New ‘Pride & Prejudice’ for learners of English

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 17.05.20It’s finally out! I’m talking about the new version of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, adapted by me, Emily, and published by Liberty.

It took me over three months (and the whole team much longer) to make one of the greatest books of all time into a small digestible edition for learners of English at an upper intermediate level. Let me tell you, it was no easy task to shorten the narrative, condense the dialogues and simplify the grammar, syntax and vocabulary, while also retaining all of Austen’s realism, subtle irony and superbly described characters.

When I was told that I had to reduce approximately each six chapters of the original to five pages for the new version, I admit thinking that the task was either impossible, or only possible at the expense of the true beauty and complexity of the novel. So as I prepared myself to butcher my beloved Austen, I did not expect the job to be as smooth as it actually turned out to be. It seemed Austen, as smart as she was, knew that I would later be coming with my sharp knife and wrote in a way that every scene in the book is compact and can be sectioned off. This carefully composed narrative made it then possible for me to eliminate scenes which were not necessary for the adapted version and still make sure that the overall plot would not suffer that loss.

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Order on

What was, however, impossible to lose were the characters. So beautifully described and so vital to the plot, every character has an essential role in moving the story along and highlighting traits of the key figures, like Elizabeth and Darcy, that would not otherwise be so evident to the reader. There was no way that a character like Charlotte Lucas or Kitty Bennet could be eliminated, as the story would lose much of its original warmth and irony.

The overall result is, in my opinion (of course, duh?!), a well condensed Pride & Prejudice text, with edited dialogues that can be tackled by a non-native audience, where no characters have been eliminated and Austen’s realism and ironic flair have been preserved. My hope is that anyone with an intermediate knowledge of English will pick up this little book and feel like they can enjoy the enchanting world that only Jane Austen knows how to create without the tough obstacles that 18th century English can present.

This book has also been enriched with activities designed to check the reader’s understanding of every chapter, extras to give context and fun trivia, as well as beautiful illustrations by the talented Ottavia Bruno.

As for my part – I can easily say that I have realised my childhood dream of having my name published next to that of Jane Austen, and none of it would have been possible without the expert supervision, input and encouragement of the irreplaceable Gill Hammond, for and to whom I am truly grateful.

Liberty’s Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen is now available to order on here.


Why learn the Greek alphabet the boring way?


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The idea of learning an ancient language can be exhilarating and intriguing… in an Indiana Jones sort of way. But languages like Ancient Greek lose their appeal fast when you realise that, while all you want is to savour Plato’s original thoughts, you struggle to even get through the first words of his text.

Σωκράτης κατέβην χθὲς εὶς Πειραιᾶ μετὰ Γλαύκωνος τοῦ ᾿Αρίστωνος…  “

Excluding today’s Greeks and scholars of Coptic, there is no one who really looks at these crazy symbols and says “oh my, they’re easy”. I probably chewed the rubber right off the end of my pencil when I was first introduced to Greek characters in high-school. The good news is that once these magical characters are stuck in your head, there is no way that they can be unstuck. And sticking them there really does not have to be a big deal. For me it was – but that’s because I was taught the boring way… “alpha is a, beta is b, gamma is g, del….” – yawn. There has to be a better way of learning them. Right?

Ten years after my first meeting with Greek characters, my colleagues Monica, Maria and I built an eLearning web application called AncientGeek (view in Github!) aimed at learners of all levels of Ancient Greek. Right from the start we were faced with the problem of how to display the letters – the starting point of it all. We had to design something that would hold our users’ attention – not something that would make them want to immediately open a new browser tab and escape to Facebook. So we decided for a ‘visual’ approach and started drawing the things that particular letters reminded us of. We soon found out that by associating a picture with a letter, even our ‘Greek-ignorant’ colleagues remembered them more easily.

