Return to the MLA Commons
An Evolving Anthology


Kenneth M. Price and Ray Siemens

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The field of literary studies is being reshaped in the digital age. Texts have acquired a new kind of malleability, and they are often encountered in large aggregations, allowing for a scale of research far different from that in the past. At the same time, new possibilities as well as limitations for publishing are changing how, what, and to whom texts are disseminated. These changes require us to reexamine assumptions and to adopt altered research methodologies. This collection is designed to help those engaged in literary studies better understand an array of complexly interrelated topics in the shifting media and interpretive landscape. It is designed to help all of us better appreciate—and take active part in creating and working with—a variety of fresh developments: newly capacious scholarly editions, electronic libraries ranging from the small and carefully constructed to gargantuan collections compiled with less scholarly rigor, dynamic maps designed to illuminate literary and linguistic issues, and social media that can, potentially, advance scholarship even while opening our work to audiences more vast and varied than was previously feasible. The digital age is also changing the kinds of jobs that are available to our students and, thus, the kinds of education and training the academy needs to offer. The very ground is shifting underfoot; these essays help map the new terrain.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 2 The roots of digital literary studies lie in the digital humanities, an area branded during the 2009 MLA convention as “the next big thing” to appear in the humanities and in literary studies in a long time (Pannapacker, “MLA”). While the term digital humanities is still met at times with puzzlement, and although people continue to write essays and deliver talks whose aim is to define it, the basic premise of this field is that computational technology can advance the long-standing goals of the humanities (McCarty). More pointedly, digital humanities and digital literary studies are concerned with reading practices, the creation of scholarship, the representation of knowledge, and the refinement and expansion of methodologies of interpretation—all undertaken, as the names indicate, in a computer-assisted environment. As Matt Kirschenbaum notes, “digital humanities has accumulated a robust professional apparatus that is probably more rooted in English than any other departmental home” (55). Professional organizations such as the Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH) highlight the intersection of digital work and literary study. Movement toward computer-assisted methods, sometimes called the digital turn, is reshaping other organizations as well—for example, the Society for Textual Scholarship and the Modern Language Association. Digital literary studies is featured in a number of scholarly journals, including ACH’s Digital Humanities Quarterly and Digital Studies / Le champ numérique, published by the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities. Moreover, many venues and organizations provide training for new scholars: notable examples include the Digital Humanities Summer Institute, at the University of Victoria; the Digital Humanities Winter Institute, hosted by the University of Maryland’s Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH); the Nebraska Forum on Digital Humanities; the Brown University Women Writers Project’s educational outreach efforts, focused on text encoding; and so-called unconferences, such as the Humanities and Technology Camp (THATCamp), in which the topics and goals are set by the attendees. We have seen the publication of the Blackwell Companion to Digital Humanities (2004) and Companion to Digital Literary Studies (2008), two volumes directed toward those already initiated. This collection, in contrast, strives to engage both those already involved in digital literary studies and those wishing to better understand the possibilities afforded by digital work. In this introduction and the essays that follow, we offer an overview of how digital scholarship is remaking literary studies, creating new lines of inquiry, reshaping our fundamental practices, and, in doing so, laying the foundation for a future in our field where computation (use of a computer) is an assumed, rather than a notably innovative or particularly remarkable, method of literary pursuit.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Digital humanities and digital literary studies may possess a new glow, but they have a history that goes back to the late 1940s, when Roberto Busa began using a computer to index every word in the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas. He enlisted IBM in his work, and soon a familiar literary tool—the concordance—was transformed through his means of making it, with profound implications for the field of literary studies and the humanities generally. Since Busa’s historic work, there have been important developments, as the following partial list of milestones suggests:

