Teaching with TEI: Encoding the Lizzie Johnson Papers

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During the Spring 2016 semester, I taught an English class at Southwestern University titled “Digital Frontiers in American Literature.”  (Check out the Digital Frontiers in American Literature Syllabus here.)  As part of a collaboration with Southwestern’s Smith Library Center Special Collections, our class encoded a selection of letters from the Lizzie Johnson Papers using the Text Encoding Initiative guidelines.  For their indispensable support as I developed this assignment, I’m grateful to Laura Mandell, Sarah Connell, Sarah Stanley, Grace Thomas, and Philip Palmer, my collaborator on the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) micro-grant project “Teaching Digital Approaches to Special Collections: TEI as a Mode of Primary Source Engagement in Undergraduate and MLIS Pedagogies.”

Text encoding enables the creation of digital editions of texts that can be searched and queried based on how they’re marked up.  As Sarah Connell puts it, encoded texts are “texts that know things about themselves.”  Encoding is a highly interpretive process.  People encode texts differently depending on what they think is important to draw out and emphasize.

In our class, students worked in pairs using oXygen XML Editor Academic 12-Month Subscriptions.  Over the course of four in-class TEI lab sessions, students collaborated to transcribe and encode a letter, display their thematically color-coded encodings on TEI Boilerplate, and blog about their results.  I am indebted to Sarah Connell and Sarah Stanley for an assignment they created that was an invaluable model for my assignment.  You can read students’ reflections on the TEI process on our class blog below.

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Each pair of students started with a digitization of a letter from the Lizzie Johnson Papers.

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After reading the letter carefully, each pair transcribed their letter in a Google document.

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They encoded their letter in the oXygen editor.

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And they displayed their encodings on TEI Boilerplate using a little bit of project-specific CSS.  (Again, I’m indebted to Encoding the Archive for that bit of assignment brilliance!)

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The assignment was a success.  It was well-paced: four 1-hour-and-15-minute class sessions was just about exactly the time the class needed to complete it.  Despite some students’ initial apprehensions about the techy-ness of it all, every pair succeeded in generating a valid encoding that they could display on Boilerplate.  According to their blog posts, this was an empowering experience and a fun alternative avenue for literary analysis.  One student, Rachel Robinson, blogged that before the transcription and encoding process, she “primarily noticed the addresses of the author and the receiver, the postmark date, and the general content of the letter, which included references to the Civil War and reports on social life.” Over the course of the assignment, however, she “realized that there were many unanswered questions in the letter.” In the process of encoding the specifics of the letter, Rachel researched a passing reference to a “protracted meeting,” which she learned connected her letter with a fascinating history of 19th-century Protestant revivalism in Texas.  Rachel concluded, “This would be an interesting topic to pursue and see if and how Lizzie’s correspondents or family were involved in this phenomenon.”

The digital humanist in me likes that in addition to enhancing close-reading and serving as a launchpad for research, this assignment provides a subtle introduction to XML and CSS.  Want to experiment with TEI in your own teaching?  Feel free to check out my English 10304 Text Encoding Initiative Project Directions and adapt them for your own purposes!

Starting a Tiki-Toki Timeline

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*UPDATE May 12, 2016: This updated Tiki-Toki Lab, which I generated for my Spring 2016 class, reflects revisions and updates to the Tiki-Toki help document linked below.

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Tiki-Toki is a free online platform for building digital, multimedia timelines.  Tiki-Toki timelines look good–there’s a pleasing wow-factor to a well-formed Tiki-Toki showcased on an overhead projector. Tiki-Toki is also a great choice for student projects that include and interpret digitized primary sources, since, like the digital curation platform Omeka, Tiki-Toki has privacy settings.  Students can set their timelines to “private,” sharing them only with their instructor and classmates.  This means that students can freely explore and draw from digital primary source collections such as the Digital Public Library of America, the Library of Congress Digital Collections, and the New York Public Library Digital Collections, without worrying about securing permissions to put digital images online.

I created this help document to guide students through the process of setting up a Tiki-Toki timeline, including establishing privacy settings.  The document stands on its own as a set of general guidelines, but it can also be tailored for specific assignments.  Feel free to adopt and adapt for your own purposes!

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Starting Your Tiki-Toki Timeline

The Who, What, Why and Where of Primary Sources in Undergraduate Education

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The Digital Public Library of America just unveiled an exciting new Education component.  In addition to providing access to a host of excellent primary source sets on such topics as the Black Power Movement, American Indian Boarding Schools, and the Bracero Program, the site features Education Outreach Materials including a PowerPoint presentation I’ve given many a time around campus here at Southwestern University.  (I hope versions of it will now make their way around other campuses, too!)  The presentation is aimed at undergrads and its goal is to get everyone on the same page about what primary sources are, why we should engage with them in the humanities, and how to research them.  You can access the complete PowerPoint including presentation notes and discussion questions here: Nunes_Primary-Sources-in-Undergraduate-Education-Presentation.  Or check out the PDF below.

