What DH can Mean for Editing: an Interview with Julia Flanders, Part 1

Julia Flanders is a professor of English and the director of the Digital Scholarship Group in the Northeastern University Library. She also directs the Women Writers Project (WWP), a long-term research project, based out of Northeastern University, devoted to making early modern women’s writing more accessible through digitization and electronic text encoding. Dr. Flanders has published widely on the subject of digital humanities and currently serves as the editor in chief of Digital Humanities Quarterly. She has also participated in the development of digital humanities organizations such as the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations. Her research interests focus on data modeling, textual scholarship, humanities data curation, and the politics of digital scholarly work. We sat down with Dr. Flanders to learn how her research, involving the digitization and encoding of texts, reveals new possibilities for thinking about editing in relation to the technological models we use in the Digital Humanities. What follows is the first of a two-part series capturing this interview.

Let’s start with your current projects. I understand that the WWP has a nice, illustrious history of bringing people under its wing…

Yes, I have sometimes tried to come up with a full inventory of all the students that have worked at the WWP over the course of the years. It is very difficult because there are so many of them. Very large numbers of undergraduate and graduate students over the past twenty-five years have worked on the Women Writers Project in lots of different capacities. The most central, enduring, and high volume role has been in transcribing, editing, and encoding the texts that we produce.

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CFP Digital Humanities Quarterly Special Edition: Imagining the DH Undergraduate

Please find below the CFP for a guest-edited edition of Digital Humanities Quarterly, “Imagining the DH Undergraduate: Special Issue in Undergraduate Education in DH,” co-edited by Dr. Shannon Smith (Bader International Study Centre, Queen’s University) and Emily Murphy (Queen’s University).

Please submit papers to guest editors at 5em18@queensu.ca by Monday, 16 November 2015, 17:00 EST.

In this issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly, guest editors Dr. Shannon Smith and Emily Murphy seek to open a conversation about the ways practitioners in the Digital Humanities have reformulated, theorized, and practiced undergraduate pedagogy. We invite papers that engage in a multidimensional reimagining of where undergrads sit in the field and how we conceive of their role in the shifting knowledge economies produced by digital scholarship.

DH implicitly understands the role of the undergraduate in the field to exist in tension between one of two models: the “digital native” and the apprentice-research assistant. In the first model, the undergraduate student is understood to be one who speaks “the digital language of computers, videogames and the Internet,” and whose life-long immersion in a digital world has resulted a naturalized digital knowledge base that presumably outstrips that of her “digital immigrant” instructor (Prensky 1). Despite numerous pedagogical and sociological studies to challenge the concept of the digital native student and the homogeneous classrooms in which she exists (Smith, Helsper and Enyon), it has remained a persistent trope in DH: when John Unsworth and Patrik Svensson, for instance, envision the graduate student who “learned to do research with digital tools” (Unsworth qtd in Svensson 18), they rely upon the trope of the digital native undergraduate student who preceded the graduate student.

While the “digital native” may speak the language of the digital, the apprentice-research assistant is not assumed to possess the necessary skills for DH work; instead, she learns skills within the hierarchies and economies of the project. Further, the discourse of the “digital native” assumes that students’ facility with digital tools defines her involvement in the Digital Humanities; by contrast, apprenticeship models rely on an underlying conception of the Digital Humanities teaching that exposes undergraduates to methodology and theory through a digital lens. In this second model, the undergraduate student’s typical first exposure to DH is as the necessary labourer in faculty-led research projects; she is indoctrinated into the discipline by means of witnessing the inside operations of a research project. Despite the ubiquity of the apprentice model in DH projects, the trope of the digital native has persisted; it is in the space of this apparent contradiction that we may begin to account for the multiplicity of approaches to undergraduate education that have emerged within DH.

Platforms like Hybrid Pedagogy are providing space for discussions of individual experiences in the classroom, and critical considerations of how digital modes are changing teaching and learning. Projects like the Map of Early Modern London have developed pedagogical partnerships to support critical skills development in an international research environment tied to the classroom. Undergraduate education, whether or not that education is tied to DH projects, is now inflected by the shifting power structures of digital humanities scholarship and critical approaches to the role of computing in research and culture.