  • 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 1
  • 1963: Roy Wisbey founds the Centre for Literary and Linguistic Computing at Cambridge University.
  • 1966–78: Various professional organizations are founded and publications developed to assist scholars interested in exploring the possibilities of using computers in the humanities: for example, Computers and the Humanities (1966), the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing (ALLC, 1973), and the Association for Computers and the Humanities (ACH, 1978).
  • 1985–87: An early and still highly visible digital humanities undertaking, the Perseus Project, was begun at Harvard University in 1985. Efforts to standardize textual markup are undertaken. This key underlying technology enables the first attempts at digital editions. The Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), still the leading international organization for systematizing and standardizing the markup of humanities texts, is founded in 1987. At the time it used the computer language SGML, which begot XML.
  • 1986–89: The Centre for Computing in the Humanities is established at the University of Toronto, holds the first joint conference of the ACH and ALLC, and publishes the Humanities Computing Yearbooks, the first work of its scale to track software and corpus development, academic publication, and other activity in the field. Text Analysis Computing Tools is a leading example of what the humanities computing community could achieve and is later published by the MLA.
  • 1992–2000: The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) is founded at the University of Virginia (1992). IATH helps develop an array of prominent digital humanities projects, including The William Blake Archive, The Rossetti Archive, The Valley of the Shadow Project, and The Walt Whitman Archive.
  • 2000–11: Digital humanities comes into wide circulation as a term, generally replacing humanities computing and other related terms (see Kirschenbaum 56–57); the digital humanities also gains recognition through the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) 2006 report on cyberinfrastructure for humanities and social sciences, a searching analysis of the new research environments that could be made possible when the highest level of computing tools are available to researchers in an interoperable network; the opening of the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities (2006); the creation of the ACLS Digital Innovation Fellowship program, designed to advance digital humanistic scholarship and broaden understanding of it (2006); the establishment of the international Alliance of Digital Humanities Organisations (2006) to coordinate international development in the field; and the creation of centerNet (2007), a coalition dedicated to developing cooperative opportunities for centers, increasing advocacy for center funding and initiatives, and creating exchange and research opportunities for scholars and students.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 In addition to these specific events, several important trends have accompanied the development of digital literary studies. The international and interdisciplinary nature of the work is seen in the journal title Literary and Linguistic Computing; in the scope of the ACLS report (Our Cultural Commonwealth); and in the funding targets for NEH start-up grants. Notably, many of these developments are not strictly confined to literary studies. Although digital literary study can be discussed as a discrete area, the practices and methodologies of digital scholarship almost invariably lead beyond the disciplinary border and into other fields in the humanities, into library and information science, and into computer science. In practice, digital scholarship regularly—though not invariably—takes place in collaboration between researchers, among researchers and students, with digital humanities centers, and with support from funding agencies. The development of digital humanities has also proceeded in concert with advances in our computational and communication devices, ranging from the Internet to smartphones.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 1 Another notable feature is the scope of work in digital literary studies, its breadth and depth. For years humanists have focused on a sliver of the human record—we have all encountered critical studies that have generalized about a whole century of fiction based on interpretations of eight to ten novels or about the poetry of an entire period based on a handful of poets. But how representative are these writers and the selected texts? What have we missed by working so intently on subsets of the totality of cultural production? Writing before the development of the Internet, Alastair Fowler distinguished between three different types of canon: potential, accessible, and selective (213–16). The potential canon, he noted, is made up of all the extant literature a person could possibly locate and read. The accessible canon, in contrast, is made up of the writings that are readily available through low-cost paperbacks, anthologies, and scholarly reprints. And the selective canon includes texts in the accessible canon deemed by experts to be especially worthy of consideration. Mass-digitization is adding to the accessible canon and reducing the difference in the scope of the potential and accessible canons. But it has not significantly altered the selective canon—with the important exception that twentieth- and twenty-first-century writings are largely removed from even the selective canon of digital texts because of copyright and permissions issues. That is, scholars would like to study these texts with various types of digital tools, to aggregate them with other materials, or to recontextualize them, but doing so is tightly restricted or prohibited altogether for most material that is still under copyright.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Digital humanities has also developed by building large collections and by analyzing these collections. The number of texts has grown exponentially from Project Gutenberg to the Million Book Project, led by Carnegie Mellon University, to Google Books. Texts have always been data, but now many more scholars are thinking in terms of data. We can and should still pursue analyses of individual texts, but we are also beginning to learn how to locate meaningful patterns in vast corpora, and these patterns encourage us to reexamine individual texts in aggregated collections. The payoffs in text analysis can be enormous. This type of criticism can lead to discovery of unnoticed textual features, help test a hunch or a critical claim, and enable studies of a magnitude that would be all but impossible to undertake without computational assistance.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The digital turn has also changed and reinvigorated a foundational element of scholarly work: textual editing. The standing of editors has been problematic for decades, in part because editorial work frequently has been dismissed as precritical. However, digital texts raise far-reaching questions about the nature of textuality, giving a new (or more apparent) theoretical significance to editorial work. Consider our current moment, when print and digital products exist not alone but in overlapping or redundant versions of one another—and each with capabilities and limitations of its own. Interestingly, for the key genres of traditional print scholarship (articles, monographs, collections of essays, and scholarly editions), we find that digital work has achieved primacy only for editions. Editions are especially well suited to the strengths of digital texts because errors can be fixed, because newly discovered material can be incorporated seamlessly and because one can include material that could not be afforded or would not be possible in print (high-quality color reproductions of manuscripts, for example, or a video recording of a writer reading from her or his work). The TEI has been vital to editing projects in the humanities, serving as a de facto international standard and promoting interoperability of texts. As editing work has flourished in a digital environment, it has led to the transformation—or at least a remarkable expansion—of the traditional scholarly edition into the more capacious form sometimes known as a digital thematic research collection (see Palmer; Price; and, in this collection, Schreibman). Combined with evolving trends in social-media engagement, this transformation has also led to the postulation of models of “social” editions that in some part take their shape from and respond to the direct input of their reading audience (see Siemens et al., “Toward Modeling” and “Understanding the Electronic Scholarly Edition”).

