Monthly Archives: March 2021

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Samuel Beckett Digital Manuscript Archive

The Samuel Beckett Digital Manuscript Archive is an initiative that comes from several partnering institutions, namely the Centre for Manuscript Genetics (University of Antwerp), the Beckett International Foundation (University of Reading), and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (University of Texas at Austin), with the permission of the Estate of Samuel Beckett.

The key goal of this project is to “is to reunite the manuscripts of Samuel Beckett’s works in a digital way, and to facilitate genetic research.” More specifically, this platform “brings together digital facsimiles of documents” which are housed in different archives, libraries, and special collections. The project also offers transcriptions of Beckett’s manuscripts, tools for bilingual and genetic version comparison, an analysis of the textual genesis of Beckett’s works, and a search engine.

The resource aims to help researchers and scholars to require immediate access to the manuscripts and typescripts produced by Samuel Beckett. The website, as of now, hosts eight major works: “Endgame,” ‘Waiting for Godot,” “Malone Dies,” Molloy,” Krapp’s Last Tape,” “the Unnamable,” “Stirrings Still,” and “what is the word.” However, only one work is not being password protected and, therefore, accessible. That means that in order to work with all other manuscripts, you should get an individual or institutional subscription.  

If its primary goal, or the first goal, is to make the texts available, the second goal of the project is to build a platform that would serve as an active laboratory studying the “variants” of SB’s works—often produced in both languages, English and French. This is a place dealing with such matters as genetic criticism and textual scholarship relying on different editorial and philological traditions offered by scholars. Of special interest is an introductory essay entitled: “Editorial Principles and Practice.” In it, the editors show their philosophy and practices as they approach the Beckett manuscripts; in particular, dealing with facsimiles and transcriptions (using an encoding in XML [eXtensible Markup Language]), transcription methods (relying, in part, on suggestions by the TEI Special Interest Group), transcription conventions (such as deletion, deletion within a deletion, addition, script, unclear reading, addition on the facing leaf, illegible character, transportation, etc.), collation and relative collaboration.

Manuscripts aside, the project also hosts the Beckett Digital Library—again, available only to subscribers, so it’s hard to say what’s inside. From the description, you can find out that the BDL is a digital reconstruction of SB’s personal library. At the moment it houses 762 extant volumes and 247 virtual entries with no physical copy. The whole project is an example that attempts and succeeds in the “reconstruction of dynamics of the composition process.” By looking and comparing various variants of the same work which versions are held at different places, the project demonstrates the unique opportunities the digital scholarly editions may offer in the future.

John Ashbery’s Nest

Overview

John Ashbery’s Nest is a virtual reality tour of the late poet’s private home in Hudson, New York. Its purpose is to give visitors the opportunity to explore “the spaces and collections that inspired [Ashbery’s] life and work.” The project illuminates connections between Ashbery’s home and writings; what is implied is that Ashbery’s “nest” was a space of intellectual inquiry and discovery that fed the poet’s body of work. As the Flow Chart Foundation, which works closely with the estate of John Ashbery, puts it on their website: “Purposefully constructed spaces that housed Ashbery’s domestic archive both reflect and are reflected in his writing, which itself is heavily involved with other literature, music, the visual and decorative arts, architecture, theater, and film.” So this “domestic archive” complements but does not house or manage Ashbery’s literary works.

The project was lead by Karin Roffman, senior lecturer in the Humanities, English, and American Studies at Yale. Roffman, an Ashbery scholar, is author of the Ashbery biography The Songs We Know Best. Nest is presented by the Digital Humanities Lab at Yale University, and the team responsible for the project included a Yale MFA candidate and several university IT specialists. Notably, the private firm VRH solutions (“a team of photographers, designers and developers providing full service solutions for 360 photo and video experiences”) is also credited. As I explored the project, I wondered about the institutional and financial arrangement that brought this partnership about.

According to the Nest website, Ashbery moved to Hudson, New York “at the age of fifty-one in 1978.” He purchased a 19th century home adjacent to the Columbia County seat and courthouse, and undertook a meticulous restoration over the course of fifteen years. Ashbery’s ornate, four thousand square foot house became a repository and exhibition space for his “hundreds” of collections of antique furnishings and decorative objects, many of which are cataloged in exquisite detail by the Nest team.

