Archive for February, 2012

The Devonshire Manuscript: A Digital Social Edition

February 29, 2012

Readers are invited to participate in a promising and methodically thought-through experiment in social editing.

The University of Victoria’s Electronic Textual Cultures Lab‘s Devonshire MS Editorial Group invites contributions to a new project involving collaborative knowledge curation.  The project aims at attributing contributions and ensuring scholarly authority.

Guided by Ray Siemens, the ETCL’s editorial group is producing a collaborative electronic wikibooks edition of the Devonshire manuscript, which contains 185 items from the 1530s and 1540s, including complete poems, transcriptions, verse fragments, excerpts, anagrams, and notes by many authors and transcribers.

Because 125 of the poems are attributed to Sir Thomas Wyatt and have been transcribed and published in print, the miscellany was long considered exclusively as a source for his work.  Arthur Marotti notes, however, that this “author-centered view of the miscellany obscures its value as a document “illustrating some of the uses of lyric verse within an actual social environment” (Marotti, Manuscript, Print, and Renaissance Lyric, 1995).  In addition to Wyatt, other contemporaries contributing to the manuscript include Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, Lady Margaret Douglas, Richard Hatfield, Mary Fitzroy (née Howard), Lord Thomas Howard, Sir Edmund Knyvet, Sir Anthony Lee, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, Mary Shelton, and perhaps Anne Boleyn.

The Devonshire manuscript wikibooks site states that the purpose of the edition is to

preserve the socially mediated textual and extra-textual elements of the manuscript that have been elided in previous transcriptions.  These “paratexts” make significant contributions to the meaning and appreciation of the manuscript miscellany and its constituent parts: annotations, glosses, names, ciphers, and various jottings; the telling proximity of one work and another; significant gatherings of materials; illustrations entered into the manuscript alongside the text; and so forth.  To accomplish these goals, the present edition has been prepared as a diplomatic transcription of the Devonshire Manuscript with extensive scholarly apparatus.

The miscellany illustrates the social use of verse and provides what Colin Burrow calls “the richest surviving record of early Tudor poetry and of the literary activities of 16th-century women.”

Currently, a PDF version of the edition is under review at the University of Toronto’s Iter Gateway.  In July, the PDF and Wikibooks versions will be compared and a final edition will be published by Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies.

Readers are invited to participate in the editing of this interesting and complex manuscript.  Some immediate questions include the following:

  • How should blank spaces–often tellingly omitting one name to suggest another–be presented?
  • How can the manuscript’s structure be maintained, while allowing for efficient navigation?  For example, use of “forward” and “backward” buttons might misrepresent the complex spatial relationship among the poems, which frequently appear side-by-side in the manuscript.
  • What is the best way to ensure credit for Wikibooks editors?

Access to the digital facsimile is available to subscribers of Adam Mathew.  The link can be found at the bottom of the Devonshire Manuscripts’ wikibooks page.

Digital Humanities and the Archives I: Economics and Sustainability

February 22, 2012

Those directly involved with digital archives contend with numerous issues that the general academic community often fails to understand or address, even though they bear significant implications for the future of scholarship.

–Sheila Cavanagh, “How Does Your Archive Grow: Academic Politics & Economics in the Digital Age”

While the spread of print prompted the coining of new words such as “manuscript” and “handwriting” to describe the older technology of writing, the pervasiveness of new media today has yielded no newly invented vocabulary to identify print. Instead, the world of new media has created its own lexicon consisting of either newly devised words–website, blog, crowdsourcing, or texting, to name a few–or terms forged by combining adjectives such a “digital” or “electronic” with existing nouns to distinguish the new from the old. Despite these different etymological trajectories, the relationship between the digital and print, much like the interactions between print and manuscript, is often a symbiotic one and one that almost always transforms our understanding of the older media.

Digital tools, for example, are transforming our conceptions of and theorizing about “archives” as well as our actual use of these repositories, be they material or virtual entities. Similarly, digital facsimiles are exercising various effects on our understanding of original documents. Our digital environment is shaping the kinds of archival projects being undertaken, the methodologies used, and/or the types of research questions posed. Interactions between the digital and the archival are creating new paradigms or inspiring shifts in existing models of document preservation, audiences, access, and more. The advent of the digital archive, for instance, has afforded a ready means for humanities scholars to engage the public in their scholarship. Finally, digital tools and platforms are addressing and reconfiguring questions concerning the economics, equity, and accessibility of archival materials.

