MESA launches!

The Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture (IDHMC) and Advanced Research Consortium (ARC) at Texas A&M University are very excited to announce the launch of the Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance (MESA).

MESA, a federated community of scholars, projects, institutions, and organizations, is engaged in digital scholarship within the field of medieval studies. MESA seeks to provide a community for those engaged in digital medieval studies and to meet emerging needs of this community, including making recommendations on technological and scholarly standards to electronic scholarship, the aggregation of data, and the ability to discover and repurpose this data.

MESA can be found online at, and like her sister sites, NINES and 18thConnect, users may use the Advanced Search and browse aggregated objects from 17 participating archives, or create an account, add tags, start a discussion or group, or begin an exhibit using the Collex exhibit builder technology.

The ARC and IDHMC teams are happy to see MESA come to fruition, as we hosted the first MESA planning meeting here at TAMU, and we’ve followed the success of MESA’s funding requests closely. ARC welcomes her newest sister node to our research community, and congratulates them on their successful launch, with dozens of user accounts created since MESA went live yesterday.

The ARC office at TAMU will now be looking towards the future, focusing our efforts on sustainability and software development, as well as data hosting and aggregation, and we will be seeking a post-doctoral fellow (ad coming soon) and graduate research assistant to assist in these tasks. We will also be looking towards the launch of two new nodes, the Renaissance English Knowledgebase (REKn) and Modernist Networks (ModNets). More on REKn can be found here, and a launch date is soon to be announced. Modernist Networks has received an NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant to support a workshop in the fall for “the development of a standardized metadata schema and vocabulary” for “digital projects in modernist studies.”

Make sure to head over to MESA, and click “Create an Account” soon! Account creation is quick and painless, and then users can begin discovering, repurposing, and interacting with multiple medieval projects in a single research environment. Where else could I search for Austrian royalty, examine results from four different archives, and wind up researching digital objects related to the Order of the Golden Fleece? I wish you all similar successful and fun discoveries!


Job Posting: IDHMC Graduate Research Position!

Graduate Research Assistantship

Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture (IDHMC)

The Advanced Research Consortium (ARC), housed in the Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture (IDHMC), seeks to hire a Graduate Research Assistant for Fall 2013 and Spring 2014. This will be a 9-month appointment, and the GAR will report to the ARC director, Dr. Laura Mandell, while also coordinating with ARC staff at Texas A&M University, the University of Virginia, and North Carolina State University.

Research will focus on scholarly communication, academic peer review of digital projects, and working directly with large humanities datasets. ARC is a hub of digital research nodes, accessed through the web, that contain resources spanning the bulk of existing Western documents, from medieval times to the early 20th-century. Each ARC node contains data about historical documents, scanned page images (with text transcriptions), scholarly research, and open-source teaching and research tools (Juxta, TypeWright).

The GAR for ARC will aid in the coordination of these resources by aiding future development of nodes and conducting outreach in the scholarly community. The GAR will aid in the aggregation of digital projects for ARC, including but not limited to contributing TAMU faculty projects. The GAR will research, present, and perform cutting-edge research in the digital humanities. The GAR will research and practice metadata standards for digital humanities projects. The GAR will participate in the effort to build a pipeline from the ARC data repository to the Humanities Visualization Space (launch date: Fall 2013). The GAR will research and present on the inclusion of ARC data sets and tools in the classroom environment.

This is graduate research position as defined by the University, and GARs will be required to work an average of 20 hours per week. Tuition waivers will not be provided for Master’s students, per CLA policy, and potential tuition waivers for PhD students will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

No prior programming skills are necessary, but the GAR will be required to submit an article to a peer-reviewed digital humanities journal concerning his or her work on ARC by the end of the assistantship.  Dr. Mandell and the staff here will help the GAR accomplish this task.


Please send a cover letter and CV to Dr. Laura Mandell and Dr. Maura Ives at by Monday, July 22, 2013.

Click here to see the official job ad.

