Conferences Modern Language Association ACH Sessions


The Association for Computers and the Humanities will be sponsoring one session at the 2011 convention of the Modern Language Association, in Los Angeles from 6 through 9 January: details will appear on this page in December 2010.

We also offer a guide to all digital humanities sessions at the convention.

Similar information for many other years is available via the main page on ACH MLA sessions.

193. New (and Renewed) Work in Digital Literary Studies: An Electronic Roundtable (session 193)

Friday, 07 January 2011, 8:30–9:45 a.m., Plaza I, J. W. Marriott.

Presiding: Bethany Nowviskie, Univ. of Virginia

Speakers: Ernest Cole, Hope Coll.; Randall Cream, Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia; Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Pomona Coll.; Joseph Gilbert, Univ. of Virginia; Laura C. Mandell, Miami Univ., Oxford; William Albert Pannapacker, Hope Coll.; Douglas Reside, Univ. of Maryland, College Park; Andrew M. Stauffer, Univ. of Virginia; John A. Walsh, Indiana Univ., Bloomington; Matthew Wilkens, Rice Univ.

Projects, groups, and initiatives highlighted in this session build on the editorial and archival roots of humanities scholarship to offer new, explicitly methodological and interpretive contributions to the digital literary scene or to intervene in established patterns of scholarly communication and pedagogical practice. Brief introductions will be followed by simultaneous demonstrations of the presenters' work at eight computer stations.

The Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH) is pleased to sponsor an electronic roundtable and demo session featuring new and renewed work in media and digital literary studies. Projects, groups, and initiatives highlighted in this session build on the editorial and archival roots of humanities scholarship to offer new, explicitly methodological and interpretive contributions to the digital literary scene, or to intervene in established patterns of scholarly communication and pedagogical practice. Each presenter will offer a very brief introduction to his or her work, setting it in the context of digital humanities research and praxis, before we open the floor for simultaneous demos and casual conversations with attendees at eight computer stations. Among the committed presenters are:

  • Station 1: Kathleen Fitzpatrick (open peer review with CommentPress);
  • Station 2: Laura Mandell and Andrew Stauffer (for NINES and 18thConnect);
  • Station 3: Joseph Gilbert (representing new literary projects at UVA Library's Scholars' Lab — on teaching prosody, analyzing collective biographies of women, sharing audio tapes of William Faulkner, and mining 18th-century texts for metaphor — with project directors Herbert Tucker, Alison Booth, and Brad Pasanek in attendance);
  • Station 4: Doug Reside (the TILE project for linking texts and images);
  • Station 5: John Walsh (extensions to the Swinburne Project);
  • Station 6: Randall Cream (the Sapheos image-based collation project),
  • Station 7: Matthew Wilkens (on statistical measures of allegory in literary history); and
  • Station 8: William Pannapacker and Ernest Cole (using new media in the undergraduate classroom, with "Post-Conflict Sierra Leone").

Please join us for this highly interactive and forward-looking showcase of digital humanities research, teaching, and publication.

Station 1:

Kathleen Fitzpatrick: MediaCommons and Peer-to-Peer Review

The 800-pound gorilla that looms in any discussion of new digital scholarly publishing models is peer review. And not without reason: it's in some sense the sine qua non of the academic world. And yet, as I've argued in my book, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (forthcoming in print, but available in draft online), simply applying print-based modes of peer review to online materials threatens to miss the point. Print publishing has always, and of necessity, operated within an economics of scarcity: only so many pages, in so many journals and books, could be published each year. In the digital, this form of scarcity is over; there are no material constraints on what can be published. Where scarcity lingers in scholarly communication, however, is in time and attention: scholars need help finding the most important new research in their fields within the increasing amount of discourse online. In other words, if scholarly publishing in the digital era is increasingly moving to what Clay Shirky has famously termed a "publish, then filter" ethos, we need to work on developing the "filter" end of our communication systems.

For these reasons, I argue strongly in my book, and am working on developing through MediaCommons, a post-publication system of what I call "peer-to-peer review," one that uses the responses of a community of practice to a text not as a means of determining whether it should be published (creating a sort of artificial scarcity online) but instead as a means of assessing how the work has been, and should be, received. In this digital demonstration, I'll present two of our early experiments in open review, that of my book manuscript and that conducted on behalf of the journal Shakespeare Quarterly, and discuss the ways that we hope to further develop this system into a vibrant peer-to-peer review network.