The archive in the digital age is a complex topic approachable from multiple angles and involving “numerous issues that the general academic community often fails to understand or address, even though they bear significant implications for the future of scholarship” (Cavanagh). Focusing on economics and sustainability, this post is the first of several entries devoted to issues surrounding archival transformations in the digital era. The discussions arising from these posts also serve as preparation for the “Digital Humanities and the Archives” roundtable that will take place on Friday, March 22nd, at the upcoming ASECS 2012 conference in San Antonio, Texas.

Just as the term “digital humanities” gives rise to numerous definitions, the word “sustainability” in the digital environment also carries multiple meanings. As a June 2011 JISC publication, “Funding for Sustainability: How Funders’ Practices Influence the Future of Digital Resources” reports, the word has been used to denote “a wide range of practices of varying rigor” from long-term access to preservation measures and securing audiences and users. No matter how one defines “sustainability,” however, economic factors are tightly intertwined with the creation, maintenance, and sustaining of digital work. Other forms of support (often entailing economic consequences) also play a significant role “as projects must justify their value not just to their funder, but to their host institution, to their users and to others whose support they require” (“Funding for Sustainability” 4).

As a primer to these issues, Daniel Pitti’s “Designing Sustainable Projects and Publications” offers a highly serviceable introduction to creating digital projects that will endure. While his article focuses on technical and logistical issues, ranging from mark-up technologies to selecting the suitable kind of databases, identifying the needs of users and uses, addressing intellectual property concerns, and adhering to industry standards, and more, collaboration at all stages emerges as a key tenet for ensuring the longevity and utility of the digital archive and other forms of digital projects.

In “How Does Your Archive Grow: Academic Politics & Economics in the Digital Age” ( Appositions May 2011) Sheila Cavanagh draws from her own experiences as Director of the Emory Women Writers Resource Project (EWWRP), a database featuring “female-authored and female-centered texts. . .from the 16th to the early 20th centuries,” to detail broader economic and collaborative issues affecting the sustainability of digital archives. That she began this archive as a solo project in 1995 affords a useful historical perspective to her remarks. Not surprisingly, a need for more funding and technical expertise resulted in EWWRP quickly becoming a collaborative project. While the academy has been slow to accept collaboration in the humanities and to devise protocols for evaluating digital scholarship and rewarding its practitioners, Cavanagh rightly notes that funding circumstances in contrast have changed in the intervening years. The ease with which she received institutional support for grant applications in the mid-1990s has now been replaced with a multi-level vetting process to assess how the “project and its needs rank with sufficient prominence on various institutional priority lists.” The end result? “In any given year, it is by no means guaranteed that innovations we envision for our database of early women writers will coincide with institutional desires.”

Moreover, as Cavanagh and others have also observed, not only have funding bodies become less enamored with projects that solely digitize documents in favor of those that offer more cutting-edge technology, but grant bestowers have also favored the funding of start-up projects as opposed to supporting the further development and maintenance of these projects. To be fair, the latter tendency is showing some signs of change as evidenced by grants such as the NEH Digital Implementation Grant “that seeks to identify projects that have successfully completed their start-up phase.”

The kinds of economic and sustainability issues surrounding today’s virtual archives are not the ones that concerned scholars working in the pre-digital age. Instead, for those professors and graduate students, the main economic issues consisted of having the funds and time needed to travel to the archives. While travel expenses remain legitimate needs today, access to commercial subscription databases, funds to support one’s own digital projects, and the feasibility of embarking on such a project for pre-tenured scholars have emerged as pressing economic concerns. Similarly, in the past, academic libraries created and maintained archives for users (admittedly often with some faculty consultation and collaboration). Yet today more and more professors, graduate students, and even some advanced undergraduates not only use archives, but they also build them and must plan for their management, growth, and sustainability as well. In doing so many enter into collaborative partnerships with libraries, while others form part of an academic center devoted to digital work. Some digital archives aim to reach more than an academic audience and instead afford a space for public humanities. And in almost all cases our experiences working with searchable, sometimes multi-media archives cannot help but color our forays into traditional archives. Yet, what Ed Folsom has deemed “Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives” and other theoretical reconsiderations of “archives” are subjects for a follow-up post.

