Early Modern Digital Humanities (EMDH). Sixteenth Century Society and Conference, 24.10.2013-27.10.2013.
Reviewed by Colin Wilder
Published on H-Soz-u-Kult (April, 2014)
Early Modern Digital Humanities (EMDH)
EMDH was a sequence of five panels organized by Colin Wilder (University of South Carolina) at the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference (SCSC) October 2013 meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico. SCSC is a major, annual international academic conference for presentation of scholarship pertaining to the Early Modern (frühneuzeitlich) period or Renaissance and Reformation, broadly (ca. 1450-1660). The twelve papers presented in the sequence included both thesis-driven work that made use of computational analytic methods as well as presentations about digital source curation projects currently in progress. The following report is somewhat abbreviated. The full report can be found online at http://cdh.sc.edu/emdh2.html.
In his paper "Visualizing the Early Printing Trade," GREG PRICKMAN (University of Iowa) chronicled the evolution of his digital resource "The Atlas of Early Printing," first created in 2008 as an instructional tool for non-specialists. The original version was innovative in several ways, for instance including geographical data about the location of other institutions pertinent to the book trade such as paper mills, universities and trade routes. The new version of the Atlas, launched in April, 2013, was not only rebuilt from the ground up but also includes a significant additional layer, representing data from the Incunabula Short Title Catalog (ISTC). By beginning to move from print-based source material housed in a standalone database to an on-demand query system referencing an international network of databases, the Atlas can provide a map-based front-end for searching all 28,000 editions catalogued in the ISTC (where each "edition" may be composed of up to several hundred individual copies).
In "Envisioning a Historiography," JOHN THEIBAULT (Stockton College) riffed on a classic trope of modern social historiography from Christopher Friedrichs's Urban Society in an Age of War: Nordlingen, 1580-1720 (1979). Friedrichs taunted that a map depicting classic sites of military and political history (Berlin, Waterloo, etc.) would look very different from one depicting the locales that social historians had made as the grounds of studies depicting medieval and early modern social structures (Montaillou, Nordlingen, etc.). In his paper at SCSC, Theibault presented the preliminary outline of his own synthetic mapping project, the Early Modern European Social History Geo-Spatial Bibliography (EMESHGB). Theibault aims not digitally to map a set of primary sources or reference sources, like most digital projects, but rather digitally to map scholarship itself. This is to include of course a map of Europe, a timeline navigation tool, and methodological parameters such as "social groups analyzed (e.g. peasantry, artisans), social scientific methods used (e.g. family reconstitution), and principal sources used (e.g. tax rolls)" used by the scholarly author. In Theibault's vision, a corpus drawn from secondary and scholarly sources would enable the visualization of how historiography has itself evolved over the past decades. His method employs textual analysis using frequency, closeness, and clustering as the principle tools to uncover the sinuous paths along which historiography continues to move.
In "Exploring Networks of Printers and Publishers in Early Modern Amsterdam," PAUL DIJSTELBERGE (Amsterdam) began by outlining the importance of studying Amsterdam in the Golden Age of the Dutch Republic (the seventeenth century) for understanding the explosion and dissemination of new ideas in early modern Europe, especially in philosophy, theology and science. So extensive did the printing industry become in Amsterdam in that century that some 5-7 percent of the urban population worked in the printing or book-selling industry. With this framework in place, Dijstelberge went on to present his geographical archive of Dutch printing, a website called the “Dutch Printer's Devices.” This archive, now entering in its second phase, will soon surpass the 400,000-item mark for resources related to imprimaturs, colophons, tailpieces, and decorated capitals, among other printer's devices. This scholarly resource uses several innovative features including Dijstelberge's Flickr site, which serves as an open repository for his image sets, and user-generated data collection using the Google spreadsheets platform.
In "Waves of Empire," JASON COHEN (Berea College) gave an overview of his new digital mapping project, using a method he dubbed a "digital chorograph," which seeks to map early modern "oceanic sovereignties." Cohen has begun creating interactive digital maps overlaid on historical map base layers by encoding data from several different historical registers, including date locations of battles, jurisdictional lines, and the sites of selected Admiralty court decisions related to maritime claims for sovereignty. His more ambitious future goals include mapping political and legal forces with softer boundaries such as treaty language and spheres of influence as designated in state papers that describe the zones and limits of local governmental control. More concretely, Cohen plans to plan to build a larger dataset using data extraction techniques (e.g. natural language processing) to pull "geolocations, names, and events from a larger corpus of state papers and court decisions." Methodologically, the Waves of Empire project aims to show how a paired attention to geospatial visualization and data drawn from state papers may serve not only as a site of presentation, but ultimately as a site for analysis of the morphologies of the sea and the jurisdictional conflicts that shape the dominant forces expressed across its surfaces.
