Digital Roots: Learning/Using/Making Technology

This is a slightly modified version of my talk at Network Detroit on September 27

You can find the prezi connected to this presentation here:

Today I want to share a little bit about my personal path to becoming involved with DH, and discuss some of the reasons why digital assignments are so vital to graduate and undergraduate work.

As I began to understand what it meant to be an academic, I admit I felt a little disconnected from the field. I cared most about the practical elements of scholarship, like editing, publishing, and finding cool pop-culture elements I could bring to my students in class. I didn’t really consider that to be part of academia until I started learning more about digital projects. When I took Lisa’s Rise of the Novel class, one of the options for the final project was a website. I was already teaching and using Wikis in the classroom, but wasn’t trained to see that as a key side of my work. Building a website to analyze the novel Tristram Shandy helped me start to realize that there was still innovative and exciting work that I, a PhD student and hopeful scholar, could be bringing to the table. For the first time it made me consider that there might be a way to marry my interests in publishing, editing, and popular culture with my passion for literary studies.

This brings me to my first point: digital projects are a fantastic way to encourage young scholars to see themselves as part of the field—a field that’s growing, that is alive, and whose purpose is not just to produce knowledge, but to share it. After that class, I learned that Digital Humanities was a thing: an actual academic concentration that had been around for much longer than I thought. And just yesterday I was reminded that it used to be called Humanities Computing, but that term scared some people who thought they didn’t know how to program or code. I have to say that scares me, too. But in an exciting way.

Once you start thinking about digital arguments, you want to start defining everything else that may fit into that umbrella. I thought: well, I use technology to teach…is that DH? But wait, I also use technology to research… is that DH? Oh, and I use technology to think about why we use technology! Is that, too, DH?

I realized that the people who encouraged me to ask them were university professors—people who had jobs in the university! I found that my investment in technology, culture, and publishing was not so different from my interests in literature, research, and scholarship. I found that I could write about websites and ideas in ways that are academically legitimate. I think it’s important to come out as a Digital Humanist, and to know that that label means something for my work.  So, for me, defining myself as a Digital Humanist means that I am part of something: part of a growing and exciting new field, part of making new critical objects, and mostly part of an effort to share and disperse knowledge. It also means something crucial for my dissertation: from merely using research websites like Early English Books Online, I began to think about ways those websites could be enriched be other kinds of research and ideas, and from my experience making a digital project for a graduate seminar I knew that I could be the done bringing those ideas into existence.

Part of my dissertation project involves building a database that catalogues paratextual materials like prefaces, indexes, dedications, and errata lists written by printers and publishers. Although I’m still learning about the technological side of how to do that, I find it to be an exciting aspect of my research, one that ensures my project is relevant and productive. Through the process of designing a digital project for my graduate seminar with Lisa, I felt encouraged to conceptualize what it meant to use digital tools in my work, to be more aware of what those tools mean, who makes them, and to what purposes—basic things I teach my comp students in class every semester, and yet questions I, myself sometimes forgot to ask about my own scholarship.

And from there, the next step was to say: well, it’s not enough that I’m thinking or writing about technology; I’m at best lazy and at worst irresponsible if I don’t bring that to my own classroom. And so this semester I decided to take it a step further, and much like Lisa encouraged me to produce something new, I am not pushing my students to do the same. My current syllabus doesn’t only use technology: it teaches students to think about it in serious, scholarly ways, and helps them see that they, too, could be making an exciting contribution to their majors.  

Cheesy though it may sound, digital scholarship really has changed my life. It’s changed my perception of what academia is, and how I fit in as a part of it. And so I’ll stop here, and leave you with a few questions that hopefully we can discuss during Q&A:  

1) The first question is connected to the title of our roundtable: Digital Humanities on a budget. One thing that’s been on my mind a lot this semester is the issue of access: many of my students are returning after many years away from school; others are first-generation students; many yet are only able to go to college because of government loans or scholarships. When we talk so excitedly about DH, do we sometimes forget that there are still many students who can’t afford computers, tablets, or even smartphones? How does that change our work? And how do we handle it?  

2) How do we make sure that more students, both graduate and undergraduate, are getting the proper training, or at least getting the information they may need about where to find it? What should the role of institutions in encouraging that? As far as dissertation-level students, what’s the role of faculty in encouraging DH work? My advisor recently told me DH was my dissertation mistress—that I shouldn’t feel like I was “cheating” on my more traditional research with DH, but that I should instead actively bring it as a chapter in my work. Is there a way to make this a more clear option to students? Is it possible to soon conceive of dissertations not just with digital components but as digital projects?

