I’ve written a chapter for a forthcoming collection on history of early modern science and I was just asked to write up the abstract for said piece. In writing, I found myself pretty jazzed about the piece and thought I’d share at least the abstract with you all. I’m particularly tickled by the way the chapter harmonizes with work I’m doing right now on my book, which is all about long histories of quantifying media and interfaces.
“Poetico-Mathematical Women” offers a recontextualization of the first ever mathematical periodical – The Ladies’ Diary – as central to the tradition of early modern aesthetic rationalism. Pairing poetic enigmas with mathematical inquiry, the Diary creates readers attuned to a new intellectual paradigm and leverages early modern interest and pleasure in the procedural, formal qualities shared by mathematics and poetry. While often held out as exemplary in bringing mathematics into a humanist context, Wernimont demonstrates that the Diary actually follows a well-worn, if under-recognized path that includes canonical history of science texts such as: Mercure Galant (1672-1724), Bernard Fontenelle’s Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (1686), and English works such as Aphra Behn’s translation of Entretiens, titled A Discovery of New World (1688), and Peter Anthony Motteux’s Gentleman’s Journal (1692–94). In so doing, she argues that such texts represent early lineages of modern algorithmic culture – a culture invested in the pleasure and power of procedural logics – and demonstrates the centrality of women’s writing within this tradition.”
The EMDA folks spent yesterday afternoon enthralled by Mark Davies’ corpora and his interface for them. Rather than casually noodling around, as I like to say, many of us were in a mad dash to engage with one corpus in particular. Dashing because while Davies had built the thing, most of us had a very short window to access one particular corpus. I’m being deliberately vague here because I value the access that Davies gave us and because my point isn’t about the particularities of any one resource. Instead, I’m concerned with differential access to legacy data and how we think about this problem.
The data that Davies was working from belongs to a major organization, one that many early modernists depend upon. But, as we learned in earlier in the week, our access to that data is not equal. Rather, there are multiple levels of subscription for this resource and with that comes differential access to the underlying data. If one is at an institution that has the highest level subscription – then using Davies’ bewitching tools in the future is not a problem. If, however, one’s institution has one of those other levels of subscription….well, access was limited to a window measured in days. Hence the dashing.
What was paradoxic about my own dashing yesterday is that I’m not generally interested in corpus analysis and I am pretty suspicious of the quality of this particular data resource. What’s more, while this isn’t ‘big data’ in the sense of the sciences, it is bigger, and my current research agenda is focused on relatively small scales. There are a number of reasons for this, which deserve a different post, but none of this kept me from feeling desperate about the short time I had with the data and Davies’ interface yesterday. Nor did it stop me from being openly frustrated about hierarchies of access.
We all know that there are different resources and expectations (although this latter bit is shifting in disturbing ways) at R1s. As a colleague helpfully pointed out via twitter, it’s not just small liberal arts colleges (SLAC) where these differences become apparent – comprehensive universities and community colleges have similarly differential access. While there are a handful of SLACs, CUs, and CCs, that have access, it’s far less likely to see smaller or less affluent institutions subscribe to a $60,000 humanities resource (don’t get me started on the comparison with science data subscriptions).
A handful of people spent some time yesterday talking about the ways that we might address this kind of issue. We might leverage local consortial arrangements to make the case for subscription, we might engage with national consortia (like the Alliance to Advance Liberal Arts Colleges), we might turn to our professional organizations (MLA, RSA, etc) for help with subscriptions and data access – or we might undertake more “guerrilla” approaches. Each, I suspect, has its affordances and constraints. But I’m aware that I spent a bunch of time thinking about getting access to something that I’m not even sure I want.
