Teaching with TEI: Encoding the Lizzie Johnson Papers

Standard

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.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 2.30.01 PM.png

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 3.44.44 PM

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 3.47.46 PM

They encoded their letter in the oXygen editor.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 3.51.41 PM

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!)

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 4.03.41 PM

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!

Archives at the MLA: A Review of Archives-Oriented Panels

Standard

Archival study plays an increasingly central role in academic humanities conferences.  The Modern Language Association (MLA) 2016 Conference was no exception to this movement.  Check out my review of archives-oriented MLA panels by clicking below!

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 10.17.56 AM

Archives, Digital Humanities, and the Latina History Project at #MLA16

Standard

One of the most dynamic conversations charging the atmosphere at this year’s Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention has to do with how archivists and academics relate to each other, both practically and theoretically.

Y1KI7BqY

The excellent panel #s258, “What We Talk about When We Talk about DH: Interdisciplinary Vocabularies,” has been a highlight of the conference so far for me and many other attendees.  Panelist T-Kay Sangwand, Digital Scholarship Librarian at UCLA, encouraged scholars to stop asking “what is the archive?” and to start drawing on terms that have already been established in archival theory.  Angel Nieves, Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Initiative at Hamilton College, on panel #s280 titled “Disrupting the Digital Humanities: New Radical Publics” called for educators to incorporate critical theory into the very foundation of digital humanities projects, rather than “sprinkling” it on top.  (Thanks @ShawnaRoss for tweeting this talk.  See Nieves’ position paper here.)

I presented this morning on panel #s460, “The Digital Humanities and the Archive.”  (Huge thanks to my fellow panelists for a great panel and discussion!)  I used the example of the Latina History Project at Southwestern University as a point of departure for a discussion of role digital archives can play in theoretically informed, community engaged, multidisiplinary higher education.

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 2.08.47 PM

I’ve talked and blogged about the nuts and bolts of the project elsewhere, but in response to calls from the Twittersphere, below I’ve included the part of my talk on the theoretical contributions that the field of archival stewardship has to make to studies in the humanities.  I look forward to continuing the conversation during the rest of the conference and beyond!

On bridging archives and academia:

“I’d like to tap into current scholarship on archives, higher education, and the digital humanities, in order to think about how the encounter with digital archives can enhance critical theoretical engagement in contexts of humanities study. Recent scholarship by Lauren F. Klein, Lisa Darms, and Kate Eichhorn, among others, suggests that there is a rift between archives and academia. Klein, Darms, and Eichhorn all use the term “invisible” to describe the labor of the archivist from the perspective of the academic. Klein considers that “As scholars, we do not see the labor involved in… the development of the encoding standards and database design that allows us to perform our search queries… [T]his digital labor remains not only invisible, but also unacknowledged by most humanities scholars.” In an editorial introduction to the latest issue of Archive Journal, archivist Darms reinforces the point that archival processes and practices remain “invisible to the theorists most likely to write about [them],” while co-editor Eichhorn validates concerns archivists have expressed about “their invisibility in contemporary scholarly, activist, and artistic discourses on archives.” Eichhorn regrets that the archival turn (so expertly theorized in her own seminal book on the topic in terms of feminist studies) is enacted by academics in such a way as to “celebrate ‘the archive’ and all the things that ‘the archive’ apparently encompasses (politics, desire, longing, death, memory, history, and list goes on) in lieu of grappling with the material questions that archival practices invariably raise.” Is archival practice so alienated from humanist theory?

Certainly, it is crucial that scholars cultivate awareness of and respect for the labor that enables access to archives as the raw material of humanities inquiry. Projects such as the LHP and the proliferation of others like it do important work to expose a rising generation of scholars to the work, craft, and expertise involved in the archiving process. Yet to bridge the perceived divide between archivists and academics, it is also necessary to recognize the theoretical contributions that the field of archival stewardship has to make to studies in the humanities. The notion that archivists operate “outside academe,” as Eichhorn terms it, fails to account for a growing field of scholarship produced by archivists and associated archives and library staff that intersects with the digital humanities, race and ethnicity studies, and feminist studies, among other fields. I resist the idea that the material conditions and practical pressures that impact archival work impede unique theoretical perspectives on the scope and significance of the archive. On the contrary, it is exactly these material conditions that premise some of the most socially and theoretically engaged work in the field of archival practice today, with implications for humanities study.