From the perspective of the present, Hudson seems a uniquely suitable location for Ashbery’s home archive. The miniature, Hudson River–adjacent city is well-known for its antiques scene, and experienced several waves of gentrification in the late 20th and early 21st centuries implicated with an influx of antique shops and warehouses. (By 2001, according to the New York Times, Hudson had “some of the best antiques shopping in the Northeast.”)

The Technology

The Nest website is not built on a backend like Omeka or LibGuides. Instead, it presents the “domestic archive” as an interactive, 3D virtual tour, navigable by mouse (or by gesture on a mobile device). Anyone familiar with Google Street View or with the classic PC game Myst will be familiar with the controls. Interactive objects in the virtual environment are tagged with 2D map pins, and clicking these produces a popup with some of the following: a 3D view of the object (or additional photography), scholarship, voiceover (sometimes Ashbery’s), additional readings, and links. Accessibility features are notably absent. The bespoke interface, while slick, does not give the impression of being either the most intuitive or most inclusive format.

There is an alternate method for exploring the nest. A more traditional hyperlink-based format (accessible from the VR tour menu) allows you to browse the “Collections by room,” and breaks the website’s contents down into headings: Hudson House (“History,” “Architectural Documents,” “Room by Room,” “Bibliography,”) The Poet (“John Ashbery,” “House Essays,” “House Interviews,”) and Collections. Though browsing the website this way is an intuitive and pleasant experience, a lack of robust metadata and search tools make the project, as a whole, seem more suited for unguided perusal than concerted study.

Audience

Partly for this reason the project seems designed mainly with casual users and Ashbery readers in mind. Like other literary “historic home” projects, John Ashbery’s Nest serves more as an outlet for roving curiosity than rigorous study. With a mix of voiceovers from the poet, snippets of his poems and essays, and informative antiques scholarship, the project seem designed to delight and divert Ashbery’s fans and decorative arts enthusiasts (I personally enjoyed poking around very much). That said, a scholar wishing to make original discoveries around Ashbery’s legacy will want to go directly to the poet’s estate.

The information is presented with verve; it is designed to engage an already-curious audience, and encourages unguided exploration by offering a non-linear, sensory approach to a fascinating collection of digital materials. Exploring the nest is more like visiting a museum than it is like browsing a traditional library’s digitized catalog. A visit supplies a new perspective on the poet’s aesthetic sensibilities. His furnishings, like his poems, are eclectic and baroque, and betray an affinity for a broad array of American vernacular styles.

Letters of 1916-1923

About Ireland’s first “participatory digital humanities” project, Letters of 1916-1923 explores early 20th century Ireland through letters. Susan Schreibman of Maynooth University created the project to collect letters from the eight months before and after the 1916 Easter Rising. A grant from the Irish Research Council allowed Schreibman’s team to expand the project’s collection period to the end of the Irish Civil War. The project includes letters from private collections and institutions around the world, with the team acting as curator for this digital exhibit. There are over 5,000 letters covering subjects including politics, WWI, medicine, culture, and the arts. Users can contribute to the project in several ways. Team members will digitize letters on-site after being contacted by letter owners or owners can upload images of the letters on the website. Owners and the general public can register to become a transcriber.

Audience Letters is open to the public so the site is easy to navigate. An introduction to Letters is on the homepage, with visible tabs available for users to explore the collection, contribute letters and transcribe them. ‘Explore the collection’ allows users to filter results by keyword, sources, authors, gender, language, and date written. Clicking on a letter shows an image of the letter, letter information, a transcription (if available) and a brief bio of the sender.

Users can also interact with letters through worksheets and lessons plans found under ‘Resources.’ Primarily used for teaching secondary school and adult students, three lesson plans created by the team are available for download covering Ireland during WWI and the Easter Rising. The team collaborated with the Irish Military Archives to create the ‘1916 in Transition’ packet, which focuses on the aftermath and effects of the Easter Rising. There is also a digital treasure hunt available for users of all ages.  