Jonathan Sawday asked us earlier in the week if our current technological situation might have been otherwise. This morning I think that this might be a more fruitful vein of inquiry than the “how can I hack access?”. It’s easy to become entrenched in the have/have nots conversation – while the structures of higher education hierarchy and closed data deserve calling out, they might also be a distraction. Why bother fighting for a very dirty data set when we could create it anew and in better form? We were shocked to hear how little it would actually cost to create a new set of high quality images and transcriptions of early modern texts, particularly given how much we value that kind of resource. Given that we’re talking about a relatively small set of texts, such work might not actually take that long.
Now, having hand encoded texts myself as a graduate student and now as a researcher, I know that the devil is in the details and that one needs money to make the work flow happen on a scale of months rather than years. But I’d rather put my energy into that set of intellectual and practical questions. Focusing on making a better, open data set wouldn’t constitute an avoidance of the real issues of access inequity but, rather, a refusal to engage in a battle created by corporate control of humanities resources. I woke up with Audre Lorde in my head (at a spaghetti dinner, but I digress) and I think its worth considering alternative approaches when tools are old and broken. And we don’t have to start from scratch, there are a number of existing projects early modern text projects (Women Writers Online is just one) that have already begun the work, in some sense. That’s where I’ll be hanging out.
Because I work on literature and mathematics, I tend to look at a number of different forms, modes, and genres. What this loses in particularity, it makes up for by illuminating shared traditions. Emerging from the discussions at EMDA thisweek, and of the ESTC data in particular, are a number of questions and ideas about early modern exercises as part of the print tradition.
I’m not quite sure right now how to talk about exercises – are they a form? They aren’t quite a genre (?), but they do entail expectations and function as techne in ways that I might think of genre doing. Perhaps the most famous of the exercises in the early modern are those of the Augustine tradition, beginning with St. Augustine’s Confessions, which include a set of spiritual exercises.
Pierre Hadot argues that spiritual exercises like those of the Augustine tradition focus the believer in a state of attention – they are designed to create a specific kind of temporality, that of the eternal present. Hadot is interested in tracing a long lineage for spiritual exercises – extending from antiquity to Ignatius of Loyola, Descartes, Pascal, Wittgenstein, and perhaps even Foucault. While I like Hadot’s long view approach, I miss the koan-like quality of the Augustine exercises themselves when I try to think Wittgenstein or Foucault in there.
It occurred to me yesterday, however, that there might be a tighter formal link between the rhetorical and mathematic exercises of the early moder period and that such a shared formal schema might suggest certain common habits and cultural values around rhetoric and mathematics.
Progymnasmata – classical preliminary exercises for the “intro” rhetoric student were designed to focus the student on a particular area of classical oration. Did they share the emphasis on the present that Hadot argues for in the Augustinian exercises? I’d have to think more about it. While they were designed to be cumulative in a way that I’m not sure is there for the spiritual exercises, there remained the possibility of returning to the exercises in non-sequential ways for the purposes of inventio or invention.
Then there are the mathematical exercises. They are at least as old as classical rhetoric and devotional writing, with the earliest known mathematical exercise dting from ca. 3350 BC. Like poetry, mathematical exercises were considered “recreation” – both in the sense of re-creation and of play. A night spent working through mathematical problems was on par with a card game for Samuel Pepys and his wife.
What does all of this have to do with anything digital? Well, I’m looking for a better sense of how many people were writing about exercise – whether spiritual, rhetorical, mathematical or otherwise. Right now, I have a hard time understanding the scope of the field, as it were. To give you a sense of what I mean – here’s a snapshot of what “mathematical exercise” (variant sp but not forms) yields in just the Folger Shakespeare Library’s online catalogue
800+ entries, even if there are numerous false hits, is a enormous number of texts and this is just for one archive (partially catalogued) and for one kind of exercise. My problem is a pretty classic one of size – I can’t see the forest. Using the ESTC data and a visualization designed to illuminate the different kinds of exercises and their dates of publication would at least offer one view of the forest – still a partial view, but a view nonetheless.
This is an echo of Whitney Trettien’s EEBO Oddities resource on her Whiki. Her links contain the Duke proxy instructions, which I’ve stripped out here – you should be able to either click on the link or copy/paste into a browser window.