In "Towards a Digital Spatial Representation of Confraternal Client Networks in Florence," DOUGLAS DOW (Kansas State University) presented a careful reconstruction of geographical data about patron-client relationships in Florence in the sixteenth century. "Plotting the locations of the properties onto a digital map of the city," Dow argued, "reveals the intersection of the Florentine urban fabric with the assets of the city's confraternities, which were dispersed throughout the built environment and rented by people of various social strata."
In "Mapping the Soundscape of Pre-Modern Florence," NIALL ATKINSON (Chicago) presented a study of the soundscape of bell-ringing in Renaissance Florence. Using the Florentia Illustrata digital map archive that Nicholas Terpstra, Jan Simane and he have created (http://www.khi.fi.it/en/aktuelles/veranstaltungen/veranstaltungen/veranstaltung444/index.html), he presented visual reconstructions of the locations and spheres of audible influence for Florentine state and church functions. Atkinson's project couples two digital tools to make use of data mining and network analysis tools in combination with geospatial visualizations of the belltower locations across Florence. This enables recreations of sequence, time of day, and relative location of the bell ringings. The scalable visualization allows for a close-up analysis of individual towers and their correlated institutions as well as a macroscopic view of the relationship between the political centers and competing enclaves of power in renaissance Florence. Time was not measured, Atkinson's recreation showed; it is announced by centers of influence and power, and listened to by the various constituencies who were assured of the normal function of the administered day by the sounds opening and closing administrative bells, calls to prayer, and other signals of the chronology of the day. In sum, the aural tapestry of the Florentine day supplies a key to understanding its urban morphology.
In his "Report on the Re-Creation of FICINO within the Iter Community," WILLIAM BOWEN (Toronto) narrated the twenty-three-year history of FICINO, what began as an international electronic seminar and bulletin board in 1990 and has significantly evolved over the past two decades.
In "Standardization and Authenticity: Classroom Use of Archival and Digital Versions of Early Modern English Manuscripts," MARIE BAXTER (Albion College) reflected on the effects that the transformation of primary sources from material to digital surrogate has on teaching. She used as a case study her experience teaching a segment of Albion College's European History survey based on dozens of early modern English legal manuscripts that she had recently discovered. These were indentures, i.e. debt papers relating to real estate deeds, rental agreements, and personal loans in Britain and North America. Baxter argued that digitization creates standardized and infinitely reproducible object-images which can in fact obscure physical or non-standard qualities of the source document. She related how she had made an essential element of critical analysis precisely challenging students to recognize the framing mechanism imposed by digital media. The most challenging and rewarding part of this, she related, came from trying to get students to view the non-standard form of documents as not a dysfunction but a normal facet of written and printed media prior to the modern era. By comparison, digital formats de-emphasize non-textual cues such as document size, personalized wax seals and anti-fraud devices in documents. Juxtaposing examination of digital and original material sources, Baxter explained, potentially give students the perspective to judge the possibilities and limits of both formats.
In "A Digital Method of Discovering Visual Sources," HANS BRANDHORST and ETIENNE POSTHUMOUS (Arkyves Project) began by invoking the art historian Aby Warburg's famous method of image montage, the "Mnemosyne Atlas," in which Warburg created large panels covered in artistic images, with similarly-themed images grouped together on each panel. Brandhorst offered the functionality of the Arkyves Project's browsing and searching, which permits researchers to identify and discover images by theme or motif, such as imagery of one person carrying another on his shoulders, which goes back at least to St. Christopher. Just as Warburg pioneered thematic image-grouping as itself a form of artistic or creative presentation, Brandhorst suggested that this particular functionality of the Arkyves resource has enormous potential to aid in artistic and scholarly discovery, to say nothing of subsequent rearrangement by visual motif and meaning.
In "Little Gidding: An Early Modern Digital Humanities Collaboratory," WHITNEY TRETTIEN (Duke University) introduced members of the audience to the Gospel harmonies of Little Gidding, an intentional religious community in 17th-century Huntingdonshire (England). There the widow Mary Ferrar and her son Nicholas and family created "harmonies" of the Gospel, i.e. textual montages made by rearranging passages from the Evangelists to harmonize them chronologically with one another. Trettien styled this textual production as a digital humanities collaboratory avant la lettre, in that the women of Little Gidding in effect remixed the Gospel. Trettien argued that the case of Ferrar and her family "offers us a new perspective on the shifting nature of our own media ecology, decenters the novelty of [today's] multimodal reading and challenges histories that pinpoint the origins of remix culture in a twentieth-century avant-garde."
