Early Modern Digital Agendas

Earlier this summer, I had an opportunity to participate in Early Modern Digital Agendas institute, a three-week long NEH-sponsored research summit at the Folger Shakespeare Library led by Jonathan Hope. The institute brought together some of the pioneering scholars in digital humanist methods and early modern history to discuss the future of computer-assisted studies of early modern English history.

After opening with a discussion of Matthew Jockers' Macroanalysis, we kicked off the first week of the institute by studying the affordances and limitations of digital corpora like EEBO with scholars such as Jonathan Sawday and Ian Gadd. Towards the end of the week, we spent time in the Folger Reading Rooms comparing EEBO texts and their TCP transcriptions to physical copies of EEBO books, a brilliant exercise that brought home to many of us the radical power of digital remediation.

EMDA institute members explore Martin Mueller's WordHoard

Alan Galey, Julia Flanders, and Heather Wolfe led us through discussions of digital markup at the start of week two. In one exercise, institute members got to transcribe early modern manuscript materials into customized xml. My group worked on a letter by James I, and quickly realized that the encoding process involves a vast collection of editorial decisions.

Later in the week, we had a chance to study a wide range of fascinating digital projects, such as Gabriel Egan's Shakespearean London Theatres project and the Tempest for iPad app produced by Katherine Rowe and Elliott Visconsi. Martin Mueller also came to discuss the CorpusSearch interface, the WordHoard tool, and the importance of crowdsourcing in future DH work. Finally, we got to see some of the fascinating results Michael Witmore and Jonathan Hope have produced with DocuScope, and we got to install the tool as well.

The first half of week three focused on data analysis and visualization. Marc Alexander came to discuss the most remarkable Historic Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary database, and both he and Jonathan Hope led discussions on the present and future of visualization techniques. Later in the week, institute members delivered presentations in which they discussed past work and the ways the institute will affect their work moving forward. Particularly fascinating talks included Jacob Heil's discussion of the Early Modern OCR Project, Kim McLean-Fiander's presentation on the Map of Early Modern London Project, and the Six Degrees of Francis Bacon project that Dan Shore and Chris Warren discussed. 

Reflecting on the institute now, I'm amazed by the wealth of talent Jonathan Hope brought together in a three week span. Each day brought fresh and energizing conversation, and helped me to develop even greater appreciation for the smart work being produced in early modern digital humanities. Aside from the necessarily truncated list of highlights above, for instance, there were hours of fascinating conversation with Mark Davies on his brilliant corpus analytic tools, or with Brett Hirsch on early modern stylometric methods. In short, it's safe to say that Early Modern Digital Agendas was a vital moment in the development of digital approaches to early modern scholarship, and I'm honored to have counted myself among the institute's members.