January Digital Boot Camp for Dickinson Students

Student applications to Digital Boot Camp 2016 are due Friday, November 20, at 5:00 PM. Please invite students who may be interested in this two-week, paid opportunity. This year’s program includes an all-day “humanities hack-a-thon,” and the theme will be “Humanities at the Crossroads of Tradition and New Technologies.” The application form is available on the website, DBC 2016.

Out of the dozens of applications we received last year, eleven students were accepted into Dickinson’s Digital Boot Camp held in Waidner-Spahr Library (January 12-16). Funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Dickinson’s Digital Boot Camp 2015 was a two-week series of tutorials and on-campus workshops designed to help students develop the skills to produce and display, organize, and analyze digital content and information online.

Based in current Web technologies, students learned fundamentals of using Drupal (CMS) to design and display content, ArcGIS (Geographic Information Systems) for identifying and analyzing geographic relationships in humanities-based research, and Gephi (an open-source data visualization software) for mapping large complex sets of data for visualization, discovery, and network analysis.

This year’s upcoming program (January 11-22, 2016) will mark the third anniversary of DBC @ Dickinson, and be the first in which students have the opportunity to interact in Waidner-Spahr Library’s two new digital humanities workspaces, the Willoughby Digital Scholarship Lab and the <TEI Lab/>. Here they will be learning last year’s application technologies in addition to XML encoding and the markup language of TEI, which support the next-generation Web technologies that are already shifting scholarship away from today’s Web of Display to tomorrow’s Web of Data and Meaning.

For an example of Web 3.0 collaboration in the humanities, see the ARC BigDIVA (Big Data Infrastructure Visualization Application), a dynamic catalog of over 200 research projects in the digital humanities which students at Dickinson have been involved in building through textual markup of early 20th-c. magazines and internships in the <TEI Lab/> this year.

“The taxonomies we develop [through ARC] will be taken up by contributors to our nodes and could potentially become one of the standards for the semantic web. This is a big responsibility: we can at this moment have an impact on the way that literature is found on the Internet, not just by search engines but by data-mining and information systems that create encyclopedic definitions of the world. We are participating in the emergence of knowledge organization for the future, beyond Dewey and Library of Congress schemes.” — Dr. Laura Mandell, Professor of English, Texas A&M University, Director of ARC, 18thConnect and General Editor of The Poetess Archive.

Read what students last year are saying: Student Experience and Kristina Rodriguez’s Article from The Dickinsonian (Oct. 25, 2015); and learn more about the National Endowment for the Humanities and support for humanities computing, The Rise of the Machines

Patrick Belk

Dickinson Expands Digital Humanities Projects, Resources

[Reprinted from an article by Kristina Rodriguez ’19 (Staff Writer) in The Dickinsonian: The Dickinson College Student Newspaper, from October 15, 2015]

As the field of Digital Humanities grows in academia, Dickinson continues to integrate it into the curriculum, and is currently sponsoring training opportunities and a new Pulp Magazine digital archiving project.

The term Digital Humanities is inclusive of “a wide range of activities, from online preservation and digital mapping to data mining and the use of geographic information systems, data visualization and digital publishing,” according to the Digital Humanities Advisory Committee (DHAC) page on Dickinson’s website.

“Digital humanities considers the text, object and world in digital terms, explained Patrick Belk, the current post-doctoral fellow in Digital Humanities. “It acknowledges the ways in which scholarship, teaching and social activities are themselves increasingly digital and often taking place online.”

Belk is working on a few different projects in the Digital Humanities at Dickinson, including Digital Boot Camp and the Pulp Magazines Project.

The Digital Boot Camp at Dickinson College is a 10-day training program to teach students to be able to participate in the digital age more efficiently through digital tools and skills such as WordPress, editing videos and using Geographic Information Systems to make maps.

The program this academic year can take up to 10 students who would receive a $350 stipend, training materials and campus housing from Jan. 18 to 22. Interested students must apply by 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20 to participate in the boot camp.

Rachel Kruchten ’16 attended Dickinson’s first Digital Boot Camp two years ago.

“I was recommended for the Boot Camp because I was working as the Digital Services Assistant in the library and had very little experience with digital technology, ironically enough,” explained Kruchten. “The overall experience of the Boot Camp was positive and gave me tools that I ended up using over the next two summers working on the Carlisle Indian School project. I have continued to engage with digital humanities beyond the boot camp, and I highly recommend it for other students as I think it has given me a better understanding of the integration of science, technology and the humanities, and I know the skills I have learned will be useful for me in the future.”

From last spring to the current semester, students have been working on Belk’s Pulp Magazine Project. Victoria DeLaney ’17, Harris Rissell ’16, Jenna Howdyshell ’17, Katie Lasswell ’17 and Edgar Estrada ’18 have contributed to the project thus far. The goal of this project is to complete TEI/XML P5 “mark-up for…the 320 magazines available on the Pulp Magazines Project website,” Belk’s personal project in Digital Humanities.


Belk is also collaborating with Vy Huynh ’18 this semester “to develop new and experimental search features, designed for exploring popular periodicals through their character-based, plot-driven fiction.”

Another project that Belk works with is the Humanities Lab, which is used to help students develop skills such as close reading, deep interpretation of text and critical analysis when conducting Humanities research. Students involved in this project “are building infrastructures for digital research and enabling increasingly sophisticated modeling of digital texts by adding layers of mark-up to facilitate more complex interactions between texts and computers,” Belk said.

The DHAC webpage also includes information about Digital Humanities projects with which students can get involved, such as: Russian Rooms, where there are photos of Russian citizens that individuals are able to read biographies on as well as listen to interviews and get a taste of the Russian culture; Eighteenth Century Poets Connect, a project to see relationships among individuals in the literary field in Britain during the 1730s; and Women’s Experiences at Dickinson College, a site meant for the women of Dickinson College to digitally voice their collective stories.

Frank Vitale ’16 interned over the summer in Oxford at Zooniverse, a research group that builds crowdsourcing platforms for science and humanities projects. The projects at Zooniverse “allow for people without specialized training to contribute to real research,” Vitale said.

“More students should get involved with digital humanism, and consider it as a serious and worthwhile academic pursuit,” Vitale said. “The political scientist, linguist, historian, philosopher, classicist, sociologist, archeologist, et cetera of old are being replaced by those who can use digital tools to innovate and expand their fields in new and previously unimaginable directions. The digital humanities truly are the new frontier for our generation of humanists, and those without the skills to keep up will be left behind.”

“In many ways, Digital Humanities is no different than ordinary humanities. We still read texts, tease out their meanings, interpret our results, analyze patterns and draw connections between them,” said Belk. “The main difference is that now we can do those things digitally.”

Willoughby Digital Scholarship Lab

Over the summer months, a space in the Waidner-Spahr Library was reconfigured to serve as a new computer room. Known as the Willoughby Digital Scholarship Lab, this room was created in response to a request from Prof. Francese, on behalf of the Digital Humanities Initiative, that there be some dedicated space where faculty members and their student interns may work on digital projects of various types. The Library has received similar requests for workspace for such faculty/student collaborative work in the past, so there seemed a clear enough need, and the Library responded.