Presenting their paper "Networks of Culture" on behalf of his co-author JUAN LUIS SUAREZ, DAVID BROWN (University of Western Ontario) first introduced the broad "Preliminaries" project and then went on to present an argument based on it about the landscape of cultural authority in 17th-century Spain. The authors' broader study is entitled "Preliminaries," referring to their principal primary source, the preliminary or front matter in all books legally printed and sold in Baroque Spain. The preliminaries consisted of approvals from censors, patronage information, prefaces and so on. The authors use this information to construct a multi-modal graph database encoding the relationships between persons, texts, publishers, cities and other cultural institutions in the period… Brown and Suarerz find that of all persons, books, places and other entities, the poet Félix Arturo Lope de Vega y Carpio (Lope de Vega) figured as the single most central and significant entity in the entire "cultureplex," playing at once the role of cultural broker and himself of course celebrated author.
In his paper on "Social and Textual Complexes," COLIN WILDER (University of South Carolina) presented what Digital Humanists call "distant readings" of three libraries (of a sort) in early modern Germany and the Netherlands. His case studies were the city library in Frankfurt am Main (1690-1705); the massive citational universe of Hugo Grotius and his editor Jean Barbeyrac (1625, 1712); and the writings of thirty professors of law in Marburg from 1587-1806. Beginning with the 744 books cited in Barbeyrac's seminal edition of Grotius's Law of War and Peace (1712, orig. 1625), Wilder found a recurrent prominence of works published about two decades prior to both the first and the later edition of the work, suggesting that both author and editor were strongly influenced by recent trends in their own home cities' book markets. Wilder also argued that the provenance of books cited by Grotius and Barbeyrac, as well as in the holdings of the Frankfurt library, suggested the relative decline in prominence of earlier centers of humanistic publishing (Lyons, Basel, Venice) and the rise of newer hubs (Frankfurt, Leipzig, Paris, Amsterdam). In his third study, Wilder presented a preliminary network analysis of co-authorship patterns among the thirty serial holders of the chair of civil law at the University of Marburg between 1587 and 1807.
The final session of the weekend was a roundtable that addressed some of the larger considerations attendant to the rise of digital methods within and beyond traditional disciplinary bounds. Several participants noted the rising challenges posed by the need for infrastructure to accomplish digital projects. Many universities have paltry digital scholarly infrastructures, often little more than desktop software helpdesks and aid in making websites, whereas the technical expertise and support in terms of time and development have often been overlooked or dependent on externally funded sources. The funding landscape was itself a source of discussion, as universities increasingly expect humanities scholars to mirror their peers in the sciences by securing outside money - even while the long-term sustainability of digital projects remains an unsure horizon at many institutions.
Overview of Panel Sequence:
EMDH I: Digital maps - Printing and Historiography
Chair: Niall Atkinson (University of Chicago)
Greg Prickman (University of Iowa), "'And All the Good Journeymen': Visualizing the Early Printing Trade"
Project website: atlas.lib.uiowa.edu<http://atlas.lib.uiowa.edu/>
John Theibault (Stockton College), "Envisioning a Historiography: Geospatial and Thematic Connections between Local Social Histories of Early Modern Europe"
Paul Dijstelberge (University of Amsterdam), "A Cultural Industry on the Digital Highway: Exploring Networks of Printers and Publishers in Early Modern Amsterdam"
Project website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bookhistorian/
EMDH II: Digital maps - Dominion and Social Order in the Renaissance
Chair: Paul Dijstelberge (University of Amsterdam)
Jason Cohen (Berea College), "Waves of Empire: Mapping Renaissance Sovereignty at Sea"
Project website: http://www.wavesofempire.org/ (re-launching June 2014)
Douglas Dow (Kansas State U.), "Plotting Relationships: Towards a Digital Spatial Representation of Confraternal Client Networks in Florence"
Niall Atkinson and Peter Leonard (University of Chicago), "Mapping the Soundscape of Pre-Modern Florence"
EMDH III: Discovery, Communication and Teaching in Early Modern Digital Humanities
Chair: Colin F. Wilder (University of South Carolina)
William Bowen (University of Toronto), "From Listserv to Social Media: A Report on the Re-Creation of FICINO within the Iter Community"
Project website: http://crrs.ca/library/resources/ficino-listserv/
Hans Brandhorst and Etienne Posthumous (Arkyves Project), "Aby Warburg's Wildest Dreams Come True? A Digital Method of Discovering Visual Sources"
Project website: http://www.arkyves.org/
Marie Baxter (Albion College), "Standardization and Authenticity: Classroom Use of Archival and Digital Versions of Early Modern English Manuscripts"
EMDH IV: Networks of Text and Context
Chair: John Theibault
Whitney Trettien (Duke University), "Little Gidding: An Early Modern Digital Humanities Collaboratory"
David Brown and Juan Luis Suárez (University of Western Ontario), "Networks of Culture: A Graph-Driven Approach to Understanding Publishing in the Spanish Golden Age"
Project website: http://www.cultureplex.ca/projects/preliminaries/
Colin Wilder (University of South Carolina), "Social and Textual Complexes in the German Intelligentsia, 1500-1800"
Related website: http://tundra.csd.sc.edu/rol/index.php
EMDH V: Round Table
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