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 How is digital humanities changing the work we do in literary studies? One characteristic of digital humanists is that they build projects, tools, databases, games, and interpretive models and thereby bridge theory and application. Typically, those who practice digital humanities embrace collaborative scholarship, through which they can explore previously invisible connections, address problems once regarded as intractable, and pursue inquiries once too daunting to be contemplated, inquiries that were certainly beyond the scope and capacity of the individual analog scholar.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 1 This difference represents a significant departure from the past. And, in fact, much of what is exciting—and occasionally unsettling—about digital literary studies is the way it has broken away from past practices and assumptions. For example, the audience for scholarship in this mode has changed significantly. If in the past a literary scholar might reasonably hope to sell several hundred copies of a monograph, some open-access digital-literary projects now have tens of thousands of unique visitors in a single month. Interest in scholarly work can extend far beyond the few who might buy one of our monographs and in some cases can be international in scope as well as reach K–12 students and the public. The audience in digital humanities is also at times transformed from a receiver of content to a cocreator of content. The Transcribe Bentham project, for example, is exploring Web 2.0 approaches to the creation of a scholarly resource. The aim is to “engage the public in the online transcription of original and unstudied manuscript papers written by Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832)” (“About Us”).

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 1 Of course, crowdsourcing and related approaches can seem to be an assault on the “expert” standing of the literary scholar. Welcoming nontraditional audiences and believing that they can in some cases contribute importantly to scholarship—and the willingness to make that experiment—is part of the unsettling of hierarchies associated with digital work. In digital humanities we witness a refreshing spirit of sharing, exchange, and openness—and a widespread recognition that much of the creativity, flexibility, and technical talent comes from those getting started rather than the more senior people in the field. In some quarters, the acceptance of digital humanities has been delayed because much of this scholarship has appeared in venues lacking peer review. But we should not turn our back on the obligation to establish the mechanisms to evaluate some of the most innovative scholarly work of our time. Experimental work may always outpace the institutional structures for vetting it, but we should nonetheless strive to establish new systems so that work can be fairly evaluated in the academy.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 In fact, new models of reviewing are emerging that make digital humanities a laboratory for exploring new ways of conducting evaluation. When Shakespeare Quarterly experimented with open peer review, the submissions went through the usual review process and were read by at least one of the journal’s editors. Ordinarily, submissions that seemed publishable would be sent to two external evaluators. But for this experiment the selected submissions were posted online for open review. “After the open review is closed, authors of these six pieces will revise their work and resubmit it; SQ’s editorial committee will read the resubmissions, evaluate them in light of the feedback provided on this site, and make final decisions about publication based on the merit of each individual essay” (Shakespeare).

