Monday, September 7, 2015

Loss: Our Disappearing Digital Legacy

I'm well into the beginning of the semester and ready to begin documenting early digital humanities projects.

In this post, I want to emphasize how much we are in danger of losing, how much of early digital cultural material is evaporating. I don't want to suggest that the loss is something that is individuated and endemic to digital work, as ample scholarly work has proved that not to be the case. Instead, I want to argue that the small scale, scholarly projects that are crucial to the early days of digital humanities are particularly vulnerable in large part because they are formed outside of institutional structures. These are often one off, activist digital projects that scholars put up on personal servers or purchased webspace. Those who worked on these projects did not necessarily identify as digital humanists and often left the projects without an archiving plan when they were "finished." Yet these projects, in content and design, tell us a great deal about early digital scholarly production and remain valuable artifacts of the period in which they were produced.

When I was writing my book I often looked to Alan Liu's Voice of the Shuttle website to locate older dh projects. If you use the internet archive to look at older versions of the Voice of the Shuttle you can track digital projects that appear and disappear over time. Since I work in African-American literature, I was very interested in the section originally titled "Afro American" Minority Literatures. The earliest archive of this section is from January 19, 2000 and contains, among various subtopics, a section dedicated to Maya Angelou.


All three original sources are in existence, but have been moved to other servers. The Scott Williams page is of particular interest because it is suggests the interdisciplinary, activist roots of many of the projects I am cataloging.

The project appears to have been originated in 1998 by Williams using a pseudonym, bonVìbré Prosim. 


According to the internet archive records, it appears that the pages were migrated from their original aol home to Williams' personal web space in the Math Department at the University of Buffalo around the end of 1999. The pages have not been updated since 2000.

When the pages were migrated they were expanded under the auspices of the Circle Brotherhood Association.


Like many early digital sites, the Circle's website is an interesting blend of activism, social outreach and cultural documents. Of particular interest is the focus on local history of African Americans in Western New York and the emphasis on community outreach, with references to the Million Man March and fatherhood activism.

The Circle Brotherhood Association pages are fascinating early digital activist history that deserve preservation and additional exploration, and I hope that someone who works in the nexus of the fields of Black activism, literature and community will provide the work needed to examine this resource.

Given the pages' location, however, it is clear that this early marker of digital history is in danger of disappearance. The pages exist on a university server, but under Scott Williams' personal folders. Professor Williams is no longer listed as a faculty member at the University of Buffalo, suggesting he has since retired and his web pages exist in a sort of limbo. The pages are clearly experiencing deterioration as the current site no longer links to the Malcolm X pages. Unless the university has plans to archive the materials, they will eventually disappear.

It is true that much of the site is preserved on the internet archive. I am unsure, however, what it says about us as a field or area of study that we have effectively off loaded the preservation of much of our field's work to even a fabulous organization such as the ia. As we think about how to preserve, we must continue to press to think about what is preserved, as small activist work like the Circle Brotherhood Association pages provide cultural context for what digital diversity meant in the late 1990s.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

This summer a small group of folks at Texas A&M University, myself, Rebecca Hankins, Maura Ives, and Sarah Potvin, have been working on DiBB: The Digital Black Bibliographic Project. The project will provide an expanded, accurate data set for black cultural research in multiple fields while providing a means to collect and manipulate humanities data, with particular attention to datamining and visualization techniques. During the course of the project, we have been looking at a wide variety of black bibliographies, and Rebecca mentioned's excellent work.

Launched in 1974, was initially a print project titled Africana Periodical Literature Index compiled by the now retired Davis Bullwinkle (About Founder). By the mid 1980s the project was transferred to a database and by 1999 the project was moved to the web. 

Original entry page:

The 1999 web version of the project included the Bibliography of Africana Periodical Literature Database and the African Women's Database (About). The current project has expanded to six database and includes the original databases plus Women Travelers, Explorers and Missionaries to Africa, Islam in Africa, Kenya Coast, and Water and Africa.

Like many of the early digital humanities projects, the web was utilized to allow a larger audience access to the work. Noting that the original research was "still not accessible to researchers," Bullwinkle spent "a great deal of time over many make the data computer accessible" (About).

The current project contains more than 218,000 records and is accessible by a simple set of search fields.

You might also search the materials by collection, country or by region.