IDHMC Undergraduate internships

The IDHMC offers unpaid undergraduate internships for students in Communication, Computer Science, English, Education, History, Hispanic Studies, Modern Languages, Visualization, and other fields relevant to the research projects we support.  Interns work up to ten hours a week on innovative research projects in a variety of disciplines and receive technical training in a number of digital tools.  More details available at

or contact Maura Ives,  IDHMC Associate Director (idhmc at tamu dot edu).  The application deadlines are June 24 (for Summer II) and August 16 (for Fall 2013).

ARC at North Carolina State University

This October, directors and project managers from the nodes of the Advanced Research Consortium (ARC) met in Raleigh, North Carolina to discuss the expansion, implementation, and sustainability of ARC as a digital infrastructure for the future of humanities scholarship. Representatives from ARC, including the IDHMC’s own director Laura Mandell, Nineteenth-Century Scholarship Online (NINES), 18thConnect, the Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance (MESA), the Renaissance English Knowledge Base (REKn), and Modernist Networks (ModNets) were in attendance.

The last day of the meeting, scholars and independent software developers from the research triangle travelled to North Carolina State University for DH Day. A storify of the days events and discussions can be found here (and thank you to NCState’s Barry Peddycord). The NCSU libraries and scholarly community also graciously video archived the days events, and those videos can be found below.

Thank you to NCSU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Tim Stinson, and Rachel Hodder for bringing us all to North Carolina State University, and thank you to all the ARC nodes for making these productive discussions possible.


DH Day Panel on “Evaluating Digital Scholarship” [part 1]  [part 2]

Mandell, Laura. “The End of the (Print) Humanities: Retooling the Academy.” [Part 1]  [Part 2]

For more information about DH Day, see the official page.


The Early Modernist’s DH

And now – introducing our guest blogger, Dr. Jacob Heil, post-doctoral researcher for the IDHMC and our eMOP book history guru. Welcome to the IDHMC blog, Dr. Heil!

In my capacity as a co-convener of the Early Modern Studies Working Group here at Texas A&M, I recently had the opportunity to introduce Laura Mandell and her talk about the Early Modern OCR Project (eMOP) and its importance to the preservation of our shared cultural heritage. Dr. Mandell is also my new boss, as I’ve been hired as the Postdoctoral Research Associate to work with Todd Samuelson of Cushing Library to build a font database for use in the project. I am an early modernist and a textual materialist–a subject specialist–working in the digital humanities, and I’ve worked closely with Laura and others in the IDHMC over the course of the last year in the lead-up to beginning work on eMOP this week. As a result, I have been thinking a great deal about my relationship to the digital humanities (an exercise only exacerbated by my attention to the academic job market)1.

Taking advantage of my role as the opening act, I decided to talk a little about how I have come to frame the digital humanities and how I think that subject specialists–early modernists in particular–might create a digital footprint with their work or incorporate digital scholarship into their pedagogy. I created a very brief Prezi to go along with my very brief talk, the basic of structure of which (1) begins by touching on the big, definitional ideas of DH before (2) illustrating a distillation of these ideas down to a set of questions that allow me to frame the potential role of DH in my own work.  The examples of how early modernists might think about digital projects segues to (3) a not-close-to-adequate set of resources that we can use in our work and, importantly, easily incorporate into our assignments. In the final frames I move toward (4) Dr. Mandell’s introduction proper. Because the Prezi lacks a voiceover, I’d like to use this space to, in some cases, elaborate on the points I made during the introduction and–much more practically–fill in the blanks of the mute Prezi frames.

(1) Reflexive Introspection

"oh no, how did I get in this nutshell"

| figure one

At this moment there is ample conversation about what a definition of Digital Humanities might look like, ranging from the data-driven to the individualized.2  What is the precise relationship to what used to be known as “humanities computing?” Does a DHer need to know how to code? What kinds of projects are DH enough? Is it a method? A discipline? These kinds of questions make a certain kind of sense as digital humanities grows.