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 1 Review—instead of happening always before publication—can occur as part of publication and as an open and evolving record. To take a different example, a new journal called Archive is experimenting with having contributors respond to each other, and then it will have the board members also respond to the original authors before opening up the process so all interested users may comment. A new question arises: how long is an author responsible for responding to the responses? Open review places the responsibility of deciding how much to respond on the individual contributor. It would be possible to argue that a person should put a certain amount of effort into something and then go on to other responsibilities. But authors have a special burden because failing to respond might suggest a lack of engagement. The closed review of the past might be time-consuming and secretive, but once it was done, a boundary was set on the work. The lack of boundaries—and the capacity for ongoing online dialogue—can be both a benefit and a burden. In most cases, of course, interest will spike for confined periods of time and then will taper off. Still, this is a new model for people to absorb and adapt to. In a somewhat related development, some writers have blogged the writing and development of their books, trying their ideas out in draft and refining them through give-and-take with engaged readers. In cases like these, we see that the role of the scholar in digital humanities is often to create not only scholarship but also the accompanying infrastructure to support it. With this publication of an “evolving anthology,” we invite our users to comment on the current essays in the collection and to propose new essays needed to fill out treatment of a rapidly expanding field of study. Open peer review will have a significant role in our process of vetting new contributions.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 In addition to creating their own infrastructure, digital humanities practitioners often have had to self-fashion their own training. As Geoffrey Rockwell indicates, there is a dearth of formal training opportunities in pertinent digital methods, and even today many digital humanists gain their knowledge through hands-on experience with projects rather than through degree-granting programs. The sharing of knowledge through apprentice-type work on a project, an overall ethos of sharing in digital humanities, and a willingness to experiment so as to refashion key aspects of our professional lives has led to some stimulating thinking about how education in the field might be conducted. For example, Lisa Spiro argues: “To provide flexible opportunities for professional education, the DH community should experiment with a distributed, mostly online, open certificate program.” This argument appears on a blog post and is symptomatic of the field in that many of the most provocative statements and most cutting-edge thinking occur outside what were long considered the authorized publication venues. If the academy partly operates on a prestige economy, the judgment of what is prestigious is changing, and fairly rapidly so. Spiro suggests not a traditional masters or PhD program but instead an innovative way of attaining a professional credential aimed at opening up opportunities. Again, it is striking how digital humanities encourages or enables a rethinking of fundamental aspects of our professional lives with this effort to “re-imagine how professional education is conceived, structured and delivered” (Spiro). Such fundamental rethinking of what we do characterizes work in digital humanities.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 This collection is intended to assist all of us in literary studies in our exploration of computing’s application to the concerns of our disciplines—chiefly from the perspective of methodology and professional practice across a number of key foundational contributions. The collection cannot be comprehensive in its initial coverage, of course, because digital literary studies is multifaceted in its techniques, assumptions, and cross-disciplinary connections. We have highlighted essays that illuminate areas where digital scholarship has had the greatest impact thus far in literary studies. We have organized the collection so that the essays can be read on their own. Readers who want an overview of digital literary studies, however, will benefit from reading the essays in order, since they build on one another to some degree.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 As a whole, the collection progresses from general concepts to specific projects. Although there are a few overlapping treatments, they lead to enrichment of the discussion rather than mere repetition: for example, David Hoover’s essay explains computer-assisted textual analysis and is followed Susan Schreibman’s discussion of the foundational work of scholarly editing in a digital age. The subsequent essay by Charles Cooney, Glenn Roe, and Mark Olsen on the notion of the textbase provides examples that build on issues raised by Hoover and Schreibman. Stéfan Sinclair, Stan Ruecker, and Milena Radzikowska then treat how scholars in our field most readily understand the results of such work in visual ways, as well as others. Also highly visual, William Kretzschmar’s essay provides an illuminating overview of the uses of geospatial analysis, explaining the types of investigations it can support and the theoretical assumptions undergirding its use. Tanya Clement’s contribution is a case study of two projects that make use of various approaches and technologies, including digital scholarly editing, textual analysis, textbases, and visualization.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 First and foremost among the many complementary and recurrent themes in the essays in this collection are, perhaps, those relating to collaboration. Long thought to be unusual in literary studies, collaboration is a standard and vital practice in digital humanities. Much of the work described in the essays that follow could not have been achieved without a range of alliances that is new to literary studies. Some of these alliances are especially striking—for example, collaborations among undergraduate and graduate students that bring them into the research process in substantive ways and partnerships among archivists, designers, programmers, database designers, and many others. Digital literary studies is characterized not by the guardedness so often seen in the academy but by a culture of sharing and exchange. We are witnessing a new social organization of literary studies and a new type of literary scholar with more tools at hand, a greater capacity to reach and interact with larger audiences (including nonacademic ones), and more employment possibilities within both traditional academic departments and in so-called alt-ac jobs (Pannapacker, “No DH”). The cooperative spirit, risk taking, and sheer energy seen in current work suggest that digital literary scholarship has a strong future ahead.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 If there is a single essay that should be read by all readers, we believe it is Alan Liu’s highly engaging overview of the field. Liu’s essay, a brilliant consideration of the development of reading from Web 1.0 through what he dubs Web 1.5 and on to Web 2.0, reconsiders core aspects of literary activity from writing and publishing to reading and interpreting and in doing so reminds us that what is at stake with digital technologies is not primarily technological. Instead, we are concerned with the living thought and language of our time: aspiration, love, desire, anguish, resolve, anger—all these and more are often manifested in Web 2.0 environments.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 The methodological building blocks for such consideration and investigation are found in the initial materials of this collection. Further, with the ongoing support of the MLA, we are pleased to consider building on this foundation over time, adding to its breadth and depth of address in response to our field’s engagement with the digital. Please visit the group DLS Anthology. Although the editors will periodically announce calls for papers and provide additional submission instructions, you need not wait for such calls. At any time, you may join the group, upload your draft, and invite the community to comment. (While you’re there, you might contribute to discussions about other submissions.) The draft will become part of the collection’s expanding archive: feel free to amend it and write back to your commenters at any time. Essays deemed to be of especially high quality and of interest to a sufficient number of people will be chosen for inclusion in subsequent evolutions of Literary Studies in the Digital Age; with the author’s permission, a selected essay will be copyedited and added to the collection. (Authors are free to submit their essays elsewhere for publication at any time, but please be advised that the draft uploaded to MLA Commons will remain part of the collection’s public archive.)