We are fortunate to still have this site available. Like many early projects, AfricaBib was clearly a labor of love for its founder. When Bullwinkle retired in 2008, the project could have ended its lifespan as did many early activist projects that were removed from the web or lingered and became increasingly broken as the technology decayed. Instead, the African Studies Centre in Leiden, The Netherlands has taken on the responsibility of hosting the site, insuring its sustainability.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

E-Black Studies: Abdul Alkalimat's Brother Malcolm

Today I want to highlight the Brother Malcolm website created by Professor Abdul Alkalimat, Professor Emeritus of African American and Library and Information Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

 Brother Malcolm website

Launched in 1998, this site remains the premier scholarly source for Malcolm X information. I have used the site over many years, and Brother Malcolm was crucial to my work on the Alex Haley Malcolm X papers. In addition, Alkalimat launched and continues to run eBlack Studies, a foundational digital project in black studies.

Brother Malcolm contains a huge amount of information on Malcolm X, from pictures, family information, timelines of writings and speeches, a bibliography, guides to Malcolm X papers in special collections, Alex Haley's estate auction catalog, study guides and much more. Some of this material is not available elsewhere, all of it is extremely valuable. For example, I was able to use the Alex Haley Estate Auction catalog to decode where Alex Haley's "The Malcolm X I Knew" was published. Students also appreciated the site's link to Malcolm X's FBI papers. Without these materials, my work on Malcolm X would remain incomplete.

Alkalimat's site reveals the complexities and importance of Malcolm X's life. I find this letter from Malcolm X to his sister, Ella, while he was in prison in 1949 particularly moving:

Formed from activist politics, the site is staunchly open source and emphasizes a solidarity of democracy. Alkalimat writes,

"Our philosophy is based on three concepts: cyber democracy, collective intelligence, and information freedom.

  • Cyber democracy: maximize potential participation (connectivity) 
  • Collective intelligence: include all voices (content) 
  • Information freedom: free distribution of information (consumption)" (

This philosophy means that teacher training and student materials are included on the site.

The site also includes lists of related dissertations.

While Alkalimat is, to my mind, one of our founding digital humanists, his work has not received appropriate attention from the larger dh community. He was featured at the University of Maryland's 2008 Digital Diasporas conference, but few scholars outside of black studies digital work know of his important role in digital humanities.  I hope that those within the larger dh community come to recognize how important Alkalimat and his work are to dh and that we celebrate his ongoing work.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Payne Theological Seminary and A.M.E. Church Archive

I've been trying to write a blog post over the last two days, but the murders in Charleston have been so horrific that I keep stopping and starting posts.  I have a few other posts forthcoming, but I decided that I needed to feature the Payne Theological Seminary and A.M.E. Church Archive. This digital collection isn't a "historical" (pre-2002) digital humanities project, but the materials on the A.M.E. Church are crucial within the context of Charleston.

The site is huge, with over 80,000 items and growing. It contains two sections: The Payne Theological Seminary materials and the A.M.E. Church Archives. The Payne Theological Seminary was launched in 1894 by the African Methodist Episcopal church to provide training to ministers. The A.M.E. material are divided into five subsections: A.M.E. Church, Church Histories, Clergy, Publishing and Women in Ministry.

The collection is searchable and features high quality images, many housed in the internet archive. The items included are stunning and the Emanuel A.M.E. Church of Charleston, South Carolina is mentioned again and again.

Richard Wright's Centennial encyclopedia of the
African Methodist Episcopal Church (1916)

"During the first fifty years, the church was confined almost entirely to the Northern States, as it was not allowed to operate among the slaves in the South, though in Charleston, New Orleans, and one or two other places, there were small organizations among free Negroes." (5) Emanuel A.M.E. has long stood as an important symbol within the deep South.

Carter Woodson's The History of the Negro Church, 2nd edition (1921)

Woodson writes: "The African Methodists had with some difficulty under the leadership of Rev. Morris Brown established in Charleston a church reporting 1,000 members in 1817, and increasing by 1822 to 3,00- in spite of the intolerant laws and the police regulations making it difficult for slaves and free persons of color to attend. In 1822, however, because of the spirit of insurrection among Negroes following the fortunes of Denmark Vesey, who devised well laid plans for killing off the masters of the slaves, the African Methodists were required to suspend operation. Their pastor, morris Brown, was threatened and would have been dealt with foully, had it not been for the interference of General James Hamilton, who secreted Brown in his home until he could give him safe passage to the North, where he very soon reached a position of prominence, even that of bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church." (77-8)

African Methodism in the South, or, Twenty-five years of Freedom by W.J. Gaines (1890)

Emanuel A.M.E., according to Gaines, was the Mother church of the South, a title that many parishioners continue to sue. Writing of the return of Bishop Payne to Charleston, "after that long absence he returns, a man of fifty-four years of matured experience and wisdom, to take the step which has opened up a vast amount of territory to the Mother Church and spread wide her dominions." (243)

These are just a few mentions of Emanuel A.M.E. in the church documents. Martin Luther King's visit to the church in 1962 was not the first moment of resistance launched from the church. The church and its people were founded on resistance to white racism and violence and had, by the Civil Rights Era, fought for equality for over 150 years.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Guest Post: Online Tutorials from the History Courseware Consortium

I am pleased to share our first guest post! Melissa Terras graciously provided this overview of TLTP History Courseware Consortium Project. Thank you Melissa, and I welcome anyone who would like to contribute a post on an early digital project.

