Posts in category Digital Humanities

Two pubs on participatory editing and learning

I attended the excellent Conference of the European Society for Textual Scholarship in Amsterdam during fall 2012 to discuss the MBDA project. The society’s journal issue from that conference was (finally!) published this spring. A version of my talk, “Digital Texts, Metadata, and the Multitude: New Directions in Participatory Editing” is available in that issue.

A related article, entitled “Participatory Culture, Participatory Editing, and the Emergent Archival Hybrid,” was published in Archive Journal during spring 2014.

The common thread that links these two pieces: participatory approaches to teaching and scholarship. Thanks to my many wonderful students at Bloomsburg and Berry for your contributions to MBDA and for making this work possible!

crowdsourcing the archive

first paragraph of an article I’m writing which is due in September; its timing coalesces excellently with the OED’s recent quarterly update:

The noun crowdsourcing made its Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Online debut in June 2013[1] as “one of the most recent 1% of entries recorded in OED” and among “50 entries first evidenced in the decade 2000,” which include “words such as bromance, galactico, [and] waterboarding” (“crowdsourcing”). OED attributes the coinage to Wired writer Jeff Howe, who in 2006 described a rising trend wherein “Smart companies in industries as disparate as pharmaceuticals and television discover ways to tap the latent talent of the crowd” (OED, “crowdsourcing”). This story begins shortly thereafter (generations later by some technological measures) when discussions of the shift toward a more participatory culture were becoming increasingly common, and crowdsourcing, in practice as well as in parlance, was spreading beyond industry to touch even the most conservative realms of academia, including textual scholarship and archival studies.

[1] The verb crowdsource was also added in June 2013.

june 2013: cake, dialect, digitization, and tolkien

in addition to snorkeling, swimming, some seriously overdue momming, and a long reading list (literature, some pre-fall planning, and a list i’m co-reading with my recently turned ten-year-old), my research agenda remains active this summer. MBDA continues to advance, and i’m writing two different discussions of the project which require serious reflection on the intersections between theory, methodology, and practice. one is more narrative focused (the convergence of history and story, a motif poignant in description of the life and work of Martha Berry), one more theory-meets-practice-meets-tech (critical to advancement and redefinition of the archive, a theme pressing in my thoughts and evolving constantly thanks to some excellent writings which push us ever further into new terrain, e.g., “We are archivists, since we have to be. We don’t have choice. This decision is already made, or determined by the contemporary technological condition…”).

i’m also directing the Pennsylvania Dialects Project (PDP). i’ve continued to localize my research agenda, and PDP is rooted in rural central Pennsylvania, my current home, my university’s home, and the focus of PDP’s research purpose. we’re at the very early stages of the project, but because i’ve woven it intimately within my teaching and research agendas, and because i have some exceptional student collaborators, the study is proceeding remarkably well.

i was rereading Eat, Pray, Love recently (an excellent antidote to funkiness – and i don’t mean the groovy kind – which apparently i still have need of) and laughed quietly to myself when i bumped headfirst into Gilbert admonishing “You are, after all, what you think.” serendipitous? sought out unconsciously? i’m open to all kinds of interpretations… but, however it happened, lately, i’m a little chocolate cake meets democratization of information meets history and story collide meets documentation of dialect is critical to eradication of dialect prejudice, which, by the way, is alive and well. oh, plus: it’s very cool to pull the linguist card when your child is into J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. very. so i’m also a bit hey darling, did you know that tolkien was a linguist… too.


Martha Berry Digital Archive

Great news: The Martha Berry Digital Archive (MBDA) project is launching this week. Of course we anticipate a few unexpected surprises (technical as well as human), but we look forward to the challenge and to seeing the project grow!

