Digital Humanities Pre-Conference and Discussion Group at ALA Annual

WESS Newsletter

Fall 2012, Vol. 36, No. 1


The Digital Humanities Pre-Conference, sponsored by ACRL
The pre-conference was an introduction to the ideas and practices behind digital humanities, an overview of what libraries are doing in this area, and an introduction to coding. Angela Courtney (University of Indiana), Kate Brooks (University of Minnesota), Craig Harkema (University of Saskatchewan), and Glen Worthey (Stanford University) talked about their roles, as well as the projects taking place at their libraries. The commonalities among the speakers included: collaboration across professions and disciplines; initiative on the part of the libraries; and librarians as facilitators—paving the road and making it easier for the faculty and students involved in their projects.

Courtney described a text encoding class offered to students in collaboration with the Center for Digital Arts and Humanities at Indiana. The course introduced students to DH and its methods. Students examined and critiqued projects and digital tools. The course also served to revive the Victorian Women Writers Project by engaging graduate students with the texts in a variety of ways. Courtney described what she sees as the scholarly aspects of coding.

Brooks shared that the University of Minnesota Libraries formed a Digital Arts and Humanities Working Group to bring together librarians from across the university. It is part of a wider digital framework that includes a data group, a research network group, and scholarly communications. The DA and H Working Group identifies education and advocacy opportunities and seeks to bring people into the community of digital humanities. Members identified experts to work with faculty and students entering into DH projects. Brooks noted that she expected to be building projects, but in the end feels that her service-oriented role is an appropriate one.

Harkema focused on metadata: tools for creating it, librarians’ expertise with it, and reasons for using it. Tools include: XML, Dublin Core and OAI-PMH (protocol for metadata harvesting), MODS and METS (coding structures intended to complement other metadata formats, turns a MARC record into XML and allows it to be shared, moved around, mapped to different things), FRBR (functional requirements for bibliographical records, or how to think about describing things), and PREMIS (related to coding text—XML, MOD, METS). He described metadata as structured information that explains, describes, locates or otherwise makes it easier to retrieve, use or manage the information or content being described. He gave multiple examples of projects, including the Golden Cockerel Press, Grub Street Project.

Worthey pointed out that librarians have always supported digital humanities. This scholarly endeavor has constantly redefined itself and the recent emphasis on “Big Tent” digital humanities means that the field of study is at its most inclusive. Worthey described digital humanities as a “community of practice” that is open, inclusive, and collegial, especially to librarians. Franco Moretti is an important fixture in the dh community at Stanford (and internationally) and Worthey talked about his promotion of the “great unread,” and specifically his 2000 article, Conjectures on World Literature in the New Left Review. Out of this work developed the Stanford Project, an initiative to digitize novels for a database that supports Moretti’s distance reading research. Worthey stated that librarians should be the loudest in promoting mass digitization. All librarians do not need to know how to code, but all libraries should know what it looks like and how it works. Worthey described the pamphlet and Web publication Literary Lab, which is the vehicle for discussing projects and sharing ideas.

The second half of the day was devoted to text encoding, text encoding tools, and reviewing projects. Harriet Green of the University of Illinois led this session. She demonstrated Monk, a text-mining tool that includes proprietary and open access thoroughly encoded texts.

Other tools and sites mentioned:

  • Many Eyes (IBM)
  • TAPoR: gateway to free tools for text analysis and retrieval
  • Voyant: Web based reading and analysis environment for digital texts
  • Bubbles: a word cloud tool using bubbles
  • Token X: twelve ways to do analysis, visualize, and play with text
  • Juxta: physical collator, digitally useful for collating, comparing, and analyzing digital texts encoded in TXT and XML
  • CATMA: Computer Aided Textual markup & Analysis, useful for tracking changes across editions, and designed for those with little encoding experience. It is available as a free download.
  • BambooDiRT: a tool, service, and collection registry of digital research tools for scholarly use

Digital Humanities Discussion Group held Sunday June 24 at ALA Annual, 2012
This was the first meeting of the discussion group and it was led by Kate Brooks of University of Minnesota and Angela Courtney of the University of Indiana. The session was well attended. Everyone in the room introduced him- or herself and briefly described their interests. The point was made by several at this meeting and at the pre-conference that all librarians would be working with digital projects to lesser and greater extents, and that whether you were officially the digital humanities librarian, this would likely be in librarian job descriptions going into the future. There was an overview of developments, including news that MLA Bibliography is indexing Scholarly Web sites (see the guidelines for inclusion) and providing opportunities for training. Also, there is a new journal, Humanist Studies in a Digital Age, published by Oregon Digital, the Knight Library Press (University of Oregon libraries), and sponsored by the libraries in collaboration with the Department of Romance Languages. UCLA is offering a graduate certificate and an undergraduate minor in digital humanities. The What Is Digital Humanities page (at UCLA) is worth taking a minute to read.

Rebecca Stuhr
Coordinator for Humanities Collections
Librarian for History and Classical Studies
216 Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center
3420 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
215-898-5999