Posts Tagged ‘Digital Humanities’

Aggregating Resources and Building Digital Humanities Networks

June 11, 2012

The ever-growing interest in digital resources for humanities research and teaching has coincided with an increased desire for central sites that enable scholars to learn about appropriate digital tools, applications, and software. Bamboo DiRT (Digital Research Tools), inspired by Lisa Spiro’s DiRT wiki and part of Project Bamboo, is one site that fulfills this desire. Among the strengths of this directory of digital tools is the multiple ways to find resources. Clicking on the “View all” link, for instance, will take users to the site’s complete, annotated list of tools, from Adobe-based resources to Zotpress. The categories and tags page, accessible by clicking “Browse,” enables users to click on terms such as “data analysis” or “bibliographic management” and be taken to a descriptive list of relevant resources. On the I-want-to-do-X page, users can search for tools that will allow them to tackle particular tasks. These tasks range from analyzing data, to making screencasts or maps and transcribing handwritten or spoken texts. And users can also perform standard or advanced searches via keywords or phrases. More than just a directory, Bamboo DiRT allows registered users to comment on resources as well as share and recommend their own.

Perhaps because Bamboo DiRT is relatively new (publically debuting in 2012), comments and tips from users of various tools have, thus far, been sparse. Such contributions would complement the very brief yet still quite serviceable descriptions. Offering another variation of a digital clearinghouse, Josh Honn, a Digital Scholarship Library Fellow at Northwestern University’s Center for Scholarly Communication & Digital Curation and admiring user of Bamboo DiRT, has built his own resource hub, a Delicious “stack”. Currently consisting of 131 links to digital research software, applications, and tools, Honn’s Digital Scholarly Research Tools offers more commentary on various resources than Bamboo DiRT presently does, and it also often provides videos on specific tools. Although the stack benefits from its dynamic format, it lacks Bamboo DiRT’s multiple paths for finding tools.

Another development is the networked site. One such network is the UK’s Connected Histories. A collaborative project undertaken by the University of Hertfordshire, the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, and the University of Sheffield, this site currently contains fifteen separate resources including London Lives and John Strype’s Survey of London Online. A recipient of JISC funding, Connected Historiesenables cross-searching across the various databases. Some of its resources (for example, the 17th and 18th Century Burney collection), however, require subscriptions, so although US and other non-UK users can access much of Connected Histories, searching some databases are limited to subscription holders. This video offers an introduction to this network.

A similar development is the extended network that takes NINES, the nineteenth-century resource hub, as its inspiration. 18thConnect, discussed most recently in the previous post, was the first period resource to expand NINES coverage beyond the nineteenth century. Now, inspired by NINES and often funded by Mellon, other digital resource hubs devoted to particular historical periods are being created: Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance (MESA), REKn (Renaissance English Knowledgebase) and ModNets (Modernists). These sites are still in the planning and development stages, so there does not seem to be that much information available at the moment. Yet, one can read about REKn in this piece “Prototyping the Renaissance English Knowledgebase (REKn) and Professional Reading Environment (PReE), Past, Present, and Future Concerns: A Digital Humanities Project Narrative” and in this University of Victoria blog announcement REKn Joins World-leading NINES Initiative, ARC. Similarly, information about MESA, directed by directed by Dot Porter from Indiana University and Timothy Stinson at North Carolina State University, is available in a North Carolina State University’s blog announcement,“Modernizing the Medieval”, and in this announcement of a MESA – ARC (Advanced Research Consortium) meeting this past fall.

What do EMOB readers think about these developments? Would readers like interoperability among the various segments of the extended NINES network similar to that found in Connected Histories? Should professional scholarly organizations do more to publicize these clearinghouses for new resources, tools, and software and to promote these networked sites of databases and archives? Especially given the increasing eye towards transatlantic studies and more comparative global approaches, should our national professional societies do more for the scholars it represents by playing a leading role in encouraging the networking of international projects and resources?

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NEH Digital Humanities Startup Grants: Funding the Future

May 13, 2012

Adapting the “‘high risk/’high reward'” model often employed in funding the sciences, NEH Digital Humanities Startup Grants reward originality. To be considered, the proposal must entail an “innovative approach, method, tool, or idea that has not been used before in the humanities” (Digital Humanities Startup Grants Guidelines, p. 2). These Startup Grants fund two levels of projects. As expected, the Level I award supports projects at the embryonic stage of development, while the Level II award funds projects that are more advanced and nearing the implantation stage. The Grant Guidelines provide full details.

