OED, digital lexicography, in Dictionaries 34 (2013)

Dictionaries 34 (2013) includes nine authoritative articles about the history and use of the Oxford English Dictionary, and also accounts of digital lexicography and digital dictionaries. For the table of contents see http://mac10.typepad.com/Dictionaries%2034_2013%20TOC.pdf. Online access is available via institutional subscription to Project Muse (http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/dictionaries/), as well as directly to members of the Dictionary Society of North America, who also receive print copies.

Three (now four) takes on #DH

Published yesterday:

A more philosophical account:

A more positive view:

P.S. A retrospect:

Three IBM-initiated DH conferences half a century ago

  • Sept. 9-11, 1964. Literary Data Conference. Thomas J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, NY. Proceedings. Ed. Jess B. Bessinger and Stephen Maxfield Parrish. White Plains, NY: IBM, Data Processing Division, 1964. 329pp. OCLC 3974156.
  • Dec. 4, 1964. Conference on the Use of Computers in Humanistic Research. Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ. Conference on the Use of Computers in Humanistic Research. N.p.: n.d. 40pp. OCLC 40992490. Initiated by "Mr. Edmund A. Bowles of the International Business Machines Corporation" (5).
  • Jan. 22-23, 1965. Computers for the Humanities? Yale University, New Haven, CT. Computers for the Humanities? A Record of a Conference Sponsored by Yale University on a Grant from IBM, January 22-23, 1965. Ed. G. W. Pierson. New Haven: Yale University, 1965. ix+170 pp. OCLC 2084331. Initiated by "Edmund A. Bowles, Manager, Professional Activities, Corporate Education, of the International Business Machines Corporation" (v).
A few years later Bowles edited Computers in Humanistic Research: Readings and Perspectives, Prentice-Hall Series in Automatic Computation (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967). A musicologist, he was also the author of several books and articles on musical iconography.

Crowdsourcng in the Great Depression

Robert C. Binkley, Manual on Methods of Reproducing Research Materials (Ann Arbor, MI, Edwards, 1936: 199:


Binkley 1936 199.jpg

Deconstructing the New Humanities

I like the New Humanities. It takes me back to the New Criticism, where I started, and it has something of the vitality of the New Historicism. It also neatly re-brands the Digital Humanities, for which there has long been a call for re-branding. But does it exist? Is it a Thing?

Noel Jackson named the New Humanities interrogatively in his blog posting "A new humanities?" (Feb. 1, 2014). The opening sentence of this posting was actually assertive, not interrogative, and indeed it capitalized the phrase: "MIT has begun to promote something it calls the 'New Humanities,' and to advertise the 'Initiatives' associated with this field." Then Jackson went on to speak, more casually but several times, of "the 'new humanities.'"

Trouble is, there is no clear sign in the web page that he cited that it is the "humanities" that are now denominated "new," and not just the "initiatives" that would promote them. Maybe "the new humanities"--or even "the New Humanities"--is a phrase to conjure with at MIT; but the cited web page seems to identify new initiatives.

If that's so, Jackson has created a field, or renamed one, by reading a web page with Empsonian ingenuity. A search on Twitter s.v. "new humanities" (at least tonight) will find a half dozen people ready to consider if not embrace the new label.

I'm one of them; I do like the New Humanities. I also like to know where ideas come from.

Postscript (2/4/14): Jackson has since pointed to another URL, http://shass.mit.edu/research/spotlight/gallery-new-humanities-at-mit, where it's more obviously the humanities that are new, not just the initiatives. Which means that the Empsonian in this scene of reading is me--which I guess is OK. In any case, as I said, I like the phrase, partly because it responds to calls to "drop the digital." It may be too soon for that, or it may be time.

Post-postscript (3/2/14): That link http://shass.mit.edu/research/spotlight/gallery-new-humanities-at-mit, which Jackson cited in his first response to his original posting, no longer works--as he points out in his second response there today. Apparently someone changed the URL, and also changed the name to "21st-century humanities at MIT." So, "New Humanities" had a shelf life of 28 days. What's in a name? Partly the power of the (re)namer--in this case, whoever maintains the news page at http://shass.mit.edu/. It used to be said, with some point, that "Littera scripta manet." Now, not so much.

Doing things with a million British Library book illustrations

On December 12, 2013, the British Library announced that it was publishing online about a million book illustrations gleaned from the digitized archive of many of its books that Microsoft had prepared. (The Microsoft Live Search Books project, which digitized books from many research libraries, ceased in 2008.) The books in which these illustrations appeared were mostly published in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries--especially the latter half of the nineteenth century. Each illustration is accompanied by basic metadata that identifies the book in which it appeared; and each image can be displayed, by drilling down, in relatively high resolution.

For the announcement see Ben O'Steen, "A Million First Steps." "We plan to launch a crowdsourcing application at the beginning of next year, to help describe what the images portray." O'Steen had previously described technical aspects of the project in "Peeking behind the curtain of the Mechanical Curator."

The images are now available to the public at Flickr, where users have already prepared topical image collections.