The thing that I find most appealing about DH is that there is equal conversation about the inadequate assumptions endemic to these kinds of questions. Confronting these the growing pains raises new questions: Who gets left out? Just how big is the tent? Indeed, I find in the conversations about DH a tendency toward a kind of reflexive introspection: a self-analysis and critical engagement with the relationship to (big-H) Humanities that is in itself a raison d’etre. It’s often said that digital humanities is about process rather than product, a fact that’s reflected in this reflexive introspection: it’s not so much the answer as it is the incessant questioning of institutionalizing forces.

It is this kind of questioning that creates a space for folks like me: the subject specialist who works with the digital tools and the digital presentation of scholarship. To my mind, I’m not “in” or “out” of DH; I’m just doing my work.

(2) Seeing Differently

There are, however, some things that are characteristic of digital humanities. I have mentioned the privileging of process over product;  to this we should add an ethos of  collaboration and a dedication to open-access.  These might fall under a rubric of ideals, but they work together to give me a way of seeing the work that I do differently; perhaps more precisely, DH has provided me with an other, alternative way of looking. This is epitomized for me in Franco Moretti’s notion of distant reading or Martin Mueller’s “scalable reading.”3 I have started to see my reading and research as data collection, and I want to find ways to process and present that data so that it can help me re-read texts and books–I am, in part, a book historian–with a different kind of closeness.

...for me.

| figure two

The different means of exploration afforded by DH also require us to open our pedagogical approaches. In figure two, I’ve borrowed the “humanities lab report” from Paul Fyfe’s assignment, “How to Not Read a Victorian Novel.”4 I rather love the idea not least because it asks students to interrogate and reflect on their processes. By the time students arrive in my classroom (most recently, in upper-level courses here at A&M) they have internalized a version of the expectations for the English literature paper, and I am happy to disrupt these expectations and to challenge them to engage their writing. Paul’s assignment does this by foregrounding experimentation.

Along with experimentation comes the possibility that we might sometimes be wrong. There’s something to be said for valuing the art of failure. This has been a topic of discussion recently in part, I think, because of the shift toward process-oriented projects. In addition to thinking about what our students might learn from failure–or what we might learn from failing in our own hypotheses–it’s not hard to see the value in sharing examinations of our own pedagogical failures.

(3) Research becoming Resource

One might argue that sharing our experiences as teachers is something of a second nature; the hard part is thinking anew about how we share our research. There are the traditional ways–the article, the monograph, the conference presentation–that will be around for the foreseeable future. Digital representations of scholarship, however, provide us with different ways of (quite literally) seeing information; the flip-side of which is that they expand the options available for the presentation of the work we do. Someone has to build the databases. I have included a few visualizations cut from various sources to demonstrate the former point: Brown’s Women Writers Project offers the viz comparison of the Cavendish and Behn plays (figure three, but please see the full post) gives the viewer a sense of disproportionality and should invite one to delve back into the text (scalable reading) to interrogate what the visualization suggests. Additionally, the mapping projects allow a viewer to see the representation of data, in the cases of my examples, move through space over time.5

Cavendish v Behn

| figure three

The expanded opportunities to present research allows the subject specialist to share the work that she has already been doing as a matter of course–the toiling in the reading rooms, the laboring in the stacks, the attentive viewing and listening, the meticulous note-taking–and transform those processes of data collection into resources that can themselves be mined and shared by other folks with similar interests. The Database for Early English Playbooks (DEEP) arises (I would imagine) from the meticulous, data-driven work that Alan B. Farmer and Zachary Lesser have done with early modern drama; the Map of Early Modern London allows scholars to contribute encyclopedia-like entries for hundreds of locations around early modern London. This is often the work that is traditionally required to produce The Work, and by opening the processes to others we better the odds that the research will tell us more of what it has to say.

Aside from the front end, development side of digital projects, there’s obviously the user’s side with which we are often much more familiar. I have included a handful of links to that seem like good places to have students build their own projects. We might ask them questions like: What does the Textbase of Early Tudor English offer that EEBO does not? How might Lexicons of Early Modern English be different than the OED? Who decides the “Women Writers” canon? This is all to say that these aren’t only great tools for research, but also present opportunities to invite students to be critical readers of the digital platforms with which they engage.