Technologies The team listed all software used for Letters and provides a brief description of why they used each one on their ‘Technical’ page. WordPress, Omeka, Scripto, MySQL, and Apache are just some of the software packages used on Letters. This information is extremely helpful for anyone thinking about creating a similar project. I have some experience with WordPress and Omeka, but little MySQL and Apache (server related packages used). I know that for a project to be as successful and user friendly as Letters, I would need team members who have the technical experience I lack. I also appreciate the team offering technical guidance/support to their users regarding these software packages. 

Future projects can learn much from Letters 1916-1923. I found especially useful the way Letters gathered support for the project from both public and institutional archives. Institutional archives are historically seen as exclusive or elitist in terms of access, so it was great to see institutions eager to contribute to the project. One could argue that it is because they are digital copies of the letters and in the public domain, but for smaller archives that do not have the resources available to create a digital exhibit, Letters is a useful way to introduce their materials to a worldwide audience. I had an increase in research requests after contributing to Letters, which turned into support for my archive. I also spoke with a few private owners and they commented how kind the team were when digitizing letters and the respect they showed to the memory of the letter sender/receiver and the letter itself.

I think it is also important to continually evaluate your project once it has launched and to listen to feedback from your audience. The team was eager to visit my archive because we provided Irish American sources, something that was lacking in their initial launch and was noticed by users. They were also looking for letters written by women since a majority of their initial contributions were to and from men. Just because a project launches does not mean that the work is done.

Unpacking Manuel’s Tavern

Overview:

Unpacking Manuel’s Tavern preserves the organic archive of Atlanta’s political left that has been inscribed on the walls of this local restaurant and bar over the past half century.”

This project treats Manuel’s Tavern, a dive bar in Atlanta, Georgia founded in 1956, as an archive in and of itself. In contrast to intentional, curated archives that exist as part of an institution, we are presented with an unplanned, accidental, “organic” collection of material. This material is sourced from the walls of the bar, on which hang an amalgamation of ephemera, politely referred to by the New York Times as “junk”.

The bar was once owned by Manuel Maloof, who was a major figure in local politics. The bar played host to many characters, mostly from Atlanta’s left leaning/democratic political scene.  Local academics began the attempt at digitizing the walls before a 2015 renovation triggered by a new developer buying up neighboring properties.

The objects include photographs, neon signs, posters, advertisements, paintings, an entire bicycle, and many odds and ends that hint at the political action being undertaken by the patrons such as this fundraising flyer for a local politician’s campaign.

Presentation & Audience:

The website of this digital archive is in three main sections or “portals”: immersive media, walls, and artifacts. The most exciting portion, in my opinion, is the walls portal which has 360° panoramas of each wall in the bar. Users can click on items to learn more like titles and descriptions, though some of the descriptions are lacking. It is clear the context for some of the more personal items has been lost to time (and maybe alcohol).  In the “artifacts” section of the website, each item is listed so that you can browse without using the panorama feature.

This project seems to focus on use for teaching. The website suggests using it for classes in history, english, political science, art, policy, and beyond. A portion of the site is dedicated to showing how the archive/objects from it have been used in assignments by local institutions like Emory University. Some student work has been incorporated into the public exhibit. For example, when browsing the artifacts portal, the description of a 1998 Atlanta Falcons pennant is accompanied by a Georgia State University student essay on a short history of the Atlanta Falcons. This helps provide some context to the meaning of the item to locals, and suggests why it hung on the wall of the tavern.

Other projects that are associated with this one are ATL Maps and Teaching Atlanta, which both have similar aims in use for teaching.

Technology:

This project has made use of virtual recreations of spaces and objects. High-res panoramic photographs which were created with gigapans, or gigapixel panoramas. These are digital images with billions of pixels and usually consist of hundreds of single images stitched together.

The archive includes three videos—one which includes an interview with the current owner and original owner’s son conducted by the lead Academic on the project, Ruth Dusseault. This is a nice bit of oral history

Another video is an interactive “virtual environment”. This uses Unity WebGL, which allows you to render 2D and #d images in a browser with no need for a plug-in. It uses Javascript to render the scene. Unfortunately, the virtual environment currently only produces an error message. The same goes for the third video which is a 360 ° tour of the bar. It seems that this website has not been maintained as much as it could be.

Finally, the actual website was put together using Omeka.

What can we learn from this project?

