Digital Jumpstart Workshops

In an effort to get to know more about the technical side of this Laboring-Class Poets project, Charlotte and I recently attended a series of Digital Jumpstart workshops hosted by the Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities at Kansas University. It was an informative and surprisingly fun two days in which we learned more about Omeka and gained a greater appreciation for the work Cole has been doing.

The first session we attended was titled “Creating online collections and exhibits” and led by Melissa Fisher Isaacs & Wade Garrison from Kansas University’s digital humanities department. A more apt title for the session might have been “Omeka 101.” We were given step-by-step instructions for beginning an Omeka collection. To my surprise, the platform was pretty straightforward, provided the user understands the vocabulary being used. Once the user has uploaded a file to be included in the online collection, Omeka then prompts the user for certain pertinent information which includes the following: title, subject, description, creator, source, publisher, date, contributor, rights, relation, format, language, type, identifier, coverage and image metadata. If your collection is relatively small and you have an infinite amount of time on your hands, you may easily enter this information yourself using Omeka. If your project is large, like ours is, you also have the option to upload a spreadsheet full of that data. Once that spreadsheet has been uploaded, Omeka allows you to map the fields with your spreadsheet, then Omeka fills in the rest. I’m sure Cole could provide you with a more technical explanation for how that works, but this is Omeka 101, remember? Here’s my very, very basic Omeka test site in case you’re curious.

The second session we attended was titled “Creating a Digital Scholarly Edition” and was led by Andrew Jewell from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. This workshop was excellent, providing us with a basic introduction to the process of creating a digital scholarly edition while also making us feel that it was an absolutely attainable goal. Charlotte and I were inspired by Jewell and the scholarly examples he showed us, excitedly talking about it on our journey home.

Jewell’s main point was to plan, plan, plan to ensure that the digital edition being created always leads to the creator’s goal. What is included and what is marked-up should always contribute to the overall goal of the project. Jewell provided four basic mark-up categories: 1) Textual structures – noting paragraphs, lists, chapters, headings, etc. 2) Conceptual – noting people named, places references, metaphors and allusions used, etc. 3) Bibliographic features – explaining to the reader the paper type of the textual artifact, the binding used, the pages themselves, the writing instrument, etc. 4) Other – this category is the catch-all but may include linguistic structures and the relationships between documents being digitized.

Jewell then walked us through XML, extensile markup language, which he recommends we use to code our digital editions. XML separates intellectual content being coded from the design coding, whereas HTML does not provide this separation. This process of coding in XML involves categorizing information in the transcription of each document in order to make it a searchable and usable. This coding can be very basic or very detailed depending on the creator’s intentions. Here are a few examples, starting with the most basic and working towards the more detailed:

<name>Roz Parr</name> indicates that “Roz Parr” is a name, plain and simple. If the user of the edition is interested in the names referenced, “Roz Parr” will be on that list.

<name type=”person”>Roz Parr</name> specifies that “Roz Parr” is the name of a person, not a place or a thing. This allows for discerning between the names of people and the names of places and things.

<name type=”person”>       <forename>Roz</forename>     <surname>Parr</surname> gives even more specificity, discerning a first name from a last name and gives the user of the edition even more searchable fields.

It’s amazing how detailed these can be,

As much as I enjoyed learning all of this information, I think my favorite part of the two days was the friendly atmosphere of the workshops. Though most of the attendees were from KU, Charlotte and I were welcomed with open arms. It was clearly an environment in which we were all there to learn from each other’s experiences. Because the digital humanities is a relatively new scholarly field, those scholars interested are all very happy to help one another carve out the digital humanities niche in the academic world.