Student Projects in the Digital Humanities

This is a brief post, to highlight the work of my students this past term in a directed-study course in the digital humanities. Aaron Ellsworth and Will Best have each undertaken research projects, and have published a series of blog posts on their processes and their results. (Click on each name for each series.)

Aaron Ellsworth’s driving question was how visual components of the early modern emblem (“a combination of symbolic visual image and texts”) shifted through time and cultures. Drawing on the extensive data of the Emblematica Online project, he has produced a series of graphical visualizations of how symbols like “the hand of God” (see here, for example) moved from present-day France and Belgium to Germany and the Netherlands. It’s a rich investigation of the kinds of insights we can draw from visualizations of a well-curated dataset.

Will Best considers the pedagogical benefits of making digital editions of a chapter from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Specifically, he uses their affordances to argue that literary “pedagogy has a responsibility … to incorporate digital textual engagement.” Not only are all readers encountering more texts digitally, he writes, but there is something inherently complex and referential in modernist texts. His proposed solution is to offer four electronic editions: an unadorned text; an authoritative electronic edition; an edition using Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” results (among others) as glosses; and an edition with student-originating crowdsourced glosses. Each will provoke different outcomes for different readers, seeking first to understand this text and then to interpret its higher-order mearning.

Both Ellsworth and Best have produced not only original research, but also the kind of open-source scholarship that typifies the digital humanities: openly discussing their processes, their false starts and blind alleys, and their provisional results. It’s not just the “what” of scholarly insight, but also the “how-to.” The outcome is not only to convince readers of the merits of the work, but to induce you to undertake new research of your own.

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