In celebration of the first days of August, please enjoy this image of the week, which comes to us via The Willa Cather Archive. Titled “Sailors in Vallejo,” the photograph’s source is the George Cather Ray Collection from Archives and Special Collections at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries. Included in a letter dated August 12, 1908 from G.P. Cather to his mother Franc Cather, the image depicts two sailors in a park in Vallejo, California.
By Brandon Walsh on July 29, 2013
In honor of my new arrival here at NINES, please enjoy an image of the week that celebrates all things new and in movement. The photograph above, “New York Arrives,” shows the U.S.S. City of New York and comes from the George Grantham Bain Collection at the Library of Congress.
By Elizabeth Fox on March 1, 2013
It’s official: we at NINES are revising the genre lists we use for our RDF.
The original impetus for this change was a thought-provoking ARC meeting we attended a few months ago, in which we discussed expanding Collex to include several new nodes—MESA, REKn, ModNets—which will aggregate digital objects from the medieval, Renaissance, and Modernist periods, respectively. Once we began to consider objects outside the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we found that a many of our genre tags became unhelpful or even irrelevant. How, for example, could we call a manuscript a descriptive generic term, when such a large portion of the text-based medieval objects would be in manuscript form? Would such a term be useful any longer? What about genres like “family life,” “life writing,” and “ephemera”? How were we defining these terms and could we sustain a consistent definition across time periods?
These questions led me to wonder, in a more abstract sense, about how and why we use metadata at NINES. Every time we aggregate a new collection of digital objects, we append to each piece several descriptive elements, so-called data about data. These elements allow us to preserve certain characteristics about each object—its form, its subject, its applications, etc. Tagging such elements also allows us to catalogue and search for items by group or type from among the ever-growing collection. (It would, after all, be difficult to sift through 992,000 digital objects without any sort of filtering system.) It also gives us a sense of what NINES can make available to our users, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of our various collections. At the moment, for example, we offer our users 17,869 objects on the subject of “Education,” but only 196 on “Architecture.”
The danger, however, is that tagging an object allows us to preserve only some of its characteristics. Those that we do not tag we implicitly dismiss as “less important.” We create our list of genre elements with care, but we cannot anticipate every eventuality. In many instances, we will undoubtedly fail to prize important elements, which will then be lost in the shuffle.
What’s more, in separating and delineating the objects available to readers, we also make judgments about the users viewing them. Every time we choose to tag something as “Education” or “Architecture,” we surmise not only about what that object represents, but also about the person to whom that object will be helpful. Someone working on a project about education, for instance, will likely not search through the “Architecture” genre. As aggregators, though, we cannot know how different projects will employ individual objects. By tagging the objects ourselves and at our own discretion, we potentially limit not only their meanings, but also their applications. We can, of course, tag a particular digital object in several different ways, but the crux of the issue remains: by making judgments about the nature and meaning of the digital objects in these collections, we influence the way our users view and interact with those same objects.
Now, as we go about reconsidering our metadata for NINES and for the other ARC nodes, we have an opportunity not only to reconsider the objects in our archives, but the way we want viewers to study them. If we can change our genre elements, how will that change the way others’ view them? How can we create the best system to maintain a well-categorized, well-differentiated collection of objects while still allowing our users the freedom to make their own choices about their purpose and implications?
By Dana Wheeles on February 26, 2013
[Cross-posted at juxtasoftware.org]
Every now and then I like to browse the project list at DHCommons.org, just to get an idea of what kind of work is being done in digital scholarship around the world. This really paid off recently, when I stumbled upon Digital Thoreau, an engaging and well-structured site created by a group from SUNY-Geneseo. This project centers around a TEI-encoded edition of Walden, which will, to quote their mission statement, “be enriched by annotations links, images, and social tools that will enable users to create conversations around the text.” I highly recommend that anyone interested in text encoding take a look at their genetic text demo of “Solitude,” visualized using the Versioning Machine.
