Preparing for MLA 2014 Presentation on the Stainforth Project in “Digital Humanities from the Ground Up”

In early January 2014, Team Stainforth will travel to Chicago to present in the session, chaired by Amy Earhart (Texas A&M), “Digital Humanities from the Ground Up.”  (Please join us if you will be at MLA or in Chicago at this time: we are session #528, Saturday, 11 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Chicago VIII, Sheraton Chicago. Other presenters will include: Benjamin Doyle, Northeastern U; Heather Froehlich, U of Strathclyde; Kristi Girdharry, Northeastern U; Amanda Licastro, Graduate Center, CUNY; Michael Lin, UCSB; Benjamin Miller, Graduate Center, CUNY; Paige Morgan, U of Washington; David Tagnani, Washington State U, Pullman; Amanda Visconti, U of Maryland.) Team Stainforth is thrilled to have the opportunity to present in such a forum and to learn from the other projects in our session.

To learn the basics of the Stainforth Project and our team members, read this blog post, a talk I gave at the 2013 CU Digital Humanities Symposium.

Our team meets this morning to hatch our plans for this work-station style presentation — a format that is new to me, but that I think offers a lot of possibilities and creativity, especially for a DH project. The goal of Earhart’s session is to explore how DH projects are integral to student research and scholarly output at the graduate or undergraduate level. With this in mind, we aim to show how the Stainforth project enriches my dissertation (indeed, it feeds a chapter) but, I think more importantly, we will also show how my dissertation is only a small part of this long-term project that has so much to offer CU-Boulder and its networked learning communities.

In fact, one of the challenges that we face as project managers is to design this digital resource so that it will help answer research and teaching questions that none of us have posed yet for our respective fields. In other words, we’re thinking ahead toward the students that will learn from this project in the future. If we are to do this, one writing project — in this case, my dissertation — cannot be the focal point. And, indeed, it is not.

The primary goals that drive the Stainforth project are, for me:

  • To better understand the relationship between women authors, their books, the circulation of their work, and the men that collected these volumes in the early-to-mid nineteenth century. One gentleman, Reverend Stainforth, owned what is most likely the largest collection of women’s writing in the mid-nineteenth century. How did these women authors and their works benefit from Stainforth’s collection? Did he ever circulate his collection? Why did he only collect works by poets and playwrights and leave out the women novelists that enjoyed so much publication in the early nineteenth century?
  •  To build a new kind of digital archive, research resource, and teaching tool — one that provides access to the texts within it written by women, but that also provides physical bibliography data and visualizations of what his library looked like, based on the shelf-marks for each book in his catalog. Book-men of the nineteenth century were not only or always readers of their collections’ contents; they also obsessed over the physical qualities of their books, the history of print, and the order of books in their libraries.  Our project will offer access to a digital version of this historic library, and such a portal into a book-collector’s private collection needs to offer access to a digital object’s bound form as well as its textual content. (This part of the project dovetails with my interest in using Special Collections and book history to teach literature.)
  • To create a digital archive that offers a counter-view to the only other published record of this collection: Sotheby’s auctioneers’ catalog, a list created to dismantle this historic collection of women’s writing in 1867, after Stainforth’s death. This catalog is currently available in a digital format, published by Gale and part of the Sabin Americana 1500-1926 collection. The auctioneer’s catalog overwrites the value of each author’s book with the lot value determined by Sotheby’s staff.
  • To use this long-term project as an opportunity to teach undergraduate and graduate students about Digital Humanities work by offering a hands-0n practicum based at CU-Boulder.

Here is a Prezi that I made that outlines what I envision as a multi-modal workspace interactive presentation.

Screen shot 2013-11-22 at 8.33.20 AM
Click on the image to visit this Prezi

For a workstation, I imagine offering participants many avenues to explore this project, such as

  • the chance to try out our transcription form,
  • to examine the Stainforth manuscript pages that are the seeds for this whole project,
  • to learn about the Reverend Stainforth–the 19th-century book collector whose 6,000 volume collection of books by women authors is the foundation of our project,
  • to read an essay about how this manuscript and DH project fold into my dissertation on late-Romantic era legacies of the picturesque and media invention,
  • to learn about our plans for encoding and visualizations, and
  • to offer feedback, reactions, ideas, critique

Let’s see what the rest of the team comes up with. Updates will follow as we continue to think and work.

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