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Author: Joanne DeCaro

“Day of DH” Snapshots of Our Daily Lives

“Day of DH” Snapshots of Our Daily Lives

The Women Writers Project is proud to host our local Digital Scholarship Group “Day of DH” post this year. “Day of DH” provides an opportunity for members of the DH community to share “day in the life” vignettes with each other. For more information about “Day of DH,” please view the official site and you can follow the twitter hashtag #DayofDH.  I hope these snapshots offer a fun array of some of the people, activities, and work that comprises the DH community at Northeastern.

Julia Flanders, Director of the Digital Scholarship Group and the Women Writers Project

This year for “Day of DH” I had an unusually substantive day–in the past I’ve sometimes found myself trying to create an inspiring narrative about the relevance of administrative work, but today I did some genuinely digital-humanities things. My first activity was a meeting of the research group for a seedling grant that is focused on using the Women Writers Project corpus with Word2Vec. In the coming year we’ll be expanding some tools Ashley Clark developed that produce a modified version of the WWP’s TEI/XML markup from which we can then extract plain-text data to feed into the word vector analysis. The modifications handle things like hyphenated words broken across a line break (representing these as a single word for analysis purposes), or selecting the regularized-spelling option for words which the WWP has marked for regularization. The resulting output produces more meaningful results in the word vector analysis (since it doesn’t include word fragments and typographical variants). We sat down together as a group and installed the current version of Ashley’s XSLT and XQuery routines, so that as the grant work gets going we can all experiment together.

After that, the Digital Scholarship Group had its weekly staff meeting at which we discussed the recently announced NHPRC/Mellon “Digital Edition Publishing Cooperatives” funding program, and the potential it might hold for DSG. Then in the afternoon, Syd Bauman and I taught the second session of a short and intensive workshop on schema-writing with RelaxNG, for graduate students in Northeastern’s Digital Humanities Certificate program.

A good and enjoyable day with wonderful colleagues–I feel really lucky for these moments of routine productivity, amid more uncertain and threatening circumstances.

Sarah Connell, Assistant Director of the Women Writers Project and the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks

You can get a reasonable picture of my day by looking at “before” and “after” versions of my to-do list, combined with my calendar. Today was a fairly standard Thursday in that it was mostly meetings, with other work happening in the gaps between. On my train ride in and for the first half-hour of the day, I was able to prepare for a training session I have tomorrow and send out a scheduling notice for an upcoming meeting that the NULab faculty will be having to plan for our programming next year, which will focus on the theme of fake news and disinformation. I also checked one of our WWO texts to see if my suspicions that a semicolon really needed to be a period were correct (they were). I replied to a few emails as well (there are always emails) and I got some incremental work done in reviewing the newest set of Women Writers in Context exhibits for publication.

Then, Ashley Clark and I met with the team who will be working on a new WWP project, funded by one of Northeastern’s TIER 1 grants, to set up a prototype vector space analysis web platform for Women Writers Online. This was a fun meeting because we were getting the whole team up and running with the XSLT and XQuery transformations necessary to take encoded texts and prepare them for analysis using Ben Schmidt’s word2vec package in R. It was a good chance for me to practice walking people through these processes and, as always, there were some new wrinkles that came up, which Ashley and I will now be able to anticipate the next time we teach this. That meeting ran late, so I ended up going right into the Digital Scholarship Group team meeting (which actually just meant moving to a different seat on the couch in our media lounge).

After the DSG meeting I grabbed a bit of lunch and sent a few more emails, including a scheduling message for a meeting on using the CERES Toolkit in a class on Literature and Digital Diversity that Elizabeth Dillon and I will be teaching in the fall. I was also able to take care of a few WWP admin tasks before the next meeting—in this case, actually a workshop on RELAX NG and schema planning, the second of two sessions led by Julia Flanders and Syd Bauman. After that workshop, Julia and I had our weekly meeting, which enabled me to check off a few items on my to-do list, particularly around our planning for the DH Certificate and for the work that the WWP and other DSG & NULab projects will be doing over the summer. As often happens, I added a few new items to my to-do list as well.

Finally, it was time for a Barrs Lecture, “Senecan Inwardness and the Staging of Race in Titus Andronicus and Othello” by Curtis Perry, followed by dinner with the speaker and then a train ride home (during which I’ll probably write more emails). I’m sending this for posting prior to the lecture and I’m really looking forward to it.

And now it’s time to check off one last item on my to-do list: “Write Day of DH post.”

Sarah’s “to-do” list at the beginning of the day.
Sarah’s “to-do” list at the end of the day. At the WWP we are all amazed at everything Sarah manages every single day.

Ashley Clark, XML Applications Programmer

This morning I assisted Sarah Connell in introducing the process we use to generate full-text versions of Women Writers Project TEI. The process consists of an XSL transformation I wrote to regularize things like <choice> elements and soft hyphens—phenomena that the WWP encoders have dutifully transcribed, but the implications of which can be lost when one strips out the markup, retaining only the text content. For example, a typo transcribed as:

will, when the encoding is stripped out, appear like this:

The XSLT creates a normalized version of the WWP TEI, moving non-useful text into an attribute I’ve called ‘read’ (as in, “for this element, read ‘This'”):

which translates into this plain text version:

But! Since the original text content is preserved in `@read`, you can reconstitute it and use XPath to find the matching phrase in its original context:

`//text//p[matches(normalize-space(.),’the Emrppre[sſ]s’)]`

(Note that I haven’t yet made explicit the normalization of long-S to regular S. Ideally, the XSLT would use @read for the long-S as well, so you wouldn’t have to resort to regular expressions.)

Lara Roberts, PhD Candidate in English

Lara’s Day of Digital *Human*ities

0930-1100 I was part of a group that transformed the WWP corpus with XSLT and XQuery to use later with the word2vec R package.
1130-1300 I went to our weekly meeting for the Early Caribbean Digital Archive. We were so excited working on prepping the website for launch that I forgot to take a picture. Instead, here’s a slide with pictures of the team members (past and present)!
From 1300-1600, I joined my cohort in our teeny office to have weekly work time trying to understand data analysis through RStudio.
1600, Usually, at some point, we have to go get snacks to keep our brains fueled, before…
1630-1900 I ended the day in the always challenging and entertaining Humanities Data Analysis class.

Joanne DeCaro Afornalli, Outreach Coordinator for the Women Writers Project

After a brisk morning walk with my exceedingly energetic little puppy Brooke, I settled in to some tea and emails. I was very excited to see a congratulatory email from David Lazer, Co-Director of NULab, on a recent presentation I gave for the NULab faculty on my Digital Humanities Certificate project. Afterwards, I spent some time looking over a new contribution for our Intertextual Networks series. I’m really looking forward to sharing Cassie Childs’ upcoming post on Delarivier Manley’s Letters Written by Mrs Manley and food history. It includes some fascistic analysis of archival images from eighteenth-century recipe books and botanical guides, and the post’s images immediately struck me with their beauty and nostalgia.

My big event of the day was attending Northeastern’s Academic Honors Convocation to receive the Outstanding Graduate Student Award for Experiential Learning. The award recognizes a graduate student who has “shown an extraordinary capacity to integrate academics and professional work, and establish themselves as an emerging leader in their field.” I was highly honored to received it, and very glad I could share the experience with my advisor Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, my Co-op coordinator Lisa Cantwell Doherty, and Marina Leslie (who so kindly nominated me for the award).

Now that I’m home for the night, I plan on making the final minor formatting touches on my master’s thesis, and then submitting it to ProQuest! My thesis, “Angelenos Incarcerated: The La County Jail Oral History Project” is a DH project that features the oral histories of ex-inmates told through videography, mapping, exhibits, and encoded texts (with a customized TEI schema). You can view the project’s website here.

Overall, it was a pretty big day. Not necessarily the heaviest DH day for me. But, I was so honored to have the multimedia and digital humanities work I do recognized in a big way today. And I was beyond grateful to have such an amazing group of women cheering me on.

Liz Polcha, PhD Candidate in English

Cara Messina, PhD Candidate in English

This morning I woke up feeling the familiar finals anxiety. Even so, I pushed myself to attend the RelaxNG workshop run by Julia Flanders. Thanks to learning the different approaches to schema building (and Julia’s excellent scaffolding and metaphors), I have begun creating a flexible XML schema that I plan to use as a pedagogical tool next semester. Learning new DH tools is the perfect form of productive procrastination!

After the workshop, I attended Ryan Cordell’s Humanities Data Analysis final class. Throughout the semester, we’ve used R to analyze our corpora; my corpus contains the metadata and actual texts of 3,000 Korra x Asami (Korrasami) fanfictions from Archive of Our Own.  We went over topic modeling and classification again; Ryan encouraged us to embrace topic modeling’s lack of stability. Although most of the class revolved around discussing challenges and asking/answering questions about our struggles with R, we had a few laughs reading Day of DH Tweets and reflecting on the semester.

Bill Quinn, PhD Candidate in English

Today for DH, I worked on writing my prospectus. I wrote about how computational text analysis will help me explore intertextuality in modernist magazines. It feels really weird writing about what computers do between inputting the data and rendering the visualizations, and I am trying to figure out how some people do it so well. Fortunately, Stanley the dog was there to help out.
Cavendish X Molière: Braiding The Politics of Inter-Gender Dialogue

Cavendish X Molière: Braiding The Politics of Inter-Gender Dialogue

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Arnaud Zimmern, Ph.D. Candidate in English, University of Notre Dame

Were it but for matters of language—that Margaret Cavendish’s French was, like Molière’s English, non-existent—the titular resonance between her 1662 The Female Academy and his 1662 L’Ecole des femmes would defy coincidence. Similarly, the ambitions for all-female education and for celibate female autonomy at stake in her 1668 The Convent of Pleasure would find their satirical counterpoint in his 1672 Les Femmes Savantes. And thus the influence of Restoration England’s most under-appreciated female playwright on early modern France’s most admired male comedian would be unmistakably sealed.