3) And what about the dreaded digital divide? Is that still a thing? How do we help students who are afraid of technology? How do we teach supposedly tech savvy students how to use their knowledge in a professional or academic way?



CFP: Violence in the Early Modern Period

Hello everyone,

I’m one of the organizers of the Early Modern Colloquium at the University of Michigan, and we’re hosting an interdisciplinary conference in February. Please consider applying! (Although the CFP doesn’t mention it, it would be possible to think about “textual violence” as well.)


The Early Modern Colloquium at the University of Michigan 

invites abstracts for papers for their graduate conference

Violence in the Early Modern Period 

at the

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 15-16 February 2013

with conference keynotes by 

Professors Melissa Sanchez (English, University of Pennsylvania) and Mitchell Merback (History of Art, Johns Hopkins University)

This interdisciplinary conference will explore the instances, effects, and functions of violence throughout sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe. How we understand violence effectively informs how we understand other far-reaching phenomena in the period—e.g., colonization; performances of ability, class, gender, race, and sex; public entertainment; religious reformation(s); social discipline; and urbanization. Recent scholarship has evinced a renewed interest particularly in the dynamics between violence and power, and this conference will therefore focus on a variety of related questions. When and where did violence serve the interests of hegemonic power? When and where did it thwart the interests of hegemonic power? How did violence shape identities, collectives, cultures? By whom or by what was violence practiced and endured? And at what cost?

Please submit 250-300 word proposals for 20-minute papers to John Paul Hampstead ( or Amrita Dhar ( by 30 December 30 2012. The Early Modern Colloquium is a graduate interdisciplinary group at the University of Michigan, and will give priority to abstracts submitted by graduate students.

Are You a Digital Humanist?

A few weeks ago, I called out a student for using her cell phone in class. I had noticed that she always seemed to be on her phone while I was lecturing (which I found not only disrespectful but very distracting) and felt that it was time to remind her of our syllabus policy against use of cell phones and texting in class. The student immediately emailed me back claiming that her phone was also a PDA, and that she was using it to take notes. Whether this was true or just a convenient excuse, it got me thinking about some of the challenges of digital humanities/digital pedagogy. For instance, if I elect to use technology in my classrooms, can I penalize students for doing the same? How much room should we allow technology to have in academic life?

Digital Humanities is becoming an increasingly visible and popular community. Aimée Morrison posted a great set of questions  a few weeks ago regarding what graduate students need from DH efforts, and what kinds of changes we may be concerned about (hint: there are about as many things to be excited about as there are things to figure out). Diane Jakacki similarly posted an engaging reflection on what it means to identify oneself as a Digital Humanist. (I found both of these posts through Twitter, by the way, in my efforts to become more connected to the DH world and more visible as a DHer) One of my tweets in response to  Aimée (@digiwonk) addressed the question of how to best prepare future DH grads: We need more DH profs. But this is a very complex claim. What is, after all, a DH professor? Is it someone who works solely on digital projects and teaches others how to make them? Is it someone who is transitioning from more traditional academic formats to become a digi-print hybrid? Am I a digital humanist? Are you?

Sometimes technology catches me off guard–and I’m not even talking about times when computers crash, or projectors refuse to turn on. The cell phone incident with my student made it clear that I haven’t thought through some of the ways the digital medium both participates in and interferes with pedagogy. I know there are instructors who use Twitter in their classrooms. I have to admit that, while I find the idea fascinating, I fear the lack of control it would bring along–and, of course, that’s the whole point: scary though it may be, decentralization of authority brings something unique to the student-teacher interaction and the learning process as a whole. A social media approach can give a clear purpose to devices most students already feel tempted to use (let’s be honest: devices most of us feel tempted to use). What’s more: placing the technology in our students’ hands challenges us to practice what we preach. But it still scares me.

In my research, I deal with another frightful balance: making sure my project is at once literary, critical, multidisciplinary, AND digital. Sometimes the digital slips through the cracks. Do I earn my DH badge by simply performing digital research? By using these tools to produce new knowledge? During “Reading Publics” we talked a lot about what the digital can and cannot achieve, and we all came to the conclusion that the digital does not (and is not meant to) replace the material object. But there’s another side to this conversation, which has to do with our research, and how much we’re willing to depend on, challenge, support, build, and empower digital tools to become just as respectable as traditional scholarship.

