“Between Alexandria and Babel” Dr. Paul Dilley presents at OWU

A couple weeks ago, Dr. Paul Dilley visited Ohio Wesleyan as a capstone (of sorts) to Dr. David Eastman’s grant-funded endeavors. Dr. Dilley is himself involved in a number of digital humanities projects at the University of Iowa and beyond, including multi-spectral imaging of ancient books (think here of the discovery of the Archimedes Palimpsest), the creation of Big Ancient Mediterranean (or BAM, an open-access project allowing the exploration and visualization of ancient texts in new ways), and the painstaking transcription and digitization of the Chester Beatty Kephalaia Codex.

Banner image for BAM.Especially in the case of the latter, we might imagine Dilley as any traditional scholar of (and in) the archives, laboriously attending to the minute details of the (barely) visible word, identified only as a trace. In his talk, Dilley led the audience from this imagined space into the virtual space afforded by computational technologies. Indeed, he made this connection explicit in framing his particular brand of digital scholarship as a kind of “digital philology,” which he defines in his forthcoming publication as a set of “[n]ew scholarly interpretive practices that both produce, and are enacted by, the transfer of texts from manuscripts and the printed page to digital files subject to computational analysis and visualization” (“Between Alexandria and Babel,” forthcoming).

The proliferation of these digital textual files affords scholars across disciplines the opportunities to push against the boundaries of traditional scholarly inquiry. Before discussing two ways in which we might do this – rich annotation and distant reading – Dilley underlined the importance of open, clean, and linked datasets. As a case in point he noted how propriety licenses on some collections of digital data may limit a researcher to “keyword search, which reproduces the functionality of the print index.” This, he adds, is to say nothing of the potential unreliability of the search: OCR’d textual data is often suspect, and one never knows what potential search returns may be missing as a result of bad OCR (optical character recognition). [Full disclosure: my last job was with the Early Modern OCR Project at Texas A&M, so bad OCR and/in old books are subjects near to my heart.]

Nevertheless, research opportunities for large corpora will also proliferate, allowing researchers to encode analytical readings into texts and to read them distantly. The latter, you may know, is a way of interpreting from a 10,000 foot view large collections of text that are otherwise unreadable by humans. While it is not dependent upon the former, encoded text, distant reading and other digital research are deepeneded by this brand of “rich annotation.” On this point Dilley cites the “Gentle Introduction to XML“:

“Encoding a text for computer processing is, in principle, like transcribing a manuscript from scriptio continua; it is a process of making explicit what is conjectural or implicit, a process of directing the user as to how the content of the text should be (or has been) interpreted.”

To Professor Dilley’s mind, the kind of large-scale work that one might do on a digital corpus – be it mark-up (i.e. encoding), distant reading, or any other interpretive practice afforded by computational methods – may best be thought of as “extended intelligence”: in no way “artificial,” it is a very real (and heretofore impossible) supplement to conventional literary criticism.

I’m sure Professor Dilley would love to hear from you if you have questions about his specific projects. If you’d like to know more about text encoding or distant reading of textual data (or bad OCR for that matter!), feel free to contact me!

Exceptions [Im]proving the Rules

Or, how exceptional students and their projects improve the rules by which we do digital scholarship.

As a followup to my last post, which was essentially a reposting of an email about why one might use the TEI Guidelines for any given text-based digital project, I’ll post a few observations that stem from Tess Henthorne’s brief presenation of her Independent Study (IS) to faculty and students from the English department. First, though, I’ll say that she did Tess Henthorne's Presentationa wonderful job articulating just why she wants to encode a text as part of her IS rather than just transcribe it. In short (and I hope I’m doing justice to her thoughts here), it enriches her text – Glady Fornel’s Montel – and opens its potential for future scholarship, her own and others’. I’ll also note as an aside how it’s clear that some – maybe most – of the people who are thinking about Tess’s IS as a “digital IS” are thinking in terms of visible, human-readable results. That is to say that folks are thinking about Milton’s Reading Room (e.g.) or a searchable database, neither of which is necessarily Tess’s goal. It will be a challenge for this small team to navigate the distances between different conceptualizations of a “digital project.” From scholars doing the heavy (and often inglorious) lifting of text-encoding, I’d be grateful to hear how you make these distinctions to various constituencies. How have you bridged this language barrier?

