For IDIS220: Generating DH Projects by Asking New Kinds of Questions

My thanks to Prof. Shannon Rose Smith and her IDIS220 “Introduction to DH” class for inviting me to be a guest speaker (via Skype) this morning. Email me at or tweet me @KLeuner if you have questions you’d like to discuss today or in the future.


Audience members can follow along by clicking on these links during my presentation as I talk about them.

The Poetess Archive

NINES Summer Workshop


Romantic Circles electronic editions

Voyant Text Analysis Tool

Ann Radcliffe

>>The Radcliffe Encoding Project turned into the WPRP:

Women Poets of the Romantic Period project (WPRP)

>>The WPRP Project turned into the Stainforth Project:

Description of the Stainforth Project

Image of a page from the Stainforth manuscript. Find the shelfmarks in the left-hand column:

page from The Stainforth Catalog MS
page from The Stainforth Catalog MS

The Scott/Hogg/Daguerre Project:

What small collection inspires this “small data” project? Here’s just a few texts that are my foundation:

From left to right: Hogg, Daguerre, and Scott’s novels

Where I am now with the Scott/Hogg/Daguerre project: I am simply gathering electronic copies of texts that I can find online in different sources. Some are quite easy, but others are hard to find.

  • What’s already available on the web and easy to find: Walter Scott resources!

  • What’s less available on the web and hard to find: James Hogg resources!

  • What’s even harder to find on the web except for a few cases, and also difficult to digitize: Daguerre’s Diorama resources!

    • R. Derek Wood’s electronic essay is one of the easy sites to obtain electronic text to search — there are a few excerpts from Diorama reviews here and lots of historical information:

    • Daguerre was a shrewd businessman and put his efforts–both inventing and publishing–where the money was. He published far more of his writing on the daguerreotype and today scholars and the general public are far more fascinated with the daguerreotype and early photography — especially now that Instagram has “hipsterized” old-looking photos — than they are with the Diorama. Hence, there is not as much information or writing collected online regarding the Diorama. For example: there is an archive of Daguerre’s writing on the Daguerreotype here. No such archive exists for his writing on the Diorama.

    • Reviews of Daguerre’s dioramas can be found electronically but they do not live in one designated archive. See the Times (London) electronic archives, The Mirror of Literature archives (most available in Google Books), and other digitized periodicals from the early 1800s like Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.

    • The problem of representing performances as well as the visual: Daguerre’s dioramas were events — akin to our Omnimax shows. How do you collect and represent events that you cannot film – because they are long past – in an electronic form? And if you could somehow reproduce them, how would you categorize them for searching in an archive?

    5 Conclusions and Main Take-Away Points:

    1. DH enables us to look at books, printed words, and even printed or painted images as data that can be processed, searched, and visualized by computers. Therefore, we can ask new kinds of research questions about these texts and images and do new kinds of research as Humanists: DIGITAL Humanists!

    2. $$$, Technology, and People ($TP): You can’t do large-scale DH work, like the Stainforth Project, without them.

    • Graduate students are in a particularly “challenging” (i.e., vulnerable) position in relation to $TP. It’s difficult to get a new project started because you usually have less access to $TP than faculty do. When you have a project that you’re working on, technically, you’re still a student and so your agenda with this project is often not really your agenda, but another professor’s or department’s agenda because they possess the $TP. Because of your graduate student standing, you are in a position of limited power and influence. (But not if you’re crafty!)

    • How to be crafty! Of the three elements of $TP, the “P” (for “People”) is the most important. Work with the right people, who are also excited about your project, and funding and technology may come with them. A good example of this is the Stainforth project. We have people (a group of excited and brilliant librarians working in CU Libraries) and technology, but we still need funding to support the labor needed to complete a lot of tasks. This group of librarians has a great shot at getting funding for this project.

    3. Labor is experience. Just do your best to get paid for it, either in $ or opportunities. Ideally both.

    • As a collaborator on someone else’s DH project, you may be asked to do a lot of labor even while still knowing that it won’t earn you any money or influence on the project (especially if you’re a graduate student). However, this is not always a bad thing: it provides low-stakes participation during which you can learn a lot and not be afraid of making errors or ask a lot of questions, it generates new relationships with those in your field, and creates opportunities for more DH work. In the past, I have been paid my “teaching stipend” to do TEI encoding for a professor’s project – The Poetess Archive (, ed. Laura Mandell). It also opened doors to other DH opportunities with this professor and her colleagues, like your very own Professor Smith.

    4. Your DH work will not “automagically” synchronize with or apply directly to the article or book/dissertation writing that you are producing.

    • The “way in” to learning and practicing DH is, oftentimes, working on other people’s projects. Ergo, they are not your own projects and do not stem directly from your own research interests or questions. And even if they are your projects, they may not dovetail perfectly with the large writing project you have on deck. That can create no small amount of anxiety as people constantly ask you how your DH world and writing world coincide. Sometimes, as much as you want them to, they just don’t.

    • If they don’t, keep the analog square peg away from the electronic round hole. If it is not possible to make your DH project and your writing project dovetail, it’s not. DH projects can be their own, unique product and form of scholarship that contributes to the knowledge base of the Humanities.

    5. Growing Pains Persist – Traditional Humanities still doesn’t fully know what to do with the Digital Humanities and the projects that Digital Humanists produce.

    • The need for DH projects to always synchronize with writing projects is a product of our own moment of transition in the Humanities and in print culture. As you know, we’re somewhere between paper and electronic information transmission. “Old school” Humanists are still wedded to “paper” projects and think that Humanists should just do these 3 things: write books, write articles, and teach classes. However, more “new school” Humanists count the creation of digital archives and other digital projects as a new kind of scholarship and teaching product to add to these “paper” products, which are still very valuable and useful. Scholars are developing methods and standards for the evaluation of electronic projects as they become more prevalent and make landmark contributions to Humanities work.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share my DH projects with you. Please feel free to email me at with any questions you have about my talk or about DH in general.


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