The Digital Corpus for Early Modernists
This first week provides an historical overview of DH, considers pressing current issues, presents the theoretical contexts for DH approaches for early modern literary scholars, and opens a practical exploration of tools currently considered essential by most early modernists. Monday morning will begin with an orientation necessary for work in a restricted-access, non-circulating, rare book library: reader registration will be followed by an introduction to the rules and regulations of the Reading Room in the course of a tour of the Library. Participants will also be introduced to the Folger Library’s online catalog, Hamnet. They will confer with the institute’s Technical Assistant to configure wireless password protocols and the like.
The NEH Institute Director, Jonathan Hope, and participants will then convene for an introductory lunch. The first session in the afternoon will be crucial for community-building and setting the agenda for the rest of the institute. Priorities include: (1) to establish a level of critical discussion which theorizes and contextualizes DH within the broad field of Humanist studies; and (2) to establish continuing sub-groups within the institute which will allow the development of good inter-personal relations, the sharing of knowledge, and the creation of a supportive context in which participants’ research plans can be refined. In the two-hour session before tea, the twenty participants will meet in five sub-groups of four people each. In each sub-group, participants will introduce themselves and will describe their experience in early modern studies and DH. The institute will then reconvene as a whole, and each person will introduce the work and research project of another member of their sub-group. The aim of these introductions is to establish a research problem for each participant that relates to DH and for which the participant will develop a solution, a visualization, a guided approach, or a list of resources over the course of the coming weeks.
Dr. Hope will also outline plans for the institute’s digital footprint: live tweeting of presentations and discussions; private wiki-sites for each sub-group to record ongoing work and allow sharing between participants; and a public website to present the participants’ work and discoveries. This website will migrate the best ideas drawn from the sub-group’s wiki-sites to an ongoing hub for DH work in early modern studies. After tea, Dr. Hope will lead discussion of the first set of assigned texts, drawing on two recent anthologies: Matthew K. Gold’s Debates in the Digital Humanities (2012) and David M. Berry’s Understanding Digital Humanities (2012). Special attention will be paid to the aspects of these debates which involve early modern scholarship, such as the recent polemics against DH by Stanley Fish, for instance.
On Tuesday morning, Professor Jonathan Sawday (St. Louis University) will open up theoretical discussions on the history and culture of technology and human interaction and its effects on scholarship and research. In his Engines of the Imagination: Renaissance Culture and the Rise of the Machine (2007), Professor Sawday explored how the imaginative impact of early-modern technology changed the user’s relationship to the world in ways that were often unpredictable. Professor Sawday will guide discussion of the ways DH is transforming not just the object of study (texts) but scholars as users, readers, producers, and consumers of texts and ideas. Readings will range from Martin Heidegger’s “The Question Concerning Technology” (1954) to Gerard Genette’s Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (1997). (See Appendix J (p. 90-93) for the full bibliography.) Professor Sawday will pose questions about current models of reading in comparison with ways of dealing with information throughout history. He will explore the extent to which the advanced capabilities derived from DH are framing new kinds of enquiry that transform the user of technology.
In the afternoon, Professor Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (Brown University) will examine the importance of networking technologies to the scholarly imaginary and vice versa. Networks have arguably become the defining concept of this epoch. Although much theoretical work has already been done elucidating networks, from Jean François Lyotard’s evocative description of the postmodern self as a “nodal point” to Tiziana Terranova’s analysis of global network culture in “Free Labor,” surprisingly little work has addressed the question: why networks? What is the conceptual power of networks? Professor Chun will help the participants think through the ways in which the conceptual power of networks stems from their alleged ability to bridge unbridgeable scales: the micro and the macro, the molecular and the molar. Networks and their mapping tools, in other words, seem to offer a way to dispel postmodern “confusion,” described by theorists such as Frederic Jameson (in his “Cognitive Mapping”) and sociologist Ulrich Beck (in Risk Society), which prevents the individual from understanding his or her relation to the larger global system.