Part of the challenge is just to keep up with the new developments. The academic production process tends to be slow and time-consuming–most dissertations take one to two years to complete; publishing an article can take anywhere from three months to a year. How can we keep up with the ever-changing DH practices by adhering to traditional academic timing? Can we ever claim to be making cutting-edge work unless this work is producing real-time, online results?

As graduate students, we face the traditional vs. digital divide most strongly. I have met new grad students who confidently assert themselves as DHers and whose dissertation is firmly devoted to digital projects. I find that beyond exciting! But I can’t say I ever thought of myself as a Digital Humanist until recently–certainly not when I started grad school–and I wonder how many other grads feel unsure about their place in the community. Even though I have used wikis, videos, prezi, and even Facebook to design my classes, I didn’t think to give that practice a name. Even though my own dissertation proposes a database at its conclusion, I wasn’t thinking about how that defined my niche as a scholar. I thought of myself as a (slightly frustrated) traditional scholar who liked using technology for research and to make classes more engaging. By declaring to be DH, I formally admit that my “guilty pleasure” improves my academic production. By saying that I apply technology to pedagogy, I force myself to be more aware of great new projects and engage in work that is only made possible through online tools.  In my work, I try to address some of this by evaluating and reading about new trends, and planning future uses for my dissertation project. Yet, most of the time I can’t see ever “catching up.” Perhaps that’s what makes this work so exciting.

“The Early Modern and the Digital” edition of Early Modern Cultural Studies

I wanted to let everyone know that the journal Early Modern Cultural Studies has put out a call for papers on the topic of digitization. I know we spent a lot of time in the Reading Publics seminar thinking about the different kinds of conclusions that we as researchers reach depending on whether or not we use digitized or print materials. I am pasting the Call for Papers below and including a link to the Journal website in case anyone is interested in contributing an article.

Call for Papers

“The Early Modern and the Digital”

It is well understood that “the digital turn” has transformed the contemporary cultural, political and economic environment. Less appreciated perhaps is its crucial importance and transformative potential for those of us who study the past. Whether through newly—and differently—accessible data and methods (e.g. “distant reading”), new questions being asked of that new data, or recognizing how digital reading changes our access to the materiality of the past, the digital humanities engenders a particularized set of questions and concerns for those of us who study the early modern, broadly defined (mid-15th to mid-19th centuries).

For this special issue of the Journal of Early Modern Cultural Studies (JEMCS), we seek essays that describe the challenges and debates arising from issues in the early modern digital, as well as work that shows through its methods, questions, and conclusions the kinds of scholarship that ought best be done €”- or perhaps can only be done -€” in its wake. We look for contributions that go beyond describing the advantages and shortcomings of (or problems of inequity of access to) EEBO, ECCO, and the ESTC to contemplate how new forms of information produce new ways of thinking.

We invite contributors to consider the broader implications and uses of existing and emerging early modern digital projects, including data mining, data visualization, corpus linguistics, GIS, and/or potential obsolescence, especially in comparison to insights possible through traditional archival research methods. Essays of 3000-8000 words are sought in .doc, .rtf, or.pdf format by January 15, 2013. Please send to All manuscripts must include a 100-200 word abstract. JEMCS adheres to MLA format, and submissions should be prepared accordingly.

In addition, we would welcome brief reports (500-1500 words) that describe digital projects in progress in early modern studies (defined here as spanning from the mid-fifteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries), whether or not these projects have yet reached completion. These reports, too, should be submitted in .doc, .rtf, or.pdf format, using MLA style, by 15 January 2013 to;jsessionid=254B420E360296A8EE0FFAAFA9E917B4

Please check out (above) my evaluation of the two incredible projects we got to see at Reading Publics. I would love to have your feedback and additional comments!

Early Modern Online Bibliography

The following guest post, the first of two parts, is from Andie Silva, Wayne State University

The University of Warwick, in association with the Newberry library, has been conducting a long-term research project on “Reading Publics.” This project, led by Professor Simon Gilson, Dr. David Lines, and Dr. Maude Vanhaelen, encourages conversations about communities of readers, evidence of readership and reception, and the social and cultural involvement of individual and networks of readers on the print marketplace. This research is possible in great part due to the growth of digitization projects and increasing availability of data and archival materials. As the project’s webpage outlines, however, “the availability of these resources not only varies greatly depending on language, author, country, and period, but also calls for careful methodological reflection.”