MBDA Community



mapping MBDA

In the midst of debugging our site upgrade and thereafter finally turning toward site styling. Despite the bugs and incomplete design scheme, archive data is solid. We’ve mapped c. one-third of the scanned and published collection (and there’s quite a bit more yet to scan and publish) and geolocation data (shown in the map below) is just beginning to offer a very cool visual of Berry’s far-reaching influence:


discovering Martha Berry

Just finished a fairly comprehensive draft of Discovering Martha Berry for MBDA, which is scheduled to be released publicly in April. The piece is not yet garnished with images or other visual flourishes, but it was wonderful to write, and equally intriguing to mine the archive for sources. Berry is an incredibly interesting subject, and I find her – simultaneously – elusive, extroverted, vivacious, intense, and witty. Though I’ve spent c. 2.5 years working intimately with her writings, I’ve yet either to tire of her or precisely to pin her down. And the fun is just beginning, it seems, as there’s so much more yet to learn once we open the project for public editing.Martha Berry

We have much left to accomplish before April, but MBDA’s participatory editing plugin is nearly ready for Omeka 2.0, and, with a bit of luck, the programmer will have successfully upgraded the dev site to 2.0 this weekend. Now that is progress to celebrate!

ESTS Conference: I <3 Amsterdam

Just returned from an exceptional few days in Amsterdam, where the ESTS Conference was held last week. The Dutch are wonderful hosts. Without exception (at the conference and throughout Amsterdam), whether assisting with conference details, technology, or more touristic ventures, the people were gracious. My* recommendation: when you go, buy a tram pass and explore this beautiful city!

While larger conferences offer a wider sampling of digital scholarship, for me it was a genuine pleasure to spend a few days immersed exclusively in textual studies. Many of the talks were thematically consistent, focused on integration of technology within editing methods/editorial models and dedicated to exploring how our work as textual scholars is advancing and evolving in pace with emerging technologies. Among the highlights were talks describing significant potential for computer assisted paleographic analysis, interactive chronology of textual composition, data annotation, a CMS designed for and by editors, and editions which reflect careful (& honest this should be obvious, shouldn’t it?) consideration of audience.

My own talk introduced MBDA’s participatory metadata editing model. The talk exposes MBDA’s in-progress work (as well as our open development model), and it was excellent to receive very good questions that anticipate the challenges of:

  • crowd control
  • how we might ‘game-ify’
  • audience
  • incentives for participation
  • how we are acknowledging community participation

We’d been working through these kinds of issues prior to the conference, and our interdisciplinary project team has ensured depth and diversity of perspective, but – especially as we move ever closer to pre-launch testing (scheduled for Jan/Feb 2013) and our spring launch (April 18, 2013) – serious and critical feedback from experienced editors refines our project lens and improves not only the view, but how we see it. Dank u, ESTS.

*my son’s recommendation: NEMO.



Henry Ford, Open Access, & 4th Grade

Having worked extensively on MBDA this semester and having been especially vocal about project-related milestones during recent dinner conversations, it wasn’t entirely surprising when my son asked me to tell him a little more about MBDA and to explain the progress we’ve been making…

‘Why is it so important, mom?’ he wondered.

Two reasons,’ I replied: ‘Access and modeling.’

But I should step back a moment and note first that his fourth grade class had been talking about Henry Ford and had been studying Ford’s contributions to the automotive industry. When my partner Garrick (who also happens to be MBDA’s programmer) heard this, he drew him over, pulled up the MBDA dev site, and showed him letters from and photographs of Henry and Clara Ford. A very cool teachable moment.

Thanks to that interaction, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to explain later that it would be very difficult for him and his classmates in Pennsylvania to travel to the Berry College Archives in Georgia to read the letters written to and from Ford. But a digital collection like MBDA (open, freely available) creates opportunities for people from across the globe to access all kinds of letters and manuscripts and important documents —

And at the dinner table with a nine-year-old, a project like MBDA enables us to take a discussion of Henry Ford from the abstract to the concrete (Ford did, after all, donate autos and tractors as well as significant sums to the Berry Schools, and documentary and photographic evidence excellently illustrates this history).

The importance of modeling is more complex to a nine-year-old, but ours did appreciate that, in some very, very small way, kind of like Henry Ford’s assembly line, MBDA’s participatory editing model can be used to improve the processes of editing, accessing, and engaging with historical texts. And our guy: ready to sign up as MBDA’s first fourth grade editor.