Archival practice has long encompassed scholarly and teaching components, but the designation in 2012 of an annual pedagogy issue in the Oral History Review, as well as recent pedagogically-focused articles in RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts and Cultural Heritage, American Archivist, and Libraries and the Academy, suggest increasingly important roles for archives and archival stewardship practices in higher education. Scholars such as Douglas A. Boyd, Janice W. Fernheimer, and Rachel Dixon suggest that involving undergraduates in digital archival stewardship allows students to grasp the interpretive nature of metadata creation, which is an important exercise in critical thinking. Jill Goodman Gould and Gail Gradowski, in an article titled “Using Online Video Oral Histories to Engage Students in Authentic Research,” indicate that guiding students in incorporating oral histories in multimedia projects provides an engaging exposure to primary sources that equips students with skills in information literacy and primary source research—both areas marked by experts as priorities in twenty-first century higher education. And Douglas A. Boyd and Mary A. Larson emphasize that participating in oral history initiatives provides students with opportunities to hone skills in collaboration and curation, both key principles of digital humanities practice.

A related body of scholarship points out the utility of digital oral history stewardship methods not only for teaching, but for community-driven research, as well. Fresh takes on archival provenance informed by critical theory, such as Joel Wurl’s work on ethnicity and Michelle Caswell’s on survivor status as forms of provenance, emphasize the values of multiplicity, counter-narrative, and the contingent, constructed nature of historical narratives. In our work on the Latina History Project, the very process of “grappling with the material questions [of] archival practice” has exposed students to the ethics and politics of archival provenance, which in turn has meaningfully informed our examinations of analogous issues of representation, privilege, and inequality in studies of Latina history. Moreover, training students in digital archival stewardship offers an intimate encounter with the theoretical notion that values and ideology are embedded in the acts of curation and metadata creation. This exposure allows a natural transition into broader conceptions of constructed, contingent nature of history and memory making.

With the central question, as Lisa Darms formulates it—“how we can become better collaborators?”—guiding contemporary archival practice, it is clear that digital oral history stewardship has something to offer the community-engaged digital humanities classroom not only in terms of digital skill-building, but also in terms of education in critical theory. Feminist and critical race theoretical perspectives provide useful guidance for reading archives against the grain, between the lines, and with an eye to perspectives that are not represented, in order to contend with the legacy of archives as institutions of hegemonic power that represent the interests of groups that dominate in terms of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and/or class. In archiving and curation processes for the Latina History Project, the theory and practicalities of digital archival stewardship are heavily entwined. Students have opportunities to apply critical theoretical principles they are learning in class to an immediate context. If, as archives theorist Joel Wurl proposes, an archived community is an enfranchised community, student collaborators gained an immersion in the causal relationship between oral history documentation and the conditions of social equality. Digital archival practice thus has an important role to play in interdisciplinary higher education attuned both to digital skill-building and to currents in critical theory.”

 

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

Standard

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

ariel_a_review_of_international_english_literature

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

Standard

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.

Summer DH Sizzlers: SHARP and the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference

Standard
With support from Southwestern University, in addition to bursaries from the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) and the Association for Computers and Humanities (ACH), I attended two exciting conferences over the course of July 2015: the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) Conference, which took place July 7-10 at the Longueuil Campus of the University of Sherbrooke and McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference held July 22-24 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.  Highlights follow!