Papers submitted in response to this call should be in one of two formats: 1) models and theorizations of the undergraduate in DH, inside or outside the classroom (maximum 8000 words); 2) process papers and case studies of DH undergraduate education (maximum 5000 words). Preference will be given to theoretical papers, but compelling case studies will provide a welcome balance to the issue.

Topics may include, but need not be limited to:

Undergraduate Labour

  • the undergraduate student in the research environment (individual projects, DH Labs, DH Centres);
  • ethics and/of undergraduate education in DH;

The Diverse Undergraduate Student Body

  • intersectionality in the undergraduate population and DH;
  • undergraduate digital skill acquisition, and challenges to the “digital native”;
  • DH undergraduate students outside the academy;

Methodologies and Pedagogies

  • undergraduate DH coursework and undergraduate DH degree streams;
  • DH and non-DH pedagogical models for undergraduates: summer schools, peer learning, apprenticeships;
  • DH methodologies in the non-DH classroom.

Disciplinarity and Undergraduate Pedagogy

  • interdisciplinary education and the humanities undergraduate;
  • disciplinary self-conceptions in the undergraduate classroom (DH, Digital Liberal Arts, Digital Scholarship);
  • DH and changing humanities education.

Works Cited

Helsper, Ellen and Rebecca Eynon. “Digital Natives: Where Is The Evidence?” British Educational Research Journal 36.3 (2010). 503-520. Print.

Prensky, Mark. “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” On the Horizon 9.5 (October 2001). Ithaca, NY: MCB University Press. Print.

Smith, Erika E. “The Digital Native Debate in Higher Education: A Comparative Analysis of Recent Literature.” Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 38.3 (Fall 2012). 1-18. Print.

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An Undergraduate’s Love Letter to the Digital Humanities

Tiffany Chan, the 2014 QUL Special Collections/BISC Student Assistant, and #DHFS2014 alumna, has been blogging over at HASTAC.org about the process of putting together a virtual exhibit of nineteenth-century stereocards (Look for more from dhbisc in a future post). As her Assistantship winds up, and as Tiffany looks forward to her graduate student days at the University of Victoria and in the Maker Lab, she wrote a love letter to DH that she has given us permission to repost here. Head over to her HASTAC blog to see the original

An Undergraduate’s Love Letter to the Digital Humanities

When a friend organized an event highlighting undergraduate research opportunities and asked me to speak about my Student Assistantship, I was surprised at how well-attended the session was. Many attendees said they were curious about research but admitted that they weren’t too sure about what exactly was involved. Although the session went well, I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of frustration. It was so hard to capture how doing research felt­—the slow, creeping, meaningful changes that become difficult to describe once you’ve been socialized into them. But I want to lay them out here because they were the most important things I learned at university and I worry that too few undergraduates get the same experience.


Research depends on access to materials

For an undergraduate student in a traditional classroom, this access is largely taken for granted. If I can’t access a full article or if it isn’t applicable to my research question, then I quickly move on because I have three other essays due and those secondary sources aren’t going to incorporate themselves. Digital Humanities, however, pays particular attention to issues such as open access, web publishing, the public humanities, and archiving more generally. My studies and work in DH push me to more carefully consider how much time, effort, and thought go into creating, maintaining, and providing access to research materials at each step of an ongoing process. I’ve learned that what might seem tedious at times, like encoding mountains of TEI documents or plugging metadata into a spreadsheet, is actually very necessary and valuable work. I’ve learned that influential but unseen gaps persist in who has access to what, whether that is the digital divide or historical silences left in the wake of “the canon.” And I’ve learned that documentation is also “archiving” in a sense: sharing (meta)knowledge makes life easier for others in the future –or at the very least, allows them to see where there is room for improvement. Even this blog post becomes part of the archive of my Assistantship experience. I am also inspired by metadata (or archiving) as “a love letter” or a “love note” to the future where the “love” is unconditional and concerned with the long game. We don’t know what future people will find interesting or noteworthy, but we try to record what we think is most important in as sustainable a format as possible for the benefit of future users.

