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 We were to note historical references, names, or allusions that require explanation.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

Video Cartography Durham

So instead of a small number of really impressive “monuments” such as those that survive from the disdained historical past, our century will leave, across the planet, a sprinkling of almost identical structures. It is, in a way, one vast global conceptual monument, whose parts and pieces are spread across the world’s cities and suburbs. One city, in many locations.

— David Byrne Bicycle Diaries

Video Cartography Durham is a video-based project that digitizes and preserves vintage film relating to the history of Durham, North Carolina, USA, and presents the archival footage alongside contemporary video. By organizing footage geographically and layering footage chronologically, this project makes it possible for viewers to quickly gain a sense of the history and change of Durham’s urban landscape.

Durham has a culturally rich history, beginning with its role as an early hub of the post-Civil War tobacco industry. There later developed an adjacent (eventually annexed) locale that, according to W.E.B. Du Bois, was a pertinent example of a separate and thriving residential and business community led entirely by African-Americans — the Hayti community.  Hayti’s fame and financial success led its entrepreneurs to establish some of the first national African-American-owned insurance and banking institutions. As a result, Parrish Street in downtown Durham was known for a time as Black Wall Street, prompting Booker T. Washington in 1910 to dub Durham the “City of Negro Enterprises.”

Much of this history has been lost to Urban Renewal, arson, and subsequent neglect of historic properties. Video Cartography Durham, a video-based multi-media project combining the features of an online archive and a documentary film, comprises 6 minutes and 20 seconds of point-of-view and aerial film and video of downtown Durham, North Carolina. The video is composed of scenes from 1942, 1947, 2007, and 2008. Through the repeated capturing (on film and in byte) of locations through time, we are able to navigate a changing landscape in urban Durham.

An earlier version of the film was exhibited at the Golden Belt Artist Studios for the months of September and October 2008 as part of the Triangle Cartography Convergence.  Based on the success of its exhibition, Video Cartography Durham also screened for Duke University’s History Department in March 2009.

Footage used in the video was sourced from Chapel Hill, North Carolina resident Ronald Bryant (1947 footage from 16mm film), the North Carolina State Archives (1942 aerial footage by H. Lee Waters [MPF86]), Google Maps, and Google Earth. Contemporary video footage was shot with a Sony DCR-HC28 purchased with funding provided by a grant from the Triangle Community Foundation. All video was compiled and edited in Final Cut Pro.

Genuine vital integrity does not consist in satisfaction, in attainment, in arrival. As Cervantes said long since, “The road is always better than the inn.” The very name is a disturbing one; this time calls itself “modern,” that is to say, final, definitive, in whose presence all the rest is mere preterite, humble preparation and aspiration towards this present. That faith in modern culture was a gloomy one. It meant that to-morrow was to be in all essentials similar to to-day, that progress consisted merely in advancing, for all time to be, along a road identical to the one already under our feet. Such a road is rather a kind of elastic prison which stretches on without ever setting us free.

Nowadays we no longer know what is going to happen to-morrow in our world, and this causes us a secret joy; because that very impossibility of foresight, that horizon ever open to all contingencies, constitute authentic life, the true fullness of our existence.

— José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses

OCR in Google Docs makes transcription simple

The other night, while running an online seminar in professional development for teachers of US history, I had a request for the text of the Nebraska folk song with which historian Louis Warren concluded his presentation, “Settling with Debt: Western Development in the Railroad Era.” All Louis had with him was a hard copy of the song’s lyrics, which were printed at the bottom of his last page of notes. He was happy to share the text, but he understandably did not want to let go of his notes. So, I snapped a photo with with my phone, focusing on the bottom portion of the page.

This morning, I opened the original image in Picasa for some simple tweaks. First, I cropped out all irrelevant, surrounding text, and then brightened the image and heightened the contrast. The result is a more white background and darker, clearer text.

Next, I uploaded the image to Google Docs. I had read that Google Docs now supports OCR (optical character recognition), and this was my first opportunity to test it. When you upload an image and want Google to attempt OCR, be sure to check the box to convert text in images and PDFs to documents (see below).

Google Docs OCR

The result, as you can see in the image below, is an image in the top portion of the page and editable text in the bottom portion.

OCR makes editing simple - Nebraska folk song

Toward the bottom of my photograph, the image bends a little. I’m not sure if this is an effect of the wide-angle lens on my phone or perhaps I did not lay the sheet of paper down flat on a table. Nonetheless, the angled lines of the image cause the OCR process not to accurately recognize the points at which one line ends and another begins.

OCR makes editing simple - Nebraska folk song

I went back to the image in Picasa, straightened it, then uploaded it once again to Google Docs. The straightened image produced better results.

To finish it up, all I needed to do was clean up some odd spacing in the text (see image below).

While this folk song presents a simple set of text, an amount that surely would not have been a burden to retype, this sample demonstrated to me the value of an accurate OCR process. I’m happy to have this tool in my belt when I need to take on a larger, longer transcription project.

OCR makes editing simple - Nebraska folk song

Hurrah for Lane County, the land of the free,
The home of the grasshopper, bedbug and flea,
I’ll holler its praises, and sing of its fame,
While starving to death on a government claim.

My clothes are all ragged, my language is rough,
My bread is case-hardened, both solid and tough,
The dough is scattered all over the room,
And the floor would get scared at the sight of a broom

How happy I am on my government claim,
I’ve nothing to lose, I’ve nothing to gain
I’ve nothing to eat and I’ve nothing to wear,
And nothing from nothing is honest and fair.

