From manuscript to digital

I've just come back from the second of my two weeks of skills-building workshops this summer, and the connections between the two—the Digital Humanities Summer Institute and the Rare Book School—demonstrated again how past and present moments of media change continue to overlap. As I described below, during my week at DHSI in June, I learned how to use the TEI guidelines for digitizing manuscript documents. Last week...

Privacy in the information age

"The opening of ... mail, like the revelations that the N.S.A. has been monitoring telephone, e-mail, and Internet use, illustrates the intricacy of the relationship between secrecy and privacy. Secrecy is what is known, but not to everyone. Privacy is what allows us to keep what we know to ourselves. ... As a matter of historical analysis, the relationship between secrecy and privacy can be stated in an axiom:...

Close-reading code

I spent the past week at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, learning (among other things) how to use the Text Encoding Initiative guidelines to create digital editions of manuscript documents. I practiced on a set of seventeenth-century manuscript newsletters from the Bodleian Library's Carte collection, which I took photos of during a research trip last summer. I'm hoping to use...

Scholarship in the public sphere

Alan Liu gave a pair of typically incisive talks at NYU last week. Among other things, Liu noted that scholars of the digital humanities have generally eschewed the type of politically motivated criticism that has been typical of earlier generations of academics. To combat this problem, he's started 4Humanities, a site for DH scholars to advocate for the public value of the humanities. The digital humanities, Liu argued,...

Undergrad archivists

As a TA for NYU's British Literature II survey this semester, I've been encouraging students to consider printing history and the material qualities of texts in order to understand the complex literary and social satire we're encountering. Over and over again—in works from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress to Swift's Tale of a Tub, Addison and Steele's Spectator, and Henry Fielding's Tom Jones—we're finding that eighteenth-century authors spend inordinate amounts of time discussing...

Mmmmmmmm

Jane Johnson was a vicar's wife in Olney who lived from 1706 to 1759. Her favorite author was Samuel Richardson, her favorite novel was Clarissa, and she appears in many ways to be the mythical "implied reader" for Richardson's works. She imitated his heroines, Pamela and Clarissa, by carefully improving her penmanship and epistolary skill, circulating letters on domestic and religious duties to her female friends and family. She...

Novels in letters

I'm spending a month doing archival research at the Lewis Walpole Library, a lovely place in suburban Farmington, Conn., that houses Yale's eighteenth-century collection. The library—whose manuscript collection still runs largely on a card-catalogue system, with many handwritten cards!—has a fantastic collection of correspondence, including but not at all limited to Horace Walpole's thousands of letters. There's far more stuff than I can see in a month, even...

Why is a Chameleon like a Mermaid?

In April 1691, a reader wrote in to a new periodical, The Athenian Mercury, with a pressing question: "Whether, since Mermen and Mermaids have more of the humane shape than other Fishes, they may be thought to have more Reason." I can honestly say this question had never occurred to me before reading the Mercury, the world's first question-and-answer periodical. (The editors didn't really answer the question of reason, but gave...

Mapping the postal network

Over the course of this school year, I've been involved with starting up Digital Experiments, a new graduate student working group at NYU. We've had a number of goals: familiarizing ourselves with the digital humanities community, learning some semi-tech competent skills and techniques, and working on a collaborative project using the topic modeling tool MALLET. We've got some really cool results using text from The Spectator, but the...

Spoilery

In scanning through articles on Project Muse (an academic journal database) just now, I noticed that hypertext author and scholar Stuart Moulthrop prefaced an essay on Watchmen with the disclaimer, "This essay reveals key plot details of the graphic novel Watchmen and the film based upon it." Are we really going to start putting spoiler alerts on academic writing now? And about a book and movie that came out 23 years and...

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