What really caught my attention, however, is that they freely offer a toolkit of materials from their project, including XML documents marked up in TEI Parallel Segmentation. This allowed me to take a closer look at how they encoded the text featured in the demo, and try visualizing it, myself.
This embed shows the same text featured on the Digital Thoreau site, now visualized in Juxta Commons. It is possible to import a file encoded in TEI Parallel Segmentation directly into Juxta Commons, and the software will immediately break down the file into its constituent witnesses (see this example of their base witness from Princeton) and visualize them as a comparison set.
Once you’ve successfully added the file to your account, you have access to the heat map visualization (where changes are highlighted blue on the chosen base text), the side-by-side option, and a histogram to give you a global view if the differences between the texts in the set. In this way, the Juxta Commons R&D hope to enable the use of our software in concert with other open-source tools.
I should also note that Juxta Commons allows the user to export any other sets they have created as a parallel-segmented file. This is a great feature for starting an edition of your own, but it no way includes the complexity of markup one would see in files generated by a rigorous project like Digital Thoreau. We like to think of it the Parallel Segmentation, and the (very new, experimental) edition builder export as building blocks for future scholarly editions.
Many thanks to the team at Digital Thoreau for allowing us to make use of their scholarship!
By Sarah Storti on February 25, 2013
I couldn’t decide which of these wonderful images to post this week, so lucky you: double image post today. The above comes from the Frances Benjamin Johnson Collection, part of the Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division. We may have a while to go until Easter, but I thought you might want to start planning how best to employ your time on that joyous day–and to see what kind of bonnet looks most fetching if your activities happen to include jumping rope. If you’re feeling more stately, take a look at the varieties of bonnet featured below in a photograph taken during the Easter parade on 5th Ave in 1910s NYC. Three cheers for Easter bonnets (and Irving Berlin)!
By Sarah Storti on February 20, 2013
A long, long time ago I wrote a blog post about how this year’s NINES Fellows were going to be working on a digital project called The Shelley-Godwin Archive. Back then we were particularly excited about the project because it was going to be a collaborative one–we needed to figure out how (or whether!) two groups of people who didn’t see each other every day, or even every month, could manage workflow on a single project.
Probably every person who has ever worked on a collaborative project will not be surprised to learn that the process has been challenging, and especially so because of the geographical separation problem. We can’t walk down the hall or lean across the table to resolve an issue with GitHub or to hammer out what strategy we are all going to use to treat some new anomaly in one of the manuscripts we’re encoding. We’ve been using email, primarily, to communicate between MITH and NINES, and even though most of us are the kind of over-committed enthusiasts who will reply to a query about XML IDs at 8:30 in the evening, we have nevertheless had to come up with strategies for sidelining certain problems and moving on to others while we wait for an answer to reach us.
But challenges aside, we’re making good progress. Last night the NINES end of the project started encoding our assigned portion of Shelley’s fair copy manuscript of Prometheus Unbound. Though we did lose at least an hour’s worth of work (thanks, GitHub!) we did finally manage to encode three pages of the manuscript.
Significantly, over the course of the evening, we decided that as long as we’re going to the trouble of marking each speaker in Prometheus Unbound individually with a <milestone/> element, we might as well give each of those speakers a unique XML ID. That way someone using the archive could ask questions about the kinds of speech acts Ione makes, as distinct from Panthea or Prometheus or any of the other speakers in the poem. Analytical possibilities!
The best part of this story is that when the incomparable Dana Wheeles suggested (via email, naturally) this idea to our designated markup contact at MITH, the wonderful David Brookshire, he replied a few hours later and enthusiastically agreed. Collaboration works, people. We are making something! Check back here in future for further updates, and expect something awesome.
By Emma Schlosser on February 20, 2013
This chromolithograph, produced in 1880, depicts the 1863 Chattanooga Campaign of the Civil War. After a series of successful attacks led by U.S. Grant on November 23-24, the Federals would hold the “Gateway to the Lower South” until the end of the War. For more Civil War artwork, check out the Library of Congress Civil War collection here.