Every hour an image is selected at random from the collection and displayed by The Mechanical Curator--for which there is a corresponding Twitter feed, @MechCuratorBot. Each Friday 100 of these are collected and published at Random Selections made by the Mechanical Curator. A special set, selected by the British Library Digital Research Team, is titled "Highlights from the Mechanical Curator."

To encourage the enrichment of the basic metadata associated with each image, the British Library has established a British Library Wiki for curating public domain digital content, which includes information about Crowd-sourcing projects currently under way. One of these is a Wikimedia Commons project, British Library/Mechanical Curator collection, which includes advice about how to perform basic searches of the collection.

Right now you can do keyword searching within title pages of archived book illustrations. Copy, adapt (replacing keyword in the string below with the word that you want to search for), and paste the following string in the search window of your browser:

  • http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=12403504@N02&q="keyword"

For example, copy and paste this URL into your search window:

  • http://www.flickr.com/search/?w=12403504@N02&q="Rome"
The result should be hundreds--thousands--of book illustrations associated with Rome.


A full list of the books that are involved in this project can be seen or downloaded as a zip file via the Wikimedia Commons page British Library/Mechanical Curator collection/Full list of books 1.

The project has attracted popular attention; for example:

Two years ago George Oates, who designed the institutional Flickr Commons platform that the British Library is now using to publish these images, spoke about the merits of such image-sharing and the crowdourcing of image annotation in a presentation that she gave at the Institute for Advanced Study, University of Minnesota, titled "Social Seeing: Images Online." Incidentally, and near the start of her presentation, she offered an attractive definition for the Digital Humanities: "humans understanding humans with the aid of computers."

On Feb. 9, 2014, the Cardiff University Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research announced that, with the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK), it would "devise methods that will enable the collection of illustrations to become fully searchable online." At about the same time the Department of History at the University of Sheffield invited applications "for a Collaborative PhD Studentship on the topic of 'A History of the Printed Image 1750-1850: Applying Data Science Techniques to Printed Book Illustration' ... This innovative project seeks to complement art and cultural history approaches by applying data science techniques to the history of printed images and by evaluating the utility of such methods of enquiry. The research will focus on the circa one million digitised images held in the British Library Microsoft Books collection (containing circa 65,000 volumes) which offers unrivaled opportunities to explore the use and re-use of very large numbers of images."

For an undergraduate seminar at the University of Minnesota, "The Image on the Page" (spring semester 2014), I've based a student exercise on this British Library resource.

Recent Digital Humanities syllabi

Selected syllabi available online for recent courses in the Digital Humanities. This list partly overlaps and supplements surveys by Lisa Spiro and Matt Gold:

The list is by no means complete. It favors courses offered in the United States that have a broadly literary emphasis, and it reports academic course syllabi only; informal curricula are also sponsored by many of the centers associated with centerNet ("an international network of digital humanities centers").

For a broader and deeper archive of Digital Humanities syllabi and related documents see DH Syllabi, maintained by Lisa Spiro, which includes many of the syllabi listed here.

Digital Humanities at the MLA

There were 795 sessions at this year's MLA convention in Boston, of which 66 significantly engaged the Digital Humanities. I attended several of them. (I also organized one.) Some attracted large audiences, and thoughtful commentary. For example:


Golden draws special attention to the launch of MLA Commons, a new social-media site intended to improve communication and collaboration among MLA members. I signed on before the official launch, but by the time I stopped by the MLA Commons booth to pick up my free T-shirt, they were all gone. (I did get one of the two remaining stickers.) The web interface is still being refined, but the result should prove useful for many people. The first substantial text published at MLA Commons is Literary Studies in the Digital Age: An Evolving Anthology, ed. Kenneth M. Price and Ray Siemens.

Another well-received launch was the Open Access edition of Debates in the Digital Humanties, ed. Matthew K. Gold (University of Minnesota Press), one year after its appearance in print. New chapters will be added online later this year.

During the final session of the conference, Sunday afternoon, I attended a session on "Literature and Digital Pedagogies" while Doug Armato, director of the University Minnesota Press, presented a paper in a different session about the interface between online blog publication and book publication, "Considering Serial Scholarship and the Future of Scholarly Publishing."

The session that I organized for the MLA Discussion Group on Lexicography, "Digital Dictionaries," was reported or commented on via Twitter by more than a dozen people, some of whom were not even in the room (one was in the UK). Ben Zimmer, one of the speakers, later organized the program listing and the 79 tweets in a legible format at http://storify.com/visualthesaurus/digital-dictionaries-panel-mla-2013. Yesterday another member of the audience, Colleen Ross, posted a more detailed reflection on the presentations at her blog, "Word of Mouth." Vox audita perit, littera scripta manet.

Digital Humanities 2.0 events, fall 2012

Digital Humanities 2.0 will sponsor the following events during fall semester 2012. The first will be an informal discussion of DH projects and possibilities at Minnesota. Please bring your ideas to the table -- where there will also be some food.


  • Tuesday, Sept. 25, 3:00 p.m., 125 Nolte: General discussion. DH Agendas at Minnesota. Refreshments will be served.

  • Tuesday, Oct. 16, 3:00 p.m., 235 Nolte: Jennie Burroughs (University of Minnesota Libraries), Digital Humanities and the Libraries.