The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) Conference (#SHARP15)

Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 11.18.16 AM

My main takeaway from this conference was that digital projects in academic libraries interact in important, generative, and various ways with physical collections.  It’s easy to think about digital projects in academic libraries such as the Provenance Online Project and the Book Traces Project as diverging from a tradition of librarianship stewarding material collections.  In fact, as the Book Traces Project itself points out, the rise of the digital can threaten the existence of print collections.  The project appeals to users to help identify unique copies of books with interesting ownership features (bookplates, striking marginalia) and inserted ephemera (locks of hair, dried flowers, personal notes, etc.) published between 1820 and 1923: “We need your help identifying them because many are in danger of being discarded as libraries go digital” (http://www.booktraces.org/).  Many presentations at SHARP touched on the role digital projects play in preserving and enhancing access to physical books and material collections.

For example, on the panel on which I presented, “Old Books and New Tricks: Regenerating the Library Visit,” Karla Nielsen, Curator at Columbia University Libraries, emphasized that the Book Traces Project ultimately exists in order to make a case for maintaining extensive print collections that include multiple copies and editions of a given text.  Moreover, far from alienating student users from physical collections, the Book Traces Project in fact provides many students with their first exposure to the library stacks, since the project actively involves students in surveying areas of the stacks looking for items to digitize.  Thus, the Book Traces digital project does crucial work to advocate print collections, demonstrate the value of retaining multiple editions, and promote student engagement with the rich materiality of these collections.  Despite its identity as a digital project, the Book Traces Project ultimately makes a case not to replace print editions with digital surrogates.

Over the course of my own panel as well as others such as “Generations of Readers: Appeals to Audiences and their Reactions Across Editions” and “Archive Accumulation : Antiquarian Affect and Obsolescence” I enjoyed learning useful tips and strategies for launching and running successful digital projects in libraries.  For example, in order to engage faculty, it’s important to make very specific pitches, suggesting how particular library or archive items might figure in a course syllabus, and providing sample assignment prompts and assessment models.  Gale Burrow of the Claremont Colleges Library provided great models on this front; see her highly adaptable series of exercises and prompts for her Early Modern Studies Primary Source Lab here.

The Keystone Digital Humanities Conference (#keyDH)

Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 11.25.35 AM

This conference blended long paper presentations with punchy digital project lightening talks.  Keynote Miriam Posner‘s thoughtful talk, “What’s Next?: The Radical, Unrealized Potential of Digital Humanities,” encouraged digital humanists to frame projects that illuminate marginalized histories and perspectives, in a spirit of solidarity rather than charity.  Posner referenced a tradition of ethics that holds the “gesture toward plenitude and contingency,” not the encompassing of these (which is impossible), as the ethical act.  She pointed to The Knotted Line as a digital humanities project that embraces a non-linear, de-centered, deconstructivist approach in the service of one pressing humanities question: “how is freedom measured”?

A list of every exciting digital project showcased at the conference would be impossible long, but here are a few that I especially enjoyed learning about:

Goin’ North.  This Omeka project, which involves contributions from graduate and undergraduate students at West Chester University, synthesizes oral histories and digitized regional archival materials to highlight narratives of the Great Migration of African Americans from the southeast to northern regions of the U.S. during the early decades of the twentieth century.

Our Marathon. The Boston Bombing Digital Archive.  Also an Omeka project, Our Marathon marshals images, videos, social media, and other digital primary sources responding to the Boston Marathon bombing.

Doctor or Doctress?  This project centers the unique perspectives of African American female physicians in order to examine U.S. history during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Story of the Stuff.  This web documentary examines the phenomenon where sites of devastating mass shootings–Sandy Hook Elementary School and Virginia Tech, for example–are flooded with “stuff” (teddy bears, paper cranes, cards, etc.), thus creating impromptu, ephemeral memorial sites.

College Women.  This digital archives project documents the history of women in higher education through a focus on pertinent digital collections at the Seven Sisters.

In addition to the multitude of fascinating panels and digital project showcases, I also enjoyed tours sponsored by the conference of the Library Company and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where we had the privilege of visiting the digitization lab.

Screen Shot 2015-07-25 at 12.32.17 PM

These 19th-century fabric samples archived at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania are being digitized for an online exhibit.

The tours reaffirmed for me the very fun relationships among digital humanities, archives, and special collections.  A big thank you to the organizers of the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference for their hard work on this hugely successful conference!