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MLA Conference 2011: Literary Research in/and Digital Humanities  

Abstracts for the panel session sponsored by the Libraries and Research in Languages and Literatures discussion group. Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, 3:30-4:45, Diamond Salon 1, J.W. Marriott.
Last Updated: Jan 11, 2011 URL: Print Guide
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Session overview by Robert Kieft


This session is the inaugural meeting of a new interdisciplinary MLA discussion group formed by librarians within the Association for the 
discussion of matters of mutual interest with scholars. The advent of technological tools that perform some familiar tasks of literary 
research and offer new opportunities for gathering, working with, and publishing texts, images, and data challenge the ability of libraries 
and IT organizations to support faculty and student work and require complex collaborations on campus and often with scholars, librarians, 
and technologists at other institutions. Panelists will present current work, and the group will discuss agenda for its future and how 
it can promote the creation and curation of scholarly collections and archives, publications, research data, and teaching and study tools 
through professional associations and on their own campuses.

Robert Kieft, College Librarian, Occidental College (


Heather Bowlby

“Digitizing Julia Margaret Cameron’s Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Other Poems (1874-75): A Case Study

              As a digital humanities intern at the Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship (NINES) group based at the University of Virginia, I am currently working to create a digital edition of Julia Margaret Cameron’s photographically illustrated edition of Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, entitled Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Other Poems (1874-75). In this presentation, I discuss the challenges that I have encountered in the process of developing this interdisciplinary project and address the implications of these issues for integrating editorial work with the practice of creating a sustainable digital resource.

Cameron’s illustrated version of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King is well-known in the field of book history, but a complete scholarly edition is not available. I began my project one year ago with the goal of creating a digital edition of this important work that would be suitable for scholarly use in many academic fields, particularly English literature, art, art history, history, book history, and women’s studies. I plan to reproduce the physical object as much as possible in an electronic format while maintaining the appropriate scholarly framework.

While I have made progress under the sponsorship of NINES, I have not yet been able to accomplish my objective of creating a widely-accessible, digital scholarly edition of Cameron’s illustrated Idylls. Having access to digital humanities resources at the University of Virginia has enabled me to consider the structural design of my project and the editorial procedures that might best represent it in a digital environment. However, the considerable assistance I have received has not enabled me to solve other problems I have experienced in developing my project. As I have discovered, many factors are involved in successfully launching a digital resource. Some of these considerations include locating the necessary technical support, determining the specific function of the resource within different scholarly contexts, securing an enduring online space to house the resource, and collaborating with librarians and other professionals in related fields to fit the resource within pre-existing institutional frameworks.

These issues are often more difficult for graduate students like myself to address effectively. In addition to having limited opportunities for ongoing institutional support, graduate students developing digital resources also must consider how best to position their projects within the broader research they perform to earn their degrees. My experience creating my digital edition of Cameron’s illustrated Idylls is representative of these widespread issues in many ways, and in this presentation, I propose it as a case study of the problems facing graduate students involved in similar digital projects.

Heather Bowlby, Doctoral Candidate, Department of English, University of Virginia (


Marija Dalbello

Digital Archives and Digital Paleography in the Humanities Program

Creating a digital archive is an act of re-inscription of media and information, opening new space for interpretation of writing, reading, and structuring of text. At its core, this activity is central to the humanities program. In my panel presentation I will focus on the cultures of writing, collecting, and reading in the context of building digital archives - by outlining trends, exemplifying practice, and drawing curricular conclusions.

First, I will explore humanistic engagement with technologies of text represented by vernacular digital archives, i.e. the archives of primary sources created by scholars for scholars, and their central and growing importance as a form and, instrumentally, in teaching, and scholarship. Based on the characteristics of some 150 projects that were identified as influential in the fields of history, literature and languages through extensive searches of conference programs, professional associations’ newsletters, syllabi, and published reviews from 1996 to date, I will give an overview of patterns, historical trends, typologies, and the archives’ status in disciplinary discourses.

 Secondly, I will address the work of “editing” for a digital archive based on first-hand experience with two exemplary collections of letters – Frautschi Letters Virtual Archive ( at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2000), and Digitizing Immigrant Letters ( at the Immigration History Research Center (University of Minnesota) (2010). I argue that “editing” letters for a digital archive can reveal complex relationships between text and image, and of the interstitial nature of writing in the transposition of chirographic to typographic forms, and in written forms rooted in oral performance of language. I will demonstrate how that affected the contextualization for digital archives of letters: their literary, historical and informational aspects.

 In this presentation I link interpretive information studies to the pedagogy of digital humanities and argue for curricular centrality of the history of books, documents, records and information in that context.

 Marija Dalbello, Associate Professor, School of Communication & Information, Rutgers University (


Amy Earhart

"19th-Century Concord Digital Archive Project"

As our cultural heritage is being digitized at an increasingly rapid rate we are experiencing greater access to materials, but are also confronted with new problems of use. Universities, libraries, and museums are digitizing their collections, but the metadata and search capacities of the materials continue to work in isolation, leaving numerous digital objects unused. It is crucial that those entities participating in the development of digital resources advance interoperable ways to interconnect collections.  And, because the participants involved with humanities digital objects creation are often scholarly or non-profit organizations, the development of low-cost, open source solutions that are easily applied by the non-specialized user is imperative.  