It is day four of the NEH-funded, Folger Library hosted Early Modern Digital Agenda – the conversations have been rich, varied, and exciting. With a toddler here in town with me, there is precious little time at either the beginning or the end of the day for synthetic thinking. I have a rare hour of time this morning and I’m thinking about the shaping forces of technology and one of Jonathan Sawday’s questions to the group – “could it be otherwise?”.
Wendy Chung joined us on Tuesday and she rightly pointed out that technology and literature have always been mutually imbricated. As a person who thinks of writing as techne and poeisis simultaneously, this insight should have already been at the fore of my thinking. But the who’s in/who’s out – for/against rhetoric that surrounds digital humanities can obscure that long tradition of co-creation.
We’ve been talking a great deal about the history of Early English Books Online and I have been struck by the centrality of remediation to the history of the resource and the long lines of corporate control. As Ian Gadd pointed out yesterday, EEBO isn’t a catalogue of early modern books – it’s a catalogue of copies. More precisely, it is a repository of digital images of microfilms of single copies of books, and, if your institution subscribes to the Text Creation Partnership (TCP) phases one and/or two, text files that are outsourced transcriptions of microfilm images of single texts.( Daniel Powell wrote up a great post detailing the basics of this) So what?
The list of ‘so whats’ is long enough in my mind to deserve an article, but right now I’m interested in how the technologies involved in the production of microfilm, pdf, digital transcription, catalogue, and database/repository are shaping our engagement with early modern literature and culture. What was particularly striking to me in our discussion yesterday was just how complicated the political and economic histories of each of these technologies is in relation to early modern literature.
I recently wrote on the difficulty of assessing digital archives in feminist terms and I’m struck by a corollary set of challenges for the history of EEBO, a resource that for many is a place to start, not itself an object of study. That function that EEBO serves – as a place to start or conduct research – is why I’m so interested in the history of technology of the resource. How can we understand the ways that technologies are shaping our engagements with literature if we don’t stop to consider how technology and literature have already been shaping and constraining one another? The questions around how we might use our tools to create new forms of criticism and history are interesting to be sure, but I’m not sure that I can ask them until I have worked to understand how the tools have already created new critique and historiography.
This is in part methodological bias – I’m an historian at heart. One reason for this bias is that historiography is my way of seeing where and how possibilities were foreclosed or actualized; it is my way of addressing the “could it be otherwise?” question. Right now, with just ten minutes to get to the library, I’m wishing I could spend some time working on the histories of EEBO’s technologies in order to understand the contingencies that led to a corporately controlled, highly mediated, perpetually partial research resource and how it might have been otherwise.
I’ve had the pleasure of talking with new editors (I, myself, am relatively new) about Wikipedia editing, both at our WikiStorm event at THATCamp Feminisms this spring and via social media. In my academic circles, which includes a number of medieval and early modern scholars, it’s become pretty popular to edit pages. We have a lot of knowledge to contribute and I’m delighted to see so many people adding to Wikipedia.
One issue that has come up repeatedly is the review process – you can create a new article and submit it for review, which takes an agonizingly long time given the backlog. Or, you can follow the Wikipedia advice to “Be Bold” and just publish that article right away.
This post offers a step by step guide on how to publish, rather than submitting your article to queue of dispair. You can also find much of this information on Wikipedia’s own pages on the topic.
First step – log into your Wikipedia account. Don’t have one? Create one!
To demonstrate the process, I first needed to decide what I’d be writing on. I’m an early modern literature and history of science scholar and I focus on creating Wikipedia pages that provide information on women writers in both literature and natural philosophy (early sciences). So I was looking for an early modern/18th century writer who did not yet have an entry. A simple search of Wikipedia using the authors list at the Women Writers Project revealed that there were no existing articles on either of Margaret Holford, or her daughter, also named Margaret Holford.
Knowing that there are no existing pages, I then clicked on the red link circled in the image below to create a new page.
Which brought up the following screen, where I was able to create the new page:
Now, you can edit here, but it’s worth using your user Sandbox to draft, revise, and even receive feedback on your new page creations. Rather than make the page, live, here, I had already drafted it in my user Sandbox. The first image to the right here is my empty Sandbox, then below it is the draft in progress. You can (and should!) use the preview function to see how your pages look along the way.
Among the benefits of using the Sandbox is that you can revise your content, formatting, and citations at length. You can save the draft and come back later, when you’ve finally gotten your hands on that critical book, without risking having uncited material on the live page. Once you’ve refined your content to your satisfaction, you can then copy and past the entire field into the Create page.
What I’m doing here in the image on the right is copying and pasting the content from my Sandbox into the Create page. Note that above the image line there is a preview of the page and then, if I scroll down, there is a Save/Preview button.
Hit Save and Voilà! A page on Margaret Holford (the Elder) exists!
Now, this is really short page – I really should have more quality content here, but I wanted to get a demo up fast. So I need to flesh out the content further. Beyond that, the usual next steps for me are to link this page to any relevant existing pages, including those of Margaret’s family. I’ll also likely want to create a page for Margaret the younger and to connect the two pages. But both of those items are work for another day.
When is a pesthouse not a pesthouse? When it’s been run through the Library of Congress subject heading ringer – then it’s a hospital.
The Counting the Dead project is currently developing a set of XML/TEI encoded texts for use in a future full-scale archive. As a fledgling project, however, that full-scale implementation is a future goal. In the short term, we’re creating an Omeka-based smaller archive and developing a couple of proof-of-concept style exhibits and collections. We want to begin to demonstrate the rich interplay between numerate, poetic, artifactual, etc modes of plague commemoration.
In working with Omeka, we are using the basic set of Dublin Core fields as a metadata stream (this is somewhat parallel to what we do in our TEI Headers, but not identical).
To supplement basic training on metadata, I worked with Allegra Gonzales Swift, our Digital Initiatives Librarian to develop what she calls a “data dictionary.” I was entirely new to this genre, but it functions as a kind of key for a database. Wikipedia puts it rather well: “This typically includes the names and descriptions of various tables and fields in each database, plus additional details, like the type and length of each data element. There is no universal standard as to the level of detail in such a document, but it is primarily a weak kind of data.” 
As we began to refine our dictionary, it became clear to me that the “subject” field was a potential quagmire. While we will be using Library of Congress subject headings, that list is extraordinarily long and difficult to quickly navigate. While I’m exploring the efficacy of an auto-complete plugin for Omeka, I want to provide a smaller controlled vocabulary for this particular field. To that end, we are developing a sub-dictionary for LOC subject terms.
Allegra asked that I generate a list of subject terms for our texts, which she and a student would then transform into official LOC terms. It seemed like a simple enough operation. Among my chosen subject terms were “pesthouse,” “receipts or recipes,” and “royal proclamations.” The LOC translations: “Communicable diseases – hospitals,” “plague vaccines,” and “delegated legislation” or “executive orders.” I suspect that early modernists reading this will spot obvious issues. The hospital, as such, was not an active entity in early modern England. While there are active societies of physicians and it was possible to receive care through some religious organizations, it wasn’t until the 18th century that what we know as the ‘hospital’ came into being. Perhaps more importantly, the pest house was a building designated by decree to forcibly detain/contain those who were infected. It wasn’t a place for treatment; it was a place in which to die.
A similar sort of anachronism is at work with using “plague vaccine” for “recipe”- an Englishwoman or man would have loved, I’m sure, to have had a vaccine. What they did instead, in one particularly peculiar instance, was to pluck feathers from the butt of a live chicken and apply that to oozing sores. A vaccine it was not. While the practice of inoculation (smallpox) is evident in India and China in the 17th century, such medicinal practices did not make their way in time to help with the London outbreak of 1666. The first plague vaccine was a late 19th century creation.