The computers in the Willoughby Lab have been outfitted with both Mac and PC desktop computers as well as a variety of software applications, but additional software may be added as necessary in support of the specific research needs of faculty and students. There is also a new book scanner – a Zeutschel Zeta – that makes relatively quick work of any scanning project.

The Lab includes lockers so that materials may be stored securely. There are also shelves and cubbies to store other materials that may not need to be locked up – basic reference books and things of that sort. There is a table for meetings and small group discussion, and a large whiteboard.


Our temporary Library Digital Projects Manager, Don Sailer, has oversight for the room and spends much of his time working in the Willoughby Lab. He is able to provide basic assistance to any faculty members or their interns who may be pursuing their work there.

For more information about how you and your student interns may make use of this space, please contact Don Sailer, Library Digital Projects Manager, or Jim Gerencser, College Archivist.

–Jim Gerencser, College Archivist

Mellon DH Fund supports the creation and development of Urbanatural Roosting

By Ash Nichols (Walter E. Beach ’56 Distinguished Chair in Sustainability Studies & Professor of English)

My DHAC-funded Student-Faculty Summer Research Project (2015) was a complete success. My student researcher, Kerin Maguire, turned out to be a hard worker, an excellent researcher, and a writer with a prose style well in advance of her years. Over the summer, we produced a new website, Urbanatural Roosting: Planetary Living for the New Millennium, and wrote content for three (3) pages. Individual page links are included below the image:



These pages required extensive research—both library and online—as well as a wide range of reading from books, essays, and online materials. In addition, we added dozens of illustrations, often requiring permissions acquisitions, technical layout details, and digital design. We worked closely with the Dickinson Multimedia and I.T. staff to improve the look and technical details of the site as well.

Activities of Student Researcher

My student researcher, Kerin Maguire, was completely involved as a collaborator in every aspect of the work on our project. She researched, read, and wrote to at least the same extent that I did. In a number of instances, she was completely responsible for the addition of new material, from conception of the idea to all of the research, writing, and site design. In one instance, she even took her own photographs to illustrate the “Pine Barrens” section of our Natural Urbanatural Roosting page. Our page is her work as much as it is mine; this felt as completely collaborative as any student-faculty research project in which I have been involved. Even her academic plans for the coming semester—and two years—have been affected by our work.

Potential Long-Term Benefits of Project for Student

Kerin’s own words will form the basis for this part of our report. Please see the attached news story that appeared on the Dickinson Web-Page at the completion of our project:

Urbanatural Living, Digital-Style

The article clearly sets out a number of ways in which Kerin benefitted from our work together:

“It involved a lot of reading … Professor Nichols just kept handing me these stacks of books,” Maguire says with a laugh, “but now that I know a little more about this topic, I am interested and invested. It reels you in.”

Indeed, Kerin informed me as the project drew toward completion that our work had even had an impact on her future academic plans. She now wants to add environmental studies courses to her academic program as an English major:

As the weeks progressed, Maguire began to find connections to the work during non-research hours; an article in her hometown newspaper, for example, was the catalyst for her final post of the summer. She also uncovered environmental issues in familiar settings—in the pinelands of her home state, and along the fragile shoreline of Cape Cod, a favorite family-vacation spot, where the population has increased 400 percent in the past 40 years, creating significant pollution. “I go there all the time, and I never knew there was a problem,” says Maguire, who plans to keep contributing to the portal, at Nichols’ request. “Once you learn about statistics like that, how can you not want to share them with the world?

This is a perfect example of the way our project worked. I would assign a specific section of our web-portal to Kerin, or she would come up with her own suggestion, as in our “Cape Cod” entry or our “Artificial Reefs” section. One final quote from her will make clear the future benefits of our work together:

I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge on the subject and am interested in finding ways to implement the concept of urbanatural roosting into my own life and that of my family. . . In addition to learning about fascinating subject matters, working closely with Professor Nichols improved my writing and research skills. . . I also improved my technological skills using WordPress, as well as editing and revising my work.

There is clearly nothing for me to add to Kerin’s own words in this regard.

Future Plans

Like my earlier website, Romantic Natural History: 1750-1859 (praised by the New York Times, the BBC in London, M.I.T., and others), the Urbanatural Roosting site will continue to grow over the coming years. I have assured Kerin that she is welcome to continue work on this resource at any time she would like. She is welcome to make additions to our existing pages or propose new cities for our Urban Urbanatural Roosting page or natural sites. I did the same in the past with students who worked with me on Romantic Natural History, and two of the three took me up on this offer and added to the site after their summer research assignment had ended. In addition, two of my research students have said that they got their first job after graduation at least partly as a result of being able to show their future employers the work they had done on our web-portals and web-pages.

Bryan Alexander visits Dickinson

Well-known and well-bearded Higher Ed. consultant and futurist Bryan Alexander returned to Dickinson this week to deliver a stimulating talk about economic, cultural, and technological trends affecting higher education. The seminar was integrated into the week-long Willoughby Institute for Teaching with Technology. Alexander’s talk was opened to the broader community as well, and the lively audience included representatives from surrounding institutions such as the Bosler Free Library, Bucknell University, and Messiah College. While the event was not recorded, the material he presented is based on his Future Trends in Technology and Education report, which is available here.

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Dickinson Classics Online Seminar in Shanghai



By Chris Francese

Marc Mastrangelo and I traveled to Shanghai in June, 2015 to meet some leading Chinese scholars of the Greek and Roman classics, with a view to exploring possibilities for collaboration on a Chinese version of the Dickinson College Commentaries websites. Our contacts in China were made via Jinyu Liu, who is Associate Professor and Classics Department Chair at DePauw University, and also Shanghai “1000 plan” Expert/Distinguished Guest Professor at Shanghai Normal University, where she resides in the summer months. The conference was jointly sponsored and funded by Dickinson College, thanks to Dean and Provost Neil Weissman, and by Shanghai Normal University, thanks to Chen Heng, Professor of Humanities and Communications there. Participants included Liu Chun (Peking University), Chen Wei and Bai Chunxiao (Zhejiang University), Zhang Wei and Huang Yang (Fudan University), Xu Xiaoxu (Renmin University of China), Xiong Ying (Nanjing University), Zhang Qiang and Wang Shaohui (Northeast Normal University), and a contingent from Shanghai Normal itself: Kang Kai, Li Shangjun, and Yi Zhaoyin. Unable to attend but interested in the project were Li Yongyi (Chongqing University), and Michele Ferrero (Beijing Foreign Studies University).

The meetings took place in a seminar room in the humanities building at Shanghai Normal University. We were assisted by a wonderful group of SHNU students.

The meetings took place in a seminar room in the humanities building at Shanghai Normal University. We were assisted by a wonderful group of SHNU students.

Prior to the seminar itself Marc and I gave public lectures attended by students and faculty at SHNU. Marc spoke on June 9, on the topic of “Plato’s View of Poetry and the Early Christian Poets.” I spoke on June 10 on the topic of “Sebastian Brant: An Early Modern Editor of Vergil and Multimedia Text Annotation.”

The conference itself began on Friday, June 12. It started with a presentation from me on the topic “Digital Commentary on Classical Texts: Problems and Prospects,” which outlined the goals of the current DCC project within the context of unsolved problems of text annotation in a digital environment. I ended by emphasizing the collaborative nature of this kind of work, and urged the group to think about what kinds of resources are most needed for Chinese students and scholars. Throughout the seminar we talked with Chinese students as well, learned about their needs, and heard about current teaching practices and materials.

