Archive for December, 2009

Technology and the “Republic of Letters”

December 28, 2009

The “sell” for a recent article on Mapping the Republic of Letters, a Stanford University digital humanities project led by Dan Edelstein and Paula Findlen, highlights the ways in which technology is altering our understanding of the past and shaping the kinds of questions we can ask:

Researchers map thousands of letters exchanged in the 18th century’s “Republic of Letters” – and learn at a glance what it once took a lifetime of study to comprehend

In this case researchers have applied GIS (geographical information system) mapping technology to explore the wealth of letters exchanged by Enlightenment figures. As the article details, the computer mapping of correspondence from the Enlightenment (the dates focus on 1759 to 1780, but the project also contains letters from the Renaissance) has enabled the relationship among vast amounts of material to be organized and presented in flexible ways. This YouTube video, Tracking 18th-century “social network” through letters, shows snapshots of the trajectories of Locke’s and Voltaire’s correspondence:

The “big pictures” that this project facilitates are altering perceptions of Enlightenment networks and their influences. As the video demonstrates, despite French views of England as an incredible site of religious freedom and tolerance, Voltaire actually corresponded very little with those in England.

What is especially interesting (but not surprising) is the importance of metadata and collaboration to this project’s success. That Oxford “supplied the metadata for 50,000 letters,” Dan Edelstein explains,
“allow[ed] the project to go “beyond any of our expectations.” Mapping the Republic of Letters has also acquired the data for all of Benjamin Franklin’s correspondence, and talks are underway to obtain data from other European sources.

Projects such as TCP and 18thConnect, which are establishing rich, reliable metadata for digital texts, are expanding the possibilities for scholarly exploration of past textual worlds, both for individual and collaboratively-driven scholarship.

Jonathan Rose, whose post on SHARP-L drew my attention to this project, noted the potential of GIS technology for literary and intellectual history. Canadian book historians Bertrum MacDonald and Fiona Black have already begun to realize this potential for book historians. Their article “Geographic Information Systems: A New Research Method for Book History” (Book History 1 (1998): 11-31) can be found through Project Muse, and they have also

proposed a long-term, international, collaborative project using GIS for comparative analyses of defined elements of print culture in several countries. An Advisory Board is being established, which currently includes scholars in the United States and the United Kingdom. The project has three primary goals: to explore the methodology through a variety of applications concerning various aspects of book history; to aid comparative studies; and to provide the foundation for an electronic atlas of book history (GIS for Book History International Collaborative Project, description from Fiona Black’s website).

Such technology of course has rich potential for other projects, and we have had various mentions of such projects in past emob posts including comments on the Monk Project.

For more recent work on uses of GIS in historical research, see the special issue of Historical Geography: An Annual Journal of Research, Commentary, and Reviews, Emerging Trends in Historical GIS, ed., Anne Kelly Knowles, vol. 33 (2005).


CFP 2010: Digital Archives & the Field of Production

December 22, 2009

The following announcement appeared on the SHARP-L list and may interest readers of emob:

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature and Culture

Call for Papers: APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature and Culture seeks new work addressing the theme of digital archives. How and why does electronic access to archival materials reconfigure the teaching and study of literary texts, related cultural documents, and methodologies for disciplinary or interdisciplinary research and interpretation? What are the benefits and/or limitations of such new media? What are the politics of the digital archive, or of electronic special collections? What is the significance of the original work—or of authorship, or scholarship—in the electronic age? How and why does the digitization of archival documents either celebrate or challenge the status of manuscripts, pamphlets, printed books, and the literary canon? Within that capacious scope, a variety of topics will be engaged.

APPOSITIONS is an electronic, international, annual conference for studies in Renaissance & early modern literature and culture hosted by APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature and Culture, ISSN: 1946-1992,

Abstracts (500-words): December 31, 2009.
E-Conference: February-March, 2010.

Electronic Submissions: Send submissions to attached as a single .doc, .rtf, or .txt file. Visuals should be attached individually as .jpg, .gif, or .bmp files. Please include the words “Appositions Submission” in the subject line of your message.