Unfortunately, as Laura Carraro and Antonella Rigamonti intimated in 2000, scanty evidence that the two playwrights ever referenced each other makes it that Cavendish’s plays and persona as a learned lady can only be considered a loose “subtext” of Molière’s, nothing more (138). Whether these contemporaries read each other’s works or drew on common sources of inspiration are points of intertextuality clamoring for further elucidation. But let me propose that we take intertextuality from a less verbal and more structural vantage point. In the absence of a common language and common sources, did Molière and Cavendish share a common dramaturgical approach? More specifically, did they stage dialogue in similar ways, especially dialogue between witty, learned women and the men who would oppose and/or espouse them? If both playwrights staged the figure of the learned lady, whether satirically or heroically, did they give her distinct idiosyncratic modes of conversation or analogous ones? That, at least, is the question I’m setting out to answer for my project for Intertextual Networks. In this first post I want to present in some detail the historical background I’m addressing and I want to introduce the particularities, strengths, and weakness of the visualization method I am currently developing in order to track and compare dialogue, a method we can provisionally call “braiding.” My hope is that in bringing a visualization method to bear on the work of a woman writer who disparaged the Royal Society for its microscopes and who rightly elevated baking and cosmetics to the status of “chymistry,” I’ve at least paid her the homage of drawing my guiding metaphor from the realm of brioches and hair fashion.

That Cavendish knew of Molière by the time she self-published her second volume of plays, Playes Never Before Printed (1668), is rather safely attested. In 1667, her husband, William Duke of Newcastle, translated the Frenchman’s early play L’Etourdi (to be later revised and staged by Dryden). In September of the following year, William was also the dedicatee of Thomas Shadwell’s The Sullen Lovers, an overt adaptation of Molière’s Les Facheux. William’s contributions in verse to Margaret’s The Convent of Pleasure—which she carefully identified with individually pasted markers in the folio editions of the Plays (think early-modern Post-Its)—suggest the couple collaborated and would have discussed the latest trends in the comédie de moeurs (comedy of manners), as several scholars have noted.1

It would be difficult also to underestimate the press surrounding Molière’s L’Ecole des femmes, in equal parts a box-office smash and a tabloids scandal. The controversy cut on both sides of Molière’s professional and private lives. Hardly four years into his Paris career, Molière single-handedly relaunched the querelle des femmes, or debate on women’s education, as he satirized the efforts of the middle-aged Arnolphe who tries to keep his ward and bride-to-be, Agnès, untainted from all forms of knowledge, be they scientific or carnal. Molière opened himself to identical satire as he set about marrying his young ward, the actress Armande Béjart, whom many alleged to be his own illegitimate daughter. In February of 1662, under a chorus of wedding bells and a storm of gossip, Molière effectively succeeded where Arnolphe comically fails. 2 Unabashed, Molière rode the waves of popular attention to financial gain, producing in the following year a response play, La Critique de l’Ecole des femmes, which netted record profits.

Charles Robinet’s Panégyrique de l’Ecole des Femmes, the last of several published critiques of the original play, reports on the stir that Molière’s Ecole caused especially in England, where debonaire British husbands allegedly found the play’s male protagonist too tyrannical in his efforts to preserve Agnès’ innocence and ignorance.3 Whether Robinet’s report can be taken at face-value remains to be corroborated. For instance, his claim that the British have little appetite for Molière’s variety of “languishing comedies” but feed rather on a regular diet of the purest Tragedy, is historically specious.4 The most recent study of Molière’s impact on England suggests rather that his brand of comédie de moeurs—combining social documentary and lampoon—“parallels… the great manners tradition in Restoration comedy.”5 But Robinet’s characterization of laxer, more complaisant British husbands does seem to match Margaret Cavendish’s portrait of an obliging William Cavendish in her defensive biography, the Life of the Duke (1667). So with that point of sympathy in mind, we can conclude that if Margaret did not hear about L’Ecole des femmes from the public sphere, she knew of its author from the private sphere of her husband’s theatrical work and his collaboration, and of its themes from the kind of gossip that dogged her own marriage, as snide critics labelled her as pseudo-intellectual and her husband as lackadaisical.

Whether Molière, in turn, knew of the Duchess of Newcastle or of her works is a question altogether harder to answer and perhaps less promising. If he knew of her or of other learned women’s intellectual ambitions, he seems to have made both much and little of them, as the whim suited him. Ian MacLean reminds us: “Why should an opportunistic playwright in search of controversial material limit himself to a single view or consistent line? Education for women is implicitly defended in L’École des femmes; its excesses are attacked in Les Femmes Savantes. Women’s literary creativity in the form of romances is satirized in Les Précieuses Ridicules; the restrictions of women to such domestic activities as needle-work and sewing and their exclusion from education are impugned in L’Ecole des femmes.”6 Scholars often point to Mademoiselle de Scudéry, the 17th century female novelist, as a particular target of ridicule in Molière’s misogynistic plays. But there is no reason Cavendish should be exempt from her company, for Molière’s satires are capacious. Specific evidence, however, remains hard to come by in the plays themselves.

At stake then in finding intertextualities beyond the usual inter-citational or referential patterns, are two portraits. The first is that of Cavendish as a playwright more acutely aware of, adaptable to, and critical of continental trends in dramaturgy than the recent scholarly focus on her Shakespearean, Jonsonian, and purely anglo-English inheritance has suggested.7 If she responded vividly to the scientific discourses of René Descartes and Pierre Gassendi, whom she hosted at her table, there is little reason to doubt she responded with the same energy to developments in French theater. The second portrait is that of Molière, whose dramaturgical debts might extend across the channel in ways historians tracking his relationship to (and largely unilateral influence on) Restoration drama thus far could not account for.8 Their oversight, if it indeed it is one, would stem in large part from the fact that Cavendish’s plays have remained in the bibliographic shadows—a dilemma presently being resolved. But it would stem also from a lack of methods with which to track various kinds of non-verbal intertextuality—a dilemma I want to try to address with braiding.

BRAIDING

Braiding sounds tricky but isn’t—in fact, it’s almost naïvely simple. In this second, more DH-heavy half of the post, I want to introduce it as a method for visualizing, tracking, and comparing structures of dramatic dialogue.

Let me begin by saying that, just like my first-year students (albeit for different reasons), I often get so lost in the language of the 17th century that I forget to read plays with an eye for who is talking to whom when. It takes considerable familiarity with a particular play, its characters, its plot, &c. to back up from the content of the speech-acts and look instead at their patterning, their sequencing, the rationales for the turn-taking within a given conversation, and identify the politics (whether gendered, racial, class-based, &c.) that are determining those turns, sequences, and patterns. It is a matter of the scale at which we read, whether close or distant, but also of the scale at which our methods make us comfortable reading. For instance, in Shakespeare studies, Anthony J. Gilbert tried early on to introduce literary scholars to the terminologies and questions of conversation analysis defined by anthropologists like Harvey Sacks—elements like indexicality, sequence, pre-sequence, announcements, pre-announcements, turn-taking, etc. But 1997 was perhaps still too early in the digital era to envisage how Sacks and Gilbert’s terms could help scholars understand intertextuality. Rather than stimulate scholars to look for analogous structures and strategies of dramatic-speech across plays and playwrights, Sacks’ abstruse terminology likely came across as another alien import from the social sciences that we would be better off not learning. So rather than propose a distant-reading tool predicated on Sacks’ anthropology and its set of assumptions, one that would markedly distinguish itself from the more comfortable realm of close reading, I want to propose braiding as a method that enables what Martin Mueller calls “scalable reading,” or the transition from close, formal analysis to the more structural, big-picture concerns of conversation analysis, and back again to the text.9 I’ll start by presenting the specificity of braiding in contrast to the better-known techniques of network analysis, and conclude with a few remarks on how attention to author-specific strategies of staging dramatic conversation might help us see Molière and Cavendish’s plays informing each other.

If we wanted a snapshot of the dialogue between characters in a given play, we might opt for a character network analysis, like Franco Moretti’s social network of Hamlet below, where an edge or link between two character-nodes represents a spoken transaction between those characters.

The Hamlet Network.

But networks are notoriously poor at representing the passage of time. With a network, a play or a short-story’s diegetic time gets compressed down to a single plane: you see the whole plot summarized in one instant. If we want to see changes in the network within time, if we wish to see the plot unfold, we may resort to a kind of flipbook of consecutive networks, flipping through various instances of the plot (this is often called a dynamic network). But the same problem ultimately persists: at each instant, we can consider only how the present network compares to the network from the previous instant or the upcoming one; we cannot visualize the overall change. What’s more, networks are poor at enabling multiple-graph comparisons. While we can handle comparing two simple network side by side, the intuitive benefits of that visualization break down once we’re looking at six or seven networks: the visual patterns simply cease to stand out because the cognitive load is too great. Networks therefore don’t encourage studies of multiple similar texts or of a single text’s transformation across several editions in historical time.

That’s where braiding intervenes as a supplement to social character network graphs. For clarity’s sake, let me use a text many of us will know well: Little Red Riding Hood (hereafter LRRH). In the scene excerpted below from Charles Perrault’s 1697 version of the tale, Wolf knocks at Grandmother’s door and pretends to be Riding Hood. Imagine Wolf’s voice as a strand in a braid, rather than an edge in a network, and let it cross over Grandmother’s strand to represent that Wolf speaks to Grandmother.

Braiding Demo – Little Red Riding Hood

That’s our first “crossing” within the braid, and we’ll encode it as a “braid-letter.” Assuming Wolf is character 1, and Grandmother is character 2, that braid-letter looks something like (102) where the 0 is a placeholder dividing addresser and addressee. When Grandmother responds and for each distinct ensuing speech-act, repeat the process — and so on and so forth for the rest of the story.

The visualization and the string of braid-letters (or “braid-word”) that emerges by the end is dependent on how you, as reader and encoder, have interpreted what constitutes “conversation.” Does a non-verbal knock at Grandmother’s door count as a speech-act? Is Grandmother responding at once to Riding Hood (in her mind) and to Wolf (in reality) when she responds, in which case the braid-letter might not just be (102) but (1023), entwining Wolf and Riding Hood’s strands together before having them cross under Grandmother’s strand? Similar questions of confused identity famously arise in early modern drama, especially in Shakespeare and Cavendish with their cross-dressing characters. It is precisely to avoid losing this important part of subjective interpretation that I propose braiding as a method and not a tool. I hope thereby to leave braiding available to multiple research interests, including those that need to pay attention to character confusion, focalization through a specific character’s experience of the plot, direct vs. indirect discourse, etc. I hope to encourage the kind of scalable-reading mentioned earlier, where the assumptions driving a visualization-technique are legible first and foremost to the reader/user.

A method though it might be, an important tool-like aspect of braiding, however, does emerge once we’ve encoded several conversations or several versions of a story into braid-words. In the following sample of 12 LRRH stories written between 1697 and 1899, we can certainly proceed visually and intuitively with the braid diagrams with relatively little cognitive difficulty, looking for patterns our eyes are rather good at picking up on.

Twelve Versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Braided and with Braidwords. Note how the dialogue structure of the 1697 Perrault version gets reproduced almost exactly in 1729, 1879, and 1891, while the introduction of the hunter figure at the tail end of the 1812 Brothers Grimm version leads to subsequent adaptations both minor (1889, 1894) as well as major, for instance in 1888 and 1898 when grandmother loudly assumes the hunter’s role.

But we can also quantitatively sequence the “braid-words” to retrieve patterns or near-patterns using rudimentary sequence-parsing algorithms borrowed from genetic sequencing. Braiding becomes an instrument for pattern-recognition and pattern-discovery across relatively large and complex corpuses, in ways networks do not readily allow for. For a brief (and somewhat naïve) gloss of a few interesting patterns in this sample of LRRH stories, you’re welcome to check out an embarrassing TEDx talk I gave my senior year of undergraduate studies at Southern Methodist University. The more important result I want to focus on, the one more relevant to the interests of our group at WWO—which emerges quite palpably from the picture above—is that braids offer the opportunity to consider at a glance the complex ebb and flow of conversations, and to some extent even of plot-line, within one story (synchronically) as well as across stories (diachronically). Moreover, they invite our visual intuition to collaborate with sequence-parsing algorithms, and they allow our comfort with close-reading specific passages to merge with more distant considerations of patterning across a text or multiple texts. Lastly they invite us, upon discovering a pattern, to return to the details of the relevant passage or set of passages to consider what, at the level of power-play and politics, is conditioning that particular pattern. They enable and enact scalable reading in ways I find few DH tools currently encourage.

All is not rosy-eyed, of course: I have yet to automate the transition from braid-words to braid-diagrams. The picture above is made entirely by hand. But my first step for the WWO project will be to automate the transition from braid-word to braid-diagram using either the python-based Numpy library or the MathML braid-visualization library.10 Charming and vintage as Microsoft Paint and manual labor might be, no one has that kind of time to spend. I welcome any suggestions or questions on how best to go about that part of the project and look forward to any thoughts or concerns it might elicit.

To bring things back finally to Molière and Cavendish and to conclude this long post, my project will begin with identifying a set of scenes within the plays aforementioned and others from their corpuses wherein male and female characters, learned ladies and their male antagonists, exchange contested words. As the Women Writers Lab pointed out early on with its helpful visualizations (reproduced below), Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure is not especially marked by male-female interactions, and we might add that Cavendish’s 1662 The Female Academy is even less so.

Margaret Cavendish, The Convent of Pleasure, 1668. This visualization illustrates the percentage of female & male speakers in each scene of Margaret Cavendish’s The Convent of Pleasure (1668). In ten out of a total of twenty scenes, female characters are sole speakers. Image reproduced from WWLab.

But the WWO Lab’s visualization depends on whether we encode the play’s central cross-dressing figure, the Prince who eventually marries the learned-lady figure, as male or female. By allowing for multiple possible encodings of the gender dynamics in these scenes, I hope to show that we can think about the cross-dressing Prince as someone who simultaneously parodies, venerably imitates, and obligingly enables the conversational patterns of the play’s learned lady. My literary-historical hunch (and I welcome any critiques or responses to it) is that in the gap between Cavendish’s first collection of plays (1662) and the second (1668), she has had time to consider and digest how Molière and his various critics/imitators represent the learned lady’s conversational patterns in L’Ecole and the Critique de l’Ecole. She is more attune to the learned lady’s strategies for intervening in natural-philosophical or proto-scientific discussions, where the politics of turn-taking are dominated both by intellectual hierarchies and age-hierarchies, and most importantly by gender norms. She is therefore better able to respond to Molière’s Ecole des Femmes in the Convent of Pleasure than she was as she composed The Female Academy. By allying a new scalable reading method with elements of conversation analysis, I hope to capture a glimpse of that otherwise illegible intertextuality.

Notes.

Intertextual connections in An Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditacions: poetry versus prose

Intertextual connections in An Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditacions: poetry versus prose

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Jenna Townend, Ph.D. Candidate in English, Drama, and Publishing, Loughborough University

My collaborative work with the Intertextual Networks project takes the form of an investigation into how quantitative network analysis can help us map intertextual practices and influences in the poetry of the seventeenth-century writer, An Collins. Her collection of devotional poems, Divine Songs and Meditacions (1653), is the only source of information we have on Collins and her life. Though it is apparent from the poems that Collins suffered from a chronic illness which had affected her since childhood, discerning other influences on Collins’s writing – such as her particular religious beliefs, her reading habits, and how she made use of what she read – is not an easy task. Nevertheless, previous work by Helen Wilcox and Mary Morrissey has established that there are intertextual connections to be found, and it is from these studies that this project takes its departure.

The poems of Collins’s Divine Songs and Meditacions communicate her desire for union with God through her journey from melancholy to grace, and her experiences of spiritual and physical affliction. Divine Songs and Meditacions show that her creative and devotional thinking were influenced by the poetical devices and structural elements of poets such as George Herbert, as well as the prose texts of popular puritan theologians like William Perkins. My project examines and maps in close detail what Collins took from her textual sources, and considers how she used these sources in the context of her desire to achieve union with God. This blog post will consider how I have identified a good number of intertextual connections using a piece of text comparison software called WCopyfind, and will discuss the issue that is now of greatest significance as, in the second stage of the project, I begin to translate these data concerning intertextual connections into a format to which network analysis can be applied.

Inevitably, before the methods of network analysis structure can be used, much recovery work is required to uncover and categorize the intertextual elements of Collins’s text, and this requires the examination of each of the works that Collins may have been influenced by. Taking cues from the work of Wilcox and Morrissey, I began by examining George Herbert’s The Temple (1633), Henry Vaughan’s Silex Scintillans (1650), and William Perkins’s The Foundations of the Christian Religion (1590). This corpus has now been expanded to include other popular poetic works and theological texts, of which Faithful Teate’s Ter Tria (1650) and Richard Baxter’s The Saints Everlasting Rest (1650) are just two examples. Making close comparisons between multiple texts which span the genres of prose and poetry is an exceptionally time-consuming task, but it has been made significantly easier by a piece of software called WCopyfind. WCopyfind is an open-source program that compares documents and highlights similarities between their words and phrases. The software was originally developed to detect plagiarism in student essays, but it is also an invaluable resource for anyone working on similarities or differences between texts.

The interface of WCopyfind is extremely user-friendly, and enables the user to choose to ignore features such as punctuation or letter case: something that is invaluable when it comes to analysing early-modern texts with non-standardized spelling and syntax. Using the EEBO full-text files of each of the texts in the project’s corpus (remembering to remove extraneous metadata and hyperlinks such as ‘View Document Image 9’), it is possible to run comparisons between the phrasing of texts. Users can select various parameters such as the shortest phrase to include (for example, telling WCopyfind that you want it to find shared phrases of no fewer than four words), whether or not to include punctuation, and, perhaps most significantly, a minimum percentage of matching words (setting this value to 80%, for instance, allows WCopyfind to find matches despite minor discrepancies in spelling). Once the comparison has been run, the two texts and their similarities can be viewed in parallel windows, with correspondences shown in red:

Figure 1. Side-by-side comparison in WCopyfind between Collins’s Divine Songs and Perkins’s The Foundation.
Figure 2. Side-by-side comparison in WCopyfind of Collins’s Divine Songs and Perkins’s The Foundation, showing similarities between their comments on faith.

It is worth noting, however, that if such tools are used only for the purposes of noting down statistics relating to the degree of similarity between Collins’s work and that of a probable source, then they become something of a blunt object. As another collaborator on the Intertextual Networks project, Amanda Henrichs, has noted in her own work, doing so often leads to ‘gaining old insights more quickly, rather than coming to new conclusions’. What I would like to do, therefore, is to examine some of the results I have obtained by using WCopyfind, and suggest the direction that this project will take as it begins to experiment with using network analysis to map intertextual influence.

Running comparisons in WCopyfind between Collins’s Divine Songs and Herbert’s The Temple, and then between Collins’s work and Perkins’s The Foundation of the Christian Religion produced some surprising results which have altered the trajectory of this project. When it comes to similarities in phrasing, there are roughly twice as many correspondences between Collins’s poems and Perkins’s work than with Herbert’s verses, despite the fact that The Temple is more than twice as long as The Foundation. Repeating this comparison with other poetic texts that Collins may have been influenced by, such as Vaughan’s Silex Scintillans or Teate’s Ter Tria, produces a similar result. This unexpected outcome has caused me to widen the net of my project. After all, it calls into question any assumption that poets are always most influenced by other poets when it comes to the content of their verse. The fundamental question raised by these results thus concerns the difference between a poet drawing on, or being influenced by, a prose text and a poetic work. What was it about Perkins’s text that Collins found so well-aligned with her own devotional and creative thinking, and what, in turn, did she take from her poetic sources like Herbert? Whatever it was that Collins found appealing in her poetic sources, it does not appear to have been their doctrinal content or phrasing, and we must therefore pay close attention to Collins’s borrowing of verse forms, metaphors, and images from contemporary poets.

A brief example of the complexity of this issue can be found in the opening verse of Collins’s work, ‘The Discourse’. The one-hundred-and-three stanzas of Collins’s lyric are written in a similar style to the seventy-seven stanzas of Herbert’s own introductory poem, ‘The Church-porch’, and sets out many of the devotional ideas and topics that are also explored later in the volume. Collins uses an adapted version of the verse form of Herbert’s ‘The Church-porch’, rhyming her lyric ABABBCC, rather than ABABCC. We also learn personal details, such as the fact that Collins ‘spent my infantcy, | And part of freshest yeares, as hath been sayd | Partaking then of nothing cheerfully’ (ll. 85-87), and of her desire that ‘Next unto God, my selfe I sought to know’ (l. 246). However, in terms of the number of shared phrases, ‘The Discourse’ possesses a greater debt to Perkins’s The Foundation than any other poem in Collins’s text when it comes to doctrinal content. Perkins’s text, which takes the form of a catechism, was an extremely popular text among English puritans, and it was organized around six devotional topics of God: man’s sinfulness, imputation, saving faith, obtaining faith, and death (Morrissey, p. 469). As an illustrative example of the parity between Collins’s lyric and Perkins’s catechism, it is worth comparing Collins’s comments on faith in stanza seventy-nine of ‘The Discourse’ with a passage from Perkins’s catechism (see also Figure 2 for a side-by-side comparison of these sections in WCopyfind):

That such a man hath Faith it doth appeare
For these desires doe plainly testifie,
He hath the Spirit of his Saviour dear,
For tis his speciall work or property,
To stir up longings after purity:
Now where his Spirit is there Christ resides,
And where Christ dwels is true Faith though weak abides. (ll. 550-56)

Q. How doo you know that such a man hath faith?

A. These desires and prayers are testimonie of the spirit, whose propertie it is to stirre up a longing and a lusting after heavenly things, with sighes and groanes for Gods favour and mercie in Christ. Nowe where the spirit of Christ is, there is Christ dwelling: and where Christ dwelleth, there is true fayth how weake soever it be. (sigs. B5r-B6v)

The parallels in phrasing here are obvious. Following Perkins’s indication that a man’s ‘desires and prayers are testimonie of the spirit’ and that they ‘stirre up a longing and a lusting after heavenly things’, Collins similarly states her belief that faith’s ‘desires doe plainly testifie, | He hath the Spirit of his Saviour’ (ll. 551-52) and in turn ‘stir up longings after purity’ (l. 554). However, given that Collins transposes much of the content of Perkins’s prose catechism into a verse form adapted from Herbert, considering the confluence of both prose and poetic influences is evidently vital to understanding Collins’s lyrics and how she made use of her devotional reading. My current hypothesis is that Collins takes elements of the content and theology of her poems from writers like Perkins, while adapting features of the form, style, and theme from her poetic texts in order to give shape and order to these doctrinal elements. This hypothesis will be tested as the project now moves, in its second stage, to modelling data concerning these intertextual correspondences using network analysis.

Inevitably, using a methodology that is traditionally used to focus on tracing social relationships or connections between members of a network will require some sensitive reworking if it is going to productively examine questions of literary influence. After all, the project is dealing with intertextual correspondences that range from a direct borrowing of phrasing, shared doctrinal or theological topic, poetic form, and particular metaphors or images. Moving forward, then, my next challenge will be to experiment with network software programs such as UCINET and Gephi to conceptualize the most effective way of visually representing these various types of intertextual connection in the work of An Collins and, more broadly, to interrogate how early-modern women’s poetry was influenced by a full range of contemporary writers and their texts.

Bibliography

Collins, An, Divine Songs and Meditacions (London: R. Bishop, 1653)

Morrissey, Mary, ‘What An Collins was Reading’, Women’s Writing, 19 (2012), 467-86

Perkins, William, The Foundation of Christian Religion, gathered into Sixe Principles ([London]: Thomas Orwin for John Porter, 1591)

Wilcox, Helen, ‘The “finenesse of Devotional Poetry: An Collins and the School of Herbert’, in An Collins and the Historical Imagination, ed. by W. Scott Howard (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 71-86

Women Writers and Print Networks in Eighteenth-Century England

Women Writers and Print Networks in Eighteenth-Century England

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Kate Ozment, Texas A&M University

My project for the Intertextual Networks traces the material links between women writers in the long eighteenth century in England—their publishers. We have long discussed how significant numbers of women made their way into the literary side of the print market after the Restoration of Charles II. We have also begun to outline with more certainly the changes and developments in the book trade that enabled these women to reach their audiences. This project links these two discourses together by asking: who published women and why?

Accordingly, I investigate the collaborations between women commercial authors and their partners in the book trades by mapping books as data points linked to their producers. Through this method, I hope to uncover the network of publishers, printers, and booksellers who produced women’s literature. I use Gephi to show relational frequency through which tradespeople cluster the most between authors through direct edges. When known printer-publisher-bookseller relationships exist, I also tag who was mostly likely linked to the project as well using indirect edges. Gephi’s relational nodes show the clustering tradespeople between authors to highlight which firms were most often used by more than one author. The difficulty thus far has been how to show chronology along with frequency, which is a problem I hope to solve as this project continues.

An example of a Gephi visualization displaying Aphra Behn’s publishing network.

In order to control the data input, I am focusing on genres and authors that have a scholarly history in literary studies from which to pull. I include poetry, drama, fictional prose, pamphlets and essays, and literary biographies; a future project will expand to herbals, cookbooks, and other forms of technical writing where women have a long and rich history. I have begun with the authors about which the most is known—Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, and Eliza Haywood—for ease of reference and as test subjects before moving into murkier waters. All three women were successful (even notorious) commercial authors who created a space for more to follow. A second round will expand to include Katherine Philips, Susannah Centlivre, Jane Barker, and Mary Astell along with their more genteel colleagues: Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and Mary Chudleigh. One limitation of my first three authors is that they span time periods without significant overlap; the second round will make connections more easily identifiable.

As authors are the primary categorizing variable, the book trade names on imprints are secondary factors, largely exercises in identification. But, even this is rather tricky. Each of the printer, publisher, and bookseller has roles that are both easily defined and difficult to delineate. Printers were responsible for physically printing books; publishers for the financing, and therefore would own the copyright; and booksellers for the sale of physical copies. Individuals or firms could inhabit one or all of these roles; multiple individuals could inhabit each role—and often did through publishing collectives; and there could be various layers of contracts as jobs were sold off in pieces. Further, each book is its own case with a unique set of circumstances. It is difficult to re-create these relationships because imprints and surviving papers rarely offer definitive information about who fills what role. This presents both opportunities and challenges for scholars looking to historicize material decisions in the book-making process: if publishers or bookseller usually commissioned or bought books, would they be the ones to make decisions about design and format? If the book was jobbed out to trade publishers or other printers, would it be given sets of instructions or would the compositors make these decisions? Essentially, to whom do we designate authority?

As I do not (yet) have all the answers to these questions, I have imperfectly decided to input printers’ names but use publishers and booksellers as the primary factors for tracing relationships with authors. Printers could be seen as laborers on certain projects (and would complain of being treated as such as the century progressed), and it is highly unlikely that the designations assigning ownership to booksellers and publishers did not denote financial backing. Such a relationship can be seen with Aphra Behn’s The Luckey Chance: or, an Alderman’s Bargain that was published in 1687. The imprint reads: “Printed by R. H. for William Canning, at his Shop in Vine-Court, Middle-Temple.” In cases such as this, Ralph Holt (as identified by Wing) was Canning’s printer, and the latter was the financier of the project. Nodes like this will cluster with Canning rather than Holt, as trade practices would categorize Holt as Canning’s jobbing printer. More importantly, Canning was the owner of the work so Behn would have had her negotiations with him and he would have owned her copyright, either singularly or in partnership with others.

My examples thus far are of Aphra Behn’s career—Mary Ann O’Donnell’s Aphra Behn: An Annotated Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources (2004) has made it possible to track imprints and titles with authority. Behn produced an impressive number of titles in her almost 20 years as a professional writer, ranging from translations to drama to fictional prose and poetry. She also changed publishing firms many times. Her most sustained relationships were with three firms: Canning, Richard and Jacob Tonson, and Richard Bentley and James Magnes. She has also been associated rather strongly with Richard Wellington and Samuel Briscoe, booksellers who jointly bought up many of her copyrights and reprinted them in the 1690s after her death. Little is known of Canning’s practices, which is an area I am currently researching more fully. Fortunately, much is known about the Tonsons and a good deal about Magnes and Bentley. Jacob Tonson and his nephew Jacob, Richard’s son, would go on to become some of the most famous and profitable publishers in London, producing fine volumes of John Dryden, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and William Shakespeare well into the 1700s. Magnes and Bentley were moderately successful printers of plays and novels with a shop outside Covent Garden.

The potential benefits to this project are the ways we can use data to create most-likely scenarios for why these women published as they did. From surviving authorial addresses and letters, we know that Behn, Manley, and Haywood all viewed their writing as a commodity, something with an eager audience and potential profits. It is hardly speculation to imagine they would have been keen to find good partners in the book trade. Nevertheless, the lack of surviving records means that we have largely been unable to meaningfully investigate the motivations behind these decisions, rendering the tradespeople invisible or even parasitic rather than essential partners to book production. My project will build data around these questions so we can make these decisions more visible, giving us tools and information that we can use to reconstruct the agent side of commercial authorship.

It may be that I find patterns within the relationships. For example, both Manley and Behn chose Bentley’s firm as their first publisher. This could indicate that Bentley was willing to take chances on new authors, perhaps even new women authors, that other firms were not. It could also mean that Behn’s ongoing relationship with Bentley made him seem more appealing to Manley when she began publishing plays in 1696. Conversely, I could also find dissonances, as a wide variety of publishing firms produced women’s writing. That it is not limited to a single few, however, opens up the most powerful option of all: that women publishing was less culturally transgressive than we have imagined. We rely on the scribblings of wits, critical reviews, and the authors’ rhetorical self-presentation as our data for re-creating the cultural attitude about women’s commercial authorship. These sources are limited in their scope and filtered through rhetorical lenses that make them dubious as historical fact. Publishing data may tell a different story, one derived primarily from the collaborative production of commodities. It may lead us to consider that the marginal status of women writers was more rhetorical and discursive than economic. At the minimum, it demonstrates that the press and its workers commercially sanctioned these women’s social transgressions, complicating their role as outsiders. At the most, it suggests women could be social outsiders but economic equals.

‘To the most distant Parts’: Reading and writing about the world in The Female Spectator

‘To the most distant Parts’: Reading and writing about the world in The Female Spectator

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Samuel Diener, Ph.D. Candidate in English, Harvard University

In the November 1744 issue of her periodical The Female Spectator, the novelist and essayist Eliza Haywood writes:

What Clods of Earth should we have been but for Reading? —How ignorant of every thing but the Spot we tread upon? —Books are the Channel through which all useful Arts and Sciences are conveyed: —By the Help of Books we sit at Ease, and travel to the most distant Parts; behold the Customs and Manners of all the different Nations in the habitable Globe, nay take a View of Heaven itself, and traverse all the Wonders of the Skies.1

Haywood’s exclamation is an admonition to her female readers to cultivate knowledge of history, ethnography, geography, cosmography, and the art of navigation. But it is also an injunction to employ the social technology of the book to travel all over the globe. For Haywood, books offer access to the frontiers of empire. They are a ticket to the contact zone, one that enables the reader to behold the “Customs and Manners” of the national other.

Haywood suggests that her readers owe it to the mariners who bring back the luxuries of empire to journey with them vicariously: “a Sense of Gratitude, methinks, should influence us to interest ourselves in the Safety and Welfare of the gallant Sailors, . . . commiserate their Sufferings, and rejoice in their Escapes.”2 In the midst of a moment of crisis for the British empire, when its future success was the subject of anxiety, Haywood here advises her readers to confirm the notion of empire and fill a specific gendered role in the imperial project: vicarious participation. But she also suggests that women owe it to themselves to cultivate their knowledge of the globe precisely in order to contest the constraints of that gendered role in the course of interactions with men, reading “to the End they may be enabled to make an agreeable Part in Conversation [and] be qualified to judge for themselves.”3

But did Haywood herself (and other British women of the early modern period) actually engage in this kind of readerly practice? And how did they view their role in the empire’s expansion? The Women Writers Online corpus presents a potentially valuable way to approach this question. It is coextensive with the rise of British imperialism, including many moments when the imperial project was in a precarious position, and contains texts that engage topically with the extra-European world. Since each place-name reference in the corpus is tagged as a TEI/XML element with <placeName>, it is possible to map these references. As part of the Intertextual Networks Project, I will be using the <placeName> tags to explore the extent to which the women writers in the corpus engage topically with the imperial margins. Then, by examining the context of individual references (or clusters of references), I will be able to make conjectures about the networks of information in which these women were embedded, the sources they employ—like news or narratives of travel—and the uses they make of their material. As a result, I envision my project as a two-staged, mixed-method study: first tracking references at the macro-level, and then following up with careful interpretation and analysis.

Computational Analysis

The first obstacle to working with the corpus at a macro level is simply accessing the data. Thankfully, there are multiple resources available for this kind of work. After an excellent workshop with Northeastern University’s Syd Bauman and Julia Flanders on XSLT which I took this January, I’d recommend this language for other users of the WWO corpus; it’s straightforward and intuitive and specifically designed for interpreting XML data. Also, there is an existing set of useful resources produced by the WWO team, including Ashley Clark’s “Counting Robot”, which is available here.

However, since I was eager to begin work and lacked any experience with XSLT at the time I began the project, I conferred with some friends who have significant coding experience and they helped me design a simple counting robot in Python that performs the same function. It extracts the contents of the <placeName> tags to a large tab-delimited table, converts special characters (like the medial S), and eliminates alternate punctuations to obtain reference totals for each work (see Figure 1). Because I am specifically interested in mapping topical engagement in the texts, I chose to exclude frontmatter and backmatter, focusing only on the body of the text itself. (I don’t mean to imply that that material doesn’t contain valuable data, but only that its significance for the questions I wanted to ask seemed harder to predict. Future versions of the project may include this data.) We then created a second data table, which lists all the unique place names and their combined totals across the texts. In all, there were 6,091 unique place-names in the corpus as it stood at the time I began my project. Each place-name was also assigned a unique 4-digit ID based on its frequency-rank.

Figure 1. Example selection from the initial dataset, with columns for author, short version of title, publication date, most common punctuation of the place-name, and count. The sixth column lists all variant punctuations and spellings, so that individual references can be traced.

Together, these two datasets form a rudimentary relational database that will let me use functions in R (my language of choice for data-analysis) both to find patterns in place-name usage over time in the corpus at large and to map the topical engagement of individual texts. Figures 2-4 show the kind of broad-brush analysis that such data makes possible. They map the shape of the data for the entire corpus. A striking dynamic emerges: a collection of just a few locations, often around the metropole (England, France, London), are referenced an enormous amount of times, but the distribution curve falls off very quickly to a very, very long tail. Of the 6,091 unique names, only 487 places are mentioned more than ten times.

Figure 2. Bar plot of place names in the WWO corpus, sorted by number of total references.
Figure 3. Histogram plot of frequencies. The y axis is the number of references; the height of each bar represents the number of place-names that are mentioned at that frequency. Thus the first bar shows the number of places mentioned just once.
Figure 4. Frequency histogram, omitting place names mentioned just once.

Unfortunately, as Figure 1 illustrates, there are significant problems with this data. A glance at the text will show, for example, that the different names in the sixth column of lines 732 and 741 refer to the same place. To correct such issues, I am going through the entire second data-table, editing the ID’s so that alternate spellings of the same place-name are assigned the same unique ID. I will also have to look up archaic place-names to identify their geographical referent and to make distinctions between real-world places and “heaven,” “topsy-turvy,” “Abraham’s bosom,” and other fictional, mythical, or non-terrestrial locations. Finally, in order to map the geographical distribution of these places, I will have to retrieve (using the “ggmap” package available for R)—and check by hand—latitude/longitude coordinates for each place.

This labor-intensive process is simply beyond the realm of possibility for a busy PhD student like myself. (I can do about 15-20 place names in an hour.) However, there are 3,524 place-names that appear only once in my dataset. Trimming off this “long tail” will still give me valuable, if somewhat simplified, data, as shown in Figure 4. And a diversity test of the data, like the one shown in Figure 5, shows that nonce place names are fairly evenly distributed across the corpus. Getting rid of them only excludes a few texts, which mostly prove to have had just a small number of place-name references. (Examining these texts to see what generic or other conventions predict such less-spatially-localized writing might prove fascinating matter for another project). So far, I have only worked my way through about 700 of the 2,567 place names that occur more than once in the database, so it will be quite a while before I can begin to do analysis at the aggregate level.

Figure 5. Shannon diversity plot of authors in the corpus, showing their place-name diversity (threshold >0) and how it is affected by excluding place names that occur in the corpus just once (threshold > 1), twice (threshold > 2), three times (threshold >3), etc. Authors with only the “>0” bar use no place names that appear more than once in the corpus, and thus will no longer be represented in the dataset if nonce place names are eliminated.

Spectator as Case Study

Since my project was inspired in part by the section of The Female Spectator that I mention above, I’ll return to that work as a test case to see what these methods can tell us about a text using the data I have so far. I’ve checked and obtained coordinates for the 192 unique place names mentioned in the four volumes of the periodical available in WWO. The distinct character of their distribution is immediately apparent, and it reveals—surprisingly, in light of the passages I quote above—a tightly localized focus. The text’s most-used place name by far (at 46) is “London,” which (by contrast) takes a distant third place in the corpus’ overall place-name distribution (see Figure 6). As Figure 7 shows, many of the other place-names mentioned in the periodical (including, for example, the street-addresses of its ostensible contributors) also cluster densely around the metropolitan area of London. Meanwhile, most of the foreign high-scorers in the corpus data set (Rome and America, for example) drop well down in The Female Spectator’s data (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Top 20 most-referenced places in the WWO corpus (left) vs. top 20 most-referenced places in The Female Spectator (right).
Figure 7. The Female Spectator: Place-names in the vicinity of London.

I’d suggest that an explanation for this geographical localization is easily found in the structure of the work. The first periodical aimed at women authored by a woman in English, The Female Spectator was produced by Haywood in London between 1744 and 1746. It engages with debates about politics and domestic life that were topical for bourgeois and upper-class women in and around London in the period and takes the same form as many other famous periodicals of the century like The Tatler and The Spectator. It consists of one essay each month engaging with a particular topic, often including and responding to a letter ostensibly written by a reader from the same geographical area.

The periodical thus attempts to mirror formally, while also providing a medium for, a public sphere for 18th century women living in its primary area of distribution in the environs of London. Comparing this map to the England/France map (Figure 8) and the world map (Figure 9) show us how dramatically place-name references drop off as we go farther from the metropolitan center; for example, one occurrence of “Canada,” two of “America,” and three of “West Indies” are the only references to the Western hemisphere (unless you count two references to the Pacific and one to the South Sea).

Figure 8. Place-name distribution in Britain and France in The Female Spectator.
Figure 9. Global place-name distribution.

As Figure 9 shows, Haywood’s primary sustained engagement with the non-European, non-Mediterranean world seems to have been with the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, then the site of a small British colonial trading post called British Bencoolen. Most of these references come from a single section in the October 1745 issue of The Female Spectator, which tells the tale of a British crew shipwrecked on Sumatra. The story opens with a breakdown in Western technical prowess: the ship leaking badly, the crew deliberately runs it ashore, where it lodges fast between two rocks. To this breakdown is quickly added a reversal of the documentary gaze. The shipwrecked sailors are surrounded by indigenous locals, and kneel in surrender: “This made them withdraw their Bows . . . and draw round us in a Circle, staring as the Rabble of England would do on one of them, had we had them here in the odd Habits they wear there” (186). The inversion of roles upsets colonial hierarchies, reminding us that on the soil of another Empire—as we soon find out, the Empire of Summatra—the British seem as bizarre, and their clothes as garish, as indigenous people might seem to the British. The entire anecdote seems to be fictional: despite extensive searching, I have been able to find no corroborating sources. Haywood’s point in the tale, she states explicitly, is to contest the othering rhetoric of travel writers, who imply “that God had endued only the Europeans with reasonable Souls.”

The variety of travel-books Haywood mentions and summarizes for her readers—mainly in the July 1745 issue—suggests that she was reading voyage narratives with comprehensive deliberateness. She describes (among others) works by Aubry de la Mottraye (1674?-1743), Bernard de Montfaucon (1655-1741), William Dampier (1651-1715), Jean-Baptiste Du Halde (1674-1743), François Maximilian Misson (1650?-1722), Cornelis de Bruyn (1652-1726?), Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1605-1689), and Jean Chardin (1643-1713). Her list concludes, “There are yet some other Books I would fain take upon me to recommend; but . . . I have been already too ample in my Detail.” It is thus particularly striking that in The Female Spectator itself, so far from enacting vicarious participation with the British imperial project, Haywood employs her mastery of the genre and the discourse of travel narrative to fabricate a fictional voyage of her own that calls into question the ideological assumptions of what was, at the time, a genre dominated almost entirely by men.

R, Voyant, and the Search for Computational Delicacy in an Early Modern Corpus

R, Voyant, and the Search for Computational Delicacy in an Early Modern Corpus

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Amanda Henrichs, Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities, Department of English, Indiana University

My contribution to the Intertextual Networks takes up the literary and historical relationships between Lady Mary Wroth (1587–1651) and her aunt Mary Sidney-Herbert (1561–1621). These two women are members of the Sidney family, one of the most influential families in English literature and politics for over 200 years (the 2015 Ashgate Research Companion is invaluable here.) Both women were active in Queen Elizabeth’s court, and both provided literary and artistic patronage to writers, artists, and musicians. Further, both were known as prolific and respected authors to their contemporaries. Wroth in particular has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity (and scholarly praise for her literary skill) over the past few decades.

These women lived together and—scholars tell us—wrote together. Yet, the primary evidence for their relationship is historical. That is, when scholars assert that Sidney-Herbert was a formative literary influence for Wroth, they do not cite stylistic similarities. Rather, they mention the time the two spent together at Penshurst, the Sidney family’s home in Kent, and the loving relationship between the two women. But it seems nearly necessary that there would be stylistic evidence of Wroth’s literary homage to her aunt: Wroth is a highly allusive and intertextual writer, with clear allusions to, and borrowings or translations of, Petrarch, Philip Sidney, Fulke Greville, Edmund Spenser, and others. But Sidney-Herbert seems to be entirely absent from Wroth’s works.

There is thus an absence of intertextual connection where there should be a presence. And this is what my current project takes up. I am writing an R script to mine Wroth’s long prose romance Urania and Sidney-Herbert’s translations The Tragedie of Antonie and A Discourse of Life and Death for similarities in word choice, sentence structure, turns of phrase, and other stylistic similarities. Then, based on these results, I will use another coding language to visualize the results. In effect, I want to visualize literary absence.

I want to pause here, though, and mention some of the problems I’ve run in to. The biggest one is R itself. For those who aren’t familiar, R was originally used to run statistical analyses on very large datasets, and is now quite popular with humanists who want to do things like text mining and topic modeling. R is a very powerful tool, but it is also idiosyncratic, complex, and difficult to master. Even working through Matthew Jockers’ incredible book Text Analysis with R for Students of Literature, I keep getting bogged down in cleaning and parsing the text files I’m examining; I also have to continually remind myself of R prompts and commands, since even a single wrong keystroke creates an error I need to go back and dig out—a debugging practice that is second nature to trained programmers, but less familiar to traditional researchers in the humanities. From what I can tell, this is a common experience for scholars who, for whatever reason, want to employ computational approaches in their research.

Other problems include asking the right questions; or rather, asking questions in a way that R can understand. I am at the point where I can tell R to pull a .txt file from the internet (or my computer), clean out the extraneous metadata from the beginning and end of the text, split the text according to its internal divisions (be they chapters or stanzas), find the relative frequency of a word or words across the text, and plot those frequencies in a graph of my choice. In Shakespeare’s Sonnets, for example, I found that there are 4,612 unique words in the collection. The word “I” accounts for 1.8% of the total words; “my” for 2.6%. But a patient and dedicated reader could do this work without a line of code. At this point, I’m saving enormous amounts of time, which is of course incredibly valuable in itself, but I am gaining old insights more quickly, rather than coming to new conclusions. And what does this data actually mean? It isn’t enough simply to spout statistics, as interesting as it may be to have these numbers handy.

In the case of Wroth’s Urania, for example, I know that the word “she” declines dramatically toward the end of the romance, precisely at the point when the words “lo”, “loue”, “louing”, “loued”, etc., spike dramatically. In the interest of quick results, I uploaded the romance to Voyant, an online visualization tool that remediates a text of your choice. Here, the blue line is the “loue” variations and the purple is “she.”1

Voyant visualization of “she” and “loue” variations in Wroth’s Urania.

Towards the end of the romance is where the heroine Pamphilia finds happiness in love; and “she” simultaneously disappears, both literally and figuratively. Does this chart also open up a feminist critique of the loss of selfhood of an otherwise proactive and literarily productive female protagonist? Or does it simply reflect that Wroth appended the sonnet collection Pamphilia to Amphilanthus to the romance? In this collection, she details her constancy in her “loue” for Amphilanthus, but writes in the first person instead of the third. Thus the decline of “she.” I’m inclined to the latter interpretation; but, given the immense difference in length between the prose romance and the sonnet collection, there is still an interesting shift that might need further investigation. If you’re reading this blog, I don’t need to convince you of the value of digital or computational approaches and what these kinds of results remind me is that approaching old texts in new ways might let us see things we simply haven’t noticed yet. Computational approaches—once we learn them—are not only incredibly fast, they can also help us make remarkably subtle observations.

Though the multi-text capabilities of Voyant are not as subtle as I would like, they still gesture towards the simultaneous reach and delicacy of computational tools that I hope to achieve with R. When I uploaded all three texts to Voyant, I started to find some interesting things. For example, Antonie has the highest vocabulary density, while Urania has the lowest. (Urania is also the longest text; however, Discourse is the shortest, which lends credence to the density result. That is, Antonie seems to have a proportionally higher vocabulary density than the other texts, regardless of length.) More suggestive still are the words which are distinctive to each text; in Antonie, “hir” is most prevalent (56 instances), followed by “cl”—the speaker tag for Cleopatra(43), and “Antony” (40). In Discourse, we have “wee” (51), “worlde” (20), and “porte” (6); in the Urania, “shee” (1,386), “Amphilanthus” (392), and “Pamphilia” (269).

Again, the question is, what do we do with this data? I might conclude that Antonie is an extended blazon of Cleopatra’s qualities: her estates, her person, her speeches, her beauty. I might also say that it appears that the Urania doesn’t pass the Bechdel test; even though “shee” is four times more present than Amphilanthus, we still have more mentions of Amphilanthus’ name, suggesting that characters (or the author) talk about him more than they talk about Pamphilia.

Yet I am not tied to any of these interpretations; they could be completely wrong. Instead, I am more inspired by the possibilities that are suggested by these lists of numbers. While I will eventually need to come to conclusions about the specifics of my data, for now I am content with what tools like Voyant and R certainly provide me: a different view. In other words, numbers are not enough; but more satisfying are the subtle characteristics that computational tools let me visualize, even when the sheer amount of text seems anything but subtle.

One short postscript: I spent hours (three, I think) trying to create a comparative scatterplot in Voyant of the distinctive words I mentioned above. The closest I came was this:

Attempt at a comparative scatterplot in Voyant.

And this is clearly not very legible. In order even to get to this point, I had to use the raw frequency of each word, and manually strip out partial words like “lo-”, “-ed”, “-ing”, “ha-”, and “bra-”. I also had to use a proximity tool; I asked Voyant to show me the words closest to “she,” and limit the results to about 35 words. One thing we can see is that “he” is the most common word closest to “she”; we also see verbs like “doe” and “make.” This suggests that “he” and “she” are both very active in the texts, and because “she” is more common than “he,” that the female protagonists are most active. However, I’m still not committed to these results, partly because I didn’t tell Voyant how to determine proximity, and partly because I still have a very hard time understanding what this plot is telling me. I present this plot for two reasons: one, because the prevalence of verbs is suggestive; and two, because I want to emphasize how important it is for humanist researchers to know at least a little bit about the back-end of the tool they might use. Since I don’t know exactly how Voyant determines proximity, and I also can’t tell it to consider the “u” character as part of a full word (as in loue, haue, or braue), I’m not willing to draw interpretations from this data. In other words, with Voyant I’m left with interesting directions for future inquiry; with R, because I will have written the code myself, I will feel confident in my results.

Radical Love at the Colored Conventions Transcribe-A-Thon

Radical Love at the Colored Conventions Transcribe-A-Thon

The staff of the Women Writers Project was proud to add our support to the Colored Conventions Transcribe-A-Thon in honor of Frederick Douglass’ birthday and Black History Month, hosted by The Colored Conventions Project (CCP) at the University of Delaware. We joined universities across the country in transcribing the minutes of the colored conventions. The conventions were historic gatherings of African-American leaders; they began in 1830 and continued until well after the Civil War.

Although Douglass was born into bondage, and never knew his birthdate, he choose to celebrate it every year on February 14. We were proud to join the CCP in celebrating “radical love” this Valentine’s Day by commemorating the birthday of Fredrick Douglass with a transcribe-a-thon. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the term, a transcribe-a-thon is as straightforward as it sounds: a gathering of people participating in a “marathon” of transcription.

We’re happy to report that our local transcribe-a-thon at Northeastern University, jointly hosted by the Women Writes Project, the Digital Feminist Commons, and the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks, was a resounding success. As a group, we transcribed the minutes of the 1859 “New England Colored Citizens’ Convention,” which was held in our hometown of Boston, Massachusetts. Staff and students alike had fun recognizing local places, names, and organizations in the minutes, as well as getting a hint of the basic sense of joy and accomplishment of adding to our national history.

For more information and to join the transcription efforts of The Colored Conventions Project, click here. You can also browse the event’s Twitter action on the event Storify page, here.

The Women Writers Project team hard at work on the CCP transcriptions.
Women Writers Project director Julia Flanders made a delicious cake in honor of Fredrick Douglass’ birthday.
Lanyer’s appropriation of the stabat mater in Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum

Lanyer’s appropriation of the stabat mater in Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum

This post is part of a series authored by our collaborators on the Intertextual Networks project. For more information, see here. 

By Megan Herrold, University of Southern California

In my project for Intertextual Networks, I trace the use to which early modern women writers put misogynistic conventions. I’m particularly interested in women’s appropriation of female archetypes that are charged with centuries of societal ambivalence. One such example is Aemilia Lanyer’s use of the stabat mater tradition in her 1611 poem, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. The centerpiece of Lanyer’s book of poems is her meditation on Christ’s passion, but framing that poem are two other sections that are also thematically unified. It begins with a number of dedicatory poems to specific women—including Queen Elizabeth, the Countess of Pembroke, and Queen Anne—and concludes with the country house poem, “The Description of Cook-ham.” Lanyer’s patron, the Countess Dowager of Cumberland, features throughout the entire work: she takes a prominent place among the dedicatory poems, her (temporary) home and daughter are celebrated in the country house poem, and Lanyer features as a particular spectator of Christ’s passion. So while women (and Cumberland in particular) are conceived of as characters and readers throughout the entire work, I will mainly be focusing on the “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” poem in this post. In its ostensible focus on the Passion of Christ, Lanyer’s version also includes: an apology for Eve spoken by Pilate’s wife, a discussion of the dangers of beauty for women, and commentary on various historical women’s virtue. By bringing figures like Cleopatra, Eve, and the Virgin Mary to bear alongside her discussion of Cumberland’s virtues alongside a feminized Christ, Lanyer self-consciously builds a community of women whose virtues are based upon their celebrations and defenses of each other. It is in this vein that Lanyer uses the stabat mater tradition.