If you like it, put some metadata on it

Inspired by a slide from Rachel Lovinger’s Confab presentation


I also worked for an extended time with a relatively small collection at my university’s Special Collections Library and I handled, researched and created metadata for the entire collection—even for objects that didn’t make it into my virtual exhibit. Because of it, I felt more connected to the objects with which I was working. I felt like both a caretaker and a curator of the collection and making a good exhibit became, in some sense, about doing justice to the objects themselves. This is not always the case elsewhere in my undergraduate experience;  the only experience in class I’ve had with bibliographic or archival research is in 4th-year seminars and, after visits to Special Collections and Queen’s Archives, many of my classmates were incredibly enthusiastic but said they’d wished they’d known about both resources earlier. Inspired by Lisa Surridge’s “Material Matters” course, perhaps students—with the help of a friendly librarian—could “adopt” a book or other object in their area of interest from Special Collections. They could write a short blog post about it for the library website (a certificate and photo would be a nice touch). Students can familiarize themselves with how a Special Collections library works and learn valuable research skills. The library can engage students, not only by working with their collections, but also by sharing what they find fascinating about them.


Research is an iterative process

In a traditional classroom, the process of feedback and revision feels compressed:  I write an essay, the professor evaluates it, I receive a grade. To be sure, I read the comments, ask for clarification when needed, and remember those lessons for the next essay. But I never really get to “try again” and I hardly ever think about the essay after I get it back (beyond what I just described). Unlike the graduate level, I would never revise anything in the hope of eventual publication nor resubmit anything anywhere.

But in my Assistantship, my work has time to breathe and, because it is publicly accessible online, it lives outside “the audience of one” professor. It benefits from comments from supervisors, professors, attendees at a Senate Library Committee meeting, and virtual shout-outs from people I’ve never met in person—whether those comments are constructive criticism or simple encouragement. It has also evolved from several noticeably different prototypes over the course of a year. In an education system where it sometimes feels like assessment gets in the way of learning or like failure should be avoided at all costs, having these prototypes emphasizes process over product. (I should note that I never received a grade for the assistantship.) I’ve learned that the idea is not to never fail, but to “fail faster” in different and interesting ways.


Research is hard work, but it is also very rewarding in multiple ways

I have spent over two hundred hours on my project—about ten times more than I spend on an essay for class. The total word count of the web text is about six thousand words, which doesn’t include the research “dark matter” of notes, outlines, and drafts. I have spent hours troubleshooting technical problems, googling solutions, plugging in and modifying code to see what works. I can’t look at an image of a digitized object without flashing back to the time I scanned 216 images by myself, burning through 8tracks playlists and wondering at the woeful ergonomics of my chair. My workload still doesn’t approach that of professors, librarians, support staff, and others, but I do think I appreciate it a bit better now. I have experienced the slog of a project’s “Act 2” that sets in after the initial burst of novelty fades and before glimpsing the light at the end of the tunnel. I have felt the panic of an unexpected change in plan that just so happens to be both last-minute and at the worst possible time.

In addition, I’ve also gained some valuable skills. Though my assistantship did provide me with “hard” skills like metadata/archival work and web development, applying my “soft” skills in a context outside of class helped me better understand how they transfer. If professors fight the public perception of the ivory tower, English students (especially recent graduates) fight the public perception that good communication is chiefly about flawless grammar and avoiding language that is “totes inappropes” in professional settings. Thanks to my (Digital) Humanities education, I know that form is inextricable from content, whether that is a book, an essay, a photograph, or a website. I know small details make a big difference everywhere. Whatever I read, watch, look at or listen to, I don’t just do so to comprehend, but to parse a complicated argument and prod at its underlying assumptions. And I know that the benefits of asking the right question, out of sensitivity and curiosity, far outweighs the cost of a “wrong” answer. The humanities have been very good at arguing that we have transferable skills, but less so at discussing exactly how and where they transfer. Digital Humanities research, because of its interdisciplinarity, makes me better at articulating my expertise in terms of skills instead of just subject.


Research grows out of and takes place in intersecting communities

I’ve left this for last, but I consider it the most important and the one that lends urgency to everything else. The traces of my intersecting communities are everywhere—all over my project, in and between every line of this blog post, and churning in the back of my mind. At the localized level, I don’t just work with professors (or PhD candidates), but also with librarians and technical support staff in the Queen’s community. Outside my local community, I am part of both online and in-person communities—at the Re: Hum ’15 conference, on HASTAC, in the Twittersphere, and (soon) at DHSI and the University of Victoria. I read articles from places like Hybrid PedagogyHook and Eye, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and other academic blogs that appear in my Twitter feed. None of them likely see undergraduates like me as their target audience but, because DH favours openness and accessibility, I found and read them anyway. Because of them and because my educators and mentors have been frank about them, I am aware of discussions about critical pedagogy, contingent academic labour, the “corporatization” of post-secondary education, etc. that I would likely never have discovered otherwise.

