Women Poets of the Romantic Period: Digital Project Planning Hard Hat Area

[Note: originally posted in HASTAC blog on 10/24/11]

a few of the 461 works in WPRP

At the end of my time working with the Women Poets of the Romantic Period collection (WPRP) last week (I work with the collection 10 hours per week), my boss asked me a very simple question: What do you want digitized next? The super helpful work-study student who scans and runs rare books through OCR had just finished making page images of the Stainforth catalog of Romantic-era women writers, and was ready to move on. This decision of what to scan next will affect the shape of the WPRP digital exhibit that it’s my job to imagine and to co-build by June 7, 2012, and to put on display for the British Women Writers Conference (held in Boulder, CO). (I’m co-chair and very involved in helping to organize and raise funds for this conference.) For the conference, I will curate both a digital exhibit and an in-house exhibit of books to show in the Rare Book reading room in Norlin Library (CU-Boulder).

I want to use this post to hash out a drafty plan for digitizing parts of the collection and for building the exhibit. This plan will evolve over the next 8 months, but I would like to be as organized and efficient as possible. Please weigh in and/or share your experiences with these kinds of projects. Horror stories and cautionary tales are welcome, as are all the success stories that followed suit.

Project preliminary requirements (alert – draft!): The WPRP digital exhibit will:
(1) Provide open digital access in multiple formats to select works in the collection that are otherwise only available for use on-site and during Spc. hours.

(2) Unifying theme: the works in the exhibit must fit the conference theme of “Landmarks” in some way.

(3) Range: To appeal to a broad range of scholars, works should span a range of genres: poetry, drama, prose fiction and non-fiction, and images. I would also like to represent an array of kinds of books, from very large coffee-table-size works, to pocket field guides, to pamphlets. Finally, because the conf is centered on 18th and 19th c. texts, works should gesture toward that full date range (though the romantic period is roughly mid-18th to mid-19th c.). The collection contains 461 works, so I do have quite a bit to choose from.

(4) Each text will be available in multiple formats: HTML, TEI encoded XML file, text file, and page images. XML files and text files should be downloadable for each user so that they can run them through tools like Juxta. A good example of an exception (for now) would be the Stainforth, because it’s handwritten and needs to be keyed in (OCR won’t work well) to have the text file available — if funds permit, maybe we can have that done. A colleague at today’s meeting also suggested that the Stainforth might be the perfect text for an open-source transcription project, since we think scholars will want to work closely with it. I love this idea (thank you Amanda!).

(5) Book history: Each book should also, if possible, have accessible and useful book history data (by accessible, I mean not buried in the TEI). It is important not to let an html version of the text stand-in for the unique copy of the book in the WPRP collection.

(6) Archiving: Debbie and I both want to make this exhibit archive quality for NINES. The website will live, of course, on the CU libraries website, as well, most likely accessible through the Special Collections homepage.

(7) Scope and future development: There have been ideas tossed about involving making this exhibit one that is a kind of “platform exhibit” that, over time, will develop into a digital archive for the entire WPRP collection. Yes, please! Are these two projects at odds–the small, digital exhibit on the theme of “Landmarks” for the BWWC conference, and the large digital archive of all WPRP works? I don’t think so. I think we should start small and manageable, and imagine big (and also manageable). A few organizing ideas we have include using the Stainforth and creating a map with layers of data about subscribers, printers/publishers, digital texts, and biographical information.

Idea A: Debbie’s idea for this was to use the Stainforth as a kind of index (since it’s in the collection) and link to works we have digitized directly from from the Stainforth page images. We could link to just the bibliographical entry if we have not completed digitization of a work, and link to the full-text formats for works we have completed. I think this is a very creative way to go about organizing the digital collection — we’ll need to do a bunch of research on the Stainforth to be 100 percent certain that we want that work to be the centerpiece of this digital WPRP collection.
Idea B: Debbie was also interested in organizing the collection pictorially by a map, perhaps of the publishers or subscribers. I love this idea, and we think it will be a really useful additional way to interpret the collection. While TEI encoding the works, we can put geo coordinates in the data, and then use those coordinates to map them in addition to their being indexed by their location in the Stainforth, or separately by title, author, genre, etc.

Another colleague showed us the Mapping Our Anzacs website for a possible model, and we loved the way that the maps are not too crowded with data — a user drills down through levels of data rather than having all levels together on the “surface”.

