Sunday, November 17, 2013

App Review: Classics App Roundup (iOS)

It's curious that the discipline which forever insists that it relates to absolutely everything, which lectures about Vitruvius and Archimedes, which brags about ancient wonders, should be so technophobic. Yes, there's the TLG and the Perseus Project, but databases aren't quite cutting edge in 2013. Maybe the classicist's mind is truly tuned to the past. Perhaps the classicist's heart is quickened only by the authenticity of aged print and spoken words. Maybe they are impecunious or, like many students of the humanities, maybe they simply act the part of the technophobe and luddite. The reason for the technology gap in classics might be that it's a field dominated by academics who don't want to adapt. Whatever the reason, there is interesting and productive work going on in the mobile app classics world. Here are my 10 favorite classics apps on iOS. 

As a note to teachers, you can stream all of these to a TV or projector via an Apple TV.

I. Colosseum 3D

I remember the first time I picked up Carcopino's Daily Life in Ancient Rome mostly because I put it down in despair after a lengthy description of the dimensions of some building or other. Colosseum 3D offers some spectacular fly-through renderings of the Colosseum. It's exciting to get a sense of scale for the massive space and to get the teensiest hint of its former glory. 

Free Demo. $3.99 to buy in-app for the full version. 

It's always a pain to study battles because you have to examine the action at so many stages. Descriptions in books are strewn with layers of color-coded, dotted, and dashed-lines or if you're lucky, pages of images, all to compensate for paper's inability to show you the unfolding visual. These apps from Amber Books present you the stages of the battle but both animate and narrate the transitions. They also have some light historical information.

$2.99 each

III. Virgil Out Loud

It's one of the  blessings and curses of classical languages that their study tends to subordinate pronunciation and conversation to grammatical concerns. Add the difficulties of meter and scansion to the pronunciation lacuna in the curriculum and it's no wonder poetry is a tough sell. In Virgil, iOS developer Paul Hudson teamed with University of Exeter's Stephen Jenkin and Llewelyn Morgan of Brasenose College Oxford for an app which gives you four choice selections of the Aeneid with reading notes and, more importantly, recitations. Morgan reads the hexameters slowly enough for students to follow, but the app highlights the line just in case.


IV. Voyager: Rome

Another free app, Voyager: Rome gives you a pedestrian's perspective on the Roman Forum of Augustus. The textures are splendid and rendering smooth, but the best part is that you can walk and look around at your own pace. There's no prescribed tour like a lot of 3D apps. You can't walk into the buildings and I'd prefer to adjust the camera by an onscreen button rather than having to move the iPad around, but it's free.


V. SPQR & Ancient Greek

Paul Hudson is the name in iOS Classics Apps. He's made not only Virgil Out Loud, #3 above, but a bevy of Latin word games from hangman to word find to word search. They're all polished and fun practice, but SPQR is the flagship. With full texts of 19 authors, a built in dictionary, verb identification quizzes, and three grammar texts (Allen and Greenough, Bennett, and Leigh's Comic Latin Grammar) this is a student's companion. You can't tap-to-define, but you can generate flashcards for specific passages, which is preferable for students lest we cultivate the tap-gimme-now tendency too far.

$6.99 (SPQR)
$4.99 (Ancient Greek: does not include drills and references.)

VI. Liberation Philology: Latin

Liberation Philology dispenses with SPQR's references and expands some on its noun and verb drills. Its best feature is the ability to drill on particular tenses, moods, and voices.


VII. Virtual History Roma

The first classics app I ever used, Virtual History Roma is a mix of 360 degree images, 3D models you can zoom into and spin around, and annotated images. My two favorite features are the simplest. The first is a hybrid timeline-map which you can scroll through, layering on the provinces, and the second is a cross-section of a Roman road with layers you can peel off. It's pricy for its slight-but-polished visuals at $8.99 and again I wish you could move around the 360 degree views without having to tilt and rotate the iPad, but it's a lively visual companion to personal study and an enriching aside for teachers.


VIII. Roman Theatre and Museum of Orange

This is a nifty free tour of the 1st century AD Roman Theater at Orange, France put out by the museum itself. It has a number of high-resolution images with descriptions and narration, all centered around a diagrammed image of the theater. It's great to breeze through by yourself or add narration over for a lecture.


IX. iView: Pantheon

A sort of deluxe version of the features for the Theater at Orange's app, iView for the Pantheon looks at fourteen sections of the structure with narration over panning and zooming images a la Ken Burns.


X. iBreviary

More than texts for the Ordinary and Proper of Mass, the Divine Office, and numerous prayers in seven languages, iBreviary will interpolate the ordinary and proper into a streaming page for any day and let you save the configuration.

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