Guest Post: Online Tutorials from the History Courseware Consortium

The first Humanities Computing project I was employed at was in the 1997/1998 academic year at the University of Glasgow in the TLTP, History Courseware Constorium, project ( This was funded by the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme ( a multimillion pound funding programme that was launched in 1993 in the UK, supported by the main research funding bodies, with the aim of improving quality in the provision of teaching and learning through using digital technologies. It was a period of rapid expansion, and TLTP History Courseware Consortium who were tasked in providing online tutorials and readings in various aspects of history, embedding digitized primary sources into the online texts.

The main players in the TLTP History Courseware Consortium were Rick Trainor (who chaired the Steering Committee), Astrid Wissenburg (the Project Manager) and Don Spaeth (as Director), all from Glasgow, and Frank Colson (from Southampton).  There were eighty institutions in the Consortium.  Southampton was initially responsible for copyright clearance and also for production, using a hypertext environment called Microcosm developed under the direction of Wendy Hall. Glasgow later took over these areas and moved the materials into HTML; Don Spaeth had seen the launch of Mosaic at the NCSA in 1993 and it proved to be a good development platform, although the tutorials' visual design was basic.  The initial idea behind the tutorials grew out of a paper Don Spaeth gave at the UK AHC conference in 1993, called "the enriched lecture". This was literally intended to be the equivalent of an online lecture, with resources for students to view.  However, the concept expanded greatly due to huge amounts of work put in by academic authors during the process of developing TLTP materials, and experimentation with the technologies available.

The History Coursework Consortium produced a range of online tutorials (which were around 10,000 words long each) on a variety of topics, and these were distributed to History departments around the country on a paid for CD-ROM: not only were many departments not online yet, but copyright issues meant that putting these online was not possible. There was a licensing structure worked out for distribution (, although the process for dealing with these licenses was manual, compared to today’s online registration systems.

One of the aims of the tutorials were to cover emergent areas where primary sources were not well covered in textbooks, and the first ones listed are “Women’s History: Major Themes in Women's History from the Enlightenment to the Second World War” and “Enfranchising Women: The Politics of women's Suffrage in Europe 1789 – 1945”. 

These were written by a range of academic experts, and each overview tutorial provided enough material for an undergraduate course, broken down into a range of subsections which were equivalent to a lecture on the topic, with hundreds of digitised primary historical sources weaved throughout, which was an exciting bringing together of many disparate sources via digital publishing, for the time. In particular, the use of digital video materials was ambitious, and ahead of its time, years before there was any online infrastructure to help host and deliver this type of content. There was also a pioneering data exploration tool (which was an early seed for Old Bailey Online): these tutorials were really pushing what could be done with the available technology. 

One of the headaches of the project was copyright clearance for the primary historical texts and images used. Permissions were pursued for each and every one, and you can see from this list of historical sources 

just how tricky a job it was: for this one section (of 5) in one tutorial, hundreds of copyright permission statements had to be obtained. One of the project members, Ralph Wheedon, rapidly became an expert in digital copyright - and went on to work in this area at the University of Strathclyde afterwards, then onto direct the JISC Legal Service. The copyright issue contributed to the short self life of the materials: issues with copyright meant they could never be placed online, and the market moved away from CD-ROM hosted materials. Six tutorials were re-cleared in 1998-2000 for sale to schools and outside the UK, but their specialised nature, and the higher level of education that they were pitched to, meant this didn't work well.

My role on the project was slim: I was a MSc student in Computer Science at the time, having completed my MA in Art History and English literature the year before, where, in my final year in 1997, I had learnt to design webpages for an experimental delivery of my MA dissertation on Greek Art ( As the TILT project was coming to a close, and given I was known to the team who had taught me web design the year before, and I was helping run tutorials for that course in 1997/98, I was asked to pitch in over the Easter holidays, helping proofreading and checking the tutorials and links once they had already been written, working full time for just three or four weeks.  The bulk of this work had already been done by the project team. It was a great temporary job – I remember thinking this academic lark pays well, compared to part time work in shops, etc – and it really helped support me over the last few months of my mostly self funded MSc.

Sadly, given that only tasters of these were put online in the first place due to copyright issues, and the main mode of delivery was via CD-ROM, means that there are no online versions of the tutorials, which is a shame as they were produced to very high editorial standards and had hundreds of images from different libraries and archives backing up the historical overviews that they provided, as well as the videos and interactive data tools. All that is left online are the tasters which remain in the web archive, which don't cover the breadth, range, and standard of the work produced.

I’m not sure that the work that went into these materials was ever appreciated, nor the bravery in pushing forward the use of digital content, including integrating digital video into the tutorials. The reports that came out of it still make for interesting reading regarding possibilities and limitations of digital pedagogy, especially since delivering online tutorials is all the rage (again!) these days.Various reports exist including:

Wissenburg, Astrid M. "TLTP History Courseware Consortium: A Project Report." History and Computing 8.1 (1996): 45-49

Haywood, J., et al. "Use of TLTP Materials in UK Higher Education-a Study Conducted on Behalf of the Higher Education Funding Council for England." Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh Teaching Learning and Assessment Centre (1998).

TLTP is also mentioned in Tim Hitchcock’s overview article about the digitisation of history since 1980 (, and the activity that went into making these tutorials contributed greatly to both raising awareness of the possibilities that computing could bring to history, and establishing humanities computing as a useful endeavour, in arts and humanities departments across the UK (remember, there were eighty institutions invovled!):

“This publishing programme ensured that a substantial minority of professional historians became familiar with either authoring hypertexts, or else using them with their students. And while the programme largely failed to fulfil the aspiration to make teaching more efficient through the application of technology in a period of rapidly increasing student numbers, it did radically alter the ways in which many historians thought about computing and teaching. … this initiative helped fundamentally to alter both the profession's thinking about teaching and the curriculum and the role of computers in the presentation of historical information.” (Hitchock, The fact that they did so by championing topics such as Women’s History and Women’s Suffrage indicates that from the earliest adoption of WWW technologies, Humanities Computing projects were increasing understanding of lesser documented areas, using the possibility of digital technologies to bring together disparate and important primary sources in the digital environment.

Thank you to Don Spaeth for providing additional information.

Friday, June 5, 2015

CSDH/SCHN and ACH Conference wrap up

I just returned from a great conference in Ottawa, Canada. Part of the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities, the CSDH/SCHN and ACH Digital Humanities Conference brought together dh scholars from around the world.

I was honored, and nervous, to give the closing keynote: DH Futures: Conflict, Power and Public Knowledge. The conference participants and twitter stream provided excellent feedback and have helped me to rethink some of my ideas. Here is the storify of the talk: (side note--my husband created the storify. Look for the moment where he says--are you finished talking yet? I need to put the sheep in the barn. The life of an academic sheep herder).

Some of the talk material is drawn from my forthcoming book, Traces of the Old, Uses of the New: The Emergence of Digital Literary Studies.  I will be reworking the new materials into an article for the organization journal, so for those of you that asked, yes you may read what I have to say shortly!

Thank again to all who provided valuable feedback. Thanks especially to Roopika Risam for a lovely introduction and to the committee for inviting me to speak.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Economics and Cultural Encoding: Milena Dobreva and Medieval Slavic Manuscript Studies in Bulgaria

I have been writing my keynote, "DH Futures: Conflict, Power and Public Knowledge," for the upcoming CSDH/SCHN and ACH Conference in Ottawa and have been thinking about some of the key tensions within our current digital humanities moment. One of the crucial issues that I am discussing is the importance of thinking through dh within national and cultural contexts. While some have criticized digital humanities for a lack of awareness to this issue, there are pioneer digital humanists who have pushed the field to engage with such concerns since the 1990s.

Today I would like to highlight Milena Dobreva's presentation, "Overview of Computer Supported Medieval Slavic Manuscript Studies in Bulgaria," from the 1999 ACH-ALLC Digital Humanities conference. Dobreva is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Library Information and Archive Sciences at the University of Malta.

In her presentation abstract Dobreva points to the robust and rich heritage of medieval Slavic manuscripts, but bemoans the limitations hampering digitization efforts. Dobreva highlights two crucial issues with which we in digital humanities continue to struggle:

  1. Encoding standards that are narrow in cultural interpretation
  2. The inequitable funding of digitization projects, particularly in developing countries
Dobreva writes:

"The difficulties in creating widely accepted encoding standard are caused by several reasons:

  1. The sets of graphemes appearing in different manuscripts are different. In some cases the difference of graphemes represents character differences; in other cases these were variants of the same character. 
  2. The encoding of specific textual features (e.g. superscript, subscript, inscript letters and abbreviations) is still debatable. Some of the specialists insist on encoding normalized texts where all these features disappear. For others, the encoding of the text in a form, which represents the original as close as possible, is a must. But even if we have a satisfactory encoding standard, we will need to build tools enabling search within encoded texts. The 'normalization' approach leads to better solution of the problem with text search, paying the price of data loss" (Overview).
The flattening in the treatment of cultural materials leads to what Dobreva rightly calls "data loss," the loss of the robustness of such materials. While we have continually expanded our treatment of encoding Dobreva's 1999 argument remains relevant. How do we represent a complex cultural heritage within the binary of computer code?