– traditional folk song, Nebraska

Philosophers interviewed on radio show

Long before Philosophy Talk hit the Internet, even before the popular WHHY radio talk program Fresh Air with Terry Gross hit the airwaves, there was Soundings. Soundings was a popular weekly radio talk show, produced from 1980 to 1997. Recorded and produced at the National Humanities Center, Soundings host Wayne Pond interviewed many of the Center’s fellows as well as a bevy of politicians, artists, and writers who passed through the Center’s doors during the show’s 17-year run. While production closed down just before the advent of the multi-media Internet, the evergreen content of the discussions is the sort of thing that is perfect for digital archiving.

With a varied guest list that includes such luminaries as Toni Morrison and Eudora Welty as well as hundreds of scholars who are not household names, the Soundings episodes are a collective document of American intellectual life in the latter part of the 20th century. I had the honor of working on the team that undertook digitally preserving the Soundings archive — transferring recordings from vinyl and tape to digital format — while I worked at the National Humanities Center. And in the course of sifting through the 862 episodes and thousands of interviewees, I was most excited to find an interview with Gregory Vlastos. If you don’t know him, Vlastos is the man largely responsible for renewal in interest in ancient Greek philosophy because of his application of analytic techniques to the dialogues of Plato. Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher is one of the best books written on Socrates, Plato, and the problems introduced by the literary nature of our existing record of Socrates’ contributions to the field of philosophy. In a 1981 interview, you can listen to Vlastos discussing the life of Socrates (see below).

There are many more radio interviews with professional philosophers hosted by The Soundings Project, the website re-broadcasting the recordings via streaming or downloadable mp3s. Browse the list of episodes tagged Philosophy, most of which include interviews with professional philosophers who spent some time at the National Humanities Center between 1980 and 1997 and agreed to be interviewed by Wayne Pond, and enjoy the philosophical debate or discussion brought back to the public.

“Vlastos: Socrates in his Time” March 8, 1981

Digital Humanities Blog Carnival

The field of the digital humanities has grown significantly over the last decade, and now there is no end of projects to support, ways of thinking to share, and funding opportunities to highlight. The Digital Humanities Blog Carnival is a forum for showing, discussing, and developing some of the best work in this field.

To submit a blog post on something related to the digital humanities, scroll to the Submissions Form below or click here.

Volume 1, Issue 1: January 17, 2011
Volume 1, Issue 2: February 21, 2011

Future Carnivals

  • March 21st will be hosted by Jennifer Guiliano at the Center for Digital Humanities, University of South Carolina no submissions received
  • April 18th will be hosted by Lisa Spiro at the Digital Media Center, Rice University no submissions received
  • May 23rd will be hosted by HASTAC
  • June 20th will be hosted by Center for Digital Humanities (Serbia)

For ideas, consider submitting a blog post in one of the following four categories.

  • projects – highlight, critique, or announce news about a new or ongoing digital humanities project
  • criticism – critical pieces about or general reflections on the digital humanities generally
  • calls for support – invite others to help with a new or ongoing project
  • funding opportunities – announce or share news about funding opportunities for digital humanities projects
  • tools – highlight, demonstrate, or critique tools available to scholars for analysis

or if you have something to say about the digital humanities that does not fall into any of these categories, feel free to create your own.

As far as I know, this is the first blog carnival related to the digital humanities, and I put it together only after searching unsuccessfully for where someone else may have already started it. If indeed there is already a blog carnival for the digital humanities, please let me know. If not, then I propose we move forward from here. I am offering to host the first two — in January and February 2011 — to get the Carnival started. I can continue to host the carnival if necessary, but my hope is that many of the other wonderful bloggers out there with interest in the digital humanities will step up and offer to host at least one. I see no reason why the Digital Humanities Blog Carnival can not be hosted by a different blog each month, once we are up and running.

What is a blog carnival?
Blog carnival’s are best understood when you see good examples, but the blogcarnival.com website has a good description

blog carnivals are a great way for bloggers to recognize each other’s efforts, organize blog posts around important topics, and improve the overall level of conversation in the blogosphere. Carnivals come in edited “editions”, just like magazines or journals. The fact that carnivals are edited (and usually annotated) collections of links lets them serve as “magazines” within the blogosphere, and carnival hosts can earn their readership by providing high quality collections.

Why would serious academics contribute to something called a carnival?
Academic bloggers have several blog carnivals. For example, the Teaching Carnival was recently hosted by the Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker blog, the Military History Carnival is regularly hosted at the Edge of the American West, and the Philosopher’s Carnival is in good steady rotation among a number of blogs devoted to academic philosophy.

What’s the point of a Digital Humanities blog carnival?
My hope with the DHBC is two-fold:

  1. By gathering together on a monthly basis digestible pieces of life in the digital humanities, we will raise awareness generally for the field – educating professors, students, and the public about the digital humanities. There is already a wonderful private conversation for people interested in the digital humanities — The Humanist listserve. And there are numerous websites and blogs dedicated to digital humanities projects, each with a different audience. A blog carnival is another way to help to cross pollinate audiences and ideas.
  2. Through the discussions that inevitably will follow, I hope that the DHBC will collectively contribute to the ongoing practice of defining just what is the digital humanities.

Digital Humanities Blog Carnival Submissions Form

Please note: this is the official (and only) submissions page for the Digital Humanities Blog Carnival. The form at the BlogCarnival.com site generated too much spam, and submissions sent from its site will be ignored.