Moving blog

This blog is now silent: all my blogging has now moved to my new blog Manicule. If you’re following this blog, feel free to explore the new one and follow me there (all my previous posts are archived on the new blog).

I’ve been running two blogs simulataneously, but I’m now slightly more realistic about the quantity of posting that I’m capable of, and since all my blogging concerns the eighteenth-century in one way or another (and indeed, some posts have been doing double-duty) I’m hoping I won’t lose any of my dear followers.

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Fun with Google’s N-Gram Viewer for my C18th students

Just the other day I was preparing to teach Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey (1768). Usually, I ask students to try to historicise the meanings of the word ‘sentimental’, in effect placing it within the broader culture of sensibility. This year, wondering how I might emphasise how new and even fashionable the word sentimental became in the latter half of the century, I thought of Google’s N-Gram Viewer. I’d seen this in action in relation to the eighteenth-century on the Persistent Enlightenment blog. So  I thought I’d give it a go:

ngramsentimental

There’s a gratfyingly significant rise from around the 1750s (and a small dip around the 1790s when sentimentalism was perceived in Britain to be associated with the radical levelling tendencies of the French Revolution). Of course this does not give us insight into the meanings of the word, but Google also offers links to the word’s place in the source material so that I hope my students can look at the word in context. It’s also useful when used in context with title searches on ESTC.

On another note, and since my students also engage with eighteenth-century contextual material from ECCO, I’ve often warned that the practice of capitalising certain words did not necessarily indicate particular significance, and that this was more often a printer’s convention for certain nouns that gradually died away towards the end of the century. The N-Gram Viewer is case-sensitive, so to search for different cases I clicked ‘case-insensitive’ and searched for ‘virtue’ between 1700 and 1799:

ngramvirtue

It’s great to see that cross-over so clearly. Clearly, the idea of virtue wasn’t going out of fashion, but the fashion for capitalising it was.


Using ECCO in the Undergraduate Classroom: Reviewing Gale Cengage’s Trial Access

shgregg:

More excellent remarks by Anna Battigelli on using ECCO at undergraduate level!

Originally posted on Early Modern Online Bibliography:

Gale Cengage gave SUNY schools a great opportunity this semester by offering free trial access to ECCO, Burney, and NCCO.  I, for one, learned a lot from working with undergraduates in my Gothic Novels course as they searched ECCO for relevant material for their final research papers.  Those papers were mixed, with some outstanding essays and some less successful attempts.  I  summarize my experience below:

  • ECCO must be part of a strong digital collection in order to be fully usefuL.  Spotty digital holdings make using ECCO difficult.  For instance, without a subscription to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, new users find it difficult both to identify the author of a lesser known work and to assess that work’s historical or literary significance.
  • Using ECCO requires both competency with secondary sources and access to those sources.  Though some students used many secondary sources, even ordering books on interlibrary loan…

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Did I mention I really don’t like Blackboard?

shgregg:

I’m not sure there is anything I can add.

Originally posted on Women Writers of the (Long) 18th Century:

After one too many frustrations with Blackboard, I think it’s time to give WordPress.com another whirl.

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Defoe, Google, cities and Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Re-reading Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, I was struck by a passage that reminded me of some the issues that came up recently when teaching Daniel Defoe’s A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain on our MA in Literature, Landscape and Environment. It was, to say the least, a surprising association between “a novel about books and technology, cryptography and conspiracy, friendship and love” and a description of eighteenth-century London. But here’s the passage from Sloan’s novel in which Neel Shah (CEO of a niche software company) and Kat Potente (evangelistic Google data-visualizer) are contemplating a New York sidewalk:

“It’s so small but there are so many people,” she says, watching the human flow. “They’re … it’s like fish. Or birds or ants, I don’t know. Some superorganism.” …

Neel nods knowingly. “The suburban mind cannot comprehend the emergent complexity of a New York sidewalk.”

“I don’t know about that,” Kay says, narrowing her eyes. “I’m pretty good with complexity.”

