Detail map of Medford, Massachusetts, United States Overview map of Medford, Massachusetts, United States

A: Medford, Massachusetts, United States

The Perseus Digital Library Project at Tufts University Begins


The Perseus Digital Library Project began at Tufts University, Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts in 1985. Though the project was ostensibly about Greek and Roman literature and culture, it evolved into an exploration of the ways that digital collections could enhance scholarship with new research tools that took libraries and scholarship beyond the physical book. The following quote came from their website around 2010:

"Since planning began in 1985, the Perseus Digital Library Project has explored what happens when libraries move online. Two decades later, as new forms of publication emerge and millions of books become digital, this question is more pressing than ever. Perseus is a practical experiment in which we explore possibilities and challenges of digital collections in a networked world.

"Our flagship collection, under development since 1987, covers the history, literature and culture of the Greco-Roman world. We are applying what we have learned from Classics to other subjects within the humanities and beyond. We have studied many problems over the past two decades, but our current research centers on personalization: organizing what you see to meet your needs.

"We collect texts, images, datasets and other primary materials. We assemble and carefully structure encyclopedias, maps, grammars, dictionaries and other reference works. At present, 1.1 million manually created and 30 million automatically generated links connect the 100 million words and 75,000 images in the core Perseus collections. 850,000 reference articles provide background on 450,000 people, places, organizations, dictionary definitions, grammatical functions and other topics."

In December 2013 I found this description of their activities on their website:

"Perseus has a particular focus upon the Greco-Roman world and upon classical Greek and Latin, but the larger mission provides the distant, but fixed star by which we have charted our path for over two decades. Early modern English, the American Civil War, the History and Topography of London, the History of Mechanics, automatic identification and glossing of technical language in scientific documents, customized reading support for Arabic language, and other projects that we have undertaken allow us to maintain a broader focus and to demonstrate the commonalities between Classics and other disciplines in the humanities and beyond. At a deeper level, collaborations with colleagues outside of classical studies make good on the claim that a classical education generally provides those critical skills and that intellectual adaptability that we claim to instill in our students. We offer the combination of classical and non-classical projects that we pursue as one answer to those who worry that a classical education will leave them or their children with narrow, idiosyncratic skills.

"Within this larger mission, we focus on three categories of access:

Human readable information: digitized images of objects, places, inscriptions, and printed pages, geographic information, and other digital representations of objects and spaces. This layer of functionality allows us to call up information relevant to a longitude and latitude coordinate or a library call number. In this stage digital representations provide direct access to the physical senses of actual people in particular places and times. In some cases (such as high resolution, multi-spectral imaging), digital sources already provide better physical access than has ever been feasible when human beings had direct contact with the physical artifact.

"Machine actionable knowledge: catalogue records, encyclopedia articles, lexicon entries, and other structured information sources. Physical access can serve our senses but provides no information about what we are encountering - in effect, physical access is like visiting a historical site about which we may know nothing and where any visible documentation is in a language that we cannot understand. Machine actionable knowledge allows us to retrieve information about what we are viewing. Thus, if we encounter a page from a Greek manuscript of Homer, we could at this stage find cleanly printed modern editions of the Greek, modern language translations, commentaries and other background information about the passage on that manuscript page. If we moved through a virtual Acropolis, we could retrieve background information about the buildings and the sculpture.

"Machine generated knowledge: By analyzing existing information automated systems can produce new knowledge. Machine actionable knowledge allows, for example, us to look up a dictionary entry (e.g., facio, "to do, make") in a dictionary or to find pre-existing translations for a passage in Latin or Greek. Machine generated knowledge allows a machine to recognize that fecisset is a pluperfect subjunctive form of facio and to provide reading support where there is no pre-existing human translation. Such reading support might include full machine translation but also finer grained services such as word and phrase translation (e.g., recognizing whetherorationes in a given context more likely corresponds to English "speeches," "prayers" or some other term), syntactic analysis (e.g., recognizing that orationes in a given passage is the object of a given verb), named entity identification (e.g., identifying Antonium in a given passage as a personal name and then as a reference to Antonius the triumvir)." 

Timeline Themes