I am also inspired by Miriam Posner’s definition of community as “people [who] are genuinely invested in seeing each other succeed.” I have glimpsed, from a hundred tiny interactions, the celebrations, challenges and (sometimes) frustrations of those working around me to promote DH at an institution where it is gaining traction but not yet well-established. It’s one thing to know that your supervisors, professors, and supporters are “busy” in the abstract; it’s another to be privy to both the specifics and systemic forces that affect them. I now understand that the opportunities that I have took years to put into place and I want them to be there for future students after I’ve graduated. I understand that doing my job well makes my supervisors’ arguments about DH’s benefit more persuasive. I understand that undergrads can be the squeakiest wheels ever, knowing full well that people will greet my rampant enthusiasm with either genuine excitement and encouragement or, at the very least, the lukewarm benevolence afforded to optimistic-but-inexperienced young people.

“Maybe as an undergraduate, you thought professors had it easy–they slept late, only worked a few hours a day, just made up lectures as they went along. But now [that you are in graduate school]…you can see up close how many hours professors work on their publications in order to get tenure, how contentious academic politics can be, and how daunting and time-consuming grading a mountain of term papers is.” — Susan Basalla and Maggie Debilius

The most interesting thing about reading professionalization books for graduate students is what they say about undergraduates. For example, Semenza writes, “Few undergraduates know or care all that much about how their major departments operate and, in truth, their ignorance probably has no negative consequences.” I don’t deny that most undergrads know relatively little about how their academic departments, libraries or institutions really work. It can be difficult to talk about my assistantship to my peers without defaulting to a half-hearted “So how about them twelve-page papers, am I right?” But here is where I disagree with Semenza: I take these awkward silences, not as apathy, but as uncertainty at not knowing what to say or ask. It’s not that we don’t know and don’t care; you might be surprised how much we’d care if we knew.

Moreover, this unawareness might have no immediate or directly negative consequences, but it is a missed opportunity for undergraduates to understand how systemic forces impact their educational experience. Undergraduates and educators should discuss the broader concerns of postsecondary education from multiple perspectives. In a community where I feel safe, supported, and cared for, knowing what I do makes me more attentive and empathetic to people and labour that is too often unrecognized or underappreciated. At the very least, knowing would allow students to make better, more informed decisions about graduate school or an academic career. At its best, knowing would inspire students to be more engaged, informed, and empowered citizens—the goal of any humanities education. If all of us students saw our words and actions as love letters to a future academic community, what might we say?

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Pedagogy in a Digital Cultural Space: Part Two of our Interview with Caroline-Isabelle Caron


Dr Caron

In this conclusion to our two-part interview series with Queen’s History Department’s Caroline-Isabelle Caron, Dr. Caron shares her thoughts on pedagogical techniques that help students learn and research in an increasingly digital cultural space. She addresses challenges currently faced by Humanities departments in terms of a new digital divide, how the combination of the digitization of culture and other cultural shifts have changed how students want to learn, and the place of the BISC Digital Humanities Field School in this context. You can review the first part of this series here

How do you navigate [issues relating to the digitization of culture] in the classroom? What do you think are some of the challenges or surprises that you and your students come across while navigating an increasingly digital cultural space?

As I mentioned above, I have always used online resources in the classroom, even before I joined Queen’s faculty. My biggest issue for the first five to eight years of teaching was that many students still did not own computers. Until about 2005, it was evident that the poorer students did not own computers and were confined to what was available in the campus libraries. This fact curtailed my ability to use online sources, since some students could never get to them. In fact, in those years, even using a CD-Rom in lieu of a textbook was considered innovative and caused problems for some students. Today, computer access has become almost a non-issue, since the overwhelming majority of students have a computer or a tablet device. Rather, the problems with the use of information technologies (in the broadest possible definition) have become twofold.