Friday afternoon we were treated to a field trip to see the Bibliotheca Zikawei (Xujiahui Library), a historic collection of western and Chinese books and manuscripts, including an impressive collection of Greek and Roman materials, gathered by the Jesuits and now maintained in their original setting by the Shanghai Library. Thanks to Prof. Chen we received rarely-given access to the sections closed to the public. (The library is the subject of an excellent article by Gail King, pdf)

On Saturday morning work began in earnest translating the Greek Core Vocabulary into Chinese, starting with the grammatical terms and categories. The Chinese scholars appreciated this exercise in particular, since the special terms to describe Greek and Latin grammar have yet to be fully standardized in Chinese. They repeatedly said that the opportunity to discuss such issues as a group was very valuable. Saturday afternoon, while work continued, Marc and I took the participants outside one by one and interviewed them on their hopes for the project, and on their views on the importance of the Greek and Roman classics in contemporary Chinese intellectual and cultural life. This video was captured by Eleanor Yan (Dickinson ’18). Her father, who works for a Chinese television station, provided the camera. We plan to edit this video into an introduction for the project on the website when it is developed.

Since the participants arrived having previously done translations of a subset of the Greek and Latin core lists, the editing work proceeded quickly once they got going. Part of Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday was devoted to the Latin list. The latter part of Sunday afternoon was spent on a discussion what direction they would like the project to go.

The most urgent immediate needs identified were:

  • Reliable lexica
  • Introductory readers based on good pedagogy, with accurate translations, and high quality audio recordings
  • Intermediate readers that included key ancient passages dealing with particular themes, such as Athenian Democracy, Roman history, and Greek philosophy
  • A glossary of unfamiliar terms from Greek and Roman culture

Greek and Latin grammars were also identified as an important project, though one that may take longer to complete. And it was agreed that the long term goal would be to produce reliable translations and commentaries on all the major of the works of the Greco-Roman classical canon, an undertaking that will take many years.

As will be apparent from the video, enthusiasm for the project was very high. The group worked together with splendid collegiality, humor, and good will, and with a sense that this is the beginning of something very important for the field. The climax of the event was the agreement on a new Chinese name for the Project and the formulation of a Chinese logo for the new “Dickinson Classics Online.”

Chinese name logo

The team that met in this seminar now constitutes our Editorial Board, the team of classicists who will oversee the development of essential infrastructure such as lexica and grammars, high quality language teaching tools for Latin and Greek, and expert commentaries and translations by Chinese scholars that make the classics fresh, relevant, and interesting to Chinese students. All resources will be provided free of charge on the internet, giving direct access to the words and ideas of the Greek and Romans to millions of people for the first time. A reasonably priced mobile application will allow serious students to learn on a convenient and portable platform.

This initial meeting included a concrete beginning, the production of a communally edited Chinese version of the DCC Greek and Latin Core Vocabularies, which is one of the most widely used features of the DCC site. We plan to have that up as a website this summer, and will work with computer science students to begin creating the mobile application.

In the meantime some prominent western scholars have signed on to be part of an Advisory Board: Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer (University of Chicago), Walter Scheidel (Stanford University), and Jeremy McInerney (University of Pennsylvania). With a distinguished team on both sides of the Pacific, we hope to be in a good position to raise substantial outside funds to make the ambitious project a reality. Our hope is that DCO can bring Chinese scholars to Dickinson to work alongside each other and with the scholarly and web development team that creates the DCC.

Left to right: Bai Chunxiao (Zhejiang University), Zhang Wei (Fudan University), Li Shangjun (Shanghai Normal University), Chen Wei (Zhejiang University), Chris Francese, Xiong Ying (Nanjing University), Jinyu Liu (DePauw University), Marc Mastrangelo, Xu Xiaoxu (Renmin University of China), Zhang Qiang (Northeast Normal University), Huang Yang (Fudan University), Liu Chun (Peking University), Wang Shaohui (Northeast Normal University)

Left to right: Bai Chunxiao (Zhejiang University), Zhang Wei (Fudan University), Li Shangjun (Shanghai Normal University), Chen Wei (Zhejiang University), Chris Francese, Xiong Ying (Nanjing University), Jinyu Liu (DePauw University), Marc Mastrangelo, Xu Xiaoxu (Renmin University of China), Zhang Qiang (Northeast Normal University), Huang Yang (Fudan University), Liu Chun (Peking University), Wang Shaohui (Northeast Normal University)

Digital-Age Scholarship



by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

If you haven’t visited Dickinson Scholar lately, you haven’t visited Dickinson Scholar. Since its launch in 2014, the college’s ever-expanding digital collection of scholarly and creative work has grown from 64 items to 395 articles, theses and other scholarly works and counting, and the site has seen 28,000 page views and more than 10,000 downloads during the past 15 months.

“What this tells us is that once researchers, through whatever search tool or strategy they have used, arrive at a Dickinson Scholar page that includes a full-text article or thesis, they are likely to download that item for their personal use more than 1/3 of the time,” says College Archivist Jim Gerencser ’93, who spearheaded the project. “In other words, there tends to be much less browsing and window shopping than is typical with online sources.”


Dickinson Scholar showcases faculty papers, honors theses, other student scholarship and creative works. Half of the site’s 395 articles are available for full-text downloads, and many of the remaining articles are simply embargoed until permissions are received from the publishers.

The most frequently downloaded papers span the full range of the Dickinson liberal-arts curriculum, from medieval studies to nanoscience, language to math, environmental studies to poly sci. Currently, the collection includes research in architecture (3 works), arts/humanities (335), business (2), education (7), engineering (1), law (5), life science (25), medicine/health science (12), physical science/mathematics (37) and social/behavioral science (93). New website features include a map on the homepage showing the location from which users have downloaded articles within the past week and a scrollable visualization of some of the works represented in the collection.

At the time of this writing, early adopters Karl Qualls, professor of history, and Stephen Erfle, associate professor of international business & management, have the most uploaded articles (13 and 12, respectively), and Qualls’ paper on Western influence on the Russian revolutions is the most-downloaded faculty paper overall. Emily Bowie ’14’s research on natural deworming methods for sheep remains one of the most-downloaded (full-text) papers on the site (based on number of downloads per day, since each paper was added to the collection), second only to Associate Director of Library Resources Theresa Arndt’s description of how the Waidner-Spahr Library staff altered its service model to suit the community’s evolving needs. Former women’s & gender studies major Sara Raab ’13’s study of gender-power dynamics in BDSM rounds out the top three.

Recent additions include Professor of Mathematics Lorelei Koss’ 2014 article, “Examples of Parametrized Families of Elliptic Functions with Empty Fatou Sets;” Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Heather Bedi’s 2013 article, “Special Economic Zones: National Land Challenges, Localized Protest;” and a study of patient satisfaction at the Sadler Health Center (Carlisle, Pa.), conducted by former health-studies students Jonathan Nieves, Marleni Milla, Alison Riehm and Molly Foltzer, each of the class of 2011.