“See, I know what you’re thinking,” Neel says, shaking his head. “You’re thinking it’s just an agent-based simulation, and everybody out there follows a pretty simple set of rules” – Kat is nodding – “and if you can figure out those rules. You can model it. You can simulate the street, then the neighbourhood, then the whole city. Right?”

“Exactly. I mean, sure, I don’t know what the rules are yet, but I could experiment and figure them out, and then it would be trivial – “

“Wrong.”[1]

Neel believes that no computer of Google’s could ever be big enough to analyse the city’s complex and organic interactions. The allusions are rich, the most obvious of which is to the Simcity and The Sims franchises. But Sloan makes a Google employee extol the possibilities of designing an algorithm for a city of people; a fact that brings to mind Google’s efforts to map and photograph the world in its entirety. Indeed, in a previous passage, Kat has used Google Street View to locate a secret library in New York. Both platforms have a set of related aims: to comprehend and model a complex ecology. But there’s a gentle irony in this scene that it is Neel who is sceptical about such modelling. It’s a question of scale, and – as any student of satire will know – comparing the ostensibly small with the apparently epic produces some interesting ironic effects. Neel’s company designs the software to enable 3D digital simulations of female breasts, and the irony of a dubious industry in simulating a relatively small part of the female anatomy critiquing the gargantuan designs of Google Earth cuts both ways. However, it is Neel that has the last word – the city cannot be modelled or contained – so Sloan seems to be directing the irony primarily at Kat’s, or Google’s, totalizing hubris.

Now on the MA in Literature, Landscape and Environment, we were paying close attention to the modes through which eighteenth-century authors represent landscapes of various kinds, and at this point comparing Pope and Defoe’s attitudes to the city of London.  So here’s the section from Defoe’s Tour in which he grapples with the size and complexity of early eighteenth-century London:

This great Work is infinitely difficult in its Particulars, though not in itself; not that the City is so difficult to be described, but to do it in the narrow Compass of a Letter, which we see so fully takes up Two large Volumes in Folio, and which, yet, if I may venture to give an Opinion of it, is done but by Halves neither.[2]

Defoe, like Neel, acknowledges the limitations of contemporary technology: the attempt encompass London within a letter, when even John Strype’s 1720 multi-volume folio edition of Stow’s Survey is ‘done by halves’, may come at the cost of the complex ‘Particulars’ of the city. Defoe goes on to say that perhaps the City itself may indeed ‘be viewed in a small Compass’ (2:95). However, the attempt to contain and represent London as a whole is thwarted by its uncontrolled and complexly organic evolution:

It is the Disaster of London, as to the Beauty of its Figure, that it is thus stretched out in Buildings, just at the Pleasure of every Builder, or Undertaker of Buildings, and as the Convenience of the People directs, whether for Trade or otherwise; and this has spread the Face of it in a most straggling, confused Manner, out of all Shape, uncompact, and unequal. (2:95)

In response, Defoe circumscribes this vital London by drawing a ‘A LINE of Measurement’ (2:98), effectively creating a static model of London – a simulation, if you like – in order for it to be properly analysed.

There is a neat parallel between Defoe’s and Kat Potente’s – and Google’s – attempts to model the complex ecology of cities. Both of these scenarios speak to the desire to be, in the words of Michel de Certeau, ‘the solar eye’, the voyeur elevated above a city laid before them. Such a perspective ‘makes the complexity of the city readable, and immobilizes its opaque mobility in a transparent text’ and creates, he argues, a ‘panorama-city … a “theoretical” (that is, visual) simulacrum.’[3] It is a desire to overwrite the messy real city with a fictive version of the city.

Yet complicating such a desire, Defoe and (with the caveat of irony) Neel Shah are both also fascinated by what de Certeau calls the forces of ‘human agglomeration and accumulation.’ Partly out of frustration, but partly out of admiration, Defoe asks ‘Whither will this monstrous City then extend? and where must a Circumvallation or Communication Line of it be placed?’ (2:97). When Kat mentions Google’s ‘The Big Box’ (a fictitious project of huge interlocking modular servers, and a dig at Google’s search box[4]), Neel responds, “It’s not big enough. This box” – Neel stretches out his hands, encompasses the sidewalk, the park, the streets beyond – “is bigger.” (128). For Neel and Defoe, the city is always poised to burst beyond the confines of book or search box.