(4) eMOP and the Future of our Printed Past

Now might be a good time to reiterate that the foregoing–or a less prolix version of it, to be sure–was given in the interest of leading up to Dr. Mandell’s talk. I wanted to give my colleagues–fellow subject specialists, mostly–a sense of how I have navigated my relationship to a discipline that has shifted from “the next big thing” to just The Thing.6 I hope that, along the way, there might also be a few helpful resources and, if one so chooses, ways into some of the larger DH conversations.

As I move toward a conclusion to my bygone introduction, I also want to reiterate that, in the conversation about who or what constitutes DH, there’s plenty of room for subject specialists like myself. In fact, in the structure of eMOP–an enormous digital project with many moving parts–we book historians will play a major role in teaching OCR engines how to read more efficiently. I may not be a digital humanist in the way that Laura Mandell is a digital humanist, but I am most certainly involved in–and invested in–the digital humanities.


1. I use the descriptor “academic” job market to differentiate it from #alt-ac jobs–“alternate academic careers,” as defined by Bethany Nowviskie–the visibility of which has grown in recent years. As a subject specialist I gravitate toward the traditional academic job descriptions even as I weigh my potential candidacy (and parse the language in ads for) jobs that include DH elements. Rather serendipitously, the art of discerning what departments want from their candidates–and how this is reflective of institutionalized definitions in the humanities–was the subject of a brief Twitter exchange between Matthew Kirschenbaum and Adeline Koh as I was writing this post: see my short Storify here.

2. I can’t figure out how to gracefully link to the 2012 Day of DH “Defining DH” questions, so I’ll just link to it here. And I like making footnotes.

3. Mueller’s blog, Scalable Reading, offers examples of praxis; the term is also defined in a guest post for Northwestern University’s CSCDC:

“[Matthew Wilkens] presents a scenario in which the members of the profession either practice close reading on the same few dozen novels over and over again or develop new practices in which you use methods developed in Natural Language Processing to perform rough mapping operations that are then followed by a targeted examination of selected examples. I have called this technique ‘scalable reading.’”

4. Fyfe, Paul, “How to Not Read a Victorian Novel,” Journal of Victorian Culture, 16.1 (April 2011): 84-88. If you have access through your library, you can link here, otherwise you will find the article the old-fashioned way.

5. The viz of patronage patterns in Elizabethan and Jacobean England was done by Liz Grumbach (research assistant for the IDHMC and project manager for ARC and 18thConnect, see latter slides in Prezi) using ArcGIS. I want to note here, too, that I was able to see her present this project, speaking openly about the trouble that she found ArcGIS to have with historical data. This displays an openness with one’s research that invites collaborative exploration of solutions.

6. For a thoughtful response to the “big thing” idea, try Daniel Paul O’Donnell’s “There’s no next about it.”

eMOP Project Receives Funding from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

English Professor Laura Mandell, Director of the Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture (IDHMC), along with two co-PIs Professor Ricardo Gutierrez-Osuna and Professor Richard Furuta, are very pleased to announce that Texas A&M has received a 2-year, $734,000 development grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the Early Modern OCR Project (eMOP, ).  The two other project leaders, Anton DuPlessis and Todd Samuelson, are book historians from Cushing Rare Books Library.

Over the next two years, eMOP will work to improve scholarly access to an extensive early modern text corpus. The overarching goal of eMOP is to develop new methods and tools to improve the digitization, transcription, and preservation of early modern texts.

The peculiarities of early printing technology make it difficult for Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to discern discrete characters and, thus, to render readable digital output.  By creating a database of early modern fonts, training the software that mechanically types page images (OCR) to read those typefaces, and creating crowd-sourced correction tools, eMOP promises to improve the quality of digital surrogates for early modern texts. Receiving this grant makes possible improving the machine-translation of digital page images with cutting-edge crowd-sourcing and OCR technologies, both guided by book history.  Our goal is to further the digital preservation processes currently taking place in institutions, libraries, and museums globally.

