Grinnell In The News

Assistant Professor James Lee is bridging the Digital Humanities frontier

Joining Database Sites to Better Understand Early Modern Book History

Last summer, a group of three scholars commandeered the Obermann Center attic for a month with the goal of pushing their digital humanities (DH) project into a new phase. The team of Blaine Greteman (English, University of Iowa), James Lee (English, Grinnell College), and David Eichmann (School of Library and Information Science, University of Iowa) worked to link two separate database web sites. One captures the full texts of 25,000 early modern books; the other includes metadata about the makers and sellers of nearly 500,000 books from a 300-year period.

The group was the first recipient of an Iowa Digital Bridges Collaborative Grant, part of the Digital Bridges for Humanistic Inquiry. This multi-year experiment supports a variety of collaborative practices in the humanities and is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The initiative offers faculty members at Grinnell College and the University of Iowa opportunities to work together from 2015 through 2018. 

Lofty Goals

At the heart of their project, “Linked Reading: A New Scalable Model for the Digital Humanities,” was a desire to see how the two datasets could be combined to answer a host of questions about the history of published literary texts, including the impact of those who printed, sold, and circulated these materials. As both Greteman and Lee are Shakespeare scholars, they chose Othello as a test case. Could they garner a new understanding of the play by unifying their datasets, and what technical bumps would they hit along the way?

The loftier goal of the project was the advancement of a field that is arguably still in a very early phase. The three scholars believe that having multiple datasets that can talk to one another and be simultaneously cross-referenced will open new doors for scholars studying literatures of the past as well as for digital humanists. 

“For a long time, DH has been viewed as a shiny new toy,” says Lee. “Just saying ‘isn’t it cool’ isn’t sufficient. We want to move beyond that.”

[Editor's note: The original article states the grant ends in 2019. It ends in 2018.]

Continue reading "Beyond the shiny new toy - next frontier for Digital Humanities."

Media Source: 
Obermann Center for Advanced Studies