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.

No comments:

Post a Comment