The final set — “delegated legislation” or “executive orders” for “royal proclamation” — doesn’t smack of quite the same anachronism, but it feels wrong. Sure, a proclamation is a piece of delegated law, but the specificity of ‘royal’ seems important to me. Likewise for the difference between “legislation” and “proclamation.”
These are just a few examples and there are plenty of cases where the terminology is perfectly appropriate. In some cases, like that of “hospital,” we’re moving forward using the LOC subject term because it includes pesthouses in the documentation. But it still doesn’t feel right. In other cases, we’ll be using capacious subject terms like “Plague–Treatment–Early works to 1800,” which helps us avoid situations that feel too anachronistic but it sacrifices a lot in terms of nuance.
Perhaps this is how it must or should be. As I mentioned at the outset, we began this process in order to narrow the already large vocabulary of the subject headings. Having historical sub-sets isn’t going to address the size problem. At the same time, there are clear benefits to seeing the pesthouses, for example, as part of the history of hospitals and corporate care.
I’m pretty new to the official languages of archivists and librarians and I clearly carry the researcher’s desire for a special kind of historicized precision into this exercise. We’re also just a week into this game and perhaps we haven’t looked hard enough. But I can’t help thinking that there’s a lot of work being done to our sense of the subject of our texts as they are subjected to LOC authority.
Posted at the request of Allegra, our digital initiatives librarian as a response:
I think what we do is look for some standardized terms but don’t try to shoe-horn it in if it doesn’t work.
I was thinking of this this morning or last night, all a blur. Jacque would know what would make sense in her field. I think we can make a mash-up, as it were, of the LCSH if they are right for the project and terms that make sense. Catalogs care but increasingly, harvesters and aggregators of data are mashing up a great mix of terms form a variety of sources. So pristine LCSH gets muddy.
And LC can be behind the times and even politically incorrect. Case in point, Tony Crowley’s issue with describing his collection of Northern Ireland Murals documenting the Troubles is that the LC terms are Brit-centric, crown-o-filic. There is a LCNAF for the town of Derry but it is “Londonderry.” If Tony wanted to show his face in Ireland again, he needed more agnostic terms. Description should not be dangerous.
But, if you look at his subject terms, most make sense but others – and especially if you put them in a blender with unrelated data, unrelated collection content or a universal catalog – really are problematic. “1690” “ANL” “July 12” Think globally, act locally and assign subject terms accordingly.
Scripps College hosted the “21st Century Shakespeare” faculty workshop this past weekend, which brought a group of Shakespeareans working at liberal arts colleges together to share tools, strategies, and ideas for teaching the Bard’s works in our current cultural context (see our Workshop page for the talks).
We were joined by two outstanding digital Shakespeareans, Michael Best, of Internet Shakespeare Editions, and Peter Donaldson, of the Shakespeare Electronic Archive. As I listened over the course of the weekend, I was struck by two things: the many exhortations to fearlessness and a palpable enthusiasm for innovation in teaching.
Run toward what you fear
Whether is was approaching Elizabethan music and dance, mounting a modern performance on a shoestring budget, engaging with global adaptations of Shakespeare, or understanding the range of digital textual resources, we heard some form of a call to fearlessness repeatedly this weekend. Scholars are a, well, scholarly bunch. We’ve been trained to devote a depth of time and thought to our objects of study, to master long histories of readership, reception, and cultural production. Generally this is a good thing – we are dedicated to the labor of our craft and to due diligence. But it can lead to something like academic trepidation – a fear that I cannot possibly begin to talk about that madigral or recipe without many hours of careful study. I might, after all, get it WRONG. Instead of fearing the unknown, or under-known, what I heard my colleagues saying this weekend was that we should feel authorized to let go, to play with the possibilities that historical artifacts afford us.