In late March the NEH Office of Digital Humanities announced the most recent projects to be awarded a NEH DH Startup Grant. As in the past the projects receiving funding were diverse and promising: a workshop to assist university presses in publishing digitally-born, scholarly monographs; tools to convert text to braille for the visually impaired; improvements to OCR correction technology; software adapted to enable better identification and cataloguing of various features within illustrations in the English Broadside Ballad Archive, a prototype application to promote analysis of visual features such as typeface, margins, indentations of printed books, to name a few.

While these grant-winning projects all carry brief descriptions, they are still in their gestation or early implementation phase. A better sense of what this funding yields can be gleaned from the NEH “Videos of 2011 Digital Humanities Start-Up Grantees” as well as the other online material that has emerged in connection with these projects. The following showcases a few of the 2011 DH Startup grantees most likely to interest EMOB readers.

As the project’s title “New Methods of Documenting the Past: Recreating Public Preaching at Paul’s Cross, London, in the Post-Reformation Period” suggests, this project seeks to reproduce the seventeenth-century experience of hearing a sermon in Paul’s Cross. To do so, it employs architectural modeling software and acoustic simulation software to re-create conditions that will mimic those of a time in which unamplified public speaking competed with the sounds of urban life. One of the questions this simulation aims to answer is whether the printing of many Paul’s Cross sermon points to their popularity among those who gathered to hear them or, instead, to the need to distribute printed versions because their original oral delivery was inaudible save for a few. English professor and Project Director John Wall’s The Virtual Paul’s Cross website details the project’s objectives and its progress. The site also contains a blog that offers occasional updates . Here, for example, it offers various views of the draft model created by Josh Stephens using Sketch-Up such as this perspective of the Churchyard with the east side of the Cathedral:


From John Wall’s The Virtual Paul’s Cross Project blog, May 15, 2012

Preliminary results from the acoustic simulation will be available this month.

Another project, the University of South Carolina Research Foundation’s “History Simulation for Teaching Early Modern British History” integrates gaming with the humanities. The interactive “Desperate Fishwives” game, first conceived by Ruth McClelland-Nugent, (History, Augusta State University) who serves as a consultant to the project, enables student to experience life in a seventeenth-century by assuming the persona of a villager who must adhere to the conventions and social rules of early modern England or face the consequences. Play is designed to take place in hour segments, so the game can be played over several class periods or assigned for homework. After the completion of play, students write a narrative of their experiences, an assignment aimed at teaching historiography. An article appearing in the Columbia, SC Free Times, “Desperate Fishwives Players Navigate 17th Century English Village Life,” offers an enthusiastic account of this teaching tool. In addition to producing this specific game, the project also hopes to provide tools and documentation that would help humanities scholars create educational simulation games suitable for their particular discipline.

In comments to an earlier EMOB post, we referenced a project out of the University of Washington, “The Svoboda Diaries Project: From Digital Text to ‘New Book'”. Yet its innovativeness warrants mentioning it again here. The project features a 19th-century travel diary written by a European but in Arabic. The following description, taken from the project’s successful 2011 NEH grant abstract, offers a succinct overview of this rich project:

Based on its work with a large corpus of personal diaries from 19th century Iraq, the project will develop and test a process for the simultaneous web and print-on-demand publication of texts and transcriptions of original manuscripts with annotation, indexing, translation, images, etc. in complex scripts [l-r and r-l, English and Arabic, in our case]. This process, involves a re-thinking of “the book” that will use digital and new-media resources to combine the functions of traditional print publication, including editing, book design, printing, advertising, and distribution with web-based publication and produce, in house, a low-cost printed book supported by a wide array of web-based materials. Moreover, the “book” (both web and print) will flow directly from a richly tagged TEI-compatible XML text prepared for scholarly investigation, and be capable of continuous regeneration from up-dated and enriched versions. Funded Projects Query Form

For EMOB readers, the project’s interest may well stem from its work in creating a “publishable book on its website that anyone can produce using a machine like the Espresso Book Machine (see an earlier EMOB post. An equally fascinating feature of this project is its dual display of English and Arabic text as this sample page illustrates.