[1] Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (London: Atlantic, 2013), pp. 127-28.

[2] Daniel Defoe, A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain, 3 vols (London, [1724-25]), 2:94. Further references in brackets after quotations.

[3] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 92-93.

[4] Google increased the size of its search box in 2009.


Digital editing with undergraduates: some reflections

In 2012 I started supervising an English undergraduate dissertation: this was a online digital edition and it was my first experience of supervising a student’s digital project. What follows is a joint blog post of two parts – one from me and the other from Jess MacCarthy (the student) – that reflects upon our experiences. You can see the final online edition here:

Hymn banner

Thoughts from the me, the supervisor

A couple of years ago, I decided to learn a little more about the back-end end of digitized primary resources. I attended a boot-camp into the why and how of encoding, using XML encoding and the protocols of the TEI, at the Digital Humanities Summer School at Oxford University. Just over a year ago (late Spring 2012) I decided that the best way to learn is to teach. Simultaneously, I wanted to conduct a trial on producing a digital edition of a Defoe text that used up-to-date protocols of digital editing as well as the open-access ethos of the great majority of current digitization projects. So I asked our 3rd year English undergraduates whether anybody would be willing to do this for their dissertation project. Luckily, I had a volunteer, Jessica McCarthy.

I left it up to Jess to decide which Defoe texts she would like to work on: like any large-scale project, sustaining enthusiasm is essential. But it also meant that Jess would find a lot out for herself about Defoe’s writings. However, an important factor was that I was not expecting Jess to spend time transcribing the text and so we had to source a reliable electronic copy in plain text. This would give Jess the freedom to decide how she wanted to encode it and how it would be presented online. However, it also occurred to me that the question of a ‘reliable’ electronic copy in plain text was an interesting issue of discussion in itself: what different kinds of texts and what kind of reliability are offered by, for example, Project Gutenberg, Google Books, Jack Lynch’s Eighteenth-Century Resources, or Romantic Circles? Examples that directly raised other questions were close by: at Bath Spa University we are lucky enough to have access to the large-scale digital resources of EEBO and ECCO. Texts accessed via these different resources come in various forms: digital facsimiles, plain text transcriptions from post-1800 print editions, hyperlinked and encoded texts, or a combination of plain text and facsimile texts. So this first stage of the project actually involved a deeper understanding of the nature of existing electronic resources, databases and archives, and would more effectively immerse Jess in important questions concerning the format, usability and access to historical literary texts. How are issues of access related to the kind of texts one was accessing? What does the format of these texts have to say about how they can be used and who are using them? What processes are involved with the type of text available on these resources? What is a ‘text’ in a digital context anyway?

Such questions are important, first, because undergraduate students do not often understand why different online resources look and feel the way they do. So I try to make explicit to students the differences between a facsimile, an edition, and an encoded text and the significance of those differences for how the text is to be used and for whom. The facsimile usually presents no problem to understand; although, for example in the case of ECCO, the relation between the image and the text (unseen and what one actually searches) is not fully grasped by many undergraduates, which provokes some interesting discussion. Second, this contextual understanding is essential for students to decide what kind of edition they are going to create. In this I ask students to consider their readership or, as Dan Cohen put it in ‘The Social Contract of Scholarly Publishing’, the ‘demand side’ of  Cohen argued that the print model has built-in assumptions about value and audience: ‘The book and article have an abundance of these value triggers from generations of use, but we are just beginning to understand equivalent value triggers online.’ Jess, for her own project – as you can see – decided to provide two editions to appeal to a variety of readerships: one an online edition with hyperlinked notes and a textual commentary; the other an encoding of that text. (In this, we looked to an edition on Romantic Circles as our model).