If there is one thing that this project makes clear, it is the fact that we can look for archives in unexpected places. The website uses words like “unintentional”, “organic”, and “accidental” to describe the collection, emphasizing the fact that the material was not sought out or looked for but rather gathered in the bar “like driftwood on the beach”. Additionally, the material is left alone, physically and figuratively. “More product less process” indeed.

I think this project shows some of the issues with archiving/curating ephemera. Though the website says this archive “speaks for itself”, some objects have very limited information and I’m left with more questions than answers. The nature of ephemeral objects can mean that the context is easily lost. I don’t think that this makes this material useless or not worth saving, but it begs the question of how to deal with ephemeral material in the interest of giving it meaning. In this case, it looks like student work is used to provide some of this context.

The bar was opened in 1956, meaning that there are potentially still those alive who can provide some of that context. I think some sort of oral history initiative to hear from people who were there would be a wonderful accompaniment to this.

Digitizing Chicory

Digitizing Chicory displays digital reproductions of the 126 issues of Chicory, a Baltimore art and poetry magazine that ran from 1966 until 1983. Initially edited by poet Sam Cornish and inspired by the Black Arts Movement, Chicory published work by East Baltimore residents, providing a medium through which working-class and particularly Black Baltimoreans could convey experience in their own words. From Issue 19 (November 1969):

“[Chicory] will not publish just anything, but it is concerned with the music of words as well as with meaning…. Chicory publishes the written word in the manner submitted. Chicory will show how we feel…. It is writing about experience, about being poor, about being alive. It is a statement unguarded by the proper or necessary word.” 

This editorial approach of publishing submissions as-is—continually affirming Chicory’s  inseparability from moment and place—rendered a sense of political immediacy that is still tangible in the text and created an idiosyncratic documentation of Black life and modes of relation in Baltimore through the ‘70s.

The collection is presented in a way that lends itself to multiple forms of engagement from a wide audience—scholars, historians, and the general public would be able to navigate with little to no problem. Each issue of the magazine is displayed in ascending numerical order (there are additional sorting options as well). A search bar at the top allows users to search for words or phrases that may appear in the collection, and a similar feature within a given issue localizes the search to that issue. Metadata within each issue includes identifiers and keywords for both the object (issue) and item (page), as well as document dimensions and access rights. These features altogether lend themselves to both researcher and layperson, making for a user-friendly collection. Technologies used seem limited to the photoduplication process and—perhaps—a software that rendered the text of the issues searchable. 

The creation of Digitizing Chicory was the result of Mary Rizzo, of Rutgers University-Newark, coming across issues of Chicory at Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library while researching for a book on Baltimore’s cultural history and racial politics. Rizzo then used grant funding to assemble an advisory group consisting of Baltimore community members invested in Chicory’s future. This advisory group included former editor Everett Adam Jackson as well as Brown. Along with Brown, Cornish is credited as Advisor on the About This Collection page. The recognition of the Baltimore community’s personal, historical, and political stakes in preserving Chicory—and the centering of their voices in the process—demonstrates an attention to ethical concerns around digitization and archival work that future projects would do well to emulate. 

Colored Conventions Project

What need or opportunity motivated the creation of the digital archive or collection?

The Colored Conventions Project (CCP) aims to document and bring to “digital life” the seven decades-long history of nineteenth-century Black organizing, through both the utilization of digital archival practices and the production of digital exhibits that bring a variety of stories to “digital life”. Inspired by the “Color Conventions”—a series of nineteenth-century political gatherings that offered opportunities for free-born and formerly enslaved African Americans to organize and strategize for racial justice—the CCP centers its work around Black life, specifically the victories and tensions in attempts to build community and protest racial injustice that, when placed in conversation with one another, materialize a diverse and complicated picture of Black intellectual/cultural production. Highlighting the centrality of Black women in nineteenth-century Black political organizing is key for the CCP, and they make that clear in both its core principles, as well as its exhibits. In doing so, the project manages to not only bring to light the biographies of forgotten Black women in these movements, but also provides new ways of thinking about what constitutes political action.

Who is the intended audience, and what technical or design choices make that audience explicit?