This summer, the program leaders organized three activities designed to foster conversation and scholarship on the topic of “Reading Publics” and…

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Plantin-Moretus Museum

I recently spent a great day at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, which I highly recommend if you ever have an opportunity to go there.

During our discussions at Warwick I began to think more about the editorial role of the printer/publisher, and my visit to this museum enhanced my understanding of it. Christophe Plantin was a good businessman living during a time of religious and political upheaval. He likely had Calvinist sympathies and even spent some time out of the country to avoid Spanish authorities. When he returned to Antwerp, he set to work building up his business by publishing an edition of the Bible in eight volumes and five languages — Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac:

It was financed by Philip II, with scholarly direction by Philip’s own chaplain. After this, Plantin was granted a monopoly to publish liturgical works, and his business took off. (All this information is from the museum’s written information and audio guide.)

Three things strike me in relation to this story: first, the skills and knowledge needed to print such a work at all. Plantin needed to make or otherwise acquire type in all the different alphabets used in this text. He also needed the help of scholars at all stages of the printing process, from writing out the text to correcting proofs. Plantin had an entire room dedicated to proofreading, with a large table (right) at which scholars sat all day, poring over proofs and inserting corrections:

These scholars were often established members of their field who had a strong background in the texts Plantin published and the languages in which he published them. The early modern printer’s establishment was therefore often a site of scholarly engagement.

Second, this story illustrates well the importance of books as material objects. Plantin started his career as a book binder, turning relatively undistinguished printed pages into objects that reflected the status of their owners. Books can be read, of course, but they also sit on shelves in a library to be admired by visitors, their cultural importance and signifying power resting not only in their content but also in their material presence in a physical space:

With regard to the Bible in five languages, it seems to me that the real importance of the book must have lain less in its content than in its physical presence, symbolic power, and royal patronage. Would many people have sat down to read it? Perhaps not. But anyone who came into contact with it would have been impressed by the skill of the printer and the political and cultural status conferred on it by its patron.

Finally, this story emphasizes the business aspect of printing: if a printer wanted to be successful, political and monetary considerations must be the overarching concern. Personal conviction, even in the area of religious belief, might have to be sacrificed. Another example of this: Plantin printed several books that ended up on the Index, the list of books prohibited by the Catholic Church. He also printed the Index itself:

This is a post I wrote at the start of the summer school when I was starting to think about what a public was.

Early Modern Dialogues

Today marked the first day of the Reading Publics summer school at the University of Warwick. So far it has been exceptionally stimulating and has exploded some concepts that I thought that I had a half decent understanding of. One of these is the concept of a public, or more specifically the idea of a reading public. During the first half of day we tried to flesh out what a public was, how do you define it and distinguish it from the private. As we discussed the concept, I started to have an uneasiness of talking about a public. Particular in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The first reason for this was because in terms of books and readership there seemed to be several limitations to who could read the book. For instance, some books were expensive and could only be afforded by a rich cultural elite. Can we really…

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As those of you who saw my Powerpoint presentation will have sussed, I’m no great talent with technology. And so, I’ve proved unable to add this link to the sidebar. The Bibliographie Internationale de l’Humanisme et de la Renaissance is a long-standing project, now organised by the Librairie Droz in Geneva. It attempts to collect together all articles and books on subjects relation to humanism and the renaissance published across the world. You can access the digital version at, which allows searching by a large number of critera, and dates back to the mid-Sixties. In terms of secondary literature, I don’t think there’s a resource quite like it (and yes, I’ll declare an interest- I and another Warwick student compiled the UK resources for this year, and did some translation work for them).

An interesting coat of arms.

Hello all, I hope everyone got home all right. I have a question to put to the group. I was looking at old editions of Sannazaro today and I came across a gorgeous presentation copy of the De Partu Virginis printed in Naples in 1526 (possibly the editio princeps). I happened upon a coat of arms that seems quite interesting but can’t quite figure out where I should turn to look it up.

It’s a red circle with a grey column in the centre. The column has a gold base and a golden crown and is framed by V C in gold lettering. A wreath of green leaves with what looks like acorns surrounds the red circle and is tied with blue ribbon Xes at the top, bottom, left and right. None of the paratextual elements indicate a dedicatee, though there must have been one since the edition is in folio, on vellum and has hand painted initials throughout along with this vivid coat of arms.

Does anyone know anything about this device or any good works on sixteenth-century Italian heraldry?