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Ancient Greek poems were the original Tweets, says ASU professor

What do Twitter and ancient poetry have in common? More than you might think.
March 14, 2017

Mike Tueller to discuss the connections between Twitter and short Greek poems called epigrams during March 16 lecture

portrait of ASU professor

Mike Tueller

What does Twitter, one of today’s biggest social media sites, have to do with ancient Greek poetry that was written more than 2,000 years ago?

The connections are broader than one might think, according to Mike Tueller, an associate professor of Greek in Arizona State University’s School of International Letters and Cultures.

Tueller will be exploring those connections between Twitter and short Greek poems called epigrams in his talk, “The Original Tweets: Tiny Poems of the Ancient Greeks” at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 16 on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

“Twitter is a genre that is constrained by technology, very similar to epigrams,” Tueller said. “Some people look at Twitter and think, ‘How can you make any kind of social commentary in such a small space?’”

But “there's always been brief genres and while you can't do everything, you can do some things,” he said.

Tueller is working on a revision of the Greek Anthology (the primary source for Hellenistic epigram) for the Loeb Classical LibraryThe Loeb Classical Library is a series of books that provides access to Greek and Latin literature and is currently published by the Harvard University Press., a project that will take the better part of a decade. His research focuses on the Hellenistic period, when Greek language and culture started to spread across the Mediterranean.

“Professor Tueller combines an absolute mastery of the ancient Greek language with a keen eye for literary detail and sly wit,” said Matt Simonton, an assistant professor in the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural StudiesThe school is part of the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.. “You will come out of his courses feeling like you've truly earned your newfound knowledge of Greek, but you'll also have heard some good jokes along the way.”

Tueller doesn’t make his jokes on Twitter, but he is a fan of the application. He also finds himself fascinated at how certain things go viral, finding that the fame that comes from that is similar to what writers sought back in the 10th century.

“What makes a tweet good? There are a number of different ways to do it, whether it’s referring to something bigger or making a joke.,” Tueller said. “Epigrams are often that way too.”

The earliest Greek epigrams were inscribed on monuments or offerings at sanctuaries. And just as comedians work today to create “memes,” riffing on top of one another to try and make better jokes, writers of these epigrams did the same thing as they attempted to make new and better meanings.

“They had to reinforce their cultural narrative,” Tueller said. “They wanted to prove how smart they were, how complex their literature was, and how amazing Greeks were.”

Tueller will spend roughly half of Thursday’s lecture talking about those epigrams and what made them special, while taking the rest of the time to explore the medium of Twitter and the connections between the two.

The talk is part of the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts spring 2017 Humanities Lecture Series. It will be held in room 128 inside the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on the Downtown Phoenix campus. Admission to the event is free.

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Supporting women, minorities in the tech industry

ASU supports women and minorities in STEM through a number of initiatives.
March 14, 2017

ASU conference encourages women of color to get involved in STEM entrepreneurship

As startups continue to drive innovation, women and minorities remain underrepresented in the tech industry. To address the problem, ASU's Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology (CGEST) and ASU Entrepreneurship and Innovation are partnering to encourage and support members of these groups at the upcoming Women of Color STEM Entrepreneurship Conference.

CGEST advocacy manager Sharon Torres said STEMScience, Technology, Engineering and Math — and especially technology — is “an industry that’s outpacing many others.” The conference, “HERstory Is Our Story: Creating A Legacy Through STEM Entrepreneurship,” will provide much-needed resources and networking opportunities for women and women of color this month at Gateway Community College in Phoenix.

It’s the second year for the conference, and it’s done a lot to bring awareness to the subject but there’s still “a significant need” for improvement, said associate vice president of ASU Entrepreneurship and Innovation Ji Mi Choi.

On that note, Torres, Choi and executive director of the Cronkite New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab Retha Hill — who will speak on automation in the work force at the conference — shared their tips on a few things that are important to keep in mind going forward.

1. Keep the cause alive

“Building awareness among advocates and allies is the easy part,” Torres said. “Building awareness among those who may not have considered or realized this is an issue is the hard part.”

That’s why it’s important to keep talking about it and stay involved. You never know whose opinion you might change or what connections you might make.

“I think when you open up and talk about it with others, you’ll find you’ll meet your allies, you’ll meet like-minded people but more importantly, you’ll meet people who you can help educate and become more aware,” Torres added.

2. “Shake it off”

Know your worth, and make others know it, too. Hill can recall instances where she was the only black woman at a conference or meeting but she didn’t let it get to her.

“You just have to shake it off and let them know you deserve to be there,” she said.

And if calling yourself an “entrepreneur” seems intimidating, you can still learn how to think like one. Just having the framework to come up with answers to difficult questions is a great start, Hill said, “So you shouldn’t see a lack of experience as an impediment.”

3. Utilize modeling resources

Both CGEST and ASU Entrepreneurship and Innovation provide models to women and minorities on how to achieve success: CGEST’s nationally renowned CompuGirls program introduces young girls from under-resourced school districts to technology, and ASU Entrepreneurship and Innovation just received a $245,000 grant to develop best practices for diversity and inclusion.

Taking advantage of resources like these can “cultivate qualities of curiosity and creativity that can be used for empowerment,” Choi said.

4. Never give up

All entrepreneurs experience setbacks and question their abilities at times but that’s no reason to give up — no matter how large or small your venture is.

“There’s some denigration about ‘small’ entrepreneurs,” Choi said. “There’s really nothing small about being an entrepreneur who opens a business. … There’s nothing small about it when you’re deciding to put your life savings into it.”

And no matter what you end up pursuing, you can certainly co-opt entrepreneurial thinking, such as creative problem-solving, Choi said. “There are transferable skills no matter what you do in your life.”

Top photo: Last year's conference attendees snap a selfie. Photo courtesy of the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology.