Integrated Digital Humanities Environments: A Commonwealth of Modernist Studies

Originally posted on 24 Sept. 2011 at EMiC

I have been a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with Editing Modernism in Canada for just over a year now, so it gives me great pleasure at this midpoint in my position to announce two major partnership agreements signed last week. First, EMiC has finalized it contract with Islandora at the University of Prince Edward Island to build our very own Digital Humanities module. Second, EMiC has partnered with another DH project with which I am involved: The Modernist Versions Project. Both partnerships promise to provide resources, training, and infrastructure not only EMiC scholars, but to the DH community as a whole.

1. Integrated Digital Humanities Environments: Islandora

Anyone who has been in DH for a while knows that there is a long history of tool-creation for our scholarly endeavours. Some of these projects have been successful (The Versioning Machine, Omeka, etc.), and some, unfortunately, have not. One “problem” we face as DH’ers is that there is simply so much to do. Some of us are interested in visualization software and network relations  (Proust Archive), some are interested in preserving disintegrating archives (Modernist Journals Project), and others of us are firmly rooted in TEI and textual markup. Moreover, with the growth of GIS software, mapping texts has become a great way to have students interact with texts in spatial terms and to communicate with a non-academic public using a language most of us are familiar with: maps.

But what happens in DH when we move into the classroom?

I recently read a stunning syllabus created by Brian Croxall at Emory University, in which he provides his students with a solid (and diverse) introduction to the Digital Humanities. But one thing researchers and teachers like Brian, or any other DH’er faces, is providing students integrated learning environments where they can edit texts in a common repository AND have all the tools they need at their disposal in the browser. If you want to teach TEI right now, you have to buy Oxygen (a life-saving program when it comes to XML markup); For versioning, you must install Juxta or The Versioning Machine. For publication/exhibition you must install Omeka. But what if we had ALL of those things in one learning environment, in one common and open system? This is what we’re trying to accomplish with the EMiC Digital Humanities Sprout.

EMiC Digital Humanities Sprout

An issue EMiC faces in providing tools for our researchers is the sheer diversity of work being undertaken right now by EMiC scholars who have varying levels of experience with digital environments. EMiC needed to find a way to allow its members to preserve, edit, and publish digital editions of archival material in an intuitive way; moreover, we wanted to make to sure our archival practices conformed to international standards. Moreover, most of us are teachers too. How do we teach our students what we are doing in our research? Enter Islandora.


Nine months ago, I Googled the phrase “TEI, ABBYY, XSLT” on a whim (actually, I was being lazy: I was looking for an XSLT sheet that would transform ABBYY HTML to simple TEI). The first result listed was a page from the University of Prince Edward Island—just down the road so-to-speak. Not knowing much about Prince Edward Island outside of L. M. Montgomery, I keep browsing, and to my amazement, found that the library at UPEI had created a project called “Island Lives,” a resource developed using the home-grown Islandora digital repository. Mark Leggott, Donald Moses, and others, had built precisely what I was looking for: a digital asset management system using a Fedora Commons repository wrapped in Drupal shell. Islandora allows users to easily upload an image of text to its database, edit that image (TEI), and then “publish” a complete text (book, pamphlet, etc.) to the web. Dean Irvine and I realized that if we could expand this system to fit EMiC’s needs, we could create a Digital Humanities module that would serve our members perfectly. We decided to focus on the core issues facing EMiC editors: Ingestion (including OCR based on Tesseract), Image Markup, TEI editing, Versioning, and Publication (for the full list of what we’re building, see below*). Moreover, Islandora is tested and true and is being used by NASA, the Smithsonian, among many other institutions.

Thank You, DH.

We have years of successful work to emulate for this DH module. And just as the DH community has given to us, we expect the give back to the DH community by keeping the DH module open to use. Yes, we plan on creating an EMiC/Islandora DH install that you can download and use in your classrooms.

