Academic Minute
5:00 am
Wed February 12, 2014

Dr. Marie-Claire Beaulieu, Tufts University - Digitizing Ancient Texts

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Marie-Claire Beaulieu of Tufts University discusses how the Internet has increased access to ancient texts. 

Marie-Claire Beaulieu is an assistant professor in the Department of Classics at Tufts University where her teaching and research interests include Greek religion, Epigraphy, Medieval Latin, and digital humanities. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin.

About Dr. Beaulieu

Dr. Marie-Claire Beaulieu - Digitizing Ancient Texts

Digital tools provide unprecedented access to ancient documents by removing physical and social barriers. No matter where one lives and no matter whether one is affiliated with a university or not, it is now possible to engage with ancient culture online, receive the guidance of specialists, and even contribute to the creation and dissemination of knowledge. In fact, large scale digitization projects in recent years have provided a store of materials that is too vast for a comparatively small number of scholars to tackle on their own. Thousands upon thousands of texts, manuscripts, inscriptions, and papyri are now online under open access licenses, just waiting to be edited, translated, annotated, and enjoyed by all.

For this reason, teams of humanists and software developers have been creating tools to allow users at any degree of expertise to access and process these documents. Projects such as the Perseids platform, the Homer Multitext,, and Pleiades let users choose tasks to perform at various levels of difficulty. For instance, someone who knows the Greek alphabet can transcribe an inscription from ancient Athens, even if they do not know ancient Greek. Someone who has a passion for geography can annotate the names of ancient cities in a digital library, and history buffs can create links to form a dossier of documents describing important ancient battles. In a classroom setting, this means that undergraduate students can use their skills at a professional level from the very start of their training. Students in beginning Latin classes can transcribe medieval manuscripts, and their colleagues in more advanced courses can translate and annotate them.

At every step in this process, online platforms provide access to specialists. User forums are available to ask questions and share knowledge, and review boards ensure the quality and consistency of the information published. In one workflow involving many contributors, we go from analyzing the minutiae of each text to asking questions that help us understand where each document fits in the broader cultural map of the world. In this way, new digital tools help us capture the past and understand it in relation to the present.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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