So, back to an earlier stage of decision-making. If we were after plain text copies of eighteenth-century editions, and not texts that were edited at some point later, that left two options for sources: the Oxford Text Archive and 18thConnect. There are currently 728 texts attributed to Defoe available via 18thConnect and 121 via OTA. Despite the ease with which one can download texts in a variety of file formats from OTA, I deliberately steered Jess towards 18thConnect because of its use of TypeWright. This software enables users to correct a number of individual 18c texts released to 18thConnect by ECCO (as frequent users of ECCO will know, the text that users are able to search is a rather mangled version, the product of now dated OCR software trying to decipher 18c typography via microfilm).

TypeWright

I may well continue to use this, since the advantage for any student is not only the knowledge gained about the workings and limitations of large-scale digital resources like ECCO that might be normally taken for granted, but also the added perspective gained on the processes of transformation from material document to electronic text.

Why encode and why TEI/XML?

Most databases allow one to perform searches based on a variety of categories (author, place of publication, title, date etc) because the texts have been ordered and sorted according to these categories. One can perform ‘all text’ searches. But I struggled, at first, to explain the limitations of this kind of markup to my students. So I’ll give you a similar kind of example I gave to Jess in relation to ECCO. Let’s imagine I’m searching some works by Defoe and I want to find references to High Church clergyman Henry Sacheverell (bap. 1674, d. 1724). Unsurprisingly there are quite a few, but it misses a number of important Defoe poems. Now I happen to know Sacheverell is mentioned in More Reformation and in The Double Welcome but ECCO didn’t find these. Why? Because in The Double Welcome his name is spelt ‘Sachevrel’, and in More Reformation it is ‘Sachavrell’. We could of course put in alternative spellings or use fuzzy searching. But this wouldn’t find more oblique references such as the one in Hymn to the Pillory where his name is pseudo-anonymously presented as ‘S———ll’. A machine does not know this is Henry Sacheverell. Similarly, it would not correctly identify this if Defoe had ever called him ‘Henry’ or ‘old Sacha,’ or something more figurative like ‘the Devil in a pulpit’ that we human readers would be able to interpret. More importantly, what if we didn’t know how Defoe alluded to Sacheverell at all?

A machine searches for strings of symbols and cannot recognise that one string of symbols represents another different string of symbols unless we tell it that each of those particular combination of symbols represent the same named entity. As Lou Bernard put it “only that which is explicit can be digitally processed,” or to put it another way encoding is to “make explicit (for a machine) what is implicit (to a person)”.

For me, then, the project has enabled me to reflect upon strategies for teaching digital technology and identifying – or beginning to – what issues are essential to introduce to students: the how and why of digital editing.

Jess McCarthy’s perspective: decentering authority?

I’m going to be going on a slightly different track; I’ll be talking about how in some ways my edition decentres some of the authority of a traditional printed edition of a text.

It wasn’t until I’d starting researching my reflective essay that I realised that my edition achieves this, to an extent, through my encoding of variants in the XML version. Most modern scholarly editions of texts work on the basis of editorial interpretation and intervention in creating a definitive edition which most closely presents the editor’s understanding of the author’s intentions. These editions are usually created through extensive use of textual apparatus, such as tables of variants and considered reasoning supporting the inclusion of one variant and the exclusion of another. Digital methods of presenting texts have brought into sharper focus how this approach to assembling an edition is based largely on limitations of its publication media. Marilyn Deegan and Kathryn Sutherland pointed out that,

for some the new technology has prompted the recognition of the prescriptive reasoning behind such editions as no more than a function of the technological limits of the book, less desirable and less persuasive now that the computer makes other possibilities available; namely, multiple distinct textual witnesses assembled in a virtual archive or library of forms. [1]

I aimed to achieve a presentation of multiple textual witnesses in my own edition by encoding variant readings into my XML document. This made it possible to present the different states of the text without privileging one state over another. This approach questions the idea of an ideal or more representative version of the text by presenting each state as equally valid and as existing simultaneously. Although I was able to present variants within my encoding without making any claims as to which witness was more authoritative, this was only really achievable within the encoded document. For example:

<l n=”19″>The undistinguish’d Fury of the Street,</l>
<l n=”20″><app>
<rdg wit=”#Q2″>With</rdg>
<rdg wit=”#Q1″>which</rdg>
</app> Mob and Malice Mankind Greet:</l>