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Take the example of saūros, meaning lizard. The picture we chose in order to explain the letter sigma (an “s” in roman characters) was that of a dinosaur with an “s-like” tongue. By representing the sigma in this way, we also took the opportunity to explain the etymology of the word “dinosaur”, which actually means ‘terrible lizard’ from the Greek deinos + saūros. We hoped that the association letter-picture-etymology would not just help our users memorise the letters, but also understand just how many of the words we use today come from Greek. The letter nu (“n” in roman characters) is the first letter of the word naūs, meaning ship – which is now the basis for the English word ‘nautical’. By drawing the Greek letter nu as the mast of a ship, it becomes easier to remember the shape and sound of the letter, which otherwise would easily be confused with the roman ‘v’.

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We applied this to every single character and by using Adobe Illustrator made the pictures beautiful and memorable. We exhibited the letters, together with the AncientGeek application at the Long Night of Science (Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften) at the University of Leipzig, and found that even children enjoyed scrolling through the letters and testing their mnemonic abilities.

So here below I display the end result for those of you who would like to learn or refresh your knowledge of the Greek letters. We know them all – how many can you remember?!


(Design by

A Manuscript Travelling Through Time And Space: How to Visualise the Journey of A Historical Object?


Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 17.05.20Use Case: The Watsons by Jane Austen

Is it possible to visualise in one simple interface the entire journey of a historical object, from its creation, to its most recent location? And in one interface – is it possible to see not only where it was and when, but how it got there, who it belonged to and how much it was worth at every stage of its travels? And if it is possible, how do I make that happen? You will find no definitive answers here, but perhaps you will join me in my attempt to visualise the movements of the manuscript of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel The Watsons.

Gathering information about historical artefacts is hard work in itself. There are manuscripts that are hundreds, even thousands of years old, and recording their every move is often virtually impossible. But where some have found a way of meticulously gathering and organising the information, there is huge potential to engage a wide audience by transforming black and white lists into didactic and interactive visualisations.

In order to find answers to my questions, I collected in a simple Excel spreadsheet all of the information I could find about the journey of The Watsons manuscript, from when it was written in 1803 until now. A brilliant source of information was KCL’s digital project Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts which hosts a transcription of the manuscript and key information about its provenance (1).
I then searched for existing online tools that would give me the possibility of visualising my data, which contained dates, locations and monetary values (expressed in British pounds). I needed the tools to be open source, and possibly free and user friendly. I imagined I would need a tool displaying a map (perhaps even a map of the 1800-1900s!) with pointers to indicate the locations. In my dreams these pointers would increase in size to reflect the value of the manuscript at every stage and a slider timeline. I have yet to find something that meets my needs.

In my search I stumbled across a Standford University initiative called Orbis. Orbis is a geospatial network model which allows users to visualise movements of an object in terms of time and expense. The problem for me is that the route network cleverly displayed is that of the Roman World. The map contains the Roman names of cities and fixed paths which existed in ancient times, whether coastal, road, river or open sea – far from Jane Austen’s 18th century travels by carriage or barouche box.

Route Network of the Roman World – Orbis, Standford (accessed in August 2015)

So then I was advised to try uploading my data into DARIAH’s Geo-Browser, which appeared to have exactly what I needed, albeit in an interface which could do with some extra love. The system asks for a CSV file, which I had. Despite having made it according to the model provided, my location coordinates would not appear on the display, together with the images that I had attached to the descriptions of each stage of the manuscript’s journey. The tool was overall a little too fiddly and unclear for me. Theoretically, however, it would even allow for the user to pick the desired background map, offering a selection of maps which go all the way back to 2000 BC.

I finally settled on TimeMapper, a creation of Open Knowledge Foundation Labs. It is open source and if need be, one could tweak the code, which is easily available on GitHub. But instead of reading what it does, why not click on the interactive time-map of Jane Austen’s The Watsons below?

Click here to view fullscreen and for a better overall experience.

TimeMapper was quick, easy and very pleasing to the eye. It doesn’t, however, help me visualise the passages of the manuscript from one location to the next and the viewer is forced to read the entire description section to get an idea of the value of the object. It is also somewhat of a mystery to me why some of the pointers are blue and perky and some remain like ghostlike drops in the background.