If you’re interested in what we’re building, please email Dean Irvine or Matt Huculak with your questions.

As part of this initiative, I have moved to Prince Edward Island to work with the Islandora crew as we develop this module. There’s some other news about what I’ll be digitizing there to “test” our system—but you’ll have to wait to hear about that. In the meantime, we are planning unveiling our functioning module at DHSI2012.

2. Modernist Versions Project

If you haven’t been to the Digital Humanities Summer Institute hosted by Ray Seimens at the University of Victoria, do plan on going! It is an incredible week of DH training, and it is one of the most memorable “unconferences” I have ever attended. One wonderful result of this year’s camp was the creation of the Modernist Versions Project (MVP), an international initiative to provide online resources for the editing and display of multiple witnesses of modernist texts. In what was truly a conversation over coffee, Stephen Ross shared with me his desire to create the MVP. Having served the Modernist Journals Project (MJP) at the University of Tulsa and Brown University for over six years, I said, “Stephen, let’s do this!” And we did. With the help of James Gifford, Jentery Sayers, and Tanya Clement (who along with Stephen and I serve as the Board of the MVP), we have secured tremendous support for a major SSHRC application this fall. The MVP promises to be an important project in the field of Digital Humanities and modernism.

But what does this have to do with EMiC?

I am impressed by two aspects of EMiC. First, the recovery of modernist Canadian texts in our project is truly spectacular. Second, the training EMiC facilitates at the University of Alberta, Dalhousie University, The University of Victoria, and Trent University (among many other institutions) is edifying. Just look at our graduate student editors who are engaged in serious textual editing projects across Canada: We are really building the future of Canadian studies here.

As an international scholar, I am concerned, like many of you, with the networking of Canadian modernism across the globe. How does Canadian modernism fit into the greater narrative of modernity across the world? (this is a topic we’ll be exploring in Paris 2012:

The Modernist Versions Project is one way of creating networks of modernist textual criticism and production across the world; that is, the MVP is interested in the editing and visualization of multiple textual witnesses no matter where those witnesses were created. Though located in Canada, the MVP’s scope is much larger, and EMiC’s partnership with the MVP will allow EMiC scholars interested in “versioning” to use MVP resources as they are developed. The MVP has already developed partnerships with the Modernism Lab at Yale University, Modernist Networks at Chicago, and NINES, which is letting us use and develop their Juxta software for periodicals and books.

Dean Irvine has been very generous in allocating my Postdoctoral hours towards the formation of the MVP. Once again, EMiC is nurturing young projects and helping create a truly global network of digital modernist studies. And I think I’ll end on this note: EMiC’s primary focus has been collaboration: collaboration among peers, and now collaboration among projects. And by collaborating with other projects around the world, we hope to create tools that will last, be useful, and really change the face of modernist studies.

Welcome to EMiC. Let’s go build something.


*Details of the EMiC Digital Humanities Sprout

Existing Islandora Code

1. Islandora Core
a. Integration with the Fedora repository and Drupal CMS
b. Islandora Book Workflow
c. Islandora Audio/Video
d. Islandora Scholarly Citations

New/Enhanced Functionality for the EMiC Module

1. Smart Ingest

a. Use open source Tesseract OCR engine
b. Integration of TIKA

2. Image Markup Tool

Proofs of concept and models:

Image Markup Tool (IMT)

Text-Image Linking Environment (TILE)


3. TEI Editor

Proofs of concept and models:

Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC) – CWRC Writer

Humanities Research Infrastructure and Tools (HRIT) – Editor

4. Collation Tool

Proofs of concept and models for development:


The Versioning Machine

InContext tool

5. Version Visualization Tool

Proofs of concept and models:

On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces

Sea Dragon

6. Dynamic Version Viewer


Internet Archive Viewer

Hypercities database: Transparent layers interface

7. Digital Collection Visualization Tool

Proof of concept:

The Visible Archive

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