The Dickinson Scholar team is currently exploring ways to share works within a journal format, and has already digitized The Collegian, a student-authored publication from 1849, the earliest literary magazine known to have been produced solely by Dickinson undergraduates, and 16 issues of John and Mary’s Journal (1975-2003), a publication of the Friends of the Library that included articles by Dickinson College faculty and other scholars, says Gerencser. Once all technical issues have been worked through, the team will look into sharing these digitized publications and adding other student-authored publications—such as The Hornbook and Belles Lettres Revue—to the queue.

Library staff, meanwhile, are hard at work securing permissions to share published articles, senior theses and other exceptional student, faculty and staff work from the 2014-15 academic year.

That includes creative work—including art exhibition catalogs and digital representations of artwork, and results from community-based empirical research projects. To date, library staff have uploaded 29 fine-art and art-history exhibition catalogs, dating back to 2004 and 1998, respectively. Collectively, the catalogs have already been downloaded 320 times. The first video to be added to the collection is “Cumberlocal,” a short piece by Multimedia Specialist Brenda Landis that secured first place in the Carlisle Film Festival last February.


Dickinson Scholar
“Sharing Scholarship”
Archives & Special Collections
Research at Dickinson

[Published on the Dickinson College website June 10, 2015.]

Mellon Grant Interim Report 2015

Dickinson College received a $700,000 grant in December 2012 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for use over approximately four years to support faculty and curricular development in the digital humanities. The Mellon Foundation provided project funding to support the following: 1) a one-course reassigned time for the faculty chair of a digital humanities advisory board to guide the initiative; 2) a postdoctoral teaching fellowship to help introduce the latest digital technologies, link Dickinson’s efforts to a larger community of scholars, and assist our Library and Information Systems (LIS) staff in defining needed future capabilities; 3) competitive internal grants for faculty to incubate significant expansion of existing digital projects and/or pilot the use of new tools in teaching and research, including providing student-faculty research opportunities; 4) an intensive program to better train undergraduate students for robust collaboration with faculty on complex digital projects; 5) a virtual “digital studio” to provide accessibility, visibility, and outreach for the best work being done at Dickinson in this field, 6) workshops with representatives of all humanities departments and with key all-college committees to enhance their capacity to support and evaluate digital work in the humanities and across the curriculum; and 7) work toward defining learning outcomes expected for Dickinson students with regard to digital humanities skills.

Here are some excerpts of the report prepared for the Mellon Foundation on activities completed in the second year of the grant, prepared by Chris Francese, Patrick Belk, and Cheryl Kremer:

Digital Humanities Advisory Committee

Over the past year our Digital Humanities Advisory Committee (DHAC), which is the key planning committee for this initiative, continued to meet regularly to guide and oversee all aspects of the project. The committee is currently comprised of seven faculty members: Chris Francese, Asbury J. Clarke Professor of Classical Studies (Chair); Susan Rose, Director of Community Studies Center and the Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology; Matthew Pinsker, Associate Professor of History and Pohanka Chair in American Civil War History; Lynn E. Helding, Associate Professor of Music; Gregory Steirer, Assistant Professor of English and Film Studies; Sarah Kersh, Visiting Assistant Professor of English; and Patrick Belk, Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities. Also serving on the committee are five administrators who have a strong interest and/or connection to digital humanities work and to this grant project: Patricia Pehlman, Director of Academic Computing; Jim Gerencser, College Archivist; Todd Bryant, Language Technology Specialist; Ryan Burke, Web Development Specialist; Sarah Sheriff, Director of Online Marketing; and Cheryl Kremer, Director of Academic and Foundation Relations. 

The chair of DHAC (Professor Chris Francese) receives one course reassigned time each academic year through this grant to coordinate this multi-faceted initiative. Over the past year, he has used his reassigned time to organize and lead the committee’s work, to regularly update a robust portal for Dickinson digital humanities efforts, and to maintain an active blog with news and notes about ongoing DH projects and events.

Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow

Our first Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities, Matthew Kochis, accepted a tenure-track position at another institution last fall. We conducted a successful search for his replacement and hired Patrick Belk (Ph.D. in English from the University of Tulsa, 2012) who began at Dickinson in August 2014. Professor Belk organized and executed our second successful Digital Boot Camp in January 2015, established a Textual Studies Lab, collaborated on a number of faculty-led projects, and taught a course called Early Science Fiction in the Magazines (ENGL 101) for 22 students in the spring semester of 2015.

Professor Belk has maintained an active scholarly career during his time at Dickinson.  In February 2015 he delivered the manuscript for his first monograph, Empires of Print: Adventure Fiction in the Magazines 1899-1919, which will appear in print from Ashgate. He also continues to enhance the award-winning digital archive of early twentieth-century pulp magazines, The Pulp Magazines Project, using funding from our Mellon Foundation digital humanities grant to hire students to help him tag and create metadata for his magazine scans in TEI-compliant XML. In November 2014 he delivered a paper at the Modernist Studies Association Conference entitled “Baroness Orczy’s Eldorado (1913) in Africa.”

Our postdoctoral fellow also has been busy helping Dickinson faculty develop their own digital humanities projects and ideas. An excellent example of this work is a project with Jacob Sider Jost, Assistant Professor English, who is developing a web site entitled “18th Century Poets Connect,” which documents patronage, printing, and literary affiliation networks using data compiled over many years. Professor Belk helped Professor Jost and his student research assistant Mary Naydan ’15 reimagine the possibilities of his data, and he built an elegant interface in Drupal. He also helped faculty in the Departments of History and English—in addition to forging a new and productive partnership with Associate Professor of Computer Science Grant Braught to help steer senior computer science majors towards collaborative digital humanities projects for their senior theses. On the strength of his work with the Boot Camp and with faculty development, he has been invited to serve as a consultant for Guilford College as they plan to make the most of their own Mellon grant.

Professor Belk also helped to organize a two-day visit by Cliff Wulfman to Dickinson in April 2015. Wulfman is the co-founder of the Center for Digital Humanities at Princeton, which has attracted an extraordinary amount of interest. During his visit to Dickinson he presented on the topic “Thinking Big: Five Steps to Successful Digital Project Development.” Approximately 60 people attended, including representatives from other colleges in our surrounding area (among them Gettysburg, Bucknell, Lafayette, and Franklin and Marshall Colleges).  

Finally, Professor Belk also worked with Professor Francese to submit a proposal to Dickinson’s Space Utilization Committee advocating for a physical space for textual editing distinct from Dickinson’s existing Media Center. As a result, the college was able to commit space until the end of summer 2015 for a Textual Studies Lab, which is currently located in a room within our Waidner-Spahr Library. This space contains three work stations equipped with software for XML editing and OCR processing, and a digitization cradle manufactured by Professor Belk himself.

Digital Humanities Fund

Another major component of our digital humanities grant has been to review and award internal grants to support Dickinson faculty members interested in beginning or advancing their digital humanities efforts. The following is a list of grants awarded to Dickinson faculty through our Digital Humanities Fund since our last report, the vast majority of which have involved students in substantive ways.

Art and Art History

Melinda Schlitt

  • reassigned time to support work on curating images for a multimedia edition of Vergil’s Aeneid in development with Dickinson College Commentaries
  • student assistant to support work on curating images for a multimedia edition of Vergil’s Aeneid


Christofilis Maggidis

  • student summer assistant and rental of 3-D scanning equipment for documentation of finds and architectural remains at Lower Town in Mycenae, Greece

Classical Studies

Chris Francese

  • student summer assistant to gather notes and images for a multimedia digital edition of Vergil’s Aeneid
  • two academic year student assistants, one creating descriptions and metadata for images from an important illustrated Aeneid editios of 1502 in support of the multimedia Aeneid digital edition, and a second for the creation of a Database of Latin Grammar in Caesar’s De Bello Gallico
  • consultant Megan Ayer (Ph.D. Classical Studies, University of Buffalo) to edit and complete the digital version of T.D. Goodell’s School Grammar of Attic Greek (1902)
  • consultant Derek Frymark to complete running vocabulary lists for the whole of Vergil’s Aeneid based on Henry Frieze’s Virgilian Dictionary


Jacob Sider Jost

  • student assistant to support “Patronage, Print, and the Economics of Eighteenth-Century Poetry.” The resulting web site is called “18th Century Poets Connect.”

Wendy Moffat

  • student assistant to help create a searchable database for images and documents for her book project, A Disbelief in Obstacles: Three Prophetic Americans and the Great War [Site here.]

Greg Steirer

  • Atlas.ti software licenses for a student and an educational instructor to assist with a book chapter entitled “Bioware and the Politics of Video Game Authorship” (in progress)

French and Italian

Nicoletta Marini-Maio

  • student assistants to help develop the online, open-access peer-reviewed journal project entitled “gender/sexuality/italy


Sarah McGaugheySarah Bair (Education), and Todd Bryant

  • three student assistants to help create online language lessons for blended learning to be used with The Mixxer, the Dickinson-based social networking website for connecting students in foreign language courses with native speakers abroad who are studying English
  • travel to CALICO, the Computer Assisted Language Instruction Consortium, on May 6-10, 2014 at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.


Crystal Moten

Emily Pawley

  • reassigned time to help oversee work on the Dickinson history web project [Site here.]

Matthew Pinsker

  • faculty consultant John Osborne to help supervise the development of the main House Divided research engine
  • two student assistants to help develop the multi-media projects and video tutorials for the new Lincoln’s Writings website
  • support for an E-book publication series, videotaped panels/exhibits, and Voice of Lincoln podcasts
  • stipends for advisory board members (David Blight, Catherine Clinton, Eric Foner, Harold Holzer, James Oakes, and Anne Sarah Rubin)

Karl Qualls

  • student summer assistant to support research on Russian immigration to the US in Prince Gagarin, the website: Russian Americans

Political Science/International Studies

Ed Webb and Todd Bryant (Academic Technology)

  • three student summer assistants to work on the creation of two historical simulations in Minecraft, one covering Europe and the Americas in 1492 and the other covering Europe and Africa beginning in 1876.


Susan Rose and James Gerencser (College Archives)

  • three summer student assistants to work on digitizing student files for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School project
  • two student assistants for the academic year
  • three student assistants in spring for one week of work in the National Archives
  • consultant Krista Gray to develop Drupal site
  • three student assistants in fall
  • consultant Blair Williams to process ledgers and other bound materials

Digital Boot Camp Program

Our second successful “Digital Boot Camp” was held from January 5 through 16, 2015 to provide training for students interested in working with faculty on digital humanities projects. Eleven students participated: Victoria DeLaney ’17 (English/Spanish), Jackie Goodwin ’17 (Environmental Studies/Sociology), Wesley Lickus ’17 (Environmental Science), Nick Bailey ’16 ( International Business & Management), Andrew McGowan ’16 (Biochemistry & Molecular Biology), Harris Risell ’16 (English), Anna Leistikow ’15 (International Studies), Melissa Pesantes ’15 (Italian Studies/Anthropology), Katherine Purington ’15 (Classical Studies), Olivia Wilkins ’15 (Chemistry/Mathematics), and Maurice Royce ’16 (Computer Science). 

These students completed online tutorials at home during the week of January 5, 2015 and convened on campus for further instruction and to work on their own projects. Training included ArcGIS, Drupal, XML, and discussions of metadata and other DH principles. Other instructors included Michael D’Aprix, Daniel Plehkov, Leah Orr, and Don Sailer. Most of the student projects represented collaborations with faculty members, academic departments, or student organizations on campus. The projects can be viewed at http://dh.dickinson.edu/belkp/. There also was a well-attended showcase of this work in the HUB Social Hall on campus on January 27, 2015 at which these students had a chance to present and explain their projects.

Digital Studio

The Digital Studio that highlights the many digital projects headed by Dickinson faculty has been expanded to accommodate new projects as they become established. The Dickinson Digital Humanities blog, maintained by Professor Francese, is also very active—with 25 posts since the last report. The majority of these are based on reports submitted by faculty of work carried out with the support of the grant. There have been essays by Dickinson faculty members discussing various aspects of their work and announcements of DH-related campus events. The website also displays guidelines for faculty interested in applying for funding and a definition and discussion of the concepts behind the digital humanities.

Workshops and Defining Learning Outcomes

As explained in our last interim report, Jeffrey McClurken conducted a workshop for our faculty in January 2014 as a first step toward defining learning outcomes for Dickinson students with regard to digital humanities skills. At the conclusion of that workshop, faculty participants were encouraged by the Provost to return to their departments to discuss the possibility of convening smaller departmental workshops to work more intensively on specific learning outcomes relevant to their disciplines. We agreed to provide internal funds (as cost sharing) for several of these follow-up workshops.

Two departments have conducted workshops since our last report (History and Spanish & Portuguese). The Department of History met twice over the summer of 2014 and had very good discussions. They plan to bring in an outside consultant to campus this spring and will provide a final report on their progress later in the year. The Department of Spanish & Portuguese also met twice, in the summer of 2014 and again briefly during winter break. They have developed proposed learning outcomes for two courses in their major. Students taking Spanish 231 will “develop their ability to locate and assess the quality of a range of written and digital sources” and students in Spanish 305 “will learn to annotate a text digitally in closed and collaborative formats. Students will write for various digital platforms with an awareness of audience and scope.”

Plans and Goals for Upcoming Year

Next year we plan to conduct our third Digital Humanities Boot Camp in January 2016, and the Digital Humanities Advisory Committee will continue to solicit proposals and award internal grants to our faculty for digital humanities scholarly projects, professional development activities, and summer and academic-year student collaborators and assistants. 

With regard to technology, we hope to implement an XML database, with Fedora platform and Apache Solr search application for faculty projects that involve the creation of TEI-encoded texts for digital scholarship and research. Professor Francese also plans to guide the establishment of the Textual Studies Lab in its new form under the auspices of the Archives and Special Collections of the college (not using Mellon funding.)  Finally, the Digital Humanities Advisory Committee also hopes to sponsor a “DHAC-a-thon” modeled on the NEH-funded “Digging into Data Challenge and Pennsylvania State University’s “HackPSU.” The goal will be to invite teams of two to three undergraduate humanities majors to explore and create visualizations using data spreadsheets provided by our Archives and Special Collections and from other Dickinson projects. A small cash prize will be offered for the best work as judged by DHAC members.