Dobreva ends her abstract by noting, "Real digitization work [of Bulgarian manuscripts] is still not undertaken. This can be explained with the economic difficulties of the Bulgarian institutions working in the field of medieval manuscript heritage" (Overview). Unfortunately we have not found a way to resolve or even minimize the discrepancies in funding that drive certain cultural heritages to be underrepresented in digital collections. Dobreva's prescient concerns remain central to the work we must continue to undertake in digital humanities. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

History of the Native Web

I checked twitter this morning and saw this:

I'm so excited to see a scholar document important early digital work in Native studies. The first blog entry from Siobhan Senier is available:

 It is sad that many of these important digital projects are not being updated and that some were created by scholars who have since passed away. This is our current preservation conundrum. We really need to think about how to preserve this important early work.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Border Crossings, 1998

Border Crossings is a project that was launched in 1998 by Karla Tonella of the University of Iowa.

Described as a hypertext project, Border Crossings riffs off of Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987). Collecting links to various webpages that highlight divergent contested borders under the subtopics of Cyborgs, Gender, LesBiGay, Diaspora, La Frontera, Border Incidents, and Other Borders, Tonella creates a digital political art piece.

The opening page highlights the various identities and concepts the project explores. As you move through the webpages, the web design and fonts interpret the categories.

La Frontera:


Border Incidents:

Each page collects a diverse and often contradictory list of identities: gender, sexuality, nation, geography, class, race, and ethnicity.

Tonella uses design and collection to interpret Anzaldua's claim of the impact of invisible borders on oppositional identities. By positioning links to German anti-immigrant Far Right Music against links to Music from Africa and the African diaspora, Tonella's work forces us to confront the dialectics that Anzaldua explores in Borderlands/La Frontera and her call for the new mestiza.

What strikes me as particularly interesting about Border Crossings is that never does Tonella provide a theoretical or methodological explanation of her work. Hers is an art piece digitally constructed with html and interface.  In some ways, this project is an early enactment of what in current digital humanities we talk about as the scholarship in the code. The argument formed by the interface and the construction of the webpage is related to the intellectual process of theorizing, or, as Ramsay and Rockwell note: “If the quality of the interventions that occur as a result of building are as interesting as those that are typically established through writing, then that activity is, for all intents and purposes, scholarship.” (1)

Certainly Tonella's Border Crossings is a crucial forerunner to current digital humanities work.

Unfortunately the project has come to the same end as many early dh projects:

1. Stephen Ramsay and Geoffrey Rockwell, “Developing Things:  Notes Toward an Epistemology of Building in the Digital Humanities,” in Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold (U Minnesota P, 2011) 75-84, 83.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Online Archive of Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women's Writings

Glynis Carr’s The Online Archive of Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women’s Writing, constructed from 1997-2001, is an important early digital humanities and digital pedagogy project. Carefully edited to meet the standards of MLA's "Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions," the project has been included within the MLA International Bibliography.

The archive includes texts from eight women writers: Lydia Maria Child, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Harriet Prescott Spofford, Sarah Orne Jewett, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Victoria Earle Matthews, Willa Cather, and Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Bonnin). Some of these texts, such as Aunt Lindy by former slave Victoria Earle Matthews, are not available in any other digital format and have been out of print since their original publication.

Carr also includes three Zitkala-Sa articles that were published in The Atlantic Monthly. 

Carr's editing of Lydia Maria Child's stories, plays and poems originally published in The Liberty Bell remain our best contemporary edition. Some of the digital texts, such as "The Quadroons" and "Slavery's Pleasant Homes," are available as pieces of Stephen Railton's Uncle Tom's Cabin & American Culture, others, in the Emory Women Writers Resource Project. Some texts that Carr includes, such as "The Black Saxons," are reprinted in Carolyn Karcher's 1997 A Lydia Maria Child Reader (Duke UP). However, Carr adds texts unavailable in digital or print format including "Jan and Zaida" or "The Emancipated Slaveholders" as well as a gallery of Liberty Bell illustrations. 

The Online Archive of Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women's Writing is carefully edited, as documented by the Textual Notes and Editorial Practices statements. In fact, I would argue that Carr's digital project is as well edited as any university press published text and should remain our definitive edition of many of the included women writers'  works.

Glynis Carr produced the project with a small number of undergraduate students, without a digital humanities center or library support, and published the project on her personal faculty page at Bucknell University. Student contributors include Jon C. Adams, Kate Barmak, Courtney Curzi, Jacob H. Frechette, Katey Kuhns Castellano, Jennifer L. Ciotta, Kathy Davis, and Jacob H. Frechette.

Carr described the project "as a laboratory for teaching students at Bucknell University the principles and practices of textual editing. In addition to developing the familiar skills of literary research and criticism, students contributing to The Archive learn about the processes by which publishers prepare texts for readers and thus gained valuable professional skills, including some technological ones that normally make but a shadowy appearance in the literature curriculum" (Preface).  This description sounds very similar to how those of us who work with digital pedagogy projects describe our contemporary projects, a reminder of Carr's important position within digital humanities and digital pedagogy.

If you have additional information about The Online Archive of Nineteenth-Century U.S. Women's Writings, please let me know. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Digital Diversity 2015 Wrap Up

I am back from Edmonton, Canada and am still processing the Digital Diversity conference ( I want to thank Susan Brown and Kathryn Holland for putting together an amazing conference. I caught up with long time friends and made some great new ones. Susan organized a lunch time shoe shopping trip (my very first Fluevogs....). I had a great dinner at Wildflower. But the papers and the people.....

I've been a bit downhearted about the state of digital humanities over the last few years. There is infighting and continued attacks from the larger profession. I suppose we are not any different than any other academic field, but it is frustrating that people must spend their valuable time defending themselves rather than working. This conference and the attendees, though, made me feel hopeful.

I was reminded of the centrality of the early digital projects that grew out of women's literature and history including Orlando, The Women Writer's Project and the Dickinson Electronic Archive. The conference was launched to commemorate 20 years of the Orlando project, but the project is far from finished. I attended a pre-conference workshop titled Orlando 2.0: Diversifying Literary History Online led by Susan Brown, Isobel Grundy and Kathryn Holland. I was most impressed with the development of a system that allows  tags that overlap. In digital work we often run up against the limitations of technology in defining complex cultural materials. The Orlando approach to tags allows us to tag individuals in multiple ways. One might tag how an individual defines her race or ethnicity while also tagging how the same such categories were applied to the individual by, say, national organizations. This approach resists the binary of identification often found in technology systems.

The conference papers and keynotes highlighted the far ranging new work of digital humanities. From Wendy Hui Kyong Chun's "Post-Recovery: Shadowy Absences and 'Found Collectivity" to Moya Bailey's "#transform(ing)dh Writing and Research: An Autoethnography of Digital Humanities Feminist Ethics," from Whitney Peoples' "Whose Cartographies Do we Believe?" Mapping Women's Reproductive Health On and Off Line" to Jo-Ann Episkenew's "Indigenous Youths' Relational Wellbeing in the Digital Age," the amazing panel I chaired (which, as I tweeted, rocked), and many more papers, I am now confident that digital diversity work is growing and expanding.

At the end of the conference, organizers launched the Digital Diversity Timeline/Map.

The organizers are soliciting events to add to the timeline, so be sure you contribute your piece of digital diversity history:

Again, I thank the conference organizers. I left Edmonton feeling connected to a long history of diverse digital projects and hopeful for the future of the endeavor.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Day 2: Digital Diversity Conference

We are in the midst of day 2 of the Digital Diversity conference in Edmonton. Just a few observations about what is turning out to be one of the best conferences I have attended. Like ever. Thank you so much to the conference organizers. Thank you to all who are participating.

1. Women. White Women. This is one of the few conferences--dh or literature--that is overwhelmingly attended by women. 90% women. Yet it is also important to note that the attendees are primarily white women. It's like I am in a second wave feminist retreat. I say this not to blame anyone, but to make us think about what this means, how we can expand our community. Or maybe recenter our community?

2. We still have a long way to go. It is clear that there remain crucial issues in terms of gender/sexuality/race/class/etc. that we need to address. What makes me hopeful, in this conference, is that participants seem well aware that work on diversity issues must happen in and out of the academy. I also appreciate that the participants seem aware that issues in dh are really larger issues--of academia and society.

Be sure you are following along on twitter: #digdiv2015

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Current Diverse DH: Digital Diversity 2015 Conference

For the next few days I will be in Edmonton, Canada for the Digital Diversity 2015 conference. (Snow and a low of 28 degrees is predicted, so think happy thoughts. I've lived in Texas for more than 20 years and am not hardy....)