But I digress.

Tess’s presentation gave me an opportunity to reflect on the importance of projects like hers that do not fall under the direct jurisdiction of our Digital Scholarship grant. If one of the goals of the OH5DS grant and others like it is to use projects as the springboards for building the larger systems that will create and foster sustainable digital scholarship, then Tess’s project – probably because it doesn’t conform to our scripted workflows – gives us an opportunity to test our systems in the wild. It is a chance to make sure that we are building up an environment that is robust enough to foster the digital scholarship of faculty and students (and staff, ideally). So, how has Tess’s project kept us honest in this way?

  • It builds out from the technical and scholarly concerns of the more directly grant-related projects. The Ohio Five libraries’ 2015 Summer Institute helped frame a conversation about the utility of TEI to the consortium’s digital projects. Whether it is for relatively stable preservation in the face of changing technologies or for enhanced scholarship in text-based research, we have been thinking through how the TEI fits into the ways we talk about projects. Wooster has been the testing ground for encoding projects and the teams here have been pushing the boundaries ever outward; advising on Tess’s project continues this trend and, like the other projects, will inform the work we do elewhere in the consortium long after the term of the grant.
  • It amplifies the conversation about digital scholarship. I have said to anyone who will listen that we need to continue to have our conversations about digital scholarship out loud and in public so that it becomes sewn into the fabric of our scholarly culture. Opening this conversation to student constituencies, in addition to helpfully complicating our frames of reference, brings more and different voices into the conversation.
  • It broadens the audience for that conversation. Perhaps especially in the liberal arts setting, the campus community pays attention differently when students are speaking. Advisors and faculty who might not be invested in, say, “the Digital Humanities” as such, are intrinsically invested in their students’ interests and research. Alongside one another we learn how to think and talk about digitally-inflected work in places where we haven’t necessarily seen it (like Engish departments).
  • Finally, it tellingly resonates with issues of evaluation of digital scholarship. As we wade together through the technical “hows” and the theoretical “whys,” we also come up against the question of what it means to do digital scholarship on our campuses and in our consortium. In the larger world of digital schoalrship, the most visible manifestation of this consideration has centered on evaluation for the purposes of tenure and promotion of faculty in the humanities and social sciences. We see this focus, for example, in the important documents published by the Modern Language Association, the American Historical Association, and in a special issue of the Journal of Digital Humanities (Fall 2012). I wonder, though, if students’ work forces us to think about evaluation more acutely, more urgently than when we are wrestling with tenure and promotion guildelines. I cannot imagine telling a student that they could not pursue a given research question because we do not know what to make of it; instead, we figure out what to make of it. Projects like Tess’s allow us force us to explore the question locally so that it might inform the broad context.

To conclude I’ll simply say that I am grateful to be a part of Tess’s team, and that I hope we can see other such projects pop up around the Ohio Five. Most importantly, I hope that we can have the resulting conversations out loud and in public so that we can learn, as a community, how it is that we do digital scholarship around here.

