton’s Ancient Medicine (Routledge) has page numbers, while Goodman’s The Roman World (Routledge) doesn’t)

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