For Amy Hayes this manifests in her work to bring a “living Shakespeare” (rather than the right Shakespeare) into the lives of high school students through the DePauw “Will Power: Shakespeare in the Schools” program. A similar note was struck by Denise Walen’s suggestion that teaching students to read Shakespearean texts as scripts (rather than authoritative, sacred texts) enables a more embodied engagement of Elizabethan drama. She had us up and on the green, reciting a short excerpt while changing direction every time we “ran into” the punctuation. I can say that I came away with a new appreciation for both the pacing of Shakespearean language and the power of embodied experience. Such fears assume that there is a way to get any cultural history of the early modern period right, a positivistic stance that most of us these days eschew in our scholarship. Nevertheless, it haunts our teaching.
We were encouraged by Leslie Dunn to brave past the uncertainties of the dances and songs that are marked in so many of Shakespeare’s texts in order to find ways to bring the possible song, the possible dance into our teaching. We had seen such bravery in action.
Royal Shakespeare Company’s Production of the Winter’s Tale
As part of our grant we each had the opportunity to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 5 play run in New York last summer. Their production of The Winter’s Tale, with its bizarre, almost tribal, and surely ahistorical dances was an absolute delight.
At one point this weekend, Peter Donaldson suggested that a certain degree of irreverence is critical to the classroom and to education generally. He was particularly gleeful about Asian appropriations of Shakespeare and their willingness to mashup, re-use, and refigure Shakespearean texts.
The take away: jump in, preferably feet first. Rather than shutting ourselves up in the cloisters of long studied contexts, we should feel free to bring a range of lived and living contexts to bear on our readings and performances of Shakespearean texts.
Variants as a path to fearlessness in students
While we indulged in the “wild and wacky” and practiced being unafraid of the unknown, we also stayed true to the textual scholarly modes that are the bread and butter of our craft. Textual cruxes were on full display as pedagogical tools over the weekend. Timothy Billings walked us through a great set of exercises that drew on digital editions to teach students about the editing process, the slipperiness of the idea of The Text, and the playfulness of variation. Michael Best offered us a first glimpse of an animation under development for ISE that allows for an elegant switch between variants. In both cases, the foregrounding of variation, of the problems like those of the “bad quarto” and “authoritative editions,” gave us another opportunity to think about fearlessness in Shakespeare pedagogy. Over and over again people spoke of breaking down the produced authority of the major editions (or even the historical editions – it is certainly possible to fetishize the Folio or Q2), and of giving students both reasons and the confidence to question editorial choices. We were looking for ways to encourage students to see Shakespeare as an artist at work rather than his work as an ossified set of texts.
The faculty group had come together in order to share ideas, resources, and to teach one another about new tools and techniques. But it also became clear that making the issues familiar to textual scholarship “alive” for students is as much about professorial enthusiasm as possible digital tools or new contexts and practice. Yes, digital editions made it easier to make editions “talk” to one another in a single page – allowing for rapid comparison and, consequently, the ability to see Shakespeare’s works as a process of revisions. Animation and visualization are tools that we can and should deploy. Yes, embodied practice brought new insights. But it was also clear that the passion of the teacher, the willingness to put in the time to make the argument clear and to lay the groundwork for understanding, is absolutely essential. It was evident that this is a passion with a long, slow burn.
As the most junior faculty member in the room, I was struck by the time and thoughtfulness evident in each person’s description of his/her teaching. In my second year on the tenure-track I can say that I have intimate knowledge of the labor involved in new preps – I’ve yet to repeat a course here at Scripps. I do not have personal knowledge of the long evolution of a class taught many times – of the years of thinking and refining that go into great teaching. Such dedication and engagement was on full display this weekend, however. I found myself humbled and inspired by the thoughtfulness, the pedagogical generosity, and fearlessness of my colleagues.
We closed our first day with an affirmation exercise that Amy Hayes does with her performance students. I had three students who participated in the workshop this weekend and they took part in the exercise as well. A synthetic paraphrase of two of their affirmations might read like this: we reaffirm the commitment of good teachers to exploring new technologies and techniques to become great teachers. Amen.