The CCP explicitly describes itself as collective and community-centered, wherein scholars from both within and outside the academy are involved in its production. As such, the intended audience would be any member of the public interested in learning more about nineteenth-century Black life, political practice, and intellectual production. The project’s site UX and design choices reflects this inclusive idology, wherein the site’s central feature is its exhibits. While the CCP provides access to digital records alone, these digital exhibits are interactive, navigational, and informational sets of pages that curate the project’s records to narrate significant events and moments in nineteenth-century Black political organizing. As such, these exhibits weave together graphics and text to create an interactive educational experience with accessible language, simple navigation, and straightforward information hierarchies.

What is the relationship between the creator of the archive project and the materials?

The project started from a graduate class the University of Delaware, and expanded into an interdisciplinary group of people both within and outside the academy. Over 2,500 people have contributed to the archive. Those working on the project center their work around their principles, which are modeled after the Colored Conventions themselves. Indeed principle 1 of the CCP’s principles is “CCP seeks to enact collective organizing principles and values that were modeled by the Colored Conventions Movement.” Thus, the project’s theoretical and political hinge grounds itself with its material, in a way.

What are the technologies used? What skills would you need to develop a similar project?

I couldn’t find any information that pointed to specific technologies utilized for this project, but I presume technical and digital data collection, scraping, and visualization tools were used in this process, along with an understanding web development and WordPress. I think that not only would one need to know how to perform this different methodologies, but also be able to have strong collaboration and communication skills.

What could future projects learn from this example?

The way in the CCP is able to curate accessible and informational digital exhibits, as opposed to laying out digital records, is a particularly interesting and helpful way to disseminate historical information and educate members of the public, who may not have the intellectual skills or background to produce insights from records alone. I think this way of curating information to make particular arguments, and highlight particular insights, is pertinent for digital humanities scholars, for it not only provides net outlets for educating, but also inherently requires the formulation of political goals.

The Early Caribbean Digital Archive

https://web.northeastern.edu/nulab/the-early-caribbean-digital-archive/

The Early Caribbean Digital Archive is a collection of pre-twentieth century Caribbean texts, maps, and images, which include travel narratives, diaries, and poetry. These texts were collected with the intention to tell the story of European Imperial domination. The archive currently has 57 early Caribbean texts, of which 30 texts are prefaced with scholarly introductions, which explain why each text is significant in current studies. The stories of enslaved Africans and Indigenous Americans are explained throughout this collection to show that the lives of the Indigenous Americans and enslaved Africans truly shaped the culture and development of the Atlantic world. 

This archive is primarily developed by Europeans who use digital tools to constantly update and incorporate new content into the archive. The diaries in this collection have not been pieced together before as a single collection to focus only on the Caribbean, which makes it evident that the goal of this archive is to expand how we discuss and think about history, colonialism, and the experiences of enslaved Africans and Indigenous people in the Caribbean.

The Project team Professors, Aljoe, Dillion, and Doyle organize their collection in an extremely accessible manner, which aids those, like myself, who are not as technology inclined to easily have access to the archive’s texts, maps, and images. There are also connections across the materials, which grants a more comprehensive sense of the early Caribbean setting. To develop an archive similar to this, one would need to evaluate, retrieve, and arrange new collections of materials that have not been collected before and then be able to collaborate with a team to organize and archive the team findings. This would mean that each researcher would have to effectively evaluate and select the materials they choose to present to other team members. Using this archive, future archivists would learn how to develop unpresented materials into pieces that would aid in understanding history from a different aspect.

The Digital Acropolis Museum

The Digital Acropolis Museum Image

The Digital Acropolis Museum is a new, ongoing project to digitize the Acropolis Museum’s collections as well as create digital activities that showcase the museum’s items. The Acropolis Museum itself began in order to provide a safe space to house and display Greece’s antiquities within its own country. This was mostly in response to the British Museum’s current possession of marbles from the Parthenon.

As an extension of the Acropolis Museum’s creation, the Digital Museum aims to provide access to the museum’s objects via its website, allow for the use of “digital material” both in the museum itself and online to expand upon the visitor’s experience, and to digitally preserve the museum’s cultural objects.

The audience for this project is anyone who is visits the Acropolis Museum (either in person or online). There is a dedicated section for children as well that is called Acropolis Museum Kids and has its own website separate from the museum’s main website.