To present the text on the website I had to choose a copy text based on what I considered to be the most complete representation of Daniel Defoe’s intentions in A Hymn to the Pillory. I based my edition of the text on the second edition, corrected with additions. This decision was reached early in the project and it was based on the logic that this was the earliest edition available that presented a fuller version of the text. Given the common editorial practice of selecting either the first available edition or the last edition known to have been produced by the author, I would reconsider my choice of copy text were I to start again. However, despite being an unorthodox approach to a copy text, contemporary editions of A Hymn to the Pillory based on the first edition include the later additions found in the second edition, and given that variants between the two texts have been included, I don’t think that my earlier decision undermines the authority of the text presented in a significantly damaging way.

This concern might seem to conflict with my encoding of variants. There I have deliberately not identified a lemma and chosen instead to present multiple, simultaneous witnesses that destabilise the assumption that there are readings that are more valid. This approach works well if you are concerned with textual criticism or data mining to create distant readings of texts. However, I wanted my edition to be as useful as possible to the widest possible audience, so the traditional concern of the humanities with close readings and interpretation had to be considered, and which depend on a stable text to interpret. Marilyn Deegan and Kathryn Sutherland acknowledge this, pointing out that ‘the editor’s exercise of proper expertise may be more liberating for more readers than seemingly total freedom of choice.’[2] Although digital technologies are highlighting how text can be treated differently in electronic formats, the primary concern for most readers of literature is still in interpreting the meaning of the text (rather than how it was composed or its variant states); and to interpret the meaning rather than the textual history, a stable edition needs to be presented.

I wanted to support the authority of my edition as a serious scholarly work so I included all of the textual apparatus that you would expect to find in a scholarly print edition. C. M. Sperberg-McQueen argues that ‘electronic editions without apparatus, without documentation of editorial principles, and without decent provisions for suitable display are unacceptable for serious scholarly work.’[3] While this doesn’t necessarily mean that apparatus for digital editions has to work in the same way or with the same concerns as print editions, it situates intellectual integrity as remaining a key concern for supporting the authority of an online edition.

I used hyperlinks as a way to discretely point to textual annotations from A Hymn to the Pillory and also in order to direct readers to further online points of interest, either from the annotations themselves, or from further reading. Phillip Doss argues that ‘by allowing escape from the context of a single documentary sequence, hypertext allows a reader to escape the linearity imposed by print media.’[4] There are positive and negative implications to the use of hypertext links that I tried to consider within my edition. An obvious limitation of using hypertext is exactly that it allows readers to escape the linearity of the text. On the other hand, by using hyperlinks I have been able to provide easy access to extra-textual material that would not be possible to include in a print edition. For instance, where I have been able to find them, I have included works by people that are mentioned in A Hymn to the Pillory. This has meant that intertextual relationships can be explicitly explored, rather than simply acknowledged. In this way the text is shown to be the product of many various influences in a way that is more difficult to achieve using physical means of publication and although the text is still the main focus of the edition it is presented less in isolation.

Lisa Spiro’s essay ‘“This Is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities’ argues that ‘for the Digital Humanities, information is not a commodity to be controlled but a social good to be shared and reused.’ This is very much an attitude that I adopted in my approach to this project. My website is open access, making it freely available to anyone who wants to use the information presented. However, although this project is not formally associated with Bath Spa University, as an undergraduate studying there I had the privilege of institutional access to specialist resources that I would not have been able to use to support my research otherwise. Access to services such as the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) allowed me to work using facsimiles of the copy text and research biographical annotation with confidence in the reliability and authority of my sources. I chose to hyperlink these sites where I have relied on them for my research to maintain the integrity of my sources. Although this means that some users may not be able to access the sites at the end of the hyperlinks I believe that being able to present information based on what these resources provide goes a small way to democratising the information that they contain. Working with the knowledge that not all users will be able to reference my sources, I tried to make my annotations as comprehensive as possible while still maintaining a focus to how they are relevant to the text.