Variants, Digital Scholarship at MLA 2009

December 14, 2009

A two-part post:

    Part 1: Reviews of electronic and digital tools

A recent announcement by Wim Van-Mierlo, the reviews editor for Variants: Journal of the European Society for Textual Scholarship, speaks to the growing recognition of the importance that digital tools are acquiring in scholarship.

I am planning to introduce a new regular feature in the journal with reviews of digital editions and electronic archives. … At the moment, only very few organs and organizations take the matter of reviewing these edition at heart. In an academic climate that increasingly depends on impact and
bibliometrics, it is of huge importance that digital editions deserve this kind of rigorous assessment.

Wim’s decision to include reviews of digital editions and electronic archives as a regular feature of Variants responds to a pressing need for a peer-reviewed forum for these resources. Having reviews of digital editions and electronic archives will heighten awareness of their existence as well as their strengths and weaknesses. The review process will also, it is hoped, draw attention to such projects as respected forms of scholarship that should be considered in tenure and promotion decisions and more. While it is not clear whether Variants will also review commercial databases devoted to providing digital facsimiles of texts, scholarly assessments of these tools are indeed needed. Librarians have taken a leading role in reviewing these resources, but reviews by scholars in disciplines that use these tools are scarce. Given the textual and bibliographic issues associated with these databases, reviews by scholars could help identify shortcomings and also provide valuable commentary about their strengths. Such a discussion, moreover, could assist in the planning and development of future databases.

    Part 2: MLA 2009 Panels on Digital/Electronic scholarship & teaching

For those attending the MLA 2009 conference in Philadelphia, 27-30, 2009. the following list offers a sample of panels of possible interest.

Sunday, 27 December

  • 2:00–5:00 p.m.
    2. Evaluating Digital Work for Tenure and Promotion: A Workshop for Evaluators and Candidates
    Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty Ballroom Salon C
    Program arranged by the MLA Ad Hoc Committee on the Structure of the Annual Convention
  • Monday, 28 December

  • 8:30–9:45 a.m.
    141. Locating the Literary in Digital Media
    Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty Ballroom Salon A
    Program arranged by the Division on Literature and Science
  • 10:15–11:30 a.m.
    170. Value Added: The Shape of the E-Journal
    Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty Ballroom Salon C
  • 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m.
    212. Language Theory and New Communications Technologies
    Loews, Jefferson
    Program arranged by the Division on Language Theory
  • 1:45–3:00 p.m.
    264. Media Studies and the Digital Scholarly Present
    Philadelphia Marriott, 411-412
    Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Media and Literature
  • 1:45–3:45 p.m.
    265. Getting Funded in the Humanities: An NEH Workshop
    Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty Ballroom Salon A
    Program arranged by the Office of the Executive Director
  • 1:45–3:00 p.m.
    245. Old Media and Digital Culture
    Loews, Washington C
  • 1:45–3:00 p.m.
    254. Web 2.0: What Every Student Knows That You Might Not
    Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty Ballroom Salon C
    Program arranged by the MLA Committee on Information Technology. Presiding: Laura C. Mandell, Miami Univ., Oxford
  • 7:15–8:30 p.m.
    322. Looking for Whitman: A Cross-Campus Experiment in Digital Pedagogy
    Philadelphia Marriott, 410
  • Tuesday, 29 December

  • 8:30–9:45 a.m.
    380. Digital Scholarship
    Philadelphia Marriott, Liberty Ballroom Salon A
    Program arranged by the Division on Nonfiction Prose Studies, Excluding Biography and Autobiography
  • 8:30–9:45 a.m.
    361. Making Research: Limits and Barriers in the Age of Digital Reproduction
    Philadelphia Marriott, 411-412
    Program arranged by the Division on Methods of Literary Research
  • 10:15–11:30 a.m.
    420. Digital Scholarship and African American Traditions
    Philadelphia Marriott, 307
    Program arranged by the Association for Computers and the Humanities
  • 1:45–3:00 p.m.
    490. Links and Kinks in the Chain: Collaboration in the Digital Humanities
    Philadelphia Marriott, 410
    Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Computer Studies in Language and Literature
  • Wednesday, 30 December

  • 8:30–9:45 a.m.
    625. Making Research: Collaboration and Change in the Age of Digital Reproduction
    Philadelphia Marriott, Grand Ballroom Salon L
    Program arranged by the Division on Methods of Literary Research
  • 8:30–9:45 a.m.
    643. New Models of Authorship
    Philadelphia Marriott, Grand Ballroom Salon K
    Program arranged by the MLA Committee on Information Technology
  • 10:15–11:30 a.m.
    656. New Technologies, New Rhetorics
    Philadelphia Marriott, 309
    Program arranged by the Division on the History and Theory of Rhetoric and Composition
  • Readers are invited to offer any other relevant panels that should be included, and additional details from presenters on these panels are also welcome. Conference attendees who attend any of these or other relevant sessions should feel free to contribute summaries of what transpired.

    On Monday the 28th, the 1:45 to 3:00 pm slot offers a wealth of digital topics (and thus conflicts), so it would especially be helpful to hear about these sessions. Among the panels taking place at this time is Web 2.0: What Every Student Knows That You Might Not, organized by the MLA Committee on Information Technology with Laura Mandell presiding. At the same 1:45 pm time slot on Tuesday the 29th is a panel whose title embodies many the issues and concerns we have been discussing on emob: Links and Kinks in the Chain: Collaboration in the Digital Humanities. Abstracts of this panel’s presentations are available electronically. Laura Mandel is presenting at this session.

    Early Tuesday morning the 8:30 am panel, Making Research: Limits and Barriers in the Age of Digital Reproduction, features four presentations, two of which seem especially germane to our discussions. The first paper, “The History and Limitations of Digitisation,” is by William Baker, who has served as the editor for Years Work in English Studies (Oxford UP) for many years and handles, often with another colleague, the section devoted to Bibliography and Textual Criticism. The fourth paper, “A Proposed Model for Peer Review of Online Publications,” by Jan Pridmore, Boston Univ., pertains to Wim’s review plans discussed above.

    Although not dealing with electronic resources per se, Laura Mandell, David Mazella, and Laura Rosenthal, all of whom post to emob, will be together on the following panel dedicated to assessment:

    215. Learning from Assessment
    12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Liberty Ballroom Salon A, Philadelphia Marriott
    Program arranged by the MLA Office of Research
    Presiding: Donna Heiland, Teagle Foundation
    Speakers: Laura C. Mandell, Miami Univ., Oxford; David Samuel Mazella, Univ. of Houston; John Ottenhoff, Associated Colls. of the Midwest; Laura Rosenthal, Univ. of Maryland, College Park

    As someone who is overseeing assessment for my department, I have increasingly been working on employing digital tools to facilitate the process. In addition, assessing information literacy skills seems as it should be a significant part of evaluating humanities programs, especially English and history.

    Unequal Access and Commercial Databases

    December 9, 2009

    In his role as the president of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS), Peter Reill has recently written the ASECS membership about issues extremely relevant to this blog’s purpose: the increasing importance of commercial databases to scholarship and the reality of unequal access to these tools. As we have been discussing on emob, databases such EEBO, ECCO, Burney, and the like enrich our ability to do historical and other forms of research in ways that simply weren’t possible before. At the same time, a lack of access to these resources seriously hampers the types and scope of projects that one can undertake. While these resources have definitely made more texts accessible to more scholars, those who lack access are now at a far greater disadvantage than scholars previously were. Interest in interdisciplinary work, book history and print culture studies, material culture, transatlantic studies and global perspectives continues to grow within and across fields, and these resources foster such work. These tools also offer new directions for more traditional approaches. Given the inherently historical nature of eighteenth-century and early modern studies, the access that these databases afford to facsimiles of primary documents is crucial.

    Peter will be attending a meeting hosted by the Mellon Foundation to address access in February. We thought it would be helpful to create a series of posts that will supply some feedback to the questions Mellon posed to attendees (and that Peter, in turn, posed to ASECS members).

    To initiate this series of postings, this post is devoted to the following three questions:

  • How important is access to commercial databases to scholars in your field?
  • How are scholars’ careers affected when they are at institutions that do not subscribe to those resources?
  • Which databases are likely to be of greatest value to the broadest segment of your membership?
  • A Message from ASECS President, Peter Reill

    December 3, 2009

    [h/t: C18-L; x-posted on The Long Eighteenth]

    [Hi everyone, I don’t mean to hijack discussion, but I thought this message from Peter Reill was extremely relevant to the conversations we’ve been having here and on the Long 18th about the digital divide and the problems of unequal access to scholarly resources.  If you feel strongly about this, please contact Peter at the email address listed below.  Best, DM]

    Dear Colleagues:

    I am writing to ask for you help and guidance concerning an issue that is becoming increasingly important as the digital revolution in scholarship gathers momentum. I have been asked to attend a meeting hosted by the Mellon Foundation that addresses the question of the increasingly unequal access of scholars to digital resource databases that are critical to pursuing research in their fields. I have become more aware of this problem after a meeting of the ISECS executive meeting where our Japanese colleagues asked for help to access ECCO. And the more I talk with people newly hired at universities or colleges unable to afford the fees charged by specialist databases the more important this issue has become for me. As I ponder the implications of this tendency, it is clear that it’s solution is even  more crucial for recent graduates who have yet to get a permanent position and independent scholars who cannot afford to subscribe to specialist databases.

    It is a problem very few address. The Mellon meeting, which will be held in February asks us, members of societies “focused on clearly delineated areas and primarily concerned with advancing scholarship in their fields” to answer a number of queries that are both scholarly and organizational in character. I hope that those of you concerned with these issues would send me your thoughts about them. It is my plan to propose your ideas that I will outline in the next Newsletter, which will appear before the meeting, giving you another chance to express you views on the subject and any others relevant to the issue.

    The questions the Mellon proposes are: “How important is access to commercial databases to scholars in your field, and how are scholars’
    careers affected when they are at institutions that do not subscribe to those resources? Which databases are likely to be of greatest value to the broadest segment of your membership? How well situated is your society to serve as a conduit to these resources, and what would be required to make that possible?”

    Are these questions sufficient? Are there any more issues I should be raising? What kinds of solutions do you propose?

    I look forward to your responses and to using them to highlight an important issue for all of us.



    My email address is;

    Text Creation Partnership (Redesigned Website)

    December 3, 2009

    The Text Creation Partnership (TCP) at the University of Michigan has recently launched its redesigned website. As its name suggests, TCP fosters collaborative efforts to create “accurately keyboarded and encoded editions of thousands of culturally significant works in all fields of scholarly and artistic endeavor.” That TCP works together with both the international library community and commercial publishers of scholarly electronic is one of its defining strengths. It is concerned not only with creating electronic texts in formats that keep pace with shifting technological changes but also with promoting access to texts. Its partnership projects with EEBO, ECCO, and Evans illustrate these commitments. Over 25,000 EEBO texts have already been encoded, and these texts will become part of the public domain on January 1, 2015. Aaron McCollough, Text Creation Partnership Project Outreach Librarian, has commented on this forthcoming access to these EEBO-TCP texts and also provided an example of what such access may look like in a recent comment to an earlier emob posting.

    Among the features of TCP’s redesigned website that Aaron announced on the SHARP-L listserv, the following should especially interest readers of emob:

    * regularly updated TCP “spotlights” on project milestones and related projects in research and scholarly application

    * reviews of recently encoded texts

    * fun with early modern print

    As McCollough noted in his announcement, “we aim for it to be a place of encounter between students and scholars working in Early Modern fields of study, especially those interested in the role of digital archives in those fields.”

    One can also follow TCP developments on the TCP News & Views blog. One of the recent announcements here and on the TCP website alerts users to the newly created The EEBO Introduction Series. This series provides bibliographical, contextual information, and more for less well-known early modern texts. Ten editions are now available, but access to them does require a subscription to EEBO.