Designed especially for literary analysis, University of California Berkeley’s WordSeer: A Text Analysis Tool for Examining Stylistic Similarities in Narrative Collections uses grammatical structure and national language patterns; its functions include visualization tools. In addition to the NEH lightening round video, other videos and blogs detail ways that this tool has been used to ask questions of Shakespeare’s works as well as African American slave narratives.
In WordSeer demos: Men and Women in Shakespeare, the tool is employed to compare analytically the ways in which men and women are depicted in various circurmstances. The video “How Natural Language Processing is Changing Research” provides a more extended look at WordSeer’s usefulness for analyzing slave narratives, but its purpose is also to underscore how such a tool can benefit humanities scholars. In this video the discussion veers toward presenting reading as a chore from which humanities scholars seek relief. On that note, a student in Dr. Michael Ullyot’s undergraduate ENG 203 course, “Hamlet in the Humanities Lab” at the University of Calgary offers some pertinent comments. In her penultimate blog post for the course, Stephanie Vandework devotes a section to “The Pros and Cons of Exploratory Analysis” and examines more closely the claims in the WordSeer Shakespeare demo, finding some to suffer from overgeneralization. (For a view of the course from the instructor’s perspective, see Dr. Ullyot’s presentation, Teaching Hamlet in the Humanities Lab, for the Renaissance Society of America conference this past March 2012.)

These four projects represent just a glimpse of the many fascinating undertakings featured in the NEH 2011 Lightening Round Videos. That some projects such as WordSeer are already being incorporated into courses speaks to the rapidity with which research and pedagogical practices are changing.

ASECS 2012 Panels on Digital Humanities and Book History/Print Culture Topics

March 16, 2012

The following ASECS 2012 panels deal with relevant EMOB topics such as digital humanities, print culture, bibliography, reading, libraries, and more. The selection process entailed reviewing panel titles devoted to one of these topics, so some individual papers on other panels may well deserve a place on this roster. Please feel free to add to our list! In addition, we should stress that there are many other excellent sessions and papers that do not fall under these general headings; the entire program promises a very rich, rewarding conference. See the program for full details.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012
THATCamp: “Research, Editing, and Publishing via 18thConnect.org” Pecan (all day workshop); to register, click here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

1. “Eighteenth-Century Poetry and Print/Visual/Material Culture” – I Llano

17. “Eighteenth-Century Poetry and Print/Visual/Material Culture” – II Llano

20. “Best Practices in Digital Pedagogy” Regency East

30. “Slavery, the Book, and Enlightenment Rights Theory” Bowie A

41. “Why We Argue about the Way We Read” (Roundtable) Bowie C

52. “Materializing Verse” – I Live Oak

54. “Funding, Grants, Hiring, Programs: Sharing Advice on How to Get Things Done in Hard Times” (Roundtable) Pecan

67. “Materializing Verse” – II Frio

69. “Digital Approaches to Library History” Regency East (The Bibliographical Society of America)

70. “Reading Texts and Contexts in the Eighteenth Century” (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing —SHARP) Guadalupe

Friday, March 23, 2012

84. “Visualization and Eighteenth-Century Print Culture” Frio

85. “Women’s History of Achievement: What’s in the Archive?” Nueces

104. “Diggable Data, Scalable Reading and New Humanities Scholarship” (Digital Humanities Caucus) Regency East

108. “Authors and Readers in the Eighteenth Century” – I (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing—SHARP) Pecos

112. “Teaching the Eighteenth-Century: A Poster Session” – II Regency Ballroom Foyer (several posters feature digital approaches/tools)

121. “Digital Humanities and the Archives” (Roundtable) (Digital Humanities Caucus) Regency East

133. “Authors and Readers in the Eighteenth Century” – II (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing —SHARP) Pecos

135. “Poetry and the Archive” (Roundtable) Blanco

139. “A Digital Humanities Experiment, Year One: Aphra Behn Online” (Roundtable) Regency East

144. “Copyright: Contexts and Contests” (The Bibliographical Society of America) Frios

Saturday, March 24, 2012

145. “Allan Ramsay: Poet, Printer, Editor, Song Collector, Scots Revivalist” Guadalupe

149. “Publishing the Past: History and Eighteenth-Century Print Culture” – I Frio

170. Publishing the Past: History and Eighteenth-Century Print Culture” – II Frio

207. “The Scottish Invention of English Copyright” Pecan

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.

Collaborative Reading: Elizabeth Scott-Baumann and Ben Burton’s “Encoding form: A proposed database of poetic form”

March 8, 2010

Elizabeth Scott-Baumann and Ben Burton’s recent paper,“Encoding form: A proposed database of poetic form”, for APPOSITIONS:
Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature and Culture
‘s recent E-Conference: February-March, 2010, is suggestive of how new digital resources can be developed to augment the capabilities of existing tools such as EEBO and EECO. Responding many years later to Heather Dubrow’s 1979 call for “new methodology in early modern studies,” Scott-Baumann and Burton are constructing a database devoted to poetic form. Their project will afford a means of studying, historically and formally, poetic form by enabling queries about poetic form and generic transformations that resemble those we can now pose about words, thanks to electronic databases such as EEBO and EECO:

  • What is the origin (or origins) of a given form?
  • How does its structure, use, and meaning change over time?
  • Are there variations in use and meaning in different regions, or among different groups?
  • How does a given form relate to others, and how does this relationship change over time?
  • Concentrating on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century poetry, Scott-Baumann and Burton will use existing EEBO-TCP texts and enhance them with additional mark-up that builds upon Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) tags. As those familiar with TEI documentation will recall, its tags include ones designed for encoding verse: “stanza divisions, caesurae, enjambment, rhyme scheme, and metrical information, as well as a special purpose rhyme element to support the simple analysis of rhyming words.” Because encoding capabilities extend beyond merely marking general formal conventions and can also entail encoding that represent interpretive judgments, Scott-Baumann and Burton will experiment with both possibilities. The inevitably time-consuming nature of their task will probably result in building the databases in stages.

    As for publication plans for the database, its creators “aim to negotiate with EEBO and Chadwyck-Healey to find a form of publication which both respects intellectual property and commercial interests, while also making this rich new material accessible to the widest possible audience.” Scott-Baumann and Burton have clearly thought hard about issues of access and how to maximize this database’s availability for users. They present four different possible options, formulated with an eye to those lacking access to EEBO. As they note though, much will depend on what arrangements they are able to make with EEBO/Chadwyck-Healey.

    Noting that their database, once built, could be expanded beyond its present focus on the 1500s and 1600s to cover all periods of poetry, they then devote a section of their paper to its potential scholarly and pedagogical uses. Most obvious perhaps is the usefulness this planned tool could have on advancing work in historical formalism, an emerging approach that revisits “poetic form as historically specific, historically determined, and historically efficacious.” The ability to conduct specific searches across a significant number of poetic texts enables the quick capture of evidence to support or disprove what are currently only hypothetical propositions based on a small textual sample. Rightly claiming that this database “would change the way in which scholarship on poetic form is conducted, Scott-Baumann and Burton detail a wealth of possible questions and issues it could serve. This section also offers a range of pedagogical uses for this tool and addresses a range of audiences from the undergraduate to the secondary student.

    Before a brief conclusion, the paper then turns to discussing the two-stage pilot project for the database:

    1. A small database containing information on the metrical structures and rhyme schemes of all verse in the first edition of 10 texts published between 1590 and 1599. 2. A larger database containing information on the metrical structures and rhyme schemes of all verse in first editions of texts published during this period.

    Scott-Baumann and Burton’s database plans present another way of thinking about EEBO and how to augment its value. That they have proposed to build their database using EEBO-TCP seems essentially a wise plan, notwithstanding unsettled questions about access.* For one, linking one’s project to an already well-established resource should ensure its visibility. Too often very worthy projects are launched but remain unknown to many who would benefit from them. In addition, such a tie-in helps ensure continuity among resources. This augmentation of EEBO’s capabilities and the efforts to provide continuity are similar to what NINES and 18thConnect are offering later periods.

    *One of the access options does offer “[o]pen access to database and texts but not with mark up. …if we are not able to make the XML-encoded texts freely available, we would display the texts in their entirety [as users request them], but with the encoding invisible. … and display the verse with, for example, its stresses marked with accents, or its rhyme scheme colour-coded, rather than with visible tags.”

    Digital Humanities at AHA

    January 12, 2010

    In an earlier post we covered MLA panels devoted to digital humanities, electronic archives, and electronic tools. Thus, although the American Historical Association annual meeting has already recently concluded, we still thought it would be useful to review the sessions held at this convention. When available, I have included links to papers or abstracts.

    Humanities in the Digital Age, Part 1: Humanities in the Digital Age, Part 1: Digital Poster Session
    This session will provide participants with an overview of different digital tools and services and how historians are using them for research, teaching, and collaboration. After brief introductions to the various posters, participants would walk around the room spending time at the various stations, talking with the presenters and other participants. This will be followed in the afternoon by a hands-on workshop (session 73) where participants can learn more about how to use these specific tools. Co-sponsored by the National History Education Clearinghouse (NHEC):

  • Blogging, Jeremy Boggs, Center for History and New Media, George Mason University
  • Text Mining, Daniel J. Cohen, Center for History and New Media, George Mason University
  • Student Projects/Websites and Omeka, Jeffrey McClurken, University of Mary Washington
  • Zotero, Trevor Owens, Center for History and New Media, George Mason University
  • Teaching Tools, Kelly Schrum, Center for History and New Media, George Mason University
  • Web 2.0 – Flickr, YouTube/Video, Google Maps, Wikis, Jim Groom, University of Mary Washington
  • (more…)

    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).

    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.

    The Digital Revolution and the Scholar: Darnton’s View

    November 10, 2009

    To continue the discussion begun by our consideration of Ken Auletta’s Googled, we move to another recent work. Robert Darnton, who has opted out of the Google Book Settlement for Harvard, has faith that we can do better in terms of providing digital access. His The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future presents his vision and recommendations. As he asserts in a recent article for Publisher’s Weekly:

    Today, however, we have the means to make that utopia a reality. In many societies, despite enormous inequalities, ordinary people not only read but have access to a huge quantity of reading matter through the Internet. I would not minimize the digital divide, which separates the computerized world from the rest, nor would I underestimate the importance of traditional books. But the future is digital. And I believe that if we can resolve the current challenges facing books in ways that favor ordinary citizens, we can create a digital republic of letters. Much of my book is devoted to this premise and can be summarized in two words: digitize and democratize.

    Because versions of the chapters in Darnton’s The Case for Books have appeared elsewhere, those who do not have a copy of his book might find the following list of sources helpful. (The first two chapters are most recent).

    Chapter One comes from “Google & the Future of Books” that appeared in The New York Review of Books, (February 12, 2009).

    Chapter Two comes from “The Library in the New Age,” New York Review of Books, (June 12, 2008).

    Chapter Four comes from “Lost and Found in Cyberspace,” Chronicle of Higher Education ( March 12, 1999).

    Chapter Five comes from “The New Age of the Book,” New York Review of Books, (March 18, 1999).

    Chapter Eight comes from “The Great Book Massacre,” New York Review of Books, (April 26, 2001).

    Chapter Nine comes from “The Heresies of Bibliography,” New York Review of Books, (May 29, 2003).

    Chapter Ten comes from “Extraordinary Commonplaces,” New York Review of Books, (December 21, 2000).

    Chapter Eleven comes from “What Is the History of the Books? (widely reprinted), Daedalus (summer 1982): 65-83.

    Darnton has been interviewed by a number of sources about this book. Rebecca Rego Barry” “Google v. Gutenberg: Robert Darnton’s new book on old books and e-books” appears in Fine Books & Collecting.

    Digital Textbases and Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

    July 16, 2009

    Experienced users of ECCO know about the limits of its full-text capability. The long s in eighteenth-century fonts is one of many peculiarities that can wreck an automated effort at optical character recognition (OCR). Though I’m grateful that I can search ECCO and other databases using full text, I often wonder how complete my search is. I usually get a sense of how many false hits I find, but how many true hits am I missing? How accurate are the full-text capabilities of these resources?

    A recent article presents a method for assessing the accuracy of OCR using the British Library’s 19th Century Newspaper Project as a case study:

    Simon Tanner, Trevor Muñoz, and Pich Hemy Ros, “Measuring Mass Text Digitization Quality and Usefulness: Lessons Learned from Assessing the OCR Accuracy of the British Library’s 19th Century Online Newspaper Archive,” D-Lib Magazine 15.7/8 (2009).

    This is available at:

    http://www.dlib.org/dlib/july09/munoz/07munoz.html

    The article briefly mentions Gale’s Burney newspapers project. One of the good points in this article concerns how we should measure accuracy:

    Given a newspaper page of 1,000 words with 5,000 characters if the OCR engine yields a result of 90% character accuracy, this equals 500 incorrect characters. However, looked at in word terms this might convert to a maximum of 900 correct words (90% word accuracy) or a minimum of 500 correct words (50% word accuracy), assuming for this example an average word length of 5 characters. The reality is somewhere in between and probably more at the higher extent than the lower. The fact is: character accuracy of itself does not tell us word accuracy nor does it tell us the usefulness of the text output. Depending on the number of “significant words” rendered correctly, the search results could still be almost 100% or near zero with 90% character accuracy.

    The term “significant words” refers to words that users are likely to search for, in contrast to function words (pronouns, prepositions, etc.). A textbase’s accuracy in terms of “significant words” is an appropriate yardstick for how useful its full-text search is.

    The full article merits reading. The authors found that for significant word accuracy, the 19th Century Newspaper Project was 68.4% accurate and the Burney Newspapers was 48.4% accurate. Eighteenth-century newspapers can be astonishingly difficult to read even in the originals, so this low percentage is not that surprising. I suspect that ECCO is somewhere in between these two percentages.