At its core this project has an engaged interest in making specialist information freely available in the most useful, reliable form possible. It has supported ongoing work to make other scholarly resources more reliable by using 18thConnect’s TypeWright and hopes to engage with the widest possible audience by providing not only what is traditionally expected from an authoritative edition of a text but also by incorporating the formats that digital encoding supports for more specialist pursuits and longevity.


[1] Marilyn Deegan and Kathryn Sutherland, Transferred Illusions: Digital Technology and the Forms of Print (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), p.87.

[2] Transferred Illusions, p.71.

[3] C. M. Sperberg-McQueen, ‘Textual Criticism and the Text Encoding Initiative’, The Literary Text in the Digital Age, ed. Richard J. Finneran (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1999), p.41.

[4] Phillip E. Doss, ‘Traditional Theory and Innovative Practice: The Electronic Editor as Poststructuralist Reader’, The Literary Text in the Digital Age, p.218.


Teaching with ECCO

shgregg:

A fantastically informed and informative post on using ECCO in eighteenth-century teaching, with a really useful set of follow-up comments.

Originally posted on Early Modern Online Bibliography:

As posted yesterday, Gale Cengage is providing SUNY colleges with trial access to ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) and NCCO (Nineteenth Century Collections Online) this fall. Gale Cengage is also sponsoring
essay contests for SUNY students using these tools. This is a great opportunity to test these products, to think about how best to teach with them, and to evaluate students’ responses to them. So how best to introduce these resources?

Thinking about my undergraduate Gothic Novel class this fall, I decided that short videos would be the most effective way to introduce students unfamiliar with eighteenth-century texts to ECCO. I prepared three brief videos (below). I would love to hear how others introduce students to these tools.

There are a number of other videos on using ECCO. Below are a few from Virginia Tech:

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Libaries and digital humanities: CFPs for ASECS 2014

There are some exciting panels being proposed at the annual meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies 2014 (Williamsburg, VA).I’ve reproduced the CFPs here.

First, there a number of panels on libraries (including one by your own blogger):

“The Private Library” Stephen H. Gregg, Dept. of English and Cultural Studies, Bath Spa U., Bath, BA2 9BN. E-mail: s.gregg@bathspa.ac.uk
This session aims to examine the private library in the long eighteenth century. Possible topics of discussion might include: the reconstruction of reading experiences / study practices in the library; recording, annotating, and marking in the library; the cultural, political or ideological functions of collecting books or the display of learning; design, layout, order and space;; ‘lost’ libraries / collections and their reconstruction; the representation of the private library in literature or in letters of the period. Finally, the session would also be interested in questions of methodology, approach and disciplinarity.

“Print Culture and Dissent in the Long Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World” (The Bibliographical Society of America) Kyle B. Roberts, Loyola U., Chicago, History Dept., 1032 W Sheridan Road, Chicago, IL 60660. E-mail: kroberts2@luc.edu
This panel explores the role print culture played in religious mid educational knowledge exchanges across the eighteenth century as a means of opening discussions about dissenting practice in the Atlantic World.  This panel will ask several key questions: how might these interactions and exchanges enrich our understanding of thedimensions of religious, educational, and cultural practice in the transatlantic dissenting community? What can be
learned from the successes or failures of the many efforts to propagate and disseminate forms of dissenting knowledge? How might exploring the reception or dismissal of particular books alter our understanding of dissent? Papers that examine these questions from the perspectives of the history of the book, the history of reading, and the history of libraries are especially welcome.

“Libraries and Booksellers” (The Bibliographical Society of America) Laura Miller, U. of West Georgia, Dept. of English, 1601 Maple Street, Carrollton, GA 30118. E-mail: lmiller@westga.edu
The study of libraries and booksellers is essential for understanding the circulation and management of information in the long eighteenth century. This panel seeks proposals for 15-20 minute presentations on booksellers and libraries. Topics might include—but are certainly not limited to—private collections, university libraries, subscription libraries, the book trade, “bestsellers,” or the connections between libraries, booksellers, and readership.

