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Digital Scholarship

Digital ScholarshipAcademiais in for a radical shift from paper to pixels, says a Tufts professor who founded an innovative electronic archive. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.02.03] From emailing professors to course chatrooms, it's clear that the online onslaught is having a growing impact on university life. But the digital age is not only changing how professors teach - it's also revolutionizing what constitutes research, who contributes to history and the number of people who can access information. According to a Tufts professor and founder of a cutting-edge electronic archive, the digitization of scholarship will significantly change the academic world.

"I think there's going to be an intense reorganization of scholastic labor and attention in the next generation," Gregory Crane, Tufts professor of classics, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. "Historians won't be building their work around the assumption that paper-based projects are the be-all and end-all."

Crane heads the Perseus Digital Library, the world's largest online database of Latin and Greek texts and archeological finds - containing 6.5 million words of Greek text, 4 million words of Latin material, more than 64,000 images and 3-D representations of ancient Greek and Roman sites. The mission of the Perseus project - which receives up to 420,000 hits a day from more than 75 countries -- is to increase accessibility of primary and secondary source-texts, and bring a wide range of materials to a larger audience.

According to Crane, projects like these, undertaken by both professors and non-university affiliated individuals, are likely to reshape the academic environment.

"[Crane says] scholarly personal-interest digitizers - and amateurs who scan material, create Web databases, and compile links to online resources - may be slowly changing humanities scholarship," reported the Chronicle. "By focusing their work on scanning primary-source documents, such scholars and enthusiasts are shifting their emphasis in their fields from analyzing documents to simply making them available."

According to the Tufts professor-- who is the U.S. leader of a European Union/National Science Foundation working group on technology and the humanities -- the new digitization process calls into question long-standing tenets of university scholarship.

"When you're digitizing you think of yourself as adding value to publicly accessible material," Crane told the Chronicle. "The focus is on the material and not on the monograph."

This vision of academics also blurs traditional lines regarding who can contribute to history, and who can access it.

"It requires a radical rethinking of history scholarship," the Tufts professor told the Chronicle. "There tends to be an ideological distrust in academia of work that just anybody can understand."

As Crane told the Chronicle, he hopes to be part of a scholarly environment in which digitization projects in the humanities are undertaken equally by professors, media corporations and "working class guys, not self-considered intellectuals."

According to Crane, Tufts is already contributing to realizing this vision by encouraging projects such as his.

"Crane says that deans at Tufts make a point to take esoteric digitization projects into account when evaluating professors for tenure," reported the Chronicle.

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