The IDHMC, along with our participating institutions and individuals, will aggregate and re-tool many of the recent innovations in OCR in order to provide a stable community and expanded canon for future scholarly pursuits. Thanks to the efforts of the Advanced Research Consortium (ARC) and its digital hubs, NINES, 18thConnect, ModNets, REKn and MESA, eMOP has received permissions to work with over 300,000 documents from Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO), totaling 45 million page images of documents published before 1800.

The IDHMC is committed to the improvement and growth of digital projects and resources, and the Mellon Foundation’s grant to Texas A&M for the support of eMOP will enable us to fulfill our promise to the scholarly community to educate, preserve, and develop the future of humanities scholarship.


For further information, please see the eMOP website:


For more information on our project partners, please see the following links.

ECCO at Gale-Cengage Learning
EEBO at ProQuest
Performant Software
Professor Raghavan Manmatha at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
The IMPACT project at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek – National Library of the Netherlands
PRImA at the University of Salford Manchester
Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Texas A&M University
The Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture, Texas A&M University
Cushing Memorial Library and Archives
The OCR Summit Meeting Participants


For more ARC and IDHMC news, please see the following links.

Texas A&M to House Digital Literary Consortium
MESA to Receive Funding
REKn to Partner with ARC

Video Lectures from Digital Humanities 2012

At the annual international conference of the Alliance for Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO), our director, Dr. Laura Mandell, and one of our faculty fellows, Dr. Amy Earhart, presented papers at the University of Hamburg.

Dr. Laura Mandell, Director of the IDHMC and Professor of English presented:

“Myopia: A Visualization Tool in Support of Close Reading” by Manish Chaturvedi, Gerald Gannod, Laura Mandell, Helen Armstrong, and Eric Hodgson.

The video lecture can be viewed here.

The abstract can be viewed here.

Dr. Amy Earhart, Assistant Professor of English and IDHMC faculty fellow, presented:

“Recovering the Recovered Text: Diversity, Canon Building, and Digital Studies.”

The video lecture can be viewed here.

The abstract can be viewed here.

Thank you to the University of Hamburg, #dh2012, and the ADHO for the videos and scholarly discussion!

Call for Project Proposals

Sponsored by the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies

The Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies (  is looking to help facilitate the work of students and scholars by aiding in the development of research-oriented databases related to scholarship in religion and new media.  Proposals are invited for database projects to be housed on the “Researcher’s Toolbox” section of the Network for New Media, Religion and Digital Culture Studies website (   Database projects should be related to focused research studies on an aspect of religion and new media (i.e. the categorization and identification of Hindu cybertemples, a database for analyzing the mission and aims of Jewish websites, etc.) and the database creation component framed as integral part of the data collection and analysis of the given area of research.  Project awardees will receive support for the design and implementation of their chosen database project from the network technical director (of up to 24 hours). Awardees will also receive a small stipend towards travel for a project presentation and consultation at Texas A&M University to be scheduled during the 2013/2014 academic year.

Databases will be embargoed and accessible only to the awarded scholar, network director and technical director for a period of 24 months, after which they will be made open to network members or other subscribers who can apply to gain access to these resources.  Awardees will be able to port their data to an alternate site at the end of the project; however the database and associated data will remain on the network in perpetuity for the life of the site. The hope is also to make these databases collaborative so scholars can add new entries and tags after they are published online.

Applications are invited from any member of the Network, though priority will be given to postdoctoral applicants, full-time faculty, and 2nd year or above PhD candidates.   Proposals should be 2-3 pages in length and include a narrative of the proposed project, detailed specification of desired database, justification of its centrality to the project and a project time line. In addition, a brief CV should also be included.  Preference will be given to projects that investigate under-explored religious contexts online.

The deadline for proposals is 30 October 2012. Complete applications should be sent directly the network director, Heidi Campbell ( Membership to the network is required for proposal submission and the full application process must be completed before proposals will be considered. More information on membership is found at: