Digital Humanities at MLA 2015 (Vancouver)

The digital humanities is well represented at this weekend’s 130th annual Modern Language Association Convention (Vancouver, BC; January 8-11). A simple keyword search of the 2015 Program displays 43 sessions that match the criteria “All text: digital humanities”; 6 sessions match “All text: DH,” and 32 sessions are listed under the program’s Subject heading:

General Literature–Electronic Technology (Teaching, Research, and Theory).

Because it reminded me of Chris’s thoughtful (and provoking) post on Desmond Schmidt’s article two days ago, I wanted to first bring attention, and share the link, to a session held yesterday: 204. Text Tools in the (Digital) Humanities (Friday, 9). Here’s a case being made by David Hoover for “plain text” alternatives to XML, which also focuses on inter-operability, and shares some of the concerns in Schmidt’s article that Chris discussed Thursday. Abstracts of all 3 papers for session 204 are posted at 204 Abstracts. The top-most abstract is Hoover’s paper, titled “The Promise of the Plain: Plain Text and Plain Tools in the Digital Humanities.”

I won’t even try to briefly touch on all 43 sessions, but another that caught my attention, and I wanted to share because it looked interesting, was this morning’s roundtable: 448. Disrupting the Digital Humanities (Saturday, 10). Last night while browsing the program, I paused at this one in particular, because I saw that participants included Sean Michael Morris (presiding) and Jessie Stommel (final speaker), who are co-directors of Hybrid Pedagogy, an online blog/ peer-reviewed journal that I follow. According to the program’s session description:

All too often, defining a discipline becomes more an exercise of exclusion than inclusion. This roundtable rethinks how we map disciplinary terrain by directly confronting the gatekeeping impulse of many academic disciplines. Participants investigate the edges and open the digital humanities more fully to its fringes and outliers.

For papers featured at this morning’s roundtable discussion, go here: DisruptingDH.

Sessions, abstracts, and (some) papers from DH-related events at this year’s MLA can be found through links in the Full Program. Relative to other methodologies and content areas, the digital humanities remains the annual mega-conference’s MVP (Most Visible Player)-as Pannapacker called it, “The Thing”-five years running. The 204 and 408 sessions give a good idea of the kinds of wide-ranging approaches being taken, moreover. DH at this year’s MLA–from textual analysis and close reading to LOL cats and critical queer theory–is thriving, and scholars in languages and literature are doing some pretty meaningful work across diverse areas of research.

Exporting and Sharing Digital Scholarly Editions

Desmond Schmidt’s recent article in the Journal of TEI about how to create a truly portable and interoperable digital scholarly editions came at an opportune time for me. DCC is entering into a relationship with Open Book Publishers in Cambridge to exchange our (Creative Commons licensed) content. They will publish some of our commentaries as books and eBooks, and we will publish some of their book commentaries as multimedia, web-based editions. But how to actually make the transference?

We are starting by delivering Bret Mulligan’s commentary on Nepos’ Life of Hannibal. OBP needs it in a format they can use and set in InDesign and publish in EPUB. But how should the transfer happen? How can we actually share the open licensed scholarly content of DCC so it can actually be re-purposed and pe-published in different formats? Not easily, it turns out. Our commentaries are just html pages in Drupal, not XML based and TEI tagged documents, and thus, in the view of one early critic of the project, “not truly digital.” XML-TEI is intended as a universal standard for editing and tagging documents of all kinds, and not adopting that for our project was at the time a decision based on cost. Anyway, after various investigations on the OBP side it turned out the best way for us to get our commentaries is to OBP deliver the via . . . wait for it . . . Microsoft Word–with all the labor and possibilities for error that that involves.

Wouldn’t things be better if our texts were marked up in XML-TEI? No, according to Schmidt. He argues, in effect, that TEI is actually hindering the sharing of digital scholarly editions. The problem is the subjectivity of TEI tagging and the diversity of the tags themselves, which in Schmidt’s view makes true interoperability of scholarly editions in TEI a pipe dream. The solution he proposes, as I understand it, is to get all the tags and metadata out completely and into separate files, preserving the text as plain text (in multiple versions if we are dealing with revisions or variants). He is evidently developing an editing environment which ends up creating zipped files that completely separate the text itself, annotation data that points back to the text, and metadata. A few choice quotes:

Syd Bauman (2011), one of the original editors of TEI P5, has since observed that interoperability of TEI-encoded texts today—that is, the exchange of unmodified TEI files between different programs—is “impossible.” (9)

One obvious remedy to this problem is to remove the main source of non-interoperability, namely the embedded markup itself, from the text. By removing it, the part which contains all the significant interpretation can later be added or substituted at will. (21)

What remains when the markup is removed is a residue of plain text that is highly interoperable, which can be exchanged with other researchers, just as the files on Gutenberg.org are downloaded by the tens of thousands every day (Leibert 2008). However, if one suggests this to someone who regularly uses TEI-XML, the immediate objection is made that this will solve nothing, because even plain ASCII texts are still an interpretation of what the transcriber sees on the page (e.g. Sperberg-McQueen 1991, 35). This point, although valid to a degree, misses an important distinction. (22)

And it goes on in this interesting vein. I would love to hear from people who are wiser and more experienced than I am about Schmidt’s critique of embedded TEI annotation and his proposed solution. In the meantime, I need to go format some stuff in Microsoft Word.

Exploring User Interaction Options for the Carlisle Indian School Project

Krista Gray sends along this update on her work with the Carlisle Indian School Project, researching best practices and common approaches for crowdsourced transcription and user-submitted content.

This semester I’ve had the opportunity to work as a consultant on the Carlisle Indian School Project, focusing on developing features to support greater user interaction and participation on the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center website. As part of this process, I’ve researched how other institutions have implemented similar features, experimented with various possibilities on a test site, and begun to implement selected elements on the live site.

Initially, I focused on investigating two main avenues for increasing opportunities for user interaction on the site:

  • crowdsourced transcription of digitized documents, and
  • user-submitted contributions of stories, images, or documents in digital form

The research occurred in two main stages. I began by exploring similar projects at other institutions that supported either of these modes of user interaction and also investigated some of the pre-existing open-source tools for facilitating these functions. This preliminary research gave me a better understanding of the scope of various components, approaches, and issues involved in the process as well as the features of digital tools or systems currently available.

After gaining a general understanding of the various systems implemented at other institutions, I then conducted a more systematic comparative analysis of the different features and functions present (or absent) in these systems. In this, I moved beyond general impressions toward identifying best practices and common approaches found on other sites. This research brought forth both points of inspiration as well as a basic framework of significant elements to incorporate when implementing similar features on the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center. In this stage, I analyzed eighteen sites supporting crowdsourced transcription, including the Smithsonian Transcription CenterDIYHistory from the University of Iowa, and What’s on the Menu? from the New York Public Library. I also examined eighteen sites supporting user-submitted content, including the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank from George Mason University and the University of New Orleans, Our Marathon from Northeastern University, and the First Days Project from the South Asian American Digital Archive.

I examined each set of sites across several dimensions, ranging from what system they were built with to the specific elements of the transcription or submission form. Best practices for both types of sites included establishing a clear entry point for those looking to contribute or transcribe (perhaps as a button on the homepage), and providing clear access to guidelines for submission (these were common in transcription projects, but more rare in contribution projects). For transcription sites, additional recommended best practices included organizing materials within contextual units and providing elements (such as status labels) to facilitate more efficient browsing and selection of material to transcribe, as well as displaying progress indicators within the project. For contribution sites, collecting the contributor’s name and email address, as well as obtaining consent to a terms and conditions statement were all common practices. Other common fields included title and description, with additional fields varying in accord with the aim of each project. Another significant aspect of this research, then, was to observe how the context of each project might have affected its implementation, and to consider how the specific focus, goals, and resources of the Carlisle Indian School project would shape the development of interactive features on the site.

Building on what I learned over the course of this research, in mid-October 2014 my focus shifted to experimenting and planning how similar interactive elements might be supported on the Carlisle Indian Digital Resource Center website. Given the complexity of implementing these features, both are still in the development process, and my primary focus for November and December 2014 has been on building and testing components to support user-submitted contributions of stories, images, or documents.

Drawing insight and inspiration from two of the Drupal sites I found in my research – the Smithsonian Transcription Center and the South Asian American Digital Archive’s First Days Project – I have developed contribution forms integrated with a defined staff workflow for reviewing, adding metadata, and finally publishing user-contributed stories, images, or documents to the site. Examining the submission form on the First Days Project led me to investigate how a form typically used on the administrative side of a Drupal site could be adapted to collect public submissions of content as well. The process of collecting and reviewing transcriptions on the Smithsonian Transcription Center similarly led me to investigate how various functions could be added to assist staff in moving content through different stages of a review process for the Carlisle Indian School site. An account creation and login process is also in development for contributors.

As I considered how to implement various components to support user-submitted contributions, I gained a better understanding of what might be possible on the project site as a whole. An additional byproduct of this work, then, has been the development of features to extend site functionality for researchers as well, to allow for better browsing and filtering of records on the resource center. The significance of progress indicators for transcription sites found in my research, too, has also made an impact, despite not being directly relevant to the current focus on user-submitted contributions. New pages are in development to provide visitors with statistics on the progress being made by project staff to describe and provide access to more and more content online. This work has also resulted in additional test pages that present options for new angles by which researchers can explore the characteristics of the files currently available.

Finally, while all major interactive features are still in development, we have been able to implement two simpler interactive elements to the live site — visitors can now submit corrections to descriptions of particular records and they may also provide general feedback on the site. Additional options and information have also been added to browse pages on the live site, with more, as described above, planned for 2015. Watch the “Recent News & Updates” section on the home page of the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center for information about when new features will go live in the coming months.

Krista Gray graduated from Dickinson College in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science (a double major in Math and History, she was awarded honors in History and admitted to Phi Beta Kappa). She worked as the Friends of the Library Intern at Dickinson during the 2011-2012 academic year. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 2014 with a Master of Science in Information. In February 2015, she will begin her new job in the special collections division of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Recent Digital Projects at Dickinson

A 2013-2017 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation for faculty-driven digital projects is part of the longer-term flowering of digital projects at Dickinson, all of which involve students as scholars collaborating with faculty in some way. The History department has been particularly active in this realm since the 1980s (Dickinson Chronicles, House Divided, Dickinson History Project), and there are substantial projects in the Classical Studies department (Dickinson College Commentaries), the language departments (The Mixxer), and in the Sociology department and the College Archives (Carlisle Indian Industrial School Project). Here are some new and ongoing digital projects at Dickinson that the Digital Humanities Advisory Committee has been pleased to be able to support in recent months, thanks to the Mellon grant:

  • Mark Aldrich (Spanish and Portuguese): creating a digital edition of the 1984 work Andanzas de un mensajero fiero y pendenciero by poet and artist Rafael Pérez Estrada.
  • Patrick Belk (Mellon DH Postdoc): The Pulp Magazines Project, a full-text, searchable archive and database of British and American Fiction Magazines from the early twentieth century.
  • Chris Francese (Classical Studies): a digital version of T.D. Goodell’s School Grammar of Attic Greek; database of Vergilian vocabulary; multimedia edition of Vergil’s Aeneid.
  • Jim Gerencser (Archives), Susan Rose (Sociology), Malinda Triller Doran (Library): Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center: digitizing materials held at the U.S. National Archives; programming in Drupal to implement the various types of user interactivity.
  • Jacob Sider Jost (English): Eighteenth-Century Poets Connect, a Drupal database of patronage, authorship, and publication data from early 18th-century English literature (1710-1730)
  • Nicoletta Marini-Maio (Italian): gender/sexuality/italy (g/s/i), an online annual, peer-reviewed academic journal.
  • Crystal Moten (History): Visualizing Black Milwaukee, a platform to visualize (GIS mapping) the spatial dimensions of African American life in Milwaukee during the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Matt Pinsker (History): House Divided: E-Book publication series; Videotaped panels / special exhibit for the “Understanding Lincoln” online course; video tour, virtual trip to President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home in Washington DC; multimedia edition of Lincoln’s writings.
  • Blake Wilson (Music): database of poetry incipits, poet, poetic forms, language, composer, music sources, literary sources, and bibliography and notes related to singing and song culture in Renaissance Florence.

An earlier post lists activities related to the grant over its first year. Thanks to all the faculty who are doing this exciting work, and to the Mellon Foundation for fostering it!

Mellon DH Fund supports ongoing Digitization Efforts of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School Project

Directed by Jim Gerencser, Dickinson College Archivist, Susan Rose, Professor of Sociology, and Malinda Triller Doran, Special Collections Librarian, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School Project is developing a comprehensive digital resource to catalog and preserve records of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (1879-1918). It brings together widely dispersed archival materials to aid research and study, and serves as a virtual home for an active CIIS community of memory and inquiry. Launched in 2013, this exciting, new project at Dickinson College is already making a positive impact upon the communities of scholars and family historians who do research on the Carlisle Indian Industrial School and its many thousands of students.

DickinsonMagazine_Summer2014

With support from the Mellon Digital Humanities Fund last January, the project was able to hire two new undergraduate researchers, Katie Walters and Tessa Cicak, who spent two weeks at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. scanning materials from the student files series of CIIS records. Along with Caitlin Moriarty (Friends of the Library), they scanned 1560 student files during that time, comprising roughly 16,200 pages of text. Gerencser also spent several days at the National Archives, surveying the contents of other document series and scanning 5 boxes of student id cards. Back in Carlisle, undergraduate interns Michele Metcalf, Stephanie Read, and Frank Vitale continued to add processed, finalized student files to the online database, while correcting and updating student files that had been uploaded in summer 2013. Through the technology consultancy services of Don Sailer, also funded by the Mellon grant, new search features, an updated home page, and enhanced content entry standards were also added to the project’s website, along with a blog to provide regular updates on the project’s progress.

NARA_1401_02

As of that time, Gerencser and his team had scanned 3556 student files, of which 667 files were online, edited, and fully updated; 628 were online, with editing/ updating of descriptive content needed; and 288 were processed and ready to be put online. Of the 15 boxes of student card files in D.C., 5 had been fully scanned and processed, comprising roughly 1950 cards. Large sections of CIIS registers and record books were also transcribed, edited, and ready to be put online.

NARA_1327_b023_f1051_Page_6_Image_0001

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School Project was featured that month in an article for Indian Country Today, “Carlisle Indian Industrial School Files Go Digital,” and most recently was the subject of an ABC27 news story, “Digital records unearth Indian school history.”

For more information on the Carlisle Indian Industrial School Project, you can contact Jim Gerencser by email here.

Mellon DH Fund supports Innovation in Foreign Language Learning @ The Mixxer

MIXXER-600x250

The Mixxer, a Web application developed at Dickinson College by language technologist Todd Bryant, is a free educational resource allowing language learners around the world to schedule Skype sessions to fit their schedules, and helping Dickinson’s language departments harness technology to provide students regular conversations with native speakers. Having grown over the years to include 100,000+ international participants, The Mixxer enables Dickinson’s faculty to provide students the kind of experience that was once impossible in the classroom.

Last year, The Mixxer offered a MOOC to English speakers learning Spanish and paired the participants with a partner course of Spanish speakers learning English. Using open educational resources from COERLL, Colby College, Voice for America and the BBC among others, the language learners were introduced to new vocabulary and grammar points through texts and audio and then given activities to complete with their language partner from the other course. If you have ever taught or taken a language course, you can think of the language exchange as a replacement for the partner activities done most every day in class.

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CT0Sk1rPto” title=”Explanation%20of%20The%20Mixxer%20(1:57%20minutes)” modestbranding=”1″ autohide=”1″]

Explanation of The Mixxer (1:57 minutes)

With support from the Mellon Digital Humanities Fund, The Mixxer was able to build on its successes this summer, hiring three Dickinson education and language students to create free, online courses in German, French, and Chinese. The lessons are structured in much the same way as a traditional language class, with learners first being introduced to new content, given examples, asked to practice, and then finishing with some form of written assessment.

The German and French lessons, created by Ezra Sassaman and Caitlin DeFazio, respectively, assume some knowledge of the language – roughly one semester. The lessons in Chinese, created by Betsy Vuchinich, have been designed for beginning learners of the language, and use content primarily from the Confucius Institute and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. All three courses are complete, free to use, and currently available on The Mixxer site.

Additionally, Bryant and his team were able to hire a computer science major, Santiago Princ, to help with technical additions to The Mixxer. By using jQuery, Princ helped Bryant write a module that allows native speakers to quickly view, edit, and resubmit corrections to their partner’s written work. The language learner can then reply to the native speaker with further questions.

The module that Princ helped create extends the open-source Drupal platform, and has been published on Drupal.org along with an acknowledgement to Princ. It is viewable here.

Benefits to Students

Sassaman, DeFazio, and Vuchinich received training from Dickinson College associate professors Sarah Bair (Education) and Sarah McGaughey (German) on the basics of language pedagogy and the structure of language lessons. They then learned how to apply these principles to an online learning environment. They were also required to participate in the language exchanges themselves to gain an understanding of the lessons work in practice from a language learner’s perspective. The lessons are published under their name to which they will be able to refer if they decide to pursue a career or further education in language pedagogy.

By working with Bryant to create the module, Princ gained a solid and fundamental understanding of jQuery, a very common web developing language. More importantly, he now has experience working with open-source software along with the process of using community resources to diagnose and solve errors.

Bryant and Vuchinich also had the opportunity to showcase these resources at the CALICO / IALLT conference in Athens, Ohio (May 6 – 10), where they received praise from educators. Of particular interest was the news that they would use these lessons as part of three MOOCs to be offered on The Mixxer site (starting July 1, 2014). As before, learners from each course are able to connect with partners via Skype to complete the language exchange activities provided within each lesson.

For more information on The Mixxer, or foreign language learning with technology in general, you can contact Bryant by email here.

A New Allen & Greenough

With support from the Mellon Digital Humanities Fund and the Roberts Fund for Classical Studies at Dickinson, the Dickinson College Commentaries team has completed a new digital version of that perennially useful tool for Latinists, Allen and Greenough’s New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges, edited by J.B. Greenough, G.L. Kitteredge, A.A. Howard, and Benjamin L. D’Ooge. Boston: Ginn & Company, 1903.

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The project involved re-scanning the book to have good quality page images, then editing a set of existing XML files kindly provided by the Perseus Project. We added to that the newly digitized index, which was not in the Perseus XML. The purpose there was to make the book browsable via the index, which is important for user utility, and absent in all other online versions. On March 23, 2014, Kaylin Bednarz (Dickinson ’15) finished revision of XML files for Allen & Grenough, and the creation of html files based on the new XML. She was assisted and trained in the use of Oxygen software (which converts the XML into web-ready html) by Matthew Kochis, Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities, who also helped with day to day project management.

In late March, Dickinson web developer Ryan Burke uploaded the html and XML files to Dickinson servers, and created the web interface for A&G in html. This revealed issues of formatting: indentations were often not preserved, resulting in lack of clarity. Some character formatting was not right, and footnotes from the original print resource were not clearly displayed. Forward and back buttons had to be put in for each of the 638 sections.

On May 20, 2014, Meagan Ayer (PhD in classics and ancient history, University of Buffalo, 2013) began work hand-editing Allen & Greenough html files, removing errors and fixing formatting, adding navigational infrastructure using Adobe Dreamweaver. A few missing XML files had to be added and converted to html, and those finishing touches were put on last week.

The differences between the DCC version of A&G and others available on the internet are:

  • Page images attached to every section
  • Analytical index makes finding what you need easier
  • Functioning word search for the entire work
  • Attractive presentation with readable fonts and formatting
  • Fully edited to remove spelling errors and OCR misreads (further error notifications appreciated!)

And of course the whole is freely available under a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license. We plan to systematically link to this version of A&G in our Latin commentaries, and we are planning to have a similar work on the Greek side up soon:

Thomas Dwight Goodell, A School Grammar of Attic Greek (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1902). This excellent work was scanned by the Internet Archive. Last year Bruce Robertson of Mont Allison University kindly performed the OCR using Rigaudon, the output of which is available on Lace. At Dickinson the OCR output was edited and the XML and html pages created by Christina Errico. Ryan Burke has created the web interface. Meagan Ayer is in the process of editing and correcting the html pages. So look for that in the next few months!

Fall 2014 Digital Dialogues season at MITH

 

The Maryland Institute of Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland in College Park has announced the lineup of speakers for their Fall 2014 Digital Dialogues season. The seven speakers come from a wide variety of research specialties ranging from Women’s Studies, Film & Digital Media,  Information Studies and gaming culture. They are:

Tuesday September 30, 2014: Alison Booth

Tuesday October 7, 2014: Stephanie Ceraso

Tuesday October 14, 2014: Marisa Parham

Tuesday October 21, 2014: Alexis Lothian

Tuesday October 28, 2014:  Andrew Johnston 

Tuesday November 4, 2014: Darius Kazemi

Tuesday, November 11, 2014: Alex Wright

Read more at Save the Dates! Here are MITH’s Fall 2014 Digital Dialogues speakers.

CFP: Bucknell Digital Scholarship Conference: 14-16 November 2014

Bucknell Digital Scholarship Conference: 14-16 November 2014

Call for Proposals

Bucknell University, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, will host its first annual international digital scholarship conference. The theme of the conference is “Collaborating Digitally: Engaging Students in Faculty Research” with the goal of gathering a broad community of scholar-practitioners engaged in collaborative digital scholarship in research and teaching.

This conference will bring together a broad community of scholar-practitioners engaged in collaborative digital scholarship in research and teaching. We encourage presentations that emphasize forms of collaboration: between institutions of higher education; across disciplines; between faculty, librarians, and technologists; and between faculty and students. We welcome contributions from scholars, educators, technologists, librarians, administrators, and students who use digital tools and methods, and encourage submissions from emerging and established scholar-practitioners alike, including those who are new to digital collaboration.

Submission topics may include but are not limited to: engaging with space and place; creating innovative teaching and learning environments; perspectives on implications for the individual’s own research and pedagogy within the institutional landscape, etc.

Presentations may take the form of short papers, project demos, electronic posters, panel discussions, or lightning talks.

For more information about submitting a presentation proposal, please go to the Bucknell Digital Initiatives website: http://goo.gl/eoOnK4 . The deadline for proposals is August 1, 2014.

If you have questions or would like more information about the submission process, please email conference coordinator Diane Jakacki: diane.jakacki@bucknell.edu.

Bucknell is a private liberal arts university located alongside the historic Susquehanna River in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. At Bucknell “Digital Scholarship” is defined as any scholarly activity that makes extensive use of one or more of the new possibilities for teaching and research opened up by the unique affordances of digital media. These include, but are not limited to, new forms of collaboration, new forms of publication, and new methods for visualizing and analyzing data.