The conference celebrates crucial feminist work in digital humanities and is in honor of 20 years of the Orlando Project. I want to encourage you to follow along with the twitter hashtag #digdiv2015. 

The conference program reads like a who's who of those involved with early and current work of diverse dh. Susan Brown, Julia Flanders and Martha Nell Smith are presenting on their groundbreaking early projects Orlando, the Women Writer's Project, and the Dickinson Electronic Archives.

Keynotes will be given by Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, “Post-Recovery: Shadowy Absences and 'Found Collectivity'”), Marie-Louise Coolahan (“The Digital Turn and Early Modern Women’s Writing” and one of the founders of the Perdita project that I featured last week),  and Jo-Ann Episkenew (“Indigenous Youths' Relational Wellbeing in the Digital Era”).

I'm chairing a session on "Diverse Communities in Digital Studies" that features Constance Crompton, ("Researching Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada"), Alex Gil, ("Critical Reflections on GO::DH"), Padmini Ray Murray, ("Locating the digital humanities in India: internationalisation, globalisation and localisation" and Angel David Nieves, "Apartheid Heritage(s): Virtualizing the Apartheid Archive through 3D.

I'm looking forward to hearing amazing papers by Karen Bourrier ("Universal Design and Disability: Building a Digital Victorian Archive"), Elizabeth Maddock Dillon ("The Early Caribbean Digital Archive"), Aimée Morrison, University of Waterloo ("New media, same problems: marginalized voices online and off"),  Roopika Risam, Salem State University ("Subaltern Citizenship in/and Digital Humanities"), and Jacqueline Wernimont ("Staging Silences and Whispers in Literary History") among many, many others. 

Me? I'm giving a talk on “American literature digital and print canonicity: A data driven model." I'm arguing for a small scale data modeling approach that grounds the critique of digital humanities within historical practice.

I will be asking folks at the conference for suggestions about early dh work that I might feature on the blog. I'm particularly interested in locating projects outside of the North American/European matrix. I will be updating from the conference, so stay tuned! 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Before the Web: SASIALIT mailing list: Literature of South Asia and the Indian diaspora

In my forthcoming book, Traces of the Old, Uses of the New (Michigan), I trace the theoretical approaches from which current digital humanities emerged. A similar book could be written about the technologies from which digital humanities emerged, of which the LISTSERV is foundational. The mailing list provided a way to develop a community of scholarship, discuss issues pertinent to scholarship, and share resources. 

SASIALIT mailing list: Literature of South Asia and the Indian diaspora was originally launched at Rice University in 1996 and remains an active list. Prentiss Riddle, former webmaster of Rice University, managed the active list. I have not been able to locate the founders of the listserv, so if you know of those involved please comment below. 


The archives reveal that at the height of SASIALIT's use, the listserv users were exchanging hundreds of emails each month. Users were sharing articles and books, translating materials for circulation, and engaging in heated debate over scholarship and political issues. The listserv launched a reading circle, effectively a book of the month club, reading literature from Salman Rushdie, Bapsi Sidhwa, Jhumpa Lahiri, Raj Karmal Jha, and many others.  The discussions in the archive reveal users were actively engaged in shaping of the field of South Asia Literature.

While we often talk about projects or tools in contemporary digital humanities, we must remember that the use of the early listserv constitutes a foundational tool to our field. Many of the early listservs would go on to develop some sort of web presence, as did the SASIALIT who developed a hyperlinked list of materials:

Many of the early listservs have been replaced with other forms of digital communication, such as twitter and blogs, but the archives of such early lists provide a view into how scholarly communities began to use digital tools and of the important scholarship nurtured by the listserv.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Perdita Project: Women's Manuscript Culture, Brought Digital

Thank you to Margaret Ezell for suggesting the Perdita Project, a project for which she served as an advisory board member.

Launched in 1997, The Perdita Project is a crucial early project that collects and documents "over two hundred and thirty manuscripts from 15 libraries and archives in the UK and North America" (Overview). The manuscripts are drawn from a microfilm collection of the British Isles and include "poetry, religious writing, autobiographical material, cookery and medical recipes, and accounts" (Project). One of several such groundbreaking early digital projects to examine women writers and manuscript culture, the Perdita Project was launched by Elizabeth Clarke and Martyn Bennett at Nottingham Trent University. Victoria Burke, Marie-Louise Coolahan, and John Ford were also founding participants in the project. Current editors of the project are Elizabeth Clarke, Jill S. Millman, Victoria Burke, and Jonathan Gibson.

