MA in Digital Tools for Premodern Studies

Administered within the Department of Classical Studies, the MA in Digital Tools for Premodern Studies prepares students of the Premodern world to flourish in a digital age and with a particular emphasis on two areas: (1) the application of natural language processing to the analysis of both historical sources and of modern scholarship; (2) the application of geographic information systems (GIS) to the study of human history and culture over time (described with various terms such as  geohumanities and spatial humanities). Each topic fundamentally enhances your intellectual range. New computational language technologies and methods allow you not only to pose new questions about long-studied canonical sources and to gain insights about far more materials than you could ever read, but you will also learn how to begin working effectively with sources in languages that you have not studied, using translations as entry points, rather than barriers. The incorporation of geospatial humanities allows you to use geospatial technology, data, and analysis to determine, quantify, and visualize spatial relationships between and patterns within social, cultural, and natural phenomena in past and present settings.

At the same time, each track builds on, and strengthens, the other. Natural language processing includes computational methods by which to identify references to, and relationships between, particular places and regions within one or more sources. GIS allows us then to locate the referenced places and then explore and determine the nature of their relationships to each other and to surrounding geographic phenomena such as historical boundaries, water bodies, road networks, land use, elevation, natural resources, weather and climate, etc. Insights from GIS, in turn, can identify new relationships and intellectual categories in the source text that, in turn, change the way we analyze and understand the source text.

We use the term Digital Humanities to describe the cutting edge where technology allows us to rethink how we engage with and share our ideas about the human record. The program can prepare students for work in a range of areas such as computational and data analytics services, digital humanities specialists in libraries, information technology groups, museums, and publishing. Those students who wish to pursue a doctorate in the humanities will have an opportunity to develop skills that an increasing number of tenure track positions now request but that few PhD programs can provide. Such skills address not only methods by which to pose new research questions but also new forms of intellectual production and scholarly publication that can transform the role of the humanities in the intellectual life of society as a whole. The Tufts Department of Classical Studies has a demonstrated commitment to subjects that include not only Greco-Roman culture, but Classical Arabic literature, ancient China, Ancient Egypt, Sanskrit, and pre-colonial West Africa. The DH MA program introduces students to a range of skills, and particularly to applications of Natural Language Processing to historical languages, that can transform the role that sources in the original language can play in the curriculum and in society. The degree can help you position yourself for your next step, whether that is an academic degree or a job, but it will also help you develop a broader intellectual perspective that can serve you for years and decades to come.

The program uses the already general category Premodern as broadly as possible, including Latin produced in the 18th or 19th centuries (since Latin has its roots in premodern Europe), Gibbon’s 18th century Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (as an example of reception studies), oral compositions from West Africa that were recorded in the 20th or 21st centuries (since these works reflect a traditional form that extends back centuries), and the Mayan Popol Vuh, which survives in a form recorded at the start of the 18th century (since this is a major source of Mayan culture before European contact). Students have great latitude in how they construct their pathway through the program and the particular balance of new digital methods and traditional scholarship that they wish to cultivate. The key requirements are that students who develop new pathways through the program must, before they begin at Tufts, develop an intellectually compelling plan with faculty members who are willing and able to advise them.

You can frame your work in this program to follow one of the more traditional MA tracks in Classical Studies but also develop a plan that focuses on areas such as post-classical Latin or Greek and Classical Arabic. The digital methods that you will learn are being applied to cultural materials from around the world and in more than one hundred languages.

Finally, Digital Humanities work at Tufts builds on work, past, present, and future, by the Perseus Digital Library. Best known for its public facing website and its collections on Greco-Roman culture, Perseus reaches an audience that ranges from 200,000 unique users a month in the summer to 300,000 during the academic year. Perseus has been available for over thirty years, first as a 1992 publication on CD ROM and Videodisk and, since 1995, as a free resource on the World Wide Web. Development on Perseus has, over the past decade, benefited from funding from sources such as the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the German Ministry of Education and Research, the Alpheios Project, the Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as from sources at Tufts University (such as its Data Intensive Science Center). Such funded projects place an emphasis on support for students, particularly for summer projects when students work intensively, expanding upon what they have learned during the academic year. Students in the program will have an opportunity to benefit from, and contribute to the proposals, for any future funding that Perseus receives.

Program Requirements and Policies

  • 33 SHUs (11 courses) are required for the MA in Digital Tools for Premodern Studies as outlined below.
  • Students are required to complete a research project equivalent in scope to a master's thesis. This project will fulfill two 3 SHU courses, usually taken in the fall of the second year of the program. This project is conducted and evaluated from two perspectives which illustrate two complementary sets of skills, namely the production of good data and the appropriate and insightful analysis of that data. For this reason, the project may have a single deliverable similar in scope to a thesis, or two deliverables similar in scope to Qualifying Papers. This project may originate from coursework, and students are encouraged to start elaborating their project during their first year, in any case no later than the summer before their second year. A thesis committee must be constituted and a defense scheduled as outlined in the Graduate Student Handbook.
  • Reading knowledge of one historical language (previous examples include Ancient Greek, and Arabic) and one modern foreign language (such as German or French for students of Greco-Roman culture) is tested by examination. Greek, Latin or Arabic may be replaced with another language, in which case the other language must be approved upon enrollment in the program.
  • A comprehensive written examination integrating your work in the humanities with new digital methods.

Course Requirements

  • Three courses devoted to a common core plus an on-going weekly research seminar:
    • CLS 161: Introduction to the Digital Humanities
    • CLS 162: Natural Language Processing and the Human Record
    • A course on Geographic Information Systems for the Humanities and Social Sciences that will be taught from 2023/2024 academic year or another comparable course that students can propose.
    • CLS 191: Research seminar in the Digital Humanities (once a week throughout a student’s participation in the program, 1 SHU)
  • Two advanced language courses (eg., Greek, Latin, Arabic, or other approved language).
  • Four elective courses in digital methodology either selected from this preliminary working list or approved by the DH Steering Committee.
  • Two courses will be devoted to a research project. Please see above.


  • Ability to deploy emerging technologies to work at an advanced level with one or more historical languages such as Ancient Greek, Latin, Classical Arabic or another approved language and with at least one other historical language with which the student has little or no experience.
  • Ability to deploy emerging technologies to work effectively with scholarship in unfamiliar modern languages. This involves the ability to convert pages images to text and to apply a range of technologies, including not only machine translations, but complementary methods such as topic modeling, morpho-syntactic analysis, named entity recognition, and citation detection.
  • Comprehensive exam in Greek and/or Latin (as appropriate given the goals and background of the student).

Program Objectives

  1. Students will have developed the ability to conduct research and write a graduate level research paper and/or thesis.
  2. Students will have developed broad knowledge of research and practice in the field of Digital Humanities as well as a deeper focus in a particular area within the Premodern World relevant to student interest.
  3. Students will have developed a strong competency in one or more pre-modern languages, such as Latin and Greek or other historical languages depending upon their background and goals, and have been exposed to new methods of learning and using the languages. (eg. intensive linguistic annotation, analyzing text at scale and visualizing the results).
  4. Students will be able to use a range of technologies beyond machine translation to work with modern foreign languages relevant to research in the field.
  5. Students will have been exposed to new developments in the fields of Digital Humanities and of the Pre-Modern area on which they focus.
  6. Students will be prepared to go on to advanced graduate programs or to positions outside academia where the skills they have acquired in the MA are useful.

Contributing Faculty and Staff