Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Universal Short Title Catalog (USTC)

April 5, 2014

The Universal Short Title Catalog (USTC) holds records for European books printed through the sixteenth century.  Records list locations of original copies.  If open-access digital copies are available, these are also noted.

The USTC web site describes itself as “a collective database of all books published in Europe between the invention of printing and the end of the sixteenth century.”

The project also offers 6-8 week internships at St. Andrews for

available to qualified scholars wishing to gain experience of work with a major bibliographical project. Successful applicants will receive instruction in rare books cataloguing and have the chance for hands-on experience with the University Library’s uncatalogued 17th century collections.  In addition to physical bibliography, the internship will involve extensive practice in the manipulation of digital resources. A certificate of completion or letter of reference will be made available to those successfully completing the internship. They also attend our annual book conference, held at the end of June (this coming year, 19-21 June 2014).

Please see St. Andrews’  internship page for details.  Plans are underway to expand coverage into the seventeenth century.

Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Is Launched

April 17, 2013

About a year ago, Anna reported on plans to launch the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) by April 2013 in a post that can be found here. While launch dates are often delayed, it is an auspicious sign that the DPLA will go live Thursday, April 18th, at 12 noon (ET). The festivities slated to take place in Boston in honor of the DPLA’s going live, however, have understandably been canceled due to the tragic bombings earlier this week (see the message from Dan Cohen, the DPLA’s Executive Director).

Since he first championed the idea for the DPLA several years ago, Robert Darnton has kept us abreast of progress and plans “to make the holdings of America’s research libraries, archives, and museums available to all Americans—and eventually to everyone in the world—online and free of charge” through articles he has written for The New York Review of Books (NYRB 25 April 2013). Thus, it should come as no surprise that he has marked the launch of the DPLA with another informative piece. Framing the DPLA as a convergence of the American strands of utopianism and pragmatism, Darnton sees the project as one deeply rooted in the eighteenth century and as holding the potential to “realize the dream of Jefferson and Franklin.”

Darnton’s article also offers a pithy summary of events that led to the development of DPLA, basics about how the software works, plans for sustaining the DPLA’s growth, notes about the well-respected foundations funding the first three years of the DPLA, and a description of the distributive management model DPLA has embraced in which operations are spread out across the country. As emob tweeted two weeks ago, Darnton sees legal obstacles as the key hindrance to the growth of the DPLA.

The DPLA has already attracted a host of impressive partners including Harvard, The Smithsonian Institution, ARTstor, University of Virginia libraries, the New York Public Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library, Biodiversity Heritage Library, and the National Archives. It is with great interest that we will be tracking its progress.

English Short Title Catalogue, 21st century (ESTC21): Call for Feedback

March 20, 2012

Brien Geiger, Director, CBSR and ETSC/NA, has recently sent us the following announcement and call for feedback:

Big changes are underway with the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), and we need your input. A union catalog and bibliography of English printing from 1473 to 1800, the ESTC has developed over the last three decades into one of the most comprehensive and authoritative bibliographies available. Yet access to ESTC data has evolved very little. Last year the ESTC was awarded a planning-grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to “redesign the project as a 21st century research tool.” For the last nine months a planning committee has discussed how to make the resource more usable to a broad spectrum of researchers and librarians and to harness the knowledge and input of those users to refine and expand ESTC data. The recommendations of that committee are now available online at the estc21 blog. The planning committee welcomes and encourages feedback on our ideas from ESTC users. The ESTC21 website with our recommendations will remain active through April 20. Please support this effort to rethink the future of the ESTC by commenting on the ESTC21 pages and taking the brief survey at the end of the website. Your feedback is critical. From the entire planning committee, thank you for your contributions to this project. Brian Geiger Director, CBSR and ESTC/NA

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.

Evaluating Digital Scholarship

December 17, 2011

Readers will be interested in a series of essays on the evaluation of digital scholarship edited by Susan Schreibman, Laura Mandell, and Stephen Olsen and published in the recent issue of MLA’s Profession.

These essays are freely available as PDF files. Their titles are as follows:

“Introduction,” Susan Schreibman, Laura Mandell, and Stephen Olsen

“Engaging Digital Scholarship: Thoughts on Evaluating Multimedia Scholarship,” Steve Anderson and Tara Mcpherson

“On the Evaluation of Digital Media as Scholarship,” Geoffrey Rockwell

“Where Credit Is Due: Preconditions for the Evaluation of Collaborative Digital Scholarship,” Bethany Nowviskie

“On Creating a Usable Future,” Jerome McGann

“Peer Review, Judgment, and Reading,” Kathleen Fitzpatrick

In introducing the essays, the editors point to national calls for clearer guidelines for evaluating digital scholarship:

National scholarly organizations such as the Modern Language Association and the American Council of Learned Societies have called for department and institutions to “recognize the legitimacy of scholarship produced in new media, whether by individuals or in collaboration, and create procedures for evaluating these forms of scholarhsip” (Report of the MLA Task Force).

This publication provides an opportunity for emob’s readers to discuss how digital scholarship might best be evaluated and to raise questions about the process of evaluation.

Free Trial of Gale Cengage’s British Literary Manuscripts Online

April 10, 2011

For the next three weeks, emob readers can explore Gale Cengage’s British Literary Manuscripts Online for free.  The database contains facsimile images of manuscripts digitized from microfilm.  Though the texts themselves cannot be searched, their metadata  can be.  Authors can also be browsed alphabetically.  The resolution is good, and legibility can be enhanced through digital magnification and brightness and contrast controls.   Line tools and highlighting tools allow for digital annotation.

The product consists of two parts, both of which are included in the free trial: part one includes Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts; part two includes manuscripts written between 1660-1900.

On the database’s home page, the following links to online  tutorials help with basic paleography.

Paleography: Reading Old Handwriting 1500-1800: A Practical Online Tutoria (National Archives)l

Andrew Zurcher’s English Handwriting 1500-1700: an online course

Scriptorium’s English Handwriting: An Online Course (Cambridge)

Other links on the BLMO web site include sites for portraits, maps, and digital scholarship.  As with actual manuscripts, it is sometimes difficult to know what one is reading, though the full citation link on the entry’s page sometimes helps.

It will be interesting to hear readers’ evaluations of this product, particularly how productively it can be put to use, for research or teaching or both.


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