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#DHFS2015 Metadata, Mummies, and Making


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#DHFS2014 student and 2014 QUL/BISC DH Library Student Assistant & star, Tiffany Chan, made us a nice 3D printed model of the BISC at the Toronto Public Library’s Makerspace. We love it!

It has been a busy Summer Term thus far for the students and faculty in the Digital Humanities Field School at the BISC. To supplement work in IDIS221 and IDIS222, we have participated in workshops and attended guest talks with Dr. Greg Scott (Edinburgh) on spatial digital history and Dr. James Baker (British Library) on the current curatorial and research work being done in the British Library’s Digital Labs. Field Study opportunities have allowed us to think about public facing digital history through visiting the British Museum’s Ancient Lives exhibit, which uses medical technology to virtually unwrap mummies (!), and to understand the book as technology through a letterpress workshop with local printer Pea Crabtree at the Ditchling Museum.

To mark a shift in the Field School’s focus from making digital scholarly objects to engaging critically with both scholarly and popular digital culture, this past Saturday, the students and faculty of the DHFS attended a debate on the future of the World Wide Web, hosted by Sir Tim Berners-Lee as part of the #WebWeWantFest at the Southbank Centre in London. We also visited the Institute for Contemporary Art’s “Looks” exhibition, focused on the digital construction and mediation of gender identity. Check out the exhibition’s reading list for some great titles, including Janet Abbate’s Recoding Gender: Woman’s Changing Participation in Computing.

The second half of the term is looking to be just as vibrant. We will be welcoming our Visiting Fellows and guest speakers in the coming weeks: Dr. David Brown (Brock), Dr. Clare Horrocks (LJMU), Jennifer Hardwick (Queen’s), and Dr. Jill Kirby (Sussex) who will host workshops for the DHFS students. Field Studies will include visits to the Hastings Pier Project to discuss their digital archiving of popular memory, and participation in a Digital Humanities conference, hosted by the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College, London, which will feature a keynote by Professor Willard McCarty (UCL).

To celebrate the work being done this term in the Field School, the students and faculty of the DHFS will also host a THATCamp on Wednesday, 17 June, 2015. More detail can be found at: http://dhbisc2015.thatcamp.org/2015/05/27/announcing-thatcamp-2015-at-the-bader-international-study-centre/

Features of the day will include a showcase of DHFS students’ digital projects, a keynote talk from Dr. James Mussell (Leeds) about students’ participation in digital culture, and an afternoon of unconference sessions tailored to the interests and knowledge of those participating (to find out more about unconferences, check out: http://dhbisc2015.thatcamp.org/about/).

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Humanities Research as a “Digital Native”: Interview with Caroline-Isabelle Caron


Caroline-Isabelle Caron joined the History Department in 2002. As a historical anthropologist, her specialty is 19th and 20th-century Acadian and Québec cultural history. In her research, she looks at representations of the past, in the form of genealogies and commemorations, and at representations of the future, in the form of science fiction. Her work is fundamentally interested in collectivity: she seeks to get a closer glimpse at the collective “encyclopedias” of North American cultures, to access the sum of the experiences and representations possessed by a person, and more generally, by a collectivity. Her current work spans such themes as commemoration, representations of the past in television and film, and women’s creative fanfic production. We have sat down with Dr. Caron to get her thoughts on how the digital landscape is affecting her research and teaching. What follows is the first of a two-part series based on this interview. 

Your research frequently focuses on collectivity, commemoration, and cultural production. How do you understand your research to be inflected or informed by an increasingly digital cultural landscape? Are there continuities or discontinuities?

Over the course of the last 150 years, I find there have been more continuities than discontinuities in the way communities are formed. The format of community interactions may have changed, and the emergence of online communities is an important development, but a community is still basically the same as in the past: a group of people who recognize each other as being more similar than different, who share similar interests and experiences, who adhere to the same collective identity and recognize each other as doing so. One hundred and fifty years ago, communities were almost only the result of individuals living in the same place (i.e. sharing family, town, city, ethnicity, country, nation). Yet, even then, many families were just as geographically spread out as online communities are today. They kept alive their sense of togetherness through sending letters to each other. For example, a father would receive a letter from a daughter married away, share the letter with all the family members close to him and then resend the letter to another of his children married off elsewhere. This is not fundamentally different from writing an email and cc-ing it to several family members, who then forward it to others. It’s not so different, just much faster. The biggest change with geographically disjointed communities today is that contact can be quotidian and immediate with the advent of the Web, email and large-scale online communities such as Facebook and Renren. Which means, for example, that in the morning I can send virtual hugs to my friend in Singapore who had a bad day as she is getting ready for bed. Sixty years ago, I would only have written her a letter and hope it would be delivered to her within six months.