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Teaching with Omeka: Help Documents to Scaffold the Process

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*UPDATE May 12, 2016: This updated and condensed Generic Omeka Lab covers setting up an account, selecting a theme, activating plug-ins, adding an item, starting a collection, etc.  I’ve come to use this document as a general introduction to Omeka.net for students and faculty.

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Omeka.net is a free online platform that allows users to build digital exhibits.  Omeka has fabulous applications in the humanities classroom (a topic for another post!), so I’ve developed a suite of help documents to support students here at Southwestern to build writing-intensive Omeka projects.

Omeka itself offers great resources on the teaching front, including these user guides for students and educators.  There’s certainly some overlap with these guides in the documents below, but I tailored my help documents to forefront and pre-empt sticking points and questions that I’ve found students commonly have, at least in my particular experience teaching with Omeka.

First, a fine example of a student-built Omeka site:

Native Books, Images, & Objects, created by Dr. Patrick Hajovsky‘s Spring 2015 Art History course at Southwestern University.

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I consulted with Dr. Hajovsky’s class over the course of this Omeka project, and the help documents I created subsequently were inspired in part by that experience.  Since Omeka’s many functions and features can be daunting at first, these documents are meant to guide students through the process of building an Omeka project in a fluid, intuitive, integrative progression, where one step–starting an account, adding an item, building a collection–leads to another.

Without further ado, here are the help documents!  Your comments and additions are most welcome.  Don’t hesitate to get in touch (nunesc@southwestern.edu) if you have feedback or ideas for documents to add to this series.

Omeka Help Doc 1_Starting Your Omeka Site

Omeka Help Doc 2_Contributing To Your Class or Group Omeka Site

Omeka Help Doc 3_Adding an Item to Your Omeka Site

Omeka Help Doc 4_Creating a Writing Intensive Omeka Project

New Article on Teaching with Digital Archives in the World Literature Classroom

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I’m glad to report that my article “Digital Archives in the Wired World Literature Classroom” is now out in the journal ARIEL!

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You can access the article here, or check out the PDF here: Digital Archives in the World Literature Classroom.  The article includes several striking visuals from the archives, as well as case studies on how I incorporated selected primary sources in classroom teaching and assignments.  I also touch on the ethical implications of digitally archiving collections with relevance in the world literature classroom.  I conclude with strategies for enhancing undergraduate student engagement with archival materials.  Huge thanks to everyone (you are legion, and you are in the acknowledgements!) who supported my work for this article.

Favorite Resources for Teaching with Archives

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Increasingly, exciting initiatives such as TeachArchives and Archives Alive! provide support for educators interested in incorporating primary sources in undergraduate education across the disciplines. Following is my running list of favored resources for teaching with archives.  Have a resource to add? Let me know and I’d love to include it (with proper credit to you, of course!).

Resources I’ve developed:

Archival Research Glossary and Exercise. This glossary pulls from the Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology.  The accompanying exercise enables students to familiarize themselves with common concepts and terms they’ll encounter in physical and digital archives.

Archival Research Glossary and Terms for Digital Collections. This glossary and accompanying exercise are very similar to the ones above, but geared toward digital collections.

Archival Artifact Analysis Worksheet. This basic worksheet challenges students to make analytical observations about a selected archival object.

Close-Listening Worksheet. I assign this worksheet to get students started analyzing audio and audiovisual primary sources such as oral histories.

Transcription as Close-Reading Worksheet. I assigned this worksheet for a component of my Spring 2015 English class involving transcription tasks for the American Prison Writing Archive. The worksheet is premised on the idea that transcription is an effective mode of close-reading as a humanities practice.

Teaching with social media? If your students will be posting on WordPress, Twitter, or other social media platforms, consider distributing this Social Media Privacy Agreement at the beginning of the semester.

Other resources:

The National Archives DocsTeach.  This project of the U.S. National Archives provides ready-made activities and selected primary sources searchable by time period and historic theme. Extensive supplementary resources include this simple but brilliant formulation of how to guide students through a step-by-step analysis during their initial encounter with a primary source.

The Claremont Colleges Library Early Modern Studies Primary Source Lab. This series of worksheets is highly adaptable for a variety of disciplines.

Analyzing primary sources undoubtedly facilitates student learning in terms of humanities content and research methods, but how to assess this learning? The student-generated rubric is one promising avenue for assessment.  Danica Savonick offers her experience guiding students in setting the priorities of a given assignment in HASTAC blog posts here and here, while her article in the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy provides a complete case study.

Pertinent for digital archives projects that may entail including digitized archival objects on publicly accessible project websites or platforms: Society of Authors Guide to Copyright and Permissions.

Presenting on Archives and Digital Humanities at the Coalition for Networked Information Fall Meeting

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Last December I had the privilege of reporting on the Latina History Project at a panel titled “Archives and Digital Humanities” at the fall meeting of the Coalition for Networked Information in Washington, D.C. I really enjoyed hearing about the work of my fellow panelists, Mary Elings of the #HackFSM Project at UC Berkeley, and Jen Wolfe and Tom Keegan of the Archives Alive Project at the University of Iowa.  Hear our conversation in the video above.