Poetical Scavenger, digital humanities project on 18th century poetry

Poetical Scavenger, 18th poetry online

After years of managing digital humanities projects for organizations, this past fall, I had the opportunity to contribute to a digital humanities project as a student.

In a graduate seminar on Eighteenth-Century Poetry at San Francisco State University, Professor Bill Christmas assigned us the task of finding an obscure, forgotten poem from the time period and annotating it. We were to consult a digital or print archive to identify a poem—one not readily available in teaching anthologies—worthy of discussion in seminar.

In the process, my fellow graduate students and I modernized the long s’s (which look like f’s, which was in the 1700s the standard way of writing non-terminal s’s) and to correct any printing errors, but otherwise to stick to period spelling. When in doubt about whether something is an error or a period-spelling, we were to err on the side of preserving the text as is, and note our thinking in an annotation. The idea was for our transcriptions to match as closely as possible the original text. In other words, to be as reliable as an anthology of poetry of the period.

Annotation, we learned, is more art than science. We were to note historical references, names, or allusions that require explanation. And explanations were to be as simple as possible.

Note that, up to this point, everything I have described could be completed using word processing software and a printer. In fact, Christmas explained that he had previously assigned annotations in just that way.

But after attending a digital humanities panel at a conference, he was inspired to develop a new project for his classes. The annotation assignment was a natural choice. By setting up a simple WordPress website, the annotation assignment moves from paper filed away in a cabinet at the end of the semester to a growing body of under-recognized poetry. Since miscellanies (1) were so popular during the 18th century, Christmas thinks of Poetical Scavenger as a “digital miscellany.”

The Poetical Scavenger resurrects forgotten poems and gives them new life beyond the limited number of students who will ever take a small graduate seminar at San Francisco State. The digital miscellany can be a resource for other classes Christmas teaches as well as a resource for students outside SFSU.

Bell_s_Classical_Arrangement_of_Fugitive_Poetry_Vol_VIII_pdf__page_1_of_180_I used Gale’s Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) to find the poem I contributed to the annotation project. I discovered Richard Jago’s “The Blackbirds” by accident. In the results of a search for another term all together, I stumbled upon John Bell’s classical arrangement of fugitive poetry. The reference to “fugitive poetry” intrigued me, especially because of the 20th century Southern American poets who called themselves The Fugitives. I browsed the book, and when I came across the title “The Blackbirds,” I could not help but think of Wallace Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” I read Jago’s poem out of curiosity more than anything.

Jago personifies the blackbirds with the rituals of courtship, marriage, and sacrifice. Attributing to the birds these human characteristics creates in the reader a sense of empathy and identification with members of another species. The poem can be read as an argument for animal rights, an ecological sensitivity, as well as a lyric depiction of tragic love.

I appreciated the assignment. It called upon different sets of skills: one part detective work, one part editorial, and one part hypertext. After having worked for more than ten years in the field, it was refreshing to be on the student end of a digital humanities project.

Sacramento 1874

By adding an historical map as an image overlay in Google Earth, you can get a sense of how a city has changed over time. This video is made from a series of screenshots of Google Earth with the historical map overlay at various levels of transparency and zoom. I was interested in seeing how the historic district (commonly called Old Sacramento) has changed over time. In particular, I wanted to know where the notorious Sutter Lake used to be. By aligning the historic map to the contemporary street grid, you can see not only the previous location of Sutter Lake, but also the American River’s former channel and riverbed.

Source: Map of the City of Sacramento, the Capital of California. By J.R. Ray, City Surveyor, 1873. David Rumsey Map Collection.

Marchand Archive: dig into the digital humanities

In February, The History Project at UC Davis launched the expanded and improved Marchand Archive: a growing digital collection of images and lesson plans, freely available via the Internet to teachers, students, researchers, and professors alike. The Marchand Archive comprises two collections, an Image collection and a Documentary Source Problems collection.

The Image collection is a repository of more than 8600 images – from maps to paintings to codices – contributed by faculty members of the UC Davis History Department and curated by The History Project staff. Andrés Reséndez, Alan Taylor, Cynthia Brantley, Joan Cadden, Louis Warren, and Karen Halttunen (who is now at USC) have added their teaching images to the original slides donated posthumously by the family of Roland Marchand.

The Documentary Source Problems collection is a catalogue of lessons that require students to apply analytical skills to a set of primary sources from which they can deduce and explain events from the past.

Named for Roland Marchand-an internationally acclaimed scholar, member of the UC Davis History Department’s faculty, and one of the co-founders of The History Project at UC Davis-the Archive builds on Marchand’s legacy as a devoted teacher and innovative scholar. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The History Project at UC Davis has expanded the Marchand Archive from its modest origins to the robust database it is today.

“The Marchand Archive is invaluable to teachers,” says Brian Riley, a teacher at Vacaville High School. “The breadth and quality makes any stop here worthwhile. Whether I am developing a lesson or simply looking for an example, the Marchand Archive is the first place I start. I have bookmarked this site and it is my most frequently used bookmark.”

The Marchand Archive exemplifies what Matthew Kirschenbaum, Associate Director at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, describes as central features of digital humanities projects. The Archive focuses the user’s attention on digitized (and digital) objects of material culture. It encourages scholarly and pedagogical practices aimed at producing and disseminating knowledge “freely to an audience apart from or parallel with more traditional structures of academic publishing.” Finally, the open-source information architecture and the collaborative working model that produced the Marchand Archive embody the perspective and the practice of the digital humanities.

I think the Marchand Archive is interesting because it offers insight into the historians’ thinking, particularly in the case of Roland.

By looking at the topics and the images associated with them you can see how he helped his students think about history.