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Building Data Crosswalks: Dr. Janelle Jenstad Speaks to Queen’s Students and Researchers about how DH can Integrate and Streamline Scholarship

Researchers working in digital humanities are probably familiar with the notion that a lot of DH projects are done in teams. The nature and scope of the work involved tends to require expertise in different areas as well as considerable labour power to populate digital platforms with scholarly data. Despite this collective quality to DH work, it can often feel like digital humanities projects have to begin from scratch. Researchers bold enough to envision DH projects that involve this kind of scope of expertise and labour, and who venture forward to assemble teams and build platforms often feel like they (even with their teams) are constructing isolated tools. However useful, these projects are often conceived as discrete, self-contained works that make use of digital technologies in new (and exciting) ways for the humanities. Speaking recently at the Queen’s English Department Research Forum, Dr. Janelle Jenstad pointed to the need, and the potential, for DH projects to integrate with other platforms and projects  rather than only construct new ones. She emphasized the value of developing “data crosswalks” not only between different DH projects but between such projects and scholarship more broadly.

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Community Brainstorm: Demystifying DH Wants Your Input!

Please join us to give your input on Thursday, 2 April, in the Third Floor Lounge of the Grad Club. Let us know if you plan to come here.

Event Announcement:

Is your research related to the Humanities or the Arts? Are you practicing or interested in practicing your scholarship in the Digital Humanities (DH)? Do you have a project idea that you need technical, skills-based, or community-based support for? Are you thinking about a DH-related research project, but you are not sure what kind of support is available for you? Do you wonder if your project or idea could be a DH project?

The Demystifying Digital Humanities Initiative invites students, teaching fellows, adjunct instructors, faculty, and staff to an informal brainstorming session about DH needs on campus. Please join us on Thursday, 2 April at 2:00pm at the Grad Club to discuss resources that you’d like to see on campus, barriers you’ve experienced to your work, and resources that the Initiative can work towards providing.

The Initiative will have hosted three events this semester, and we’d like to shape the future of the Initiative around what the DH community at Queen’s needs. The Demystifying DH Initiative is a group of humanities scholars at all levels of their career. The Initiative seeks to support collaboration amongst scholars and students; provide opportunities for emerging and established Digital Humanities practitioners to showcase and build upon their knowledges; and facilitate community at Queen’s Campus, at its satellite campus at Herstmonceux Castle, and in the broader community.

The Digital Humanities (DH) is an emerging field concerned with investigating the intersections between digital culture, technology, and traditional arts and humanities disciplines. It includes using digital tools (such as visualization or textual analytics) to address humanistic questions, and applying the skills of critical analysis native to humanities disciplines to the study of contemporary digital culture, both scholarly and popular.

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Scholarly Markup Workshop at the British Library

Last week, Dr. Shannon Smith, (Director of the Digital Humanities Field School and Instructor for IDIS221) and Ms. Emily Murphy (Instructor for IDIS222) co-taught the workshop, “Scholarly Markup Languages: TEI & EAD ” to staff participants at the British Library for the British Library Digital Scholarship Training Programme.

You can find course materials for the workshop here.

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Partnering Up to Sustain Digital Humanities Projects

Last Friday, Dr. Janelle Jenstad shared with Queen’s faculty and students a model for conducting digital humanities projects that benefits projects, students, and professors, while simultaneously addressing one of the key issues faced by DH projects—sustainability. Dr. Jenstad is an associate professor at the University of Victoria and project director of the Map of Early Modern London (MoEML). The MoEML is a set of four interoperable DH projects including a digital “map-like object” and gazetteer based on the 1560s Agas woodcut map of London; an Encyclopedia of London people, places, topics, and terms; a Library of marked-up texts rich in London toponyms; and a versioned edition of John Stow’s Survey of London.

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