In general discussion, Professor Hope and participants will relate these issues to the larger aims of the institute. Participants will focus on the allure of technology, the dangers of uncritical approaches to it, and the extent to which researchers need to take ethical responsibility for the tools and protocols they employ. This responsibility includes considering fully the extent to which software and hardware can function as a “black box,” producing “data” on which scholars fix their analytic gaze without stopping to consider the processes by which that “data” is brought into being. Excerpts from Professor Chun’s book, Programmed Visions: Software and Memory (2011), will focus this discussion.
At the end of the day, exercises will be assigned introducing the most widely used digital corpus in early modern English studies, Early English Books Online (EEBO). EEBO is a commercially available collection of digitized full-text facsimiles. It currently contains more than 125,000 titles listed in A.W. Pollard and G.R. Redgrave’s Short-Title Catalogue (1475-1640) and Donald G. Wing’s Short-Title Catalogue (1641-1700) and their revised editions, as well as the Thomason Tracts (1640-1661) collection and the Early English Books Tract Supplement. Participants will keep close track of their searches, make notes about aspects of EEBO they find unusual or surprising, and prepare to discuss how intuitive and user-friendly the interface is. Their searches will provide them with examples to trace through the remainder of the week’s exploration.
On Wednesday morning, following some lab time for participants to complete their EEBO exercises, Professor Ian Gadd (Bath Spa University) joins the institute to discuss their findings. In the afternoon, Professor Gadd will be joined by two librarians, Goran Proot, Mellon Curator of Rare Books at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and Deborah Leslie, Head of Cataloguing at the Folger, to discuss the scope and organizing principles of online catalogues like the Folger’s Hamnet and online bibliographies like the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), whose catalogue data provides the underlying parameters for EEBO. The ESTC is the British Library’s comprehensive union catalogue, listing some 470,000 catalogue entries for letter-press books, serials, newspapers, and selected ephemera printed before 1801 in Britain, Ireland, overseas territories under British colonial rule, and the United States. Through the example of the ESTC, participants will learn the “logic” of the online catalogue: The ESTC has enhanced scholarly access to the metadata produced by cataloguers and provides a multitude of new ways to search for relevant texts and to distinguish between editions and even individual copies. With discussion framed by readings and practical exercises, participants will consider how the migration of catalogues and bibliographies online modifies the nature of scholarly research.
On Thursday morning, participants will have the opportunity to compare EEBO versions of their selected books with originals paged from the Folger collections. This will lay the groundwork for the afternoon’s discussion on “remediation,” or how a new media refashions prior media forms, when Professor Gadd will discuss these comparisons with participants. He will demonstrate the different ways in which EEBO presents and characterizes the images it shows. The history of these images from microfilm to digitized image will be explained. The considerable variation in procedures and techniques will be demonstrated through examples from EEBO. The session will conclude with a series of assignments designed to introduce participants to EEBO’s more sophisticated searching options, and the kinds of complex research questions that can be explored as a result.
Professor Gadd returns Friday morning to explore the Text-Creation Partnership (TCP) aspect of EEBO, by which a growing proportion of EEBO’s books are available in full-text form. He will describe TCP’s origin, transcription procedures and guidelines, and its future aims. Sample TCP texts will be analyzed to illuminate the difficulties of transcribing early modern texts. The session will also explore more advanced uses of the TCP transcriptions which will contribute to week two’s presentations. Participants will break into small groups to find examples and discuss applications of EEBO-TCP for research and classroom use.
On Friday afternoon, discussion returns to the principles of STCs by examining those aspects of early modern print culture that digital resources such as EEBO do not adequately capture. The difficulties of reliably searching for printer and publisher information, publication dates, and other elements of imprint data via ESTC and EEBO will be considered, and some possible solutions will be offered. Dr. Proot will raise some quantitative questions with a statistical analysis of how representative the existing corpus of early English titles is. Participants will have an opportunity to discuss with Professor Gadd and Dr. Proot what they learned during the first week and pose questions to each other about larger issues involving digital facsimiles and the current possibilities for searching them. After tea, the participants will discuss with each other their experiences using EEBO as a research and teaching tool. Readings for week two will be distributed, assignments set, and the dedicated Technical Assistant will support the installation of requisite software as needed.