OH5 at Bucknell DS Conference

2014.bucknell.wuOn 14-16 November, Ohio Wesleyan’s Ching-Hsuan Wu presented on “Foreign Language Flipped Classrooms – Scaffolding Grammar Knowledge Anytime, Anywhere.” Part of a panel on “Faculty-Student Partnerships in the Hybrid Classroom,” Prof Wu’s presentation was interactive and engaging as she modeled her pedagogy even while presenting on this example of it. Here’s the abstract of her presentation:

The presentation introduces a collaborative pedagogical project that aims to improve and promote the digitalized interface of teaching and learning in studies of foreign languages for liberal arts colleges through the concept of the flipped classroom. The goal of the project is to develop a digital collection of self-directed grammar learning clips through which students study descriptive linguistic facts independently prior to their class meetings, thus creating space for instructors to use face-to-face class time more effectively by focusing on interactive language use and application–skills that often require practice with other speakers of the target languages in appropriate contexts. Motivated by this objective, the project team, including foreign language educators, librarians, students, and information technology specialists, collaboratively design, critique, and revise the materials and discuss plans for disseminating and publicizing this learning resource. The project, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, produces a set of thirty five-minute teaching video clips on Chinese grammar points selected and sequenced by frequency and usefulness in authentic language use at intermediate levels. The learning content in the clips is delivered by a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University with guest professors and students from other collaborating colleges to approximate digitally the classroom style of learning that is valued by liberal arts colleges.

In addition, I presented a lightning talk as a part of a roundtable on “Institutional Models for Digital Scholarship and Collaboration.” The gist of my talk — which, as a lightning talk, is mostly gist — was that we mustn’t forget the human elements when we’re collaborating on digital projects. I talked about our efforts in the Ohio Five to connect these distance digital scholars and to bridge silos wherever possible. Removed from context the slides won’t be as useful as one might hope; again, though, the gist should be clear. Maybe.

I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen about this conference, especially for those in liberal arts colleges and universities who have folded together teams of faculty, students, and technologists of all sorts. There were a great many panels that, when they didn’t actually feature student presenters, directly addressed students’ roles in building these digital projects or in shaping these digital pedagogies. It was an immersive couple of days, but the scheduling created perfect pockets of time for sidebar conversations. It had an active backchannel and the IRL interactions came easy in that crowd.

Ohio Five Group Presents on Digital Scholarship Projects at CWRU Digital Scholarship

Today, I am presenting on a panel with Ohio Five folks at a digital scholarship colloquium at the Kelvin Smith Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Carol Lasser (OBE), John Krygier (OWU), Katie Holt (WOO), and Jon Breitenbucher (WOO) are talking about what they’re doing in their courses, while I’m providing some greater context for the work we’re doing in the Five Colleges. Here’s the abstract that we submitted, with a link to PDF version of our collected slides below that.


“Building to Scale: Shaping Digital Coursework with Tools and Partnerships”


Building on a prior three-year initiative to create curricular digital collections, the libraries of the Five Colleges of Ohio are one year into a new three-year program to partner with faculty in larger, more ambitious curricular digital projects. Under the new initiative we continue to develop faculty- and student-curated curricular collections, but the focus has broadened from thinking of the digital as a presentational medium—from digitization—to thinking with the digital as a pedagogical method. Many of these new projects have more moving parts, and we find ourselves building networks of technological and human resources as we navigate our digital turn.


I propose a panel in which I speak briefly and broadly, as the Ohio Five’s Mellon Digital Scholar, about consortial efforts to build these networks, thus framing our panelists’ discussions of their projects and partnerships. Oberlin College’s Carol Lasser will discuss her collaboration with college archivist Ken Grossi as they led students from her course on First Wave American Feminism into the archives to encounter primary resources and the questions arising from their representation both historical and digital. Second, working (and presenting) with Jon Breitenbucher, Director of Educational Technology, College of Wooster’s Katie Holt will discuss how they are exploring mapping both in and of identity formation by asking students to think holistically about “digital citizenship.” Ohio Wesleyan’s Geography professor John Krygier is also asking his students to think about notions of place in a project that has linked communities at OWU, Denison, Ohio State, and the City of Columbus. This team is building a dynamic GIS platform that will allow students to negotiate and interrogate modern spaces in Columbus, OH by bringing digitized historical real estate maps into the field.

Case Western DS Colloquium Slides