Earhart will discuss The 19th-Century Concord Digital Archive partnership as a possible model for interaction between scholars and library entities.   This project leverages resources and skills to develop a model of interaction between academic, museum, library, and community partners, and to create multiple interfaces for browsing digital information about the town of Concord. The model will be useful to those searching to develop such a collaboration, particularly those small libraries and museums who might be able to harness volunteers, but not expensive technical support.  In addition, the ability to search multiple sites that contain metadata and digital objects related to a subject matter, such as 19th-century Concord, as well as to display that material in new and innovative ways, such as GIS based maps, timelines, and exhibits, will encourage use of the material by both scholars and the public and produce greater cultural understanding of this historical and literary period.  

Amy E. Earhart, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Texas A&M University (

Manuel M. Martin-Rodriguez

The Chicano/a Literature Intertextual Database: Toward a Literary History Beyond Borders

  My paper will discuss a database under construction, the Chicano/a Literature Intertextual Database (CLID). The CLID was born out of a desire to rewrite the history of Chicano/a literature by focusing not (only) on books published by Chicanos/as but (also) on what Chicanos/as have read over different periods of time as well. As such, the genesis of the database is in my previous research on reading and readerships, and its attendant conclusion that the study of Chicano/a literature would benefit from a type of literary history that could address multiple temporalities (texts that appear, disappear, and reappear at different times), reception and reader-response, transnational developments, a diverse linguistic and cultural capital, and the connections between Chicano/a literature and other literary traditions (Life in Search of Readers, 2003, passim). To that end, the CLID digitizes and analyzes references in Chicano/a literary works to other texts and authors (from multiple traditions worldwide), allowing researchers to explore what Chicano/a authors have read, and what literary texts they expect their readerships to be familiar with. The CLID is structured to record different types of data and to produce different kinds of searchable materials, including: 1) a meta-chronological account of literary works published by Chicanos/as, including when they have been reprinted and by which presses; 2) a non-sequential table of references cited in works by Chicanos/as (including authors, titles, and characters); 3) a catalog of types of references, currently distinguishing twenty-six different kinds; 4) a visual history of book covers and other illustrations. My presentation will focus on the challenges and opportunities encountered in building this database with the participation of the University of California, Merced Library and the San Diego Supercomputer Center. A somewhat fuller description of the database is available at:

Manuel M. Martín-Rodríguez, Professor of Literature, University of California, Merced ( )


Susanne Woods

Collaborative Development of Information Literacy and Advanced Undergraduate Research in the Liberal Arts Colleges

The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) has collaborated over the last ten years with the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and other groups and institutions to help transform the college library and offer faculty and librarians practical assistance in confronting swift and dramatic changes in the research environment.  A current CIC-ACRL collaboration, funded by a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation,  seeks to help institutions develop campus-specific plans for information fluency in literature majors.  The CIC experience suggests models for developing collaborations among faculty, librarians, and academic technologists in both general education programs and in the major.

 Background: by the early 1990’s it was clear to librarians and increasingly clear to faculty that the shape of academic research was changing rapidly.  Use of the internet was expanding exponentially and the use of simple electronic gateways allowed general access to an ever-expanding set of online resources.   The Mellon Foundation was an early supporter of scholarship in the electronic age, with the founding of resources such as JStor and sponsoring events such as the Fall 1992 conference in Irvine, California on “Technology, Scholarship and the Humanities: The Implications of Electronic Information.”  By the end of the decade, the National Research Council had issued its pamphlet, Being Fluent with Information Technology (June 1999), and the ACRL had developed its foundational guide to the new environment, Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (January 2000).   It was clear that the college library was becoming something new in the digital age.

In response, the CIC received Mellon funding for a series of workshops on “Transforming the College Library,” offering teams from private liberal arts colleges the opportunity to learn from experts and each other how they might adapt to the new environment.  The three-day workshops were offered at various locations between 2002 and 2008, and brought together librarians, academic technologists, and chief academic officers to work out practical plans from what had been competing cultures.  The National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) was also involved in these earlier workshops, and toward the end both the United Negro College Fund and the Appalachian Colleges Association had become part of the project.

 The new Mellon-sponsored workshops focus on “Information Fluency in Humanities Disciplines,” with the first two (March 2010 and February 2011) specifically on “Information Fluency in the Literature Disciplines.”  These two, endorsed by the Modern Language Association, focus on faculty-librarian partnerships and have as their goal campus-specific plans that English and other literature departments can use to bring their students into an ease with scholarship in the electronic age.  The issues are very different now from twenty or even ten years ago.  Teaching students that research is not a synonym for googling, or that Wikipedia is not their final authority, is a different problem from pointing students to electronic resources in the first place.  Faculty resistance to sharing authority with librarians is an ongoing problem at some (but not all) institutions, and a greater one than persuading librarians and technologists to work together, which has largely been accomplished.  The new workshop program is teaching us that these and other problems have been and can be overcome, particularly if academic departments work collaboratively with librarians, and if chief academic officers continue to be persistent and creative in their support.

Susanne Woods,Council of Independent Colleges Senior Advisor; Provost and Professor of English Emerita, Wheaton College (MA) (

Susan Barnes Whyte, College Librarian, Linfield College; ACRL Liaison to the CIC (




Panel organizer/convener: James R. Kelly, Humanities Bibliographer, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst (

© 2014 University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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