There are also two panels sessions being proposed under the auspices of the Digital Humanities Caucus

“Practicing Digital Pedagogy.” Benjamin Pauley, Dept. of English, Eastern Connecticut State U., 83 Windham St., Willimantic, CT 06226. E-mail: Pauleyb@easternct.edu AND Stephen H. Gregg, Dept. of English, Bath Spa U., Newton Park, Newton St Loe, Bath, BA2 9BN, UK. E-mail: s.gregg@bathspa.ac.uk
The ASECS Digital Humanities caucus invites proposals for a session on digital Humanities and pedagogy. Presentations might examine the opportunities (and challenges) that digital methods present for teaching the eighteenth century, or might address approaches to teaching digital methods in the eighteenth-century studies classroom. What kinds of insights are digital approaches especially well-positioned to yield for students? How might the kind of “making” that has often been a hallmark of digital humanities work complement or extend the kind of analytical work we still want students to do? How do we embed practical instruction in working with digital technologies alongside our teaching of our subjects? How do we help our students to develop a measure of methodological self-consciousness about digital approaches even as we introduce them to those methods? Presentations sharing insights drawn from practical classroom experience are highly encouraged, but more general reflections on the place of the digital in teaching eighteenth-century studies are welcome, as well.

“Digital Approaches to the Material.” Tonya Howe, Dept. of English, Marymount U., 2807 North Glebe Rd., Arlington, VA 22207. E-mail: thowe@marymount.edu AND Mark Vareschi, Dept. of English, U. of Wisconsin-Madison, 600 North Park St., Madison, WI 53706. E-mail: vareschi@wisc.edu
This panel, sponsored by the ASECS DH caucus, solicits work addressing the role of the digital humanities in the study of eighteenth-century material culture. How can digital approaches help us theorize, imagine, or represent the objects and experiences of a lived world? What challenges does material culture pose for the digital humanities? What is the relationship between the study of material culture and the digital humanities, conceived as an ethos of practice? Topics might include theatrical performance, public and private space, print culture, the circulation of objects. We seek a variety of approaches- project overviews, theoretical work, individual critical examinations–and are open to non-traditional presentational formats. Please send brief proposals, including a statement of presentation format, to co-chairs Tonya Howe (thowe@marymount.edu) and Mark Vareschi (vareschi@wisc.edu)

See also http://eighteenthcentury.org/2013/07/22/cfp-digital-humanities-caucus-panels-at-asecs14/

And a reminder that there will be a THATCamp ASECS2014


Mapping books, mapping a library

When I’m not working or blogging on Defoe, I’m working on Bishop Richard Hurd, the clergyman and literary scholar (1720-1808). Currently I’ve being paying attention to his library. Built in the 1780s, Hurd’s library – both the book collection and the physical library itself – still exists at the old Bishopric palace of Hartlebury Castle. I’m not going to go into detail here, but suffice to say, it’s a wonder (check their website for more details).

Now I knew from previous visits that the collection contained ms correspondence, Hurd’s commonplace books, printed books he has annotated himself, works annotated by previous owners, as well as various material and written interventions by Richard Hurd Jr. (Hurd’s nephew, secretary, and erstwhile librarian). What I wanted to do is to try to get a sense of how such books and their annotations might relate to each other and how they relate to Hurd’s published output. Now the library has over 3,000 titles, of which quite a number are annotated, so I wanted to track such interactions with a case study of the relations between Hurd’s publication, Moral and Political Dialogues (1759), and the various works by Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon held in various editions in his library. But tracking – mapping – the complex relations between these books, their owners, and the annotations became almost impossible in traditional prose description; particularly as the annotations and the interactions were also time-sensitive. What I needed was a visual aid.

At about the same I came across the project Six Degrees of Francis Bacon (an inspired title for a project!) The striking way in which the project visually presented data to track a network of literary relationships was an inspiration. I didn’t have such resources at hand, so I opted for a quick and dirty option and tried out some free mind-mapping software. What I produced – for a paper for the Writers and their libraries conference – rendered rather nicely a set of relations between objects and annotations.