Works Cited

“About Us.” Transcribe Bentham: A Participatory Initiative. University College, London, 1999–2009. Web. 1 May 2011. <http://www.ucl.ac.uk/transcribe-bentham/about/>.

Fowler, Alastair. Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1982. Print.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” ADE Bulletin 150 (2010): 55–61. Web. 21 Dec. 2012.

McCarty, Willard. Humanities Computing. New York: Palgrave, 2005. Print.

Our Cultural Commonwealth: The Report of the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences. ACLS, 2006. Web. 5 Nov. 2012.

Palmer, Carole L. “Thematic Research Collections.” A Companion to Digital Humanities. Ed. Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004. 348–65. Print.

Pannapacker, William. “The MLA and the Digital Humanities.” Chronicle of Higher Education. Chronicle of Higher Educ., 28 Dec. 2009. Web. 3 May 2011. <http://chronicle.com/blogPost/The-MLAthe-Digital/19468/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en>.

———. “No DH, No Interview.” Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle of Higher Educ., 22 July 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2012.

Price, Kenneth M. “Edition, Project, Database, Archive, Thematic Research Collection: What’s in a Name?” Digital Humanities Quarterly 3.3 (2009): n. pag. Web. 1 May 2011. <http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/3/3/000053/000053.html>.

Rockwell, Geoffrey. “Inclusion in the Digital Humanities.” GeoffreyRockwell.com. N. pub., 7 Sept. 2011. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. <http://www.philosophi.ca/pmwiki.php/Main/InclusionInTheDigitalHumanities>.

Shakespeare and Performance. Shakespeare Quarterly, 2012.Web. 1 May 2011. <http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/mcpress/shakespearequarterlyperformance/>.

Siemens, Ray, Meagan Timney, Cara Leitch, Corina Koolen, and Alex Garnett, with the ETCL, INKE, and PKP Research Groups. “Toward Modeling the Social Edition: An Approach to Understanding the Electronic Scholarly Edition in the Context of New and Emerging Social Media.” Literary and Linguistic Computing 27.4 (2012): 445–61. Web. 12 July 2012. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqs013>.

———. “Understanding the Electronic Edition in the Context of New and Emerging Social Media: Selected, Annotated Bibliographies.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 6.1 (2012): n. pag. Web. 12 July 2012. <http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/6/1/000111/000111.html>.

Spiro, Lisa. “Opening Up Digital Humanities Education.” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities. Spiro, 8 Sept. 2010. Web. 3 May 2011. <http://digitalscholarship.wordpress.com/2010/09/08/opening-up-digital-humanities-education/>.

Page 2

Source: https://~^(?[\\w-]+\\.)?(?[\\w-]+)\\.hcommons\\.org$/introduction/