By Elizabeth Fox on February 12, 2013
In honor of Valentine’s Day, head on over the NYPL’s Digital Gallery, where you’ll find the frontispiece and title page of The Science of Love or the Whole Art of Courtship. May the lessons of 1792 lead you to romantic success today!
By Emma Schlosser on February 8, 2013
Last week, for my American Modernist poetry class, I was assigned to read Wallace Stevens’ “Sunday Morning” and to write a short response. Prior to this semester I had little to no exposure to Stevens’ oeuvre, yet after a week of reading his poetry, I felt myself growing into an enthusiast. Feeling more at ease with Stevensian verse, I sat down to read the first stanza. It began, “Complacencies of the peignoir”—a seductive phrase, I thought. I could easily be this woman he describes, surrounded by the objects that fill her late and lazy morning: the coffee, oranges, and, well, maybe not the green cockatoo. The intensity of the tone increases as the woman dreams and “feels the dark / Encroachment of that old catastrophe.” Ah, yes, the inevitable onset of religious guilt; I understood this, too.
But then I reached the next line: “As a clam darkens among water-lights.”
I thought it a rather strange turn of phrase amidst the sacrificial and ominous language of the surrounding lines. But I continued to read until the end of the stanza, which ends with some of Stevens’ most blatantly religious language I’ve encountered thus far: “Over the seas, to silent Palestine, / Dominion of the blood and sepulchre.”
As is my custom, I read through the stanza a few more times, but continually stumbled over the word “clam.” What is Stevens even trying to say? Is this Stevens the Absurdist? I knew he could be quirky, parading images of the emperor of ice-cream or a rabbit as king of the ghosts throughout his poetry. But a clam? And it was darkening? Do clams darken while exposed to light? I didn’t know much about mollusks. If I were a more astute scholar I would have probably assumed this to be some kind of mistake immediately. But taking the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (that my friend had so kindly loaned me) as a sacred text, I figured I clearly didn’t get Stevens after all. Slightly disheartened, I closed the book and decided I would attempt to write some clever analysis of those lines later.
As good fortune would have it, I bought my own, later edition of the Norton Anthology that day. And, lo! Upon glancing at “Sunday Morning” again I noticed that the line contained a typo! “As a calm darkens among water-lights.”
That made infinitely more sense to me, and I felt silly for ever having considered “clam” as a viable option in that line. I cringed at the thought of my professor reading the elaborate interpretation of the Stevensian metaphorical clam and my feeble attempt to account for its place in the poem that I no doubt would have written. My academic horror quickly subsided, and I then laughed (probably a bit too much) about the ridiculousness that the simple erratum contributed to my reading. Most importantly, I’d say that this scholastic interlude led me to think about the importance of textual editing that I had so often disregarded before.
My appreciation for the overlooked field of textual editing and scholarship continues to grow here at UVa through my foray into the digital humanities. As a NINES fellow I’ve been able to experience firsthand the type of diligence and effort it takes to encode texts accurately to provide reliable resources for students online. By learning how to use Juxta, I can now visualize the types of changes and modifications that account for an author’s finished product. Errors are, of course, bound to happen in the process of publication, but by using online tools like Juxta, these textual discrepancies can become more manifest. If Norton had never repaired their corrupted text of “Sunday Morning,” the meaning and interpretation of Stevens’ poem, after years of perpetuating the publication of a flawed text, could change entirely. A tool like Juxta would very well enable inquiring students and scholars, perplexed by anomalous language embedded within, say, a line of poetry, to unearth original or otherwise forgotten meanings of the text itself. And in the words of Stevens, we would “come back / To what had been so long composed.”
By Emma Schlosser on February 4, 2013
Now that football season is officially over, we can look forward to enjoying America's pastime. In honor of African American History Month, here's a photograph of Morris Brown College's baseball team, circa 1899 or 1900. Courtesy of the Daniel Murray Collection from the Library of Congress.