Teachers also benefit from Sherrill Futrell and Camille Leonhardt’s work adapting the documentary source problems Roland used with his university students for high school and middle school.

– Letty Kraus
The History Project

As a digital humanities project, it reaches across disciplinary and academic boundaries to produce a trove of material that bears multiple descriptions. To school teachers, the Marchand Archive is a resource for images and lesson plans aligned with California teaching standards. To researchers and graduate students, it is a collection of raw material to make sense of. IT professionals see a database, employing PHP scripting to create dynamic data sets of image files and metadata. To the volunteers, teacher leaders, and professional development mentors who have nurtured the Archive since its nascence and through multiple iterations, the Marchand Archive is a path to share what is best about academia with a broader public audience.

The History Project invites you to visit (or revisit) the Marchand Archive, and browse or search for something that will be useful to your teaching, research, or writing.

While you are there, consider filling out our survey; your responses help us improve the site, enhancing its utility and its reach.

Visit the Marchand Archive

Marchand Archive Survey

Please fill out a survey on the Marchand Archive. Your feedback helps us improve our growing digital collection of images and lesson plans. As noted in the article above, the “Marchand Archive” refers to our Image Collection and Documentary Source Problem Collection, two browsable and searchable collections of teaching resources freely available to teachers.

Click here to complete the survey

This article originally appeared in The Source, the newsletter of the California History – Social Science Project. Download the Spring/Summer 2011 edition, dedicated to Teaching History in the Digital Age.

no DHBC edition

Yesterday, a new edition of the Digital Humanities Blog Carnival was scheduled to appear. And yesterday came and went without any new edition.


We received 0 submissions.

If you would like to see the DHBC continue, please send submissions here. They are accepted at any time, and can be published in the next scheduled edition.

In the meantime, check out MIT’s Simile Project for a look at some of the new (and beta) data-digging tools that might be useful to humanities scholars.

Digital Humanities Blog Carnival, Presidents Day edition

Welcome back to the Digital Humanities Blog Carnival. This entry comprises the second edition, the February 2011 edition. Today is Presidents Day in the United States, which means that those of us employed by state institutions of higher learning have extra time to read through the inspiring posts below. As I proposed last time, I have broken the posts into five categories: Criticism, Projects, Tools, Funding, and Calls for Support. And, just the same as last time, the blogosphere was rife with dangerous ideas and tradition-challenging practices — not surprising for “a culture that values collaboration, openness, nonhierarchical relations, and agility” as Matthew Kirschenbaum (@mkirschenbaum) describes the digital humanities in a pre-released article, penned for the Association of Departments of English and the MLA.

Please enjoy this month’s edition of the Carnival, and consider submitting something to the next edition here.


In a post titled On Reading Like a Hawk, Matthew Gold (@mkgold) implies that Ralph Waldo Emerson might have been a digital humanist had he transcended on/in this earth a little later in time.

Jennifer Vinopal (@jvinopal) at Library Sphere reviews a panel discussion entitled Why Digital Humanities?

Nate Kreuter (@lawnsports) has a review of THATCamp VA’s “pure brainstorming & intellectual cross-pollination” at THATCampVA ’10: Postscript, and Fade into THATCampSE ’11

In Models for the Future Humanities, Whitney Trettien (@whitneytrettien) shares reflections on her experience walking through the MIT HyperStudio’s lab (and the various labs she passed on her way there), wondering how the art studio or scientists’ laboratory (or some combination of both) can serve as a model for digital humanities labs.


Resource Shelf covers an announcement entitled Digitization Projects: Technology Reunites One of World’s Largest Korans (With Images of the Digitization Process)

Erin Corley shares a post on the Archives of American Art (@ArchivesAmerArt) blog titled Artists of the Harlem Renaissance, which highlights fully digitized collections documenting African American art and artists of the 20th century. The post includes links to works by artists such as Palmer C. Hayden, William H. Johnson and Prentiss Taylor among others. Don’t miss the Jacob Lawrence Migration Series, which I was humbled to see in a traveling exhibit at Golden Belt studios in Durham, NC in 2008.

Ben Brumfield (@benwbrum) offers this reflection on the previous year — 2010: The Year of Crowdsourcing Transcription. The post highlights TranscribeBentham as well as other fascinating collaborative transcription projects.


Aditi Muralidharan (@silverasm), a fellow alum from THATCamp Bay Area, has an update on her WordSeer project, at Digital Humanities and the Future of Search.

Christopher P. Long (@cplong) of The Long Road, shares an engaging example of what digitally immersed humanities scholarship looks like on a daily basis in his post Evolving Digital Research Ecosystem.

Once again, Google has been caught red-handed stirring things up in the world of the digital humanities. Releasing a “street view” version that tours the interior spaces of some of the worlds most famous art museums, Google is challenging art historians to consider the benefits of virtual art viewing. Kyle Chayka (@chaykak) of Hyperallergic has a review at 5 Ways Google’s Art Project Bests Other Virtual Art Viewers.


Once again, funding is not only scarce, announcements re: funding are in yet shorter supply.

Calls for support

Sarah Werner (@wynkenhimself) of Wynken de Worde proposes a new panel for the 2012 MLA conference: Old Books and New Tools

Without having announced a special topic or theme ahead of time, I am reluctant to call this edition the ebook/ereader edition, so consider the following items a bonus:

The next Carnival will be hosted by Jennifer Guiliano at the Center for Digital Humanities, University of South Carolina. Submissions for the Carnival will be received here.

Finally, if anyone is interested in hosting an edition of the DHBC, please send me an email or DM on Twitter. We need hosts beginning in July.

Thank you all, and I look forward to seeing what exciting projects and thoughts you all share in the coming months.
Digital Humanities Blog Carnival, Presidents Day edition