A poetic and musical sequence that constructs a greater emotional connection to Christ’s passion through the contemplation of Mary as she contemplates the crucifixion, the stabat mater was both widely popular and troubling because of its focus on the spectacle of female mourning. 1 It was both suppressed by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century and with the growth of Protestantism, increasingly associated with Catholic (and feminized) public mourning rituals.2 But as she uses the trope in her poem, Lanyer suggests that women’s greater visibility, both as beautiful objects of spectatorship and as mourners, potentially derided as excessive in their expressions of grief, coincides with their greater access to Christian virtue. With her descriptions of the compassion of various women who mourn for Christ (among them are Pilate’s wife, the Maries, the Daughters of Jerusalem and Cumberland herself) Lanyer also includes blazons of Christ’s feminized beauty and his compassion for the grievers around him. Taken together, the ways in which the description of the communal comfort in looking at suffering women is aligned with Christ’s being looked at as a woman. Thus, Lanyer’s appropriation of the stabat mater emphasizes women’s consensual deployment of their spectacular mourning. In doing so, she reclaims a suspect (because feminized and Catholic) convention and presents it as a means through which a self-aware community might be built—a community of virtuous suffering women who see and feel for each other.

My research into this topic is still in its preliminary stages. But what I’m most concerned with in Lanyer’s poem is her emphasis on the visual in her version of the Passion and the ways in which community is built through mutual beholding. Likewise, the stabat mater, over and above other conventional depictions of Mary’s suffering (namely, the pieta and the mater dolorosa), emphasizes the space between the visual and textual description of mourning. The third person ekphrastic description of Mary’s compassion for Christ’s suffering is both visual (as in the pieta and mater dolorosa traditions of art) and textual (as in the planctus Mariae). All of these forms of meditations on Mary’s (and at times Mary Magdalene’s) role in the crucifixion were elaborated during the patristic period and early Middle Ages. The original version of the stabat mater from which the title derives and much elaboration stems is said to have been written by either Jacopone da Todi or Pope Innocent III. For the full text and a literal translation, click here. Though women’s involvement in the Passion has limited precedent in the gospels, Marian devotional works like the stabat mater were quite popular at the turn in the twelfth century and beyond. Versions proliferated in poetry and prose, in Latin and the vernacular, and in art and drama and coincided with a greater emphasis on the humanity of Christ and the co-suffering of Mary (Bestul 112).

19th century Stabat Mater painting. Chapel Nosso Senhor dos Passos, Santa Casa de Misericórdia of Porto Alegre, Brazil. Oil on canvas, 19th century, unknown author. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

From its inception, however, the increased interest in Mary and the subjectivity of women in general could be characterized as ambivalent. While these conventions uphold Mary as an exemplar, not only of women’s righteous behavior, but also as a guide to achieving perfect compassion with Christ, they also circumscribe the role of women in devotional literature and the funeral rite. The tradition at once universalizes Mary’s suffering—the poem asks “quis posset non contristari / Piam Matrem contemplari / Dolentem cum Filio? [Who could not be sorrowful to behold the pious mother grieving with her Son?]”—at the same time that it betrays discomfort with the excesses of “feminine” emotion. For example, as Bestul points out, in the related “quis dabitplanctus tradition, Mary oscillates between passive suffering and hysterical outbursts of grief. So while the tradition expresses an implicit (and at times quite explicit) desire to be feminized, the devotional descriptions of Mary’s mourning ultimately construct the rationale for patriarchal control of female agency—in speech and spectacle—in religious rites. The Reformation would see a doubling down on this control of the “feminized” and Catholic excesses of public mourning rituals, a topic taken on by Katherine Goodland in her work, Female Mourning in Medieval and Renaissance English Drama.

16th century depiction of the pietà. Pietà beneath the Cross by Lucas Cranach the Elder, circa 1510. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

It’s my feeling, however, that Lanyer capitalizes off of the ambivalence of the subject-object blurring in spectacles of compassion in Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. As the stabat mater is organized around the Virgin’s spectacle of Christ’s passion, the act of “beholding” and “looking” at suffering permeates Lanyer’s poem. It informs its avowed occasion in depicting Christ’s passion and its effects on spectators including the Virgin Mary, the Daughters of Jerusalem, and the Duchess of Cumberland; and it encodes the particular historical occasion of the poem: Lanyer’s comforting Cumberland amid her legal and familial troubles. In these instances of beholding suffering, Lanyer emphasizes the community-building potential inherent in the public display of mourning. As these women suffer, the spectacles they create evoke compassion from other women including the reader; this occurs even while, and indeed to a greater degree, because the women are aware of the vulnerability to which their spectacular mourning is subject. It is through this awareness of the dangers with which women contend over and above men that Lanyer envisions the formation of a utopic community of women.

But first, she must apologize for Mary’s excessive grief. In the most explicit stabat mater reference, Lanyer describes Mary beholding Christ’s Passion. But Lanyer’s version, unlike others in the genre, seems to anticipate scrutiny of the spectacle Mary creates. Where the traditional stabat asked upon viewing Mary, “Who could not be sorrowful to behold the pious mother grieving with her Son?” Lanyer asks a more defensive rhetorical question while Mary swoons with “griefes extreame”:

How could she choose but thinke her selfe undone,

He dying, with whose glory shee was crowned?

None ever lost so great a losse as shee,

Beeing Sonne, and Father of Eternitie. (1013-1016)

The universality of compassion that the original version assumes is treated defensively here. To combat possible attacks on Mary’s position as spectacular mourner, Lanyer appeals to Mary’s lack of choice in the matter. How could a mother choose otherwise than grieve the loss of her son, Father, Lord and status position? The question begs another: how could we choose but to grieve for her? And for those still uncharitable enough to scrutinize Mary’s grief, we might compare Lanyer’s treatment of the Daughters of Jerusalem. Similarly, Lanyer describes the Daughters’ visible sufferings that together with their verbalizations of grief “intreate[s]” their spectators to pity and compassion:

Poore women seeing how much [Christ’s tormentors] did transgresse,

By teares, by sighs, by cries, intreate, nay proue,

What may be done among the thickest presse,

They labour still these tyrants hearts to moue:

in pitie and compassion to forbeare (995-999)

Lanyer is adamant in presenting the Daughter’s mourning in active verbs: they “labor,” they “entreat,” and they “prove” that spectacle can move an audience. And if members of Lanyer’s audience find themselves unmoved by their grief, Lanyer aligns them with the tormentors of Christ who likewise resist compassion for the women’s spectacular mourning. Indeed, the analogy between Passion (direct experience) and compassion (indirect experience; mourning for another) as suggested by the stabat mater is furthered in Lanyer’s poem when she suggests Christ’s humiliation in the Passion is analogous to Mary’s grief being scrutinized unjustly. Lanyer’s suggests that if we wouldn’t doubt Christ’s pain, his “Bleeding and fainting” while being “Abusede with all their hatefull slaunderous lies,” we shouldn’t doubt Mary’s expressions of grief, especially because we view those humiliations of Christ at the same time that Mary’s “fair eies behold” them (1131-1135). To doubt either sufferer is to choose to further torment them over feeling compassion for them.

While upholding the sincerity of Mary’s grief, Lanyer on the other hand contends with Protestant critiques concerning the faithlessness of the mater dolorosa conventions. Instead of Mary’s grief implying despair of an afterlife, Lanyer’s presents it as celebratory and almost evangelical in its potential for community building. She urges that Mary’s tears “did her good” because they “wash away [Christ’s] pretious blood” so that “sinners might not tread in vnder feet” as they gather on their way “To worship him” (1017-1019). As in the original stabat mater, Mary’s grief in Lanyer’s version is explicitly linked to bringing sinners closer to Christ. Likewise, Lanyer exemplifies the community-building nature of public grief through her description of Christ as the quintessential spectator of grief. Indeed, her Christ is the ultimate stabat mater: he takes time for compassion even amid his Passion.

A 16th century painting of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows (mater dolorosa) found in Eglise de Taisnieres sur Hon. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

Although the mourning of the Daughters of Jerusalem ultimately fails to move Christ’s tormentors, Lanyer urges its effect on a more important spectator: Christ himself. Where Pilate and Herod fail to claim Christ’s attention during his passion:

Yet these poore women, by their piteous cries

Did mooue their Lord, their Louer, and their King

To take compassion, turne about, and speake

To them whose hearts were ready now to breake. (981-984)

In these lines, Lanyer stresses the potential for mutual compassion in the stabat mater model: the Daughter’s compassion for Christ arouses his compassion for them. Lanyer celebrates such mutuality of feeling, established and increased upon in the visual realm through looking at, being looked upon, and being conscious of these acts of mutual beholding:

Most blessed Daughters of Ierusalem,

Who found such fauor in your Sauiours sight,

To turne his face when you did pitie him;

Your tearefull eyes beheld his eyes more bright;

Your Faith and Loue vnto such grace did clime,

To haue reflection from this Heau’nly light:

Your Eagles eies did gaze against this Sunne,

Your hearts did thinke, he dead, the world were done. (985-992)

When Christ and the Daughters lock eyes, the connection between them is made and then elevated by consciousness of their being spectacles. These eyes-beholding-eyes build a community precisely in that ambiguous space between subject beholding and object being beheld.