(8) Labor – 2 questions: (a) how many works to include in the collection, and (b) how do we use our undergraduate volunteers? TEI encoding takes a bunch of time, and is not always intuitive. I was asked if perhaps I could train the volunteers to do the encoding. Maybe I could set up a teiHeader template for them, and they could fill that in for each work in the exhibit and submit the header to me to edit. I will also need help creating an organized list of the works for the in-house collection, as well as writing, editing, and publishing (online) their captions. I am also hoping to have my spring women’s literature class assist with caption writing, since it has been a very productive experience for my class this semester.

How many works: I’m thinking 5-8, maximum, for the digital exhibit — going for quality, not quantity. That’s not a very high number, but if we’re going to encode it, AND it’s going to be supplemented by an in-house exhibit in the Special Collections reading room (containing 50-75 works), I think that’s a great goal to complete by June. Also, I’m not proposing that we encode and publish 5-8 complete volumes — that would take too much time. Many of the books I’m interested in are edited collections that contain selections that fit the BWWC theme of “Landmarks.” Also, it’s possible to TEI encode just part of a work (1-2 poems in a volume), and still make accessible the TOC, the whole text file available for download, and maybe a lightly encoded XML file (that’s ambitious).

(9) Images: It is not necessary to digitize the entire volume, but there is a volume of L.E.L.’s poetry that contains pressed flowers, and that has pages decorated with flower pressing outlines. I wonder if for the exhibit, it would be worthwhile to just have an image gallery on our website. We could develop this to include full works over time.

(10) Works: A few of the works I’m thinking we might use for the digital exhibit (preliminary list):

– Lady, A. Flora and Thalia, or, Gems of flowers and poetry : being an alphabetical arrangement of flowers, with appropriate poetical illustrations, embellished with coloured plates. (1835, WPRP 341) Include selections from the section “Flora Alphabetica”: description, image, poems for 1-2 flowers.
– Barbauld, Anna Letitia. Eighteen Hundred and Eleven (1812; WPRP 1). One thing to consider with this work is that text files are probably available elsewhere — this is an important, canonical poem for the romantic period. I suggest we scan for taking page images only since I’ll find the text files elsewhere. Include the whole poem in the exhibit.
– Bury, Charlotte Campbell, Lady. Three great sanctuaries of Tuscany, Valombrosa, Camaldoli, Laverna: a poem, with historical and legendary notices. (1833, WPRP 100 [OS]) Select 1 of the sanctuaries described in this book (descrip, image, and poem) — this book includes gorgeous, gigantic prints that I cannot wait to make available online.
– Alcock, Mary. The Air-Balloon; or, flying mortal: a poem. (1784; WPRP 164) Include the whole poem in the exhibit.
– More, Hannah. Cheap Repository Tracts (1796; WPRP 419) — select 1 or 2 to include. While these are not my favorite, they show diversity in politics, religion, and form. Include the whole work in the exhibit.
– Hamilton, Sarah. “Tour to Matlock” from Sonnets, tour to Matlock, recollections of Scotland, and other poems. (1825, WPRP 266) The entirety of the poem called “Tour to Matlock” should be included, because it details an early 19th-century example of an all-women’s “road trip,” a practice that was far less common then than it is now.



  1. I’m curious what platform you’ll use to display. We’ve been toying with Omeka and a WordPress plug-in but it’s not robust enough for submission to NINES as a scholarly edition.

    Also, there’s a section missing here — is this an archive, scholarly edition, or digitized collection. You’ll need to think through the nomenclature, especially if you want to submit it to NINES for peer review or inclusion in the search engine/collection.

    So many comments and kudos to make. I wish you had the layout that Media Commons does where I can comment on the side for each section.

    1. Kirstyn Leuner

      Hi Kathy – the platform decision depends, to a great extent, on what the CU Library can/will support. I suggested Omeka — and so did Laura Mandell — but I have to wait and see. Thanks for raising the question of the genre for this project. You’re right — we do indeed have to think this through. Especially if this is a digital project that might evolve from one genre (digitized collection) to another (full on archive). I don’t know enough about that process yet. And now that I know that Media Commons has that layout, I want that comments layout, too! Come on, WordPress, catch up — writing isn’t always vertically linear! 🙂

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