Dickinson remains profoundly grateful to the Mellon Foundation for support of this comprehensive initiative in the digital humanities. As this interim report indicates, this grant continues to harness the creativity of our faculty and students, creating many new opportunities for faculty and students to create useful digital humanities resources. We expect to continue to leverage the Mellon Foundation’s generous support to continue exciting new projects and collaborations in the year ahead.

Cliff Wulfman on Skunks, Shmoos, and the Future of DH

[The following slides and presentation notes are from Cliff Wulfman’s talk, “Thinking Big,” which took place Thursday, April 2, 2015 in Stafford Auditorium on the campus of Dickinson College. The Digital Humanities Advisory Committee thanks Dr. Wulfman for his permission to share them–PSB].


I want to thank Chris and Patrick for inviting me to speak with you this afternoon.  I’m a close reader by training and inclination, so I can’t start a talk like this without “problematizing” our terms:

“Successful Digital Humanities Project Development”

Indeed, I’m going to use those terms as the framework for exploring these five steps, though not in syntactic order.

1. DIGITAL: Let’s begin with the term digital, and its verbal derivation, digitize.


The term digital is, of course, treacherously polysemous.  It has become a metonym for the discrete values modern computers use to represent information, and so to digitize is to represent information by means of discrete values.  Digital data is simply information stored as ordered sequences of discrete states.  These ordered sequences are often called files or streams, and they come in many varieties, but at the most basic level they are all the same: audio files, image files, text files are all just sequences of bits.

So the digital in digital humanities refers to the binary representation of information as bits.  It does not, in other words, connote numerical or mathematical so much as it does symbolic, or semiotic.


It is about representability.

So digital humanities is not equivalent to statistical humanities, although the showiest face of digital humanities is the visualization of maps, graphs, and trees derived from the application of social-science methods to texts and to phenomena of interest to historians of various types, literary and otherwise. The rhetorical impact of these visualizations is undeniable, but at bottom they are simply a way of displaying quantitative information, and computation is not equivalent to quantification. Computation also entails the application of procedural logic and heuristics: using an encoded knowledge base and a reasoning algorithm, for example, to diagnose an illness from a set of symptoms.

Nor is digital humanities equivalent to making web pages.


For scholars in the humanities, in most cases, web sites are akin to publications: they constitute the presentation of research, not the research itself.  So in almost all cases, creating a web site does not constitute a digital humanities project.

At the same time, the World Wide Web has evolved, from a collection of lightly encoded text files linked together by the HTTP data-transfer protocol, into a network of data and services. So creating a trove of carefully prepared data in machine-readable format — a digital edition encoded in the schema of the Text Encoding Initiative, for example, or a biographical dictionary encoded using the standards of linked open data — does constitute a digital humanities project.

So the first step to successful digital humanities project development is understanding what it means for something to be digital.Slide06

2. PROJECT: Next: Defining a project.


As a researcher, you may already have disciplinary knowledge and traditional practice guiding and constraining your conception and realization of a project. What makes a scholarly or academic project a digital humanities project?

Defining a project isn’t always straightforward in the humanities.


These endeavors are not always product-oriented; even when they are, the product is frequently intangible: an idea; an argument; an analysis; a method; a critique; etc. I’m leaving aside articles and monographs as direct products of research: they are secondary instruments of dissemination

Sometimes there is tangible product, though: editions; transcriptions; databases; instruments for research and analysis.

When thinking in terms of a project, then, it is important to learn to think strategically:

Slide09Think about the outcomes you want to want to achieve, and why they are important: what will the consequences of this work be?

Think about the resources your work will require. Particular materials, in particular forms? Tools for accomplishing specific tasks?  Whose time and attention will you be drawing upon, and for how long?

How difficult is your project? What are the risk factors: what sorts of things might go wrong, what sorts of events might interfere with the successful completion of your project? What are your contingency plans? Can your project produce partial successes, or is it all or nothing? (Not a good idea.)

Try to organize your project into phases, each of which has its own success criteria, and each of which builds on the preceding phases.

If it sounds like I’m telling you to learn to think like an engineer, I am.



Earlier, I talked about what it means for something to be digital. Chiseling a definition of the term digital is easy; sharpening the meaning of the term humanities is much, much more difficult – so difficult and contentious, in fact, that I’m not going to address it directly at all, other than to suggest it has more to do with subject-matter than method.  Instead, just as I have tried to complicate the popular conflation of digital humanities with social science, I want to take this opportunity to distinguish digital humanities from digital librarianship.  Once again, these endeavors often overlap significantly, but they are different.

From one perspective, a library is a hoard of physical artifacts whose principal function is to be looked at. Seen from that perspective, digitization is an image-making activity: rendering surfaces on which drawings and inscriptions appear into sequences of bits that a computer can use to produce a reflection of that surface. From another perspective, a library is a gathering of texts whose principal function is to be read. From this perspective digitization is a linguistic activity: rendering words or other symbols into sequences of bits that a computer can use to create linguistic symbols that can be analyzed and compared.

It is the scholar’s privilege to regard the library from the latter perspective; it is the librarian’s burden to view it from the former, and in large measure the job of libraries is conservative digital photo-duplication: not creating a digital library so much as digitizing an existing one.

Thus the work of the digital scholar depends on that of the digital librarian, and in some aspects overlaps considerably with it, but it is not the same work. Likewise the work of the information scientist; the software engineer; the computer scientist (all different sorts of work, often done by different people).

This is part of the reason the digital humanities are so often hyped as being collaborative: quite often, work in DH requires knowledge and expertise from a variety of fields.  By bringing in many different perspectives you necessarily get many different priorities, points of view, cutting across different traditional academic disciplines, but focusing on humanities questions.

So, step three in developing a successful digital humanities project is to conceptualize your work in the context of an interdisciplinary framework of humanistic endeavor.


4. SUCCESSFUL: Defining success isn’t always straightforward in the humanities, and in research in general.


I’m going to hazard the following measure of a good DH Project:

“a good DH project uses domain knowledge and intellectual labor to create digital objects that can be curated and shared with others through standard formats and services.”

That last criterion (accessibility) strongly implicates the world wide web, but it needn’t always. And it certainly doesn’t necessitate a whizzy web site.


But defining success is a useful discipline nonetheless. For one thing, it can help you focus your work by articulating specific outcomes you want to achieve.

What specific goals do you expect to meet with this work?  A full and compelling argument?  An insightful biography?  A meticulous accounting of an event, or an object, or an archive?  If there are products of your work, what are they?  On what basis can you or others evaluate their quality, their success or failure?

Of course, this kind of outcome-orientation isn’t appropriate at all stages of research, but the point at which you can articulate goals and deliverables is the point at which research becomes a project.


Defining successful outcomes also helps to organize time and effort.  Most of us know the value of setting intermediate goals and deadlines; organizing these around success criteria can help make them realistic.

Let me give you some examples (this is a highly opinionated list) of “Bad (or Meh) DH Projects”:





Now another, equally opinionated, list of “Good (or Exemplary) DH Projects”:


The Text Creation Partnership to improve the OCR of 18th century typography is a good DH project.  Good DH projects are those whose products or outcomes can be used in multiple ways by others.


The Valley of the Shadow is one of the first digital humanities projects.


Begun in 1993 by Ed Ayers and Will Thomas, at Uva, it is an electronic archive of two communities in the American Civil War–Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennyslvania. The Valley Web site includes encoded, searchable newspapers, population census data, agricultural census data, manufacturing census data, slave-owner census data, and tax records. The Valley Web site also contains letters and diaries, images, maps, church records, and military rosters.

What makes it particularly important, to my mind, is that it was designed not as a showcase but as a working research tool.

Ayers and Thomas published a web-based hypertext article that explicitly uses hypertext and full-text encoded archival material to make an argument.

The Shelley-Godwin Archive is another exemplary archival project.


It features transcriptions of manuscripts that are deeply encoded to allow users to study the composition history of the materials.

Mapping the Republic of Letters is another.


Based at Stanford, this project gathers meta data about the networks of correspondence among the luminaries of the Age of Enlightenment and uses it to produce wonderful visualizations of them.

5. DEVELOPMENT: So how do you go about doing this? How do you develop a DH project?


Talk with people.

We’ve already talked about the almost inherently collaborative nature of the digital humanities.  There simply is not (not yet, anyway) a strong, documented track record of digital humanities methods and approaches; they are in any case highly interdisciplinary and under rapid evolution.

The proliferation of DH centers at universities testifies to the anxiety on the part of researchers to acquire new competencies as part of their academic work.  So seek out others in your field who have already had some experience, and ask them how they did it; seek out colleagues in other fields to talk with you about methodologies and approaches.

Climb the steep hill.


This is really important. Ask yourself if you are willing to take the time to learn something new, different, and possibly outside your comfort zone.

Be prepared to acquire a more than superficial understanding of computational practices and methods.  Not that you have to become a master programmer; but you should understand the fundamentals of programming and computer science: data structures and algorithms; inputs and outputs.

Just as you would not undertake a professional study of Homer without learning Greek, learn the the language of computer engineering: how could I represent the objects of my study in machine-readable forms? Can I develop models of things and events? How might I manipulate those representations? Could I describe procedures, techniques, tricks for analyzing them, generating them, enhancing them, expressing them in different forms?

Deploy project-oriented thinking.


In developing your project, employ the project-oriented strategic thinking we discussed earlier:  Try to lay out your project as a series of incremental steps and accomplishments.

Be flexible.

Unless your project is very straightforward and extremely well defined, it is likely to change in response to external events (funding, personnel) and internal evolution (discoveries made in the course of the project).

But, don’t just go chasing rabbits down the rabbit-hole. It’s very tempting to let the scope of your project expand over time as you learn about new things, see someone’s nifty tool, and so on.

Scope creep founders projects.

At the same time, though, don’t hobble your imagination or your ambition based on what you can see from here, today.

Don’t be afraid to think big.


Let me share with you a little thought experiment.  A few months ago I was asked to speak on a conference panel entitled “Modernism and Big Data.”

The so-called “digital humanities” are at this early stage of engagement as much a series of considered poses, or deliberative positions, as anything else.  So to hold a panel on “Modernism and Big Data” was to propose a consideration of “Humanism as Big Science,” to position ourselves, to imagine ourselves, as big scientists asking big questions, knowing all the while that we were “playing pretend”.

In what follows, I am going to pretend that the collective textual remnants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries have all been processed into a machine-readable textual corpus. We don’t have it now, but it is not so far-fetched to imagine that we will be able to capture a significant portion of the written record, at least that portion already under institutional control in libraries and archives. It wasn’t all that long ago that the Google Books project seemed absolutely preposterous.

And besides, we’re just playing.


Big Science asks big questions, such as “what is the nature of matter?”  The enormity of the question and the value of obtaining an answer (both practical value and intellectual value) drive research, collaboration, funding — they provide the energy that turns the wheels of research.

Perhaps, in this big-science fantasy we’re indulging ourselves in for the moment, we can imagine what such a Big Question might be, and speculate on what sort of engine posing it might awaken.  In our context I can imagine no bigger question than Raymond Williams’ question, ”When was Modernism?”

This seems a reasonable — and somewhat preposterous — Big Question to start with.  But we could just as easily ask something just as grandiose, like “WHAT was Modernism?”  — answering which is a precondition to answering the “When?” question, or “WHERE was Modernism?”


These questions share the playful, tantalizing precision of Virginia Woolf’s famous aphorism from “Mr Bennet and Mrs Brown.”

Less often quoted is her qualification. Nevertheless, let’s succumb to temptation and take Woolf’s assertion at face value.  How would we go about proving or disproving her hypothesis? Could the immensity of Big Data help us, and if so, how?

So, in Woolf’s spirit, and since one must be arbitrary, let us call our Big Science endeavor…


We’re talking Big Science here – REALLY BIG – like the Manhattan Project, or the search for the Higgs boson. So let’s keep playing dress-up and imagine an alternative reality where the Institutions of Power actually thought these questions were as important as finding out whether a subatomic particle actually exists or not, or how to blow up the planet. That is, we would have access to REALLY BIG RESOURCES, with really big expectations.

What would it mean for us, institutionally and professionally, to address ourselves collectively to answering such a question?  What would happen to the current models of promotion and tenure, department composition, teaching, publication? Who would have to be involved?

We would inevitably want some Theorists.


We want to describe a state change: for some definition of human character, we want to be able to say that before some point (the “December 1910 Moment”), human character was in state H and after that point it was in state H′.

We might then call Modernism a function which, when applied to Human Character H, transforms it to H prime.

As with so much theory, the discussion quickly becomes highly arcane.  So I’m going to leave the theorists to do their thing for the moment and turn to the Empiricists.


They’re the ones who get to play with the big toys, the big machines, the big data. Sometimes they get to play pirate, or skunks – more about that in a minute.  The linear accelerator model: building a ginormous machine that you can use to produce humungous amounts of data, which you can then search for traces in. The ginormous machine is history, which has left a humungous data trail of artifacts and documents in its wake.

How might the Empiricists use that Big Data to locate the December 1910 Moment?

Well, statistical topic modeling seems pretty tantalizing. If Woolf’s hypothesis is correct, we should expect to find topic models after the December 1910 moment that do not exist before that moment. The simple existence of the moment doesn’t explain what caused the change: that is, it doesn’t explain what the Modernism function is.  That’s the problem with History: it isn’t testable. You can’t change the factors in some equation and re-run events to see how the factors affect them.


The Empiricists include scholars like Greg Crane, who ask what do you do with a million books, and Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive, who asks us to imagine capturing the entire human record in digital form, and Stephen Ramsay, who articulates the Screwmeneutical Imperative to subvert the academic orthodoxies and ideologies of method and form an anarchic version of The December 1910 Project, a “community of practice” that valorizes Roland Barthe’s playful writerly text.

Now, right about now you’re maybe getting a little tired of playing dress-up. But before we pooh-pooh these visionary questions, let’s recall the remarkable thing Google did with its Google Books project. Sure: it isn’t perfect, and it leaves lots of things out, and it’s texts are really, really dirty.

But this is how *big* works.  It isn’t small acts of perfection: perfectly crafted editions, for example.  Big works through iterative refinement, each iteration changing the state of things in such a way as to open opportunities for further refinement.  Unattended OCR, the holy grail: a machine that can read printed text as well as a trained human being.  We don’t have it yet, so today the results of unattended OCR are dirty.