EEBO Interactions and Bibliography: Linking the Past to the Present

February 5, 2012

“Even as more and more texts become widely available through digital surrogates, studies of the book remain grounded in physical bibliography.”

–Stephen Tabor, “ESTC and the Bibliographical Community”

This is a heady time for literary scholars using digital tools.  Visualization and text tagging software offers new ways to analyze old texts’ rhetorical and linguistic features.  Docu-scope, for example, is being used by Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, to chart maps of Shakespeare’s plays using 1000-word strings.  The resulting maps posted on Witmore’s blog, Wine Dark Sea, reveal that Othello, for example, shares linguistic features, such as frequent first-person forms, with Shakespeare’s comedies.  Asking why this is so may provide a more detailed understanding of Shakespeare’s craft.

Other data mining projects, underway at Matthew Jockers and Franco Moretti’s Stanford Literary Lab, broaden and transform the practice of literary study, in part by advancing what Moretti calls “distant reading.”  These projects forgo traditional “close” reading of individual texts to analyze computer-generated data derived from running thousands of texts through specific programs.

Elsewhere, annotation tools, such as Digital Mappaemundi, allow annotation of digital artifacts such as, in DM’s case, medieval maps and geographic texts.

Aggregating platforms, including 18thConnect and NINES, create virtual environments where digital work can be shared.  Digital texts, images, maps, data, video, and audio can be collected and annotated for projects difficult to imagine just a few years ago.

Finally, the digital world has nourished new participatory models of scholarship, advanced, for example, by Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence.

These new and often visually alluring scholarly ventures chart new avenues of inquiry and reshape literary studies as we know it.  Stanley Fish has blogged about them; Witmore has been interviewed by Forbes, introducing them to the commercial world; and granting agencies like the NEH have responded by dedicating specific funds for such projects.

But in the shadow of these projects, runs a slower, methodical, far less glamorous digital task on which all other projects rely: ensuring that digital texts retain bibliographical integrity.  As Stephen Tabor put it in a 2007 comment used in the epigraph above, “even as more and more texts become widely available through digital surrogates, studies of the book remain grounded in physical bibliography” (The Library 8:4, 369).

EEBO Interactions offers a unique venue for scholarly dialogue about bibliographical matters.   Though it describes itself as a “social network for Early English Books Online,” it might be more accurate to think of it as a site for asynchronous conferencing about bibliographical matters.  A broad range of readers–Proquest editors, graduate students, theologians, literary scholars, historians, philosophers, independent scholars, curators, librarians and library administrators, digital editors,  undergraduates, bibliographers, and textual critics–have already posted queries or comments, often correcting bibliographical entries or expanding our understanding of a given text.  The comments appear under the following rubrics:

Comments about this copy: Comments include requests that missing title pages be restored, or that two variants counted as the same copy by both ESTC and EEBO be distinguished.  They range from providing resolutions of complex pagination problems, to asking general book history questions.

About this work:  This section allows readers to suggest the broader context of a given text.  Nick Poyntz of Mercurius Politicus fame identifies one pamphlet as an advertorial for a cup lined with antimony and notes that two customers died after using the cup.  Other readers correct publication dates, post questions about attribution, note additional authors not mentioned in the EEBO or ESTC entries, or track the evolution of a text from one edition to the next.

Notes:  Aliases can be discussed here, something helpful in reading recusant literature.  This is also the space to discuss a text’s plurality–its relation to other texts it cites or responds to, and its reception.

Suggest a link: This space allows for links to ODNB entries or to pertinent articles, particularly useful for acquiring a fuller understanding of little known works. 

Perhaps most innovatively, EEBO Interactions invites scholars and librarians to talk with one another and with representatives from the commercial world that produced EEBOEEBO Interactions is the only purpose-built space designed to bring together members of the bibliographical community–normally working in isolation and apart from one another–to collaborate for a moment or two on the joint endeavor of linking the past to the present.  This is the kind of experiment that benefits everyone. 

It would be great to hear readers’ responses to EEBO Interactions.


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