Because the consciousness of self as a spectacle is something women seem better poised to experience and learn from, Lanyer composes her virtuous community solely of women, including a feminized Christ.3 Through this theme, Lanyer’s seeming digression on the dangers of beauty without virtue (lines 185-248) aligns with her concerns throughout the poem. And in a longer piece, I plan to tease out the connections between that section and her later blazon of Christ’s beauty upon the resurrection (1305-1312). In the blazon, she borrows her modifying phrases from the portion of the Song of Songs detailing both male and female beauty, but the line “His lips like scarlet threeds, yet much more sweet / Than is the sweetest hony dropping dew” alludes to explicitly to the bride’s beauty (Woods 1314n). Through these resonances, Lanyer suggests that, like Christ’s, a woman’s subjectivity is constructed in proximity to physical beauty as a cultural value, through an awareness of the spectacle that beauty may create, and cognizant of the potential vulnerabilities to which that gendered subjectivity is subject. Therefore, also like Christ, she is uniquely poised to feel compassion for other women. Indeed, this theme of women’s particular capacity for compassion is signaled in Lanyer’s prefatory letter “To the Vertuous Reader,” wherein she bemoans the capacity of women “to be condemned by the words of their owne mouthes…as to speake unadvisedly against the rest of their sexe” (Woods 48). And in the poem Lanyer makes good on her maxim, modeling the kind of community she wants to build through her dramatic choices. Her assigning Eve’s apology to Pilate’s wife (761-944), her criticizing Cleopatra’s treatment of Octavia even as she has compassion for her suffering (215-224, 1409-1432), and her exhortations to the (assumed female) reader throughout, form anachronistic communities of women based on compassion they felt for each other’s suffering. And Lanyer builds her envisioned utopic community through her appropriation and emendation of the stabat mater tradition, that microcosm of community built upon the spectacle of mutual compassion and suffering.

Works Cited

Bestul, Thomas H. Texts of the Passion: Latin Devotional Literature and Medieval Society. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.

Goodland, Katharine. Female Mourning in Medieval and Renaissance English Drama: From the Raising of Lazarus to King Lear. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2005.

Lanyer, Aemilia, and Susanne Woods. The Poems of Aemilia Lanyer: Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Notes

A New(ish) Approach to Markup in the Undergraduate Classroom

A New(ish) Approach to Markup in the Undergraduate Classroom

By Kevin G. Smith, Ph.D. Candidate in English, Northeastern University

Note: Kevin G. Smith is a pedagogical development consultant for the WWP. His dissertation research is partially supported by a grant from the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks.

A few summers ago, I spent my days working in Northeastern’s Digital Scholarship Commons. As is common in that space, there were nearly daily meetings of different teams of faculty, library personnel, and graduate students working on digital projects. One of these projects was The Early Caribbean Digital Archive (ECDA). During that summer the ECDA project team was working on customizing a TEI schema to encode their texts in ways that were more in line with their decolonial archival goals. As I procrastinated on my own work, I was overhearing these amazing conversations that the EDCA team was having about the meanings and applications of certain aspects of their TEI customization. How should they tag an embedded or mediated slave narrative, for example? What to do about unnamed slaves? And how might they handle commodities? What are the ethical ramifications of encoding a slave as a commodity (or not)?

As I sat, listening to these conversations, I began to realize that it was precisely because they were encoding the texts in TEI that these conversations were happening. The act of encoding literally inscribes texts with interpretation, forcing the project team to discuss just what kinds of interpretive judgments they wanted to make. And they were important conversations: about how we represent our objects of inquiry in the humanities, about the ethics of data representation. (By no means am I the first to realize this. For a compelling example, see Julia Flanders: “The Productive Unease of 21st-century Digital Scholarship.”)

The point is that I was struck by these conversations. And I began to think about how the tension of formalization, this “productive unease,” as Flanders terms it, might be leveraged in writing classrooms. Could I somehow use the TEI to intervene in students’ writing processes, to foster these kinds of conversations about their own writing? What would that even look like?

Two years later, in the summer of 2016, I taught my first markup-based writing course at Northeastern. In the intervening years my approach shifted from using the TEI to designing a built-from-scratch XML schema for each course. Thus far, I’ve taught two courses using this method (Advanced Writing for the Technical Professions in the summer of 2016 and First-year Writing in the fall of 2016). In addition to writing their assignments in XML (using Oxygen), students in these courses engage in a semester-long, collaborative writing project: the design and implementation of an XML schema that structurally and rhetorically models a range of genres of writing.

This approach—using XML to produce texts—represents a shift from the mimetic roots of XML and its primary use in humanities research, the TEI. In the rest of this post, I want to briefly discuss this shift and its implications for the study of markup.

Teaching with Markup

 There are many wonderful examples of using the TEI and XML in classrooms. Kate Singer’s use of TEI for developing poetic vocabularies in an undergraduate class comes to mind, as does Trey Conatser’s use of XML in a first-year writing course at the Ohio State. Though, at first blush, these two markup classrooms may appear very different—one being in an upper-level literature course and the other a first-year writing course—the perceived pedagogical benefits of using markup are similar. Both pedagogues seek to foster close attention to the object of study—a poem or the student’s own writing—through what is essentially a process of annotation.

Where my approach to markup differs from these (and most traditional) classroom uses is in the thoroughly bottom-up, data driven approach to schema design (Piez, 2001). Students begin with a (basically) bare schema and—iteratively and deliberately over the course of an entire semester—design and revise the schema for a range of writing tasks using document analysis and modeling, qualitative writing research methods, and their own experiences of authorship. The result is a shift from annotation to production, from product to process.

An example may be illuminative here. A group of students decide they would like to design a schema for movie reviews. They begin the process by researching the genre—gathering examples, examining related genres, tracing the circulation and uptake of the genre, interviewing experienced writers and readers of the genre, and so on. Based on this research, the group identifies the salient structural, rhetorical, and content-based components of the genre—a movie review includes a series of paragraphs, for example; the first of these paragraphs must, according to the students, include a component called “opinion,” which has a specific definition and different types. They name these components and write a prose pseudo-schema, including documentation, attributes, dependencies, and rules for the components. The pseudo-schema is translated into an XML schema using Relax NG (by me).

An element list from an in-class schema design session with students in the First-year Writing course of 2016.

Once the schema is drafted, each student writes an individual XML document, their own example of a movie review that responds to a unique rhetorical situation. Based on this experience, the group reconvenes to revise their schema. They might, for example, decide that the <opinion> element should be optional in the first paragraph, or decide that an additional attribute value should be added to the @type attribute, or choose to adjust the definition of the element itself. Once schema revision is complete, students revise their XML documents. And on it goes.

An example of XML markup designed for the course.

What I hope the above example illuminates is the thoroughly process-oriented approach to markup adopted in these classes. The schema is not static. It is a living document that affects and is affected by student’s experiences of composing, among other things. Neither are the student-authored XML documents static. They are repeatedly invalidated by revisions to the schema. They are subject to feedback from classmates and instructor. They must be continually revised. From a digital humanities perspective, this application of markup may seem alien. In fact, in some ways, it doesn’t even matter what the schema ends up looking like (though it can be fascinating). The object of using markup in this way is not to produce the perfect model of a genre. In fact, an understanding of genres as social actions, rather than a set of ossified textual features is central to the theoretical framework of the course. This understanding resists the idea that genres can be accurately modeled. The point of using markup is to foster productive conversations about writing, to interrupt the normal thinking and writing processes of students in productive ways. This brings us back to the conversations I overheard in the summer of 2014, eavesdropping on the ECDA when I was supposed to be writing.

An example of a markup output document for display. The XML is transformed to HTML with custom XSLT and highlighted according to XML tags.

But this approach raises new questions. How do I know if this approach is productive in the ways that I hope? What kinds of conversations are students having in these classes? How does markup function rhetorically for students when used for authorship? Does writing in XML and designing schemas for authoring contribute to students’ understanding of their writing and reading processes? Do reading and writing practices in the markup classroom transfer to other contexts? These questions just so happen to be the basis for my dissertation research, which takes as its objects of inquiry the two markup-based writing courses.

Studying (Authorial) Markup

The questions posed above present unique methodological concerns for the study of markup. A shift from product to process raises practical questions concerning how we access students’ experience using markup in this way. How can I make claims about the rhetorical and expressive capacities of authorial markup? How can I understand the role of the schema, the markup, and the platform(s) in students’ writing, reading, and thinking processes? In short, how do I study this?

Here, a slight shifting in thinking—from the digital humanities to writing studies—is helpful. While the pedagogical approach may be unconventional, my research questions are typical of writing studies research. Methods for studying student writing and experience in classroom settings are well established in the field. Although qualitative approaches to the study of markup are not typical in the digital humanities, the research questions for this project, based, as they are, on student experience, reflection, writing, and perception, necessitate the adaptation of innovative methods. To this end, I’ve employed a teacher research methodology—a systematic approach to data collection that honors the inside perspectives of teachers and students—that adapts qualitative research methods culled from ethnography, education, and writing studies research. Data for the study was gathered from direct participant observation, reflective journaling, semi-structured and directed qualitative interviews (three interviews each with nine case study students), and the collection of student writing (normal prose and XML, including version control logs for all XML files).

At this point, data collection has ended and the project is shifting to the data analysis phase. It is too soon to report results, however, early indications from student interviews point to some promising findings around student reflection and transfer, the multi-directional mediation of the schema, and students’ use of markup as a tool for generic invention and change. Here, it may be enough to assert that qualitative approaches to studying markup-based undergraduate courses may be fruitful. Indeed, digital humanities courses in general may benefit from adopting qualitative methodologies, like teacher research, to self-assess and to advocate for curricular change and institutional support.

The assignment discussed above is collected with the pilot set of teaching materials from the WWP’s pedagogical development consultants and is available here.

Humanities features an article on Mary Moody Emerson’s Almanacks

Humanities features an article on Mary Moody Emerson’s Almanacks

We are so delighted to share that an article on the Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson is featured in the current issue of Humanities, the magazine of the NEH. “Mary Moody Emerson Was a Scholar, a Thinker, and an Inspiration” by Noelle A. Baker and Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, editors of The Almanacks of Mary Moody Emerson: A Scholarly Digital Editionoffers a portrait of the self-educated, undoubtedly brilliant Emerson.

Emerson’s Almanacks span over 50 years and extend to more than 1,000 pages. We’re partnering with Baker and Petrulionis to encode these Almanacks in TEI and publish them in Women Writers Online as a pilot for future manuscript publication in WWO. In December, we added a new folder to the collection, dated c. 23 July 1812–November 1813 and discussed in more detail here.

If the Humanities article has sparked your interest in this fascinating early-American, proto-Transcendentalist woman, you might also want to read “Mary Moody Emerson as Reader and Reviewer,” recently added to our open-access Women Writers in Context series. The exhibit explores Emerson’s extensive, experimental, and eclectic reading and writing practices.