There is an option on the website to take a virtual tour through the museum. This virtual tour is done in partnership with Google Arts & Culture to allow you to “walk” through the museum and look at the items on display. They have also created a database to store the metadata of each item, digitization of objects, photographing, 3D scanning and the development of multimedia applications that allow for educational experiences online.

One would need a lot of funding to create a project that includes all aspects of this website/archive. The Acropolis Museum has done a lot in the fairly few years it has been established to try to have their collections openly available and accessible to visitors online. Between the virtual tours, applications and the collections database, there is so much content available for learning and more to come (according to their website).

The Palestine Poster Project Archive

https://www.palestineposterproject.org/

The Palestine Poster Project Archives started in the mid 1970s. The founder Dan Walsh, began his poster collection during his time in Morocco with the Peace Corps. Founded as a result of his thesis, by 1980 the archive accumulated 300 posters about Palestine. With a grant by the late Edward Said in 1980, the project expanded steadily over the years, currently standing at 14000 posters sourced from varied locations. The poster archive functioned as part of a curriculum for American high school student. This is important given the fact that Palestinian existence and history and the formation of the Palestinian-Zionist conflict is often erased within American institutional bodies.

For the purpose of this archive, Dan Walsh set a clear definition of what a Palestine poster is: Any poster with the word “Palestine” in it, any poster created or published by any artist or agency claiming Palestinian nationality or Palestinian participation, any poster published in the geographical territory of historic Palestine, any poster published by any source which relates directly to the history of Palestine or any poster related to Zionism or anti-Zionism in any language published after August 31, 1897 (after the first Zionist congress)

The archive has two intended audiences. Firstly Walsh sought to create the posters as a tool for curriculum enhancement in teaching Palestine to high school students. Secondly, his archive could be used by educators, activists, scholars, and any other interested party that wants to integrate Palestine posters to its activities. The PPAA offers a unique perspective on the history of modern Palestine and its cultural heritage. According to the creator, the posters provide a unique lens through which audiences can gain insight into the attitudes and aspirations of people directly involved in the contemporary history of Palestine, as they have experienced it and recorded it in graphic art.”

Making the site in which the archive is hosted accessible, Walsh’s technical and design choices divided the posters into four categories.

1) Arab and Muslim artists and agencies

2) International artists and agencies

3) Palestinian nationalist artists and agencies

4) Zionist and Israeli artists and agencies

These categories are meant to provide clarity as to where the posters originate and who are their creators. This in turn makes audiences aware of the origin of their sources, specifically if they were created by Palestinian nationalists and their allies or by zionists. This itself would be helpful to do research on both parties The creator also stresses the importance of having all the posters presented in one site together (Palestinian created and zionist created ones).

Organizing all posters from all different four sources into one place “obviates the gratuitous complexities” when posters related to Palestine are all randomly categorized by archivist under varied terms, which makes access harder for people seeking research material on Palestine. I found this aspect to the archive to be very appealing and useful it allows students and researchers to look at materials coming from the four different categories of sources alltogether. It is not clear whether Dan Walsh has uploaded all the archive to his website but that was his initial goal. The majority of the initial posters were printed on paper, however digitally produced and distributed posters have seen a rise in numbers and he has included certain requirements to those electronic posters.

The archive is also tagged by artist names and nationality, as well as country and year of publication. I think this categorization allows for researchers to investigate and study some aspects of transnational solidarity with Palestine that are only accessible through materials like posters and event flyer

The PPAA website also includes a very extensive Frequently Asked Questions page that addresses questions such as copyright issues, duplicate posters, fair use, the Palestinian-Zionist conflict and long-term plans. I think this is a very strong aspect to the project and it speaks directly to its audience and addresses any potential questions users might have.

This project is unique, as it has grown to be an extensive archive of historical materials that preserve the memory of Palestine: its history, culture, society, and politics. Importantly the accessibility of this website and its nature as an open source archive, means that many people can contribute to making the amount of posters that it holds more robust. To this end future project could  learn from how collaborative of an archive it is. Through making it so accessible, it is both able to have a wide reach as a tool for preservation and teaching while also gaining many submissions from various groups around the world.