Being fully aware that my quest is nowhere near over, this post is also a call for collaboration. Please get in touch with me if you know of any visualisation tools meeting the criteria described above OR any information about The Watsons that I have not yet included. I would be incredibly grateful.
For now, in the words of Jane Austen, I bid you farewell!

(1) Other sources of information include this article from The Guardian Jane Austen rare manuscript up for sale, the Bodleian Library Oxford dedicated page, the Morgan Library New York dedicated page, this article from The Telegraph The artful portfolio


Can you help me quantify the total number of students studying Latin and Ancient Greek in the world?

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 17.05.20So, I recently set out on a mission – thinking it would be relatively easy – to quantify the total number of people currently studying Latin and Ancient Greek at secondary and higher level education. I started with Europe, though fancying a bit of a data challenge, I soon expanded my research to the whole world.

Well, it has been no easy task. That’s why it is not finished yet, and I still need all the help I can get. I thought it would be a simple question of looking up the national education statistics in each country, and voilà, I’d discover how many still study what was not so long ago considered, at least in the case of Latin, the universal academic language. How naïve! Apparently, national statistics centres have very little interest in knowing which subjects their young ones are studying. So, I began with emails: emails to the various ministries of education, emails to the Classics associations, emails to university professors, university departments and Classics forums.

For now, I will focus on secondary school enrolments for two reasons. First, secondary school enrolments seem to account for the largest numbers of students. Second, higher education enrolments are often much more decentralised and more difficult to identify.

Italy gave me the greatest satisfaction – it is after all, the cradle of the Roman world and both Latin and Greek are still compulsory in all Licei Classici. In 2011 the Italian Ministry of Education counted a whopping 2,000,000 students of Latin and 680,000 of Ancient Greek. Considering that the total number of secondary level enrolments amounted to 5,000,000 that year, this is indeed a good result!

Then, there was the bitter British letdown. These subjects may not be compulsory in schools, but I never expected the number of Latin and Greek students to be as low as 15,000 and 2,000 respectively. Croatia and Austria were a pleasant surprise: 7.8% of Austrian students study Latin and 0.7% of Croatian students study Greek. The latter may seem like a small percentage, but when compared with the total number of secondary level students, it places Croatia in second place after Italy. And of course, the Germans. The Germans are doing well with 800,000 students of Latin, in third place in the ranking of languages studied at school, after English and French. They are not doing so well for Greek, however, with only 7,000 students taking it in schools.

With the help of many Classicists and non-Classicists out there who pointed me in the right direction, I have also identified the numbers for four other areas in the world: the Flanders (in Belgium), Switzerland, France and New Zealand. Here are some considerations.

Switzerland filled me with joy, coming in second with 16.8% of its students studying Latin, after Italy (40%). The Flanders too strives to breed young Latinists, with 9% of its students studying the language, 0.3% more than Germany. There are 501,100 students of Latin in France, which I thought incredibly impressive considering Latin is by no means compulsory in schools. I had no idea what to expect for New Zealand, but this is what I found: there are 1,501 students of Latin and none of Greek.

Switzerland and the Flanders tie in second place with 1.2% of students studying Greek in each country – Italy remains first with 13.6%. France is in fifth place after Croatia with 34,000 students of Greek.

I’m still desperately trying to find accurate results for Spain, Greece and Egypt, so any further help would be greatly appreciated. When researching South Africa, I discovered that local Classics professors estimate no more than 100 Latin and 50 Greek students, but, for this, I have yet to find exact documentation. However, it was fascinating to find out that there are Latin and Greek students also in Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Congo and Malawi.

This post is really a call for collaboration: if you know the stats of your own country or know where to find them, could you leave a comment below or get in touch with me by email?

Click the link to Download the full report: Latin&GreekWorldDH_stats14

Article by Emily Franzini (@ the Humboldt Chair for Digital Humanities, University of Leipzig)