Station 2:

Laura Mandell and Andrew Stauffer: NINES and 18thConnect

NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-century Electronic Scholarship) was founded in 2004 as a collective intervention in the scene of digital humanities work, driven by scholars and devoted to a field-specific area. 18thConnect has emerged in the past year as a cognate organization, sharing software and directed at eighteenth-century materials and issues. NINES and 18thConnect both engage primarily in five kinds of activities: 1) providing rigorous peer-review of digital resources in the field; 2) bringing these various resources together into a common index for complex search and discovery via a single portal; 3) creating software for the repurposing and remixing of disparate digital objects in the creation of new scholarly arguments; 4) incubating new digital projects by scholars in the field via annual summer workshops; and 5) serving as an institutional representative for scholarly interests as they relate to digital matters. In this last capacity, we have lobbied commercial vendors to open up their data to scholars; we are hosting NEH summer institutes focused on peer-review and tenure-and-promotion issues associated with digital scholarship; we are collaborating with other groups to institute best practices and common protocols that will allow us all to share information; and we are developing specific software tools to encourage innovative scholarship online. Furthermore, 18thConnect will soon pilot a crowd-sourced OCR correction platform directed at the important ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) database distributed by Gale/Cengage. Discussions are beginning to expand the NINES model to other historical periods.

Station 3:

Joseph Gilbert et al: UVA Library's Scholars' Lab projects

Alison Booth: Collective Biographies of Women

Collective Biographies of Women (CBW), based on Booth's 2004 study How to Make It as a Woman, began as an online bibliography of a forgotten genre that represents thousands of remarkably diverse women. As a Scholars' Lab project since 2006, it has developed new ways to access and analyze this rich corpus: more than 1200 books (in English, since 1830) that collect three or more short narrative biographies of women only. CBW is an experiment in digital studies of narrative, in particular prosopography or personae-writing, the representation of lives in groups. A distant reading, as well as close analysis of this genre reveals a sort of crowd-sourced social network in the print era, as piecework writers and their publishers circulated versions of interrelated famous or notable lives, pressing facts and anecdotes into different narrative and ideological molds. We have begun a series of 'Featured Subject' pages on the versions of individual personae, and a study of 18 collections that include the Victorian nurse, Sister Dora. Supported by an IATH Residential Fellowship in 2010-2012, the Sister Dora project will produce edited texts, a database of the 112 women in this set of books, and interactive tools for analyzing narrative structure along with rhetoric and verbal patterns, paratext, and other aspects of associated short biographical narratives. These tools will provide a model for studying single or multiple narratives about male or female personae representing historical groups.

Brad Pasanek: The Mind is a Metaphor

The Mind is a Metaphor is an evolving online work of reference, an ever more interactive assemblage of mental metaphorics. This collection of eighteenth-century metaphors of mind serves as the basis (the database) for a scholarly study of the metaphors and root-images appealed to by the novelists, poets, dramatists, essayists, philosophers, and preachers of the long eighteenth century. While the database includes metaphors from classical sources, from Shakespeare, and from more recent texts, it does not pretend to any depth or density of coverage in literature other than that of the British eighteenth century.

The metaphors were assembled and taxonomized by Brad Pasanek; the current Ruby-on-Rails framework is the work of a programming team at UVA's Scholars' Lab. In his book project, Eighteenth-Century Metaphors of Mind, A Dictionary, Pasanek analyzes his collection of over 8,000 metaphors. He is keenly interested in digital innovations in humanities research. But he is also a student of the history of the book. While technology enables his approach to discourse, he remains situated in the longer tradition of philology and intellectual history. To best accommodate his online metaphorical material, he has structured his book project as a dictionary or encyclopedia. Both online and on the page he aims to shift his reader's focus from authors and texts to tropes and usages.

The book project presents one interpretation of the metaphors collected online. Readers are invited to check and test Pasanek's history of metaphor against his evidence. And they are invited to write their own competing histories: the indexed database supports keyword searching and faceted browsing. New mining and clustering experiments are made possible as the entire evidence base is available for download.

Herbert Tucker: For Better for Verse

For Better for Verse is a freely available interactive online tutorial in the scansion of traditionally metered English poetry. An overview of the topic provides a general rationale for the whole endeavor, specific rules of thumb for determining syllabic stress and slack, and a couple of concrete examples with discussion. Thus equipped, the student goes independently to work, summoning any of some fifty brief poems, organized by level of challenge, into the central workspace. There by cursor and click a pattern of rhythms and poetic feet is attempted, its underlying meter named, and the result submitted for instant line-by-line approval, or revision as often as necessary. Rhyme scheme may be marked and tested as well. Here and there a particularly tricky negotiation elicits a paragraph of felicitation or commiseration that correlates the analytic work of scanning with that of critical interpretation. Additional buttons highlight caesura within lines and, once a correct scansion is complete, the discrepancies between abstract meter and actual rhythm. Audio files accompany many of the texts with a vocal performance. Other resources include a cross-referenced glossary of prosodic terms and bibliographies both local and general.