Clarendon in Hurd's Library

[Click to enlarge]

It’s quite striking. But I found that the mind-mapping tools I tried all depended upon a single (or a very limited number) of starting points from which sub-topics were then hierarchically related. As you can see, I ended up by having to put the rather vague and abstract phrase ‘Hurd and Clarendon’ as the epicentre of this series of interactions. Now I had a number of objects in my case study, none of which could be said to the origin of a subsequent series of relations. In fact that was the very problem I was trying to articulate: how can one envisage a variety of interactions between objects, the contexts of which are separated by time, but which came to occupy the same physical and chronological space?

Subsequently, I’ve started experimenting with a piece of software not out of beta yet but which looks fantastic and, more to the point, very easy to use. This is Scapple, designed by the producers of Scrivenor. Details at the literatureandlatte forum.

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What striking is that because Scapple is designed to mimic the rather looser way people actually doodle ideas, it doesn’t require a single starting-point. For a project like mine where I needed to map interactions between objects that have more complex and non-hierarchical relationships, this was ideal. Although I haven’t yet played around with the aesthetic appearance, the tentative reconstruction I’ve begun already looks very different without a centre. At the moment I don’t know if this will ever get beyond a personal tool, but even if that’s all it does, it should enable me to better conceive and represent the idea I began with: a kind of dialogue or virtual conversation between authors and their annotations within a library.


The Digital Miscellanies Index at BSECS2013

I’ve been following the work by the team on the Digital Miscellanies Index (hereafter DMI for short) for the last year and a half, but at this year’s annual meeting of BSECS I had the chance to attend a panel given by the team on some of their latest findings and also to test an early version of the database.

The roundtable panel ‘Compiling the Canon: what can poetic miscellanies tell us? New findings from the Digital Miscellanies Index’ comprised Jennifer Batt, Rosamund Powell, Adam Bridgen and Mark Burden. Jenny Batt – the project’s coordinator – announced the startling fact that the DMI has indexed approximately 1,400 miscellanies from the period. Her own piece exemplified how one would use the DMI by focusing upon Mary Leapor’s poems in various miscellanies; mapping their chronological spread, the source of the poems, and their destination. For example, the biggest number of her poems in the miscellanies were from her first volume of poetry, Poem on Various Occasions (1748). However, her poems also appeared anonymously in some miscellanies, so the DMI also challenges the traditional authorship-centric notions of poetic dissemination, or what Jenny called ‘authorial branding’. Ros Powell’s piece on the mentions of Horace’s Art of Poetry in miscellanies revealed the flexibility of the DMI: she was able to separate mere mentions of or quotations from Horace, translations of Horace, and imitations – whether attributed or unattributed. She was also able to break these varying uses of Horace down into percentages (some nice pie charts too, which I never thought I’d find myself saying in a literary context!). Adam Bridgen fascinatingly concentrated on a surprising and little-studied genre of poem to be found in the miscellanies – the last will and testament. Adam pointed that that the well-known literary genre of the ‘mock testament’ afforded much satiric potential, especially when wielded by Pope and Swift, but what he found in the miscellanies were frequently real wills and testaments rendered in poetic form. The disjunction between form and function in such poems did not necessarily undermine their moral or functional role. However, Adam could not help pointing out that this could go awry and create unintended comic consequences. The final piece by Mark Burden concerned the reconstruction of the reading of dissenting academies and looked to the DMI to be able to aid such research by asking what poetry was being read in the academies. Since I’m a big Defoe fan, I’m going to watch that for what might be revealed in Defoe’s old academy, run by Charles Morton.

The subsequent discussion really brought home the possibilities of the DMI when it is launched, since from these papers it looks like it can enable both close readings and identify larger literary-cultural patterns. Moreover, the DMI has a striking potential for shifting our notions of what was popular, how authors disseminated their work, and even how we conceive reading practices in the period. With that in mind, I was looking forward to the opportunity to play with the early test version of the DMI search interface. All I can say is that – even in this early and not fully integrated version – it was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to the final version when it is launched.

The DMI blog can be followed here.

This review can now also be found on the BSECS online reviews page.


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