But OCR algorithms continue to improve (need citations). In fact, the principal value of generation X digitization projects like the Google Books project is the /page capture/.  If those pages were photographed well, the OCR can always be re-run, and over time the cost of processing and re-processing will decline.

So, on the one hand, we must develop research methods that tolerate noise, while at the same time anticipating improvements in the accuracy of text recognition.


The larger message I’m trying to convey is this one.  The most valuable part of the December 1910 Project is the social and institutional infrastructure that supports, promotes, protects, and preserves human effort..  Put your emphasis on the stuff that machines need but can’t do. The most expensive, most valuable part of digital humanities work is the work done by trained human beings.  That’s the work that can’t be re-processed cheaply, no matter how little you pay graduate students.  Don’t treat it lightly! Don’t stick it in a Word document and forget about it.  Spend some time thinking about the best ways to capture that intellectual work so that it can be re-used in today’s scholarly world: that may not be a verbal argument published in a scholarly monograph, but a data set – a formal marshalling of evidence – represented in a way that can be taken up by reasoning machines as well as reasoning people.

Don’t become slaves to the machine: hack the machine, or partner with people who can. Make the machine work for you by giving it information it can use.

Give it highly crafted, machine-actionable metadata: not just the usual library metadata – names, titles, dates of publication and so on.


We will need granular structured analyses of complex pages, like those in newspapers and magazines.  Not slabs of undifferentiated text, but pages that have been decomposed into their structural regions, mult-page articles that have been joined together into discrete wholes. Much of this work can now be automated, but it still needs human assistance.

Give the machine descriptions of nuanced relations and assertions that it can read.


Statements in first-order predicate logic are a start.  Here is a portion of a graph describing the publication of Bayard Boysen’s “Lake” in the first issue of Broom, a description that captures the complex relationships among abstract entities (“the magazine Broom”, “a poem called ‘Lake’”) and concrete realities – a copy of the first issue of Broom, housed in Firestone Library, and a set of electronic files that embody various representations of it. These sorts of assertions – encoded in some sort of standard schema, like RDF – are the raw material of the knowledge base the so-called “semantic web” promises to become. There are lots of problems with the semantic web, just as there are problems with Google Books, but it is for now by far the best place to start putting our scholarly effort.


I want to conclude with a nod to three pioneers of computer science, Vannevar Bush, Douglas Englebart, and J. R. Licklider. At the dawn of the computer age, these men, all three engineers and administrators, each had a vision of the computer that was profoundly humanistic.  Bush’s Memex, often cited as the precursor to the world wide web, was a machine that enabled people to link and track the vastness of human knowledge more efficiently.

Doug Englebart, inventor of the mouse and a variety of other ground-breaking technologies, saw in computers the possibility of augmenting the human intellect.

R. Licklider, director of the Defense department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, from which the Internet sprang, envisioned a “human computer symbiosis” in which humans and machines partner to extend the reach of human thinking and decision-making.

For each of them, the computer was not an enormous calculating machine, but an empowering system that people could engage to increase the store of human knowledge. If you can develop projects that participate in, extend, and augment this vision, they will indeed be successful digital humanities projects.

Which brings us to skunks.


I read with great pleasure and sympathy Bethany Nowviskie’s blog post entitled ‘a skunk in the library’.  Nowviskie traces the term to Lockheed Martin in the 1940s, where it was used to describe a “rogue team” of engineers who functioned outside the usual corporate culture in order to accomplish special things, and she applies it to to the Scholar’s Lab at UVa, which she directs.

Nowviskie mentions parenthetically that the engineers took the term “skunkworks” from Al Capp’s L’il Abner, but she doesn’t pursue the allusion, staying with the meaning that has evolved from the Lockheed Martin appropriation: a group of elite creatives who get special license to do wonderful, innovative things.  Following this etymology, those creative people are the skunks.  And who wouldn’t want to be a skunk?  These skunks are like the kids in the Gifted and Talented program: they may be misfits, some of them, but they’re precious and special, and they smell bad only to Department Chairs, who don’t savor liberty and innovation.

The thing is, that’s not how things were in the hillbilly hamlet of Dogpatch, and I want to conclude with that.  (I also want to claim the right to use the term “hillbilly”, as I was born and bred in West Virginia and am proud to be called one.)

In the world of Li’l Abner, the “Skonk Works” was a toxic chemical factory on the outskirts of Dogpatch, where the lone operator, “Big Barnsmell,” crafted a mysterious concoction called ‘skonk oil’ by brewing dead skunks and old shoes in a still.  Dozens of Dogpatch residents died every year of the toxic fumes.

According to Ben Rich, the second director of the Lockheed Martin skunk works, the group got its name because the original facility was located next to a toxic-smelling plastics factory and one of the engineers likened their own secretive operation to factory in the Al Capp cartoon.


So there are several things to think about here.  First, the skunks aren’t in charge.  They aren’t the workers in the “Skonk Works”; they are the raw material.  Second, the work of the skunk works isn’t benign “creative innovation”; it is industrial pollution.  Nowviskie acknowledges the unease occasioned by use of the term “skunkworks”: “there’s a level of honesty and self-awareness involved in not calling them snuggly bunnies.”

There’s a larger story here about papering over the toxic effects of the digital revolution, literally, as in the waste byproducts of microchip manufacture, and figuratively in the effects of automation on an underclass of workers (the denizens of Dogpatch) and the fact that the Lockheed Martin operation designed war planes.  These bunnies are not snuggly at all, and they aren’t even amusingly off-beat: they are fodder for a noxious process of commodification.

I’m afraid that to expect academia to work like Lockheed Martin, or like Silicon Valley start-ups, or even like a forward-looking library, is naïve. From what I’ve seen, the skunks are the graduate students, the adjuncts, and the alt-acs who do the work but don’t get the credit; who build the intellectual playgrounds Steve Ramsay describes but aren’t allowed inside.  To call them skunks is to give them a roguish tang; in fact, they risk becoming that other legendary Al Capp creature …


The Shmoo, which exists to be a commodity: delicious to eat, and eager to be eaten.

The Digital Humanities, Big Data: these highfalutin terms promise much, and we can fantasize about the opportunities they open up, the roles they may let us play, the discoveries they may enable. But let’s not allow our dress-up fantasies to become wish-fulfillment. Higher Education is in crisis; intellectualism is in decline; graduate education is in a death spiral. Let’s not pretend that DH is going to solve all these problems: even more, let’s not let DH become part of the problem.

Thank you.

Mellon Digital Humanities Seminar: Clifford Wulfman (4-7:30 PM, Thursday, April 2, 2015) @ Dickinson College, Carlisle PA


“Thinking Big: Five Steps to Successful Digital Project Development”


Clifford Wulfman is the Coordinator of Library Digital Initiatives at Princeton University and co-founder of Princeton’s new Center for Digital Humanities. He has been involved with the Perseus Digital Library, the Modernist Journals Project, and is currently the Director of the Blue Mountain Project, an NEH-funded initiative digitizing European art periodicals. In April, Dr. Wulfman will be on the campus of Dickinson College to talk about his work and training, digital libraries, and the future of digital humanities.