Station 4:

Doug Reside: TILE (Text-Image Linking Environment)

Station 5:

John Walsh: The Swinburne Project

The Algernon Charles Swinburne Project is an online collection and scholarly edition devoted to Swinburne's life and works. The most recent release of the project includes all six volumes of the collected Poems (1904) and Swinburne's lone published novel, Love's Cross-Currents (1905). Surrounding the core collection are a number of experiments and prototypes built upon the foundation of the digital texts. For instance, XML Topic Maps are being generated to index people, places, institutions, events, creative works, and genres that occur in Swinburne. Visualizations have been created to illustrate conceptual networks in Swinburne's important 1880 volume Songs of the Springtides. Identifiable tempororal and spatial settings for Swinburne's works have been plotted on maps and timelines. Playfully inspired by Swinburne's own bibliophilia, Swinburne Project editor Walsh is partnering with writer and artist Darick Chamberlin to produce a born-digital artist book edition of Swinburne's Songs of the Springtides. This latter effort seeks to explore the bookishness of digital documents. My presentation will looks at the core Swinburne Project collection and these experiments built around that core collection.

Station 6:

Randall Cream: The Sapheos Project: Transparency in Multi-image Collation, Analysis, and Representation

For many in the humanities, the book is irreplaceable as both work of art and artifact of material culture. Already an outdated technology when Augustine wrote his Confessions in the 4th century — tied to the metaphor of the scroll and purposely built to mimic the mechanical act of scrolling from left to right, top to bottom, the codex has survived as bearer of accident, meaning, and metaphor. Sapheos Project restores the codex, materiality as an interpretive dimension of digital humanities. Interpretively, Sapheos approaches medieval and early-modern books as a collection of pages, each separate and distinct yet linked by the logic of the fold or the gathering. The software project uses images as page-surrogates to facilitate computer-assisted analysis and comparison while retaining the human interpreter as central to hermeneutic activity. Sapheos software aligns, stacks, and compares page images, allowing textual analysis beyond character-based encoding. Funded by an NEH Startup grant from the Office of Digital Humanities — and in collaboration with Jarrell Waggoner, Jun Zhou, and Song Wang — Sapheos project director Randall Cream has produced stable code, a proof of concept, and a working alignment and intelligent feature-detection engine. Sapheos remains under active development.

Station 7:

Matthew Wilkens: Data Analysis and Literary History beyond the Canon

Literary scholars often study large-scale cultural phenomena. Think, for instance, of the ways in which books reveal important aspects of past and present gender relations, or of the way the postmodern novel encodes the cultural logic of late capitalism. But there's a limitation to the way we work with books — we simply don't read very many of them. There are 100,000 new novels published in the U.S. every year; even working night and day, we encounter no more than one in several thousand. So we're limited in the kinds of cultural arguments we can make, needing to claim that any individual book is uniquely illuminating without knowing much about the full field of literary production.

But what if we did know something about the thousands or millions of books we can't read? That's the goal of my recent work on text mining and allegory since 1600. Using computational techniques that identify allegorical writing in thousands of texts across several centuries, the project demonstrates both a specific achievement in literary history and the potential of quantitative methods to expand the types of research questions we are able to pose and to answer. More information at

Station 8:

Ernest Cole and William Pannapacker : "Post-Conflict Sierra Leone"

What does it mean to be wounded, scarred, branded, or amputated? What message is inscribed on the body when it is subject to these atrocities? In my project, I examine such questions in the context of post-war, Sierra Leone, my homeland. I argue that the amputated body is constructed around ambivalence and that through a complex reformulation of amputation, the residual limb is re-cast as a form of transcendence rather than limitation. As they reconcile themselves with the past, victims undercut the master discourse of domination that the victimizer attempts permanently to inscribe upon their bodies.

As an extension of my scholarly project, undertaken in the context of an undergraduate, liberal-arts college, I am collaborating with my colleague in English, William Pannapacker, and with the students in his course, Introduction to the Digital Humanities, and the staff of Hope College, New Media Studio, to create interdisciplinary learning modules on that can foster engagement with my subject in course throughout the curriculum, ultimately enabling an institution-wide conversation on, 'Violence, Trauma, and Recovery', in the developing world.

One comment on “ach-sessions-2011-mla-convention

  1. Rhthrt says:

    I love this idea. Is anyone cmniog who teaches French lit in French, I mean? It’s been a long time since I read Tartuffe in French. (I do think it’s a little bit of an odd requirement, but I also kind of love that someone is requiring it, and it’s wicked funny.)Sadly, I don’t know that I’ll have much time to work on finding resources. Could we do that as part of our time at camp?

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