This blog focuses upon what this program offers to students who have traditionally participated in post-baccalaureate programs to prepare for a PhD program in Greco-Roman studies. Two years ago I published a blog entitled “So you want to become a professor of Greek and/or Latin? Think hard about a PhD in Digital Humanities.” Here I talk about something that we have done at Tufts to improve the situation, creating an MA in Digital Tools for Premodern Studies that allows students to address two common challenges: the need to read more Greek and Latin and to familiarize themselves with the digital methods upon which their teaching and research will increasingly depend in the decades to come. You would then be in a position to pursue a PhD in those more traditional departments where faculty realize that junior scholars must adapt and that their own programs are not yet in a position to provide that training.
Before focusing on this particular topic, I do want to emphasize that the new MA in Digital Humanities for Premodern Studies, of course, also provides opportunities for a range of different subsequent career tracks. Libraries are being reinvented and demand personnel who can work with born-digital data about the past. All PhD Programs that engage with the human textual record need students who can exploit the latest digital methods. And the methods that students encounter in this program come from fields such as corpus and computational linguistics, text mining and visualization, geospatial and social network analysis, citizen science and other areas of general and emerging importance. The MA is also intended to support a growing range of historical languages and contexts; the Tufts Department of Classics already offers classes in Sanskrit (thanks to Anne Mahoney) as well as Greek and Latin and supports research in Classical Arabic (thanks to Riccardo Strobino). The two chairs of Classics who led the development of this program, past-chair Vickie Sullivan and current-chair Ioannis Evrigenis, are political philosophers with primary appointments in Political Science and their research offers opportunities for students who wish to explore early modern culture and its connections to the ancient world. Certain this connects to my own belief that we must redefine the meaning of Classics to include all Classical languages from the around the world (if we don’t just jettison this value-laden term in favor of historical languages or something more descriptive).
Our hope is to support an increasing range of languages and faculty will work with potential applicants to find ways to address their interests. But for those students who are looking for a program to prepare them for PhD programs in Greco-Roman studies or in fields where advanced knowledge of Greek or Latin are particularly helpful, the new MA in Digital Humanities for Premodern Studies offers a new approach.
Over the past generation a number of post-bac programs have emerged to help students expand their knowledge of Greek and Latin in preparation for PhD study. More recently, a new challenge has emerged: to exploit the possibilities and meet the challenges of a digital age, the study of Greek, Latin and all historical languages needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. In a very real sense, we have no modern editions, no modern lexica, no modern commentaries, no modern encyclopedias and no modern publications because our scholarship and the infrastructure upon which it resides still reflects, even when it appears in digital form, the limitations of print rather the possibilities of digital media. The study of historical languages — even languages like Greek and Latin, which have been the object of analysis for thousands of years — is in the process of reinventing itself. The challenge is to exploit the best from millennia of work, but to do so critically, identifying and transcending problematic assumptions about what we do and why. And if we are to do so, we need a new generation of researchers and teachers who have a command of emerging digital methods. Few PhD programs in Greek, Latin, or any other historical language are in a position to provide such expertise — the Digital Classicists who have emerged have been largely self-taught and many of those considered to be Digital Classicists (myself included) wish that they had had an opportunity for more formal training.
The new MA in Premodern Studies at Tufts thus addresses two different challenges, and does so in a way where work on each challenge reinforces the other. If students wish to improve their command of texts in historical languages such as Greek and Latin, one of the best ways is to take charge of a text and create the beginnings of its first truly digital edition.
What constitutes a truly digital edition?
A truly digital edition does not simply have digitized textual notes, modern language translation, and indices for people, places and primary sources that quote a text (e.g., the Greek texts that quote a particular passage of the Iliad) or that the text itself quotes (e.g., the authors that such as Plutarch or Athenaeus quote). A truly digital edition contains links to digital representations of the manuscripts, papyri, inscribed stones or other textual witnesses.
A truly digital edition does not simply add upper- and lower-case, paragraph breaks, and modern punctuation but explicitly encodes the morphological, syntactic, and semantic judgments upon which these print-culture conventions of annotation depend and to which they loosely allude. A truly digital edition encodes the best available data about which Alexander or which Alexandria a particular passage in a particular text designates and then captures social and geographical relationships in a format that can be automatically analyzed and dynamically visualized.
A truly digital edition encodes quotations within and references to a text as hypertextual links among evolving digital editions.
A truly digital edition can accommodate translations into multiple different modern languages, with each translation aligned, as appropriate, at the word and phrase level, both to help readers more effectively work with the original and to support new forms of scholarly analysis (e.g., using translation alignments to study changes in word sense over time).
At Tufts you can work with the emerging digital publication environment developed by the Perseids Project, create geospatial publications with Pelagios Commons, develop a project within the collaborative framework of the Homer Multitext project or any other open digital project. If you want to demonstrate to a potential PhD program your capacity to understand Greek and Latin, as well as your mastery of new digital methods, you can create a portfolio of your work and contribute to the next version of the Perseus Digital Library which is now under development at Tufts, Leipzig and elsewhere. The two year program allows you to develop a mature portfolio when Phd applications are due in December of your second year.
MA in Digital Humanities for Premodern Studies
Winnick Family Chair of Technology and Entrepreneurship
Professor of Classics
Editor-in-Chief, Perseus Digital Library
Adjunct Professor of Computer Science
Alexander von Humboldt Professor of Digital Humanities