Many of the early dh projects didn't construct archives of their work, which makes an accurate understanding of the history of digital humanities difficult. Our most valuable tool in constructing the history of this period is the Wayback Machine. Without Brewster Kahle and Bruce Gilliat, who launched the Wayback Machine in 1996, we would have a very scant record of the history of such early work. While incredibly useful, however, the Wayback Machine did not consistently store snapshots of every internet page (an impossible task, especially for a non-profit group working with a tiny budget and volunteer force). The first archived page from the Perdita Project is from January 30, 1998. Images are missing (see the blue ? boxes), as they were not archived.

The project coordinators originally viewed the digital project as a side piece of their larger database project. Jill Seal writes in 2000, "Our website as it stands is where we provide updated information about the project. It is not an internet service. The sample extracts (which are not full entries) provide text through HTML, without any search capacity. We will be redesigning the website early this year to include more of our research, publications, and links to other sites of interest" (Report).

The project has, accordingly, expanded over time. A later version of the project is housed at the University of Warwick where co-founder Elizabeth Clarke currently serves as Professor.

The current Perdita Project is published by Adam Matthew, a digital publisher, with the support of numerous participating libraries including the Beinecke, the British Library, and the Folger. The Adam Matthew version expands the original website with the inclusion of digital facsimiles of the manuscripts.

The funding mechanisms employed by the Perdita Project reveal how such an early project was able to negotiate financial challenges. Staunchly open source throughout its existence, the project was launched with three years of funding by Nottingham Trent University with the support of the Oxford University's Centre for Humanities Computing.  The project has received deep financial support through an A.H.R.B. Project Grant Award (1999-2001) and an AHRC Resource Enhancement Award (2003-2005). The decision to publish a for subscription, expanded project with Adam Matthew ensures project sustainability while allowing the project to maintain a separate access for all site, quite an accomplishment and fairly unique among such early digital humanities projects.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Print to Digital: Lesbian Herstory Archives

I want to thank Krista May for suggesting that I discuss the Lesbian Herstory Archives for my latest blog post.

Many early digital archives were created to highlight long standing physical archives. Such is the case with the Lesbian Herstory Archives.

Begun in 1974 in New York by activists Julia Stanley, Joan Nestle, Deborah Edel, Sahli Cavallo and Pamela Oline, the Herstory Archive was born out of concern about "the precariousness of lesbian culture and how so much of our past culture was seen only through patriarchal eye" (history). A grassroots archive that collects oral histories, journals, photographs, letters, physical artifacts and much, much more, the archive expanded in the late 1970s with the support of Judith Schwarz and Mabel Hampton.  Here's a video of Edel, Nestle and Schwartz discussing the formation of the archive:

The project has clear set of goals, and the principles emphasize that the archive is for and from the community. The principles highlight inclusion and shared experience, rejecting the role of academic organizations in the preservation of lesbian history and experience.

The digital Herstory is designed to expand the project's reach. In "How to use the Archives from a Distance," the archivists write, "Since the Lesbian Herstory Archives strives to serve the Lesbian Nation, and not just the Dykes of New York, it is important you understand how to use the Archives from a distance. We may be located in New York City, but we do in actuality provide services to Lesbians the world over" (How to). The digital version includes lists of archival materials, web links to various queer organizations, a transcription of a Radcliffe Hall letter, and digital exhibits of archival materials, such as Keepin' On: Images of the African American Lesbians

The current website continues the work of the early physical and digital archive, adding a virtual tour of the archive, collecting 40 some years of the Lesbian Herstory newsletters, and over 4,000 oral histories (located in the Herstories Digital Collection--which is housed in Omeka)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Activist DH: NativeWeb

I have argued in my article "Can Information Be Unfettered? Race and the New Digital Humanities Canon" that many of the earliest DH projects are small scale, collective, activist digital projects.  Many of these early projects gathered links of primary and secondary materials and provided message boards and listservs for community building.

Native Web is an excellent example of such an early activist hyperlinked project.

Launched in 1994 out of the NativeNet listserv by Marc Becker, Gary S. Trujillo, Guillermo Delgado, and Susan O'Donnell, the project is typical of the small scale collective projects that would expand during the next 20 years to have a considerable impact. (Here I link the profiles of the participants that I could locate. If you have information on Trujillo and O'Donnell, please let me know, and I will update their information). The full history of NativeWeb is recorded here:

NativeWeb is activist in construction, community-focused in orientation, with a primary goal “to foster communication among peoples engaged in the present,” a common thread in such digital recovery work. The importance of what I call “curated hyperlinked” sites has been unremarked upon by most digital humanities scholars, a remnant of late 1990s web culture that now seems simplistic and out of date. Yet such work is pivotal to the formation of digital literary culture and remains central to community self control of ideas, culture, and history.

NativeWeb continues to be a vibrant site that pulls together a global indigenous community. 

 Native Web