  • Wednesday, Nov. 14, 4:00 p.m., 125 Nolte: Francis Harvey (Geography), U-Spatial: Supporting the Digital Humanities.

  • Tuesday, Dec. 4, 3:00 p.m., 125 Nolte: Nita Krevans and Philip Sellew (Classical and Near Eastern Studies) and Lucy Fortson (Physics and Astronomy), Crowdsourcing Ancient Texts.

Digital Humanities initiatives at the University of Minnesota

Digital Humanities 2.0
Institute for Advanced Study
A collaborative organized to investigate and create ways of advancing humanities research by means of digitization and Web 2.0 technologies.
Presentation videos are archived at http://ias.umn.edu/programs/collaboratives/digital-humanities-2-0/. Established in 2011.

The Ojibwe People's Dictionary
Department of American Indian Studies in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Libraries and the Minnesota Historical Society
A searchable, talking Ojibwe-English dictionary that features the voices of Ojibwe speakers, illustrated with materials in the Ojibwe collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.
URL: http://ojibwe.lib.umn.edu. Published in 2012.

Ancient Lives: Crowdsourcing papyrology
Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies and Department of Physics and Astronomy in collaboration with the Ancient Lives Project, University of Oxford
Crowdsourcing techniques used to decipher half a million ancient fragments of Greek-inscribed papyrus recovered more than a century ago from Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. Supervised by professors Nita Krevans and Philip H. Sellew (Classical and Near Eastern Studies) and Lucy Fortson (Physics and Astronomy), in cooperation with Ancient Lives, a project administered by the University of Oxford. For details see Kirsten Weir, "You, too, can translate ancient documents".
URL: http://ancientlives.org/.

University of Minnesota Press
▪ Electronic Meditations: a book series that explores the humanistic and social implications of new technologies.
URL: http://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/series/electronic-mediations. Established in 1999.
Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Matthew K. Gold. Leading figures in the digital humanities explore the field's rapid revolution.
URL: http://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/debates-in-the-digital-humanities; see also http://www.ias.umn.edu/media/DigitalHumanities.php. Published in 2012.

Charles Babbage Institute: Center for the History of Information Technology
College of Science and Engineering and University of Minnesota Libraries
An archival and research center dedicated to preserving the history of information technology and promoting and conducting research in the field.
URL: http://www.cbi.umn.edu. Established as the International Charles Babbage Society in 1978; relocated to the University of Minnesota in 1980.

GroupLens Research
College of Science and Engineering
A research lab in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, conducting research in recommender systems, online communities, mobile and ubiquitous technologies, digital libraries, and local geographic information systems.
URL: http://www.grouplens.org. Established as NetPerceptions in 1996.

Minnesota Population Center
An interdisciplinary cooperative for demographic research, serving more than 80 faculty members and research scientists at eight colleges and institutes. A leading developer and disseminator of demographic data, MPC also serves a broader audience of some 50,000 demographic researchers worldwide.
URL: http://www.pop.umn.edu. Established in 2000.

U-Spatial
A five year intercollegiate project funded by the Office of the Vice-President for Research to support the spatial sciences and creative activities working with geospatial data.
URL: http://uspatial.umn.edu. Established in 2011.

Immigration History Research Center
College of Liberal Arts
Founded in 1965, the IHRC promotes research on international migration with a special emphasis on immigrant and refugee life in the U.S.
Sheeko: Somali Youth Stories. Video interviews by and about Somali youth.
URL: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/ihrc/sheeko. Established in 2011.
Minnesota 2.0. A digital archive documenting how 1.5- and 2nd-generation Mexican, Somali, and Hmong youth use social networking sites to express their emerging sense of identity and social connections.
URL: https://sites.google.com/a/umn.edu/mn20. Established in 2010.
Digitizing Immigrant Letters. Letters from the IHRC collections that were written between 1850 and 1970 both by immigrants and to immigrants in languages other than English.
URL: http://ihrc.umn.edu/research/dil/index.html. Established in 2010.

Visualizing Ancient Greek Rhetoric
Interactive Visualization Lab
Stereoscopic, full-scale visual representations of sites of ancient oratory.
URL: http://ivlab.cs.umn.edu/project_virtclassics.php.

Digital Content Library
College of Liberal Arts and College of Design
More than 200,000 learning objects from many different disciplines in image, video, and audio formats.
URL: http://dcl.umn.edu.

Minnesota Digital Library
A collaborative project to archive digitized records of photographs, maps, journals, documents, letters, and works of art, which draws on libraries, archives, historical societies and museums across Minnesota.
URL: http://www.mndigital.org/about. Established in 2001.

Digital Conservancy
University of Minnesota Libraries
Open access to scholarly and administrative works produced by or about the University of Minnesota.
URL: https://conservancy.umn.edu.

Digital Arts and Humanities Working Group
University of Minnesota Libraries
URL: http://blog.lib.umn.edu/dah. Established in 2012.

HathiTrust
The University of Minnesota Libraries is a charter member of HathiTrust, the large academic repository of digitized books and journals.
URL: http://www.hathitrust.org/about. Established in 2008.