L-100. Digital Approaches to Bibliography & Book History

Benjamin F. Pauley Carl G. Stahmer

“I learned the very real ways that digital approaches can be used to analyze books and data. I understood more fully how tasks and processes can be accomplished in coding environments.” — 2017 student

This course will explore the possibilities that digital tools and methods open for the pursuit of bibliographical and book-historical investigations, as well as the questions that those tools and methods bring with them.

The class will offer a (necessarily selective) survey of currently-available and emerging digital resources for book-historical research, and will also introduce students to digital tools for bibliographical and textual analysis, some available for use today and others still in development. We will consider tools specifically designed to facilitate the study of historical texts, as well as platforms and frameworks for codifying and disseminating this work. Finally, the course will examine how such tools have the potential to alter both scholarly practices and the workflows of the modern research library.

Beyond providing a practical introduction to digital bibliographical resources, the class will also invite critical reflection on the affordances (and the limitations) of such resources. This guided reflection will be both forward- and backward-looking, comparing digital tools with their non-digital, often mechanical, predecessors. A central concern of the course will be the consideration of the kinds of bibliographical and book historical problems that digital methods may be best positioned to address in the future.

This course is intended for humanities scholars as well as librarians and curators. It aims not simply to introduce resources for bibliographical and book historical research, but to provoke critical and creative thinking about the kinds of resources that are needed to address the next wave of questions in the field. As such, the class is addressed to researchers who wish to become intelligent users of digital tools and methods, at librarians who aim institutionally to support and manage digital workflows, and at archivists and developers who seek to create new kinds of resources.

While the course will venture at times into technical areas, it does not presume any specialist expertise in either bibliography or coding. We fully expect the class to include students with a range of backgrounds and varying degrees of technical proficiency in different areas—nearly everyone will likely feel on firm ground in some areas of the course and like a beginner in others. For the course to be successful, however, all students must be prepared to experiment, to try things out and to work through confusion, whether in installing a command-line tool or in puzzling over a collational formula for an old book.

Students will need to bring with them to class a laptop (Windows, Mac, or Linux are all acceptable) on which they have sufficient privileges to install software.

Course History

Benjamin F. Pauley and Carl G. Stahmer co-teach this course.
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  • Benjamin F. Pauley
  • Carl G. Stahmer

Benjamin F. Pauley

Ben Pauley is Associate Professor of English at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he teaches eighteenth-century British literature. He developed the site Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker to index links to freely available scans of eighteenth-century books and to connect them to bibliographical entries drawn from the English Short Title Catalogue. Together with the ESTC’s Brian Geiger, he received one of the inaugural Google Digital Humanities Research Awards in 2010, and served on the planning committee for the Mellon Foundation-funded initiative to redesign the English Short Title Catalogue as a 21st-century research tool. He is the founding Secretary of the Defoe Society, and is currently finalizing development of a Defoe Attributions Database for the Society.

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Carl G. Stahmer

Carl G. Stahmer is the Director of Digital Scholarship at the Shields Library, University of California, Davis. He currently serves as Associate Director of the English Broadside Ballad Archive, as the lead developer for the ongoing Mellon funded initiative to re-design the English Short Title Catalogue as an exemplar 21st century research tool, and as the Technical Director for the Advanced Research Consortium. He has been working in the Digital Humanities since the early 1990s when he co-founded the Romantic Circles website, for which he served as the technical lead and Co-General Editor for the next ten years.

Stahmer’s work has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the University of California Humanities Research Institute, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies. His current research is focused on developing and implementing digital bibliographic tools and methods, including descriptive strategies for Linked Open Data catalogues, digital analysis and description of historical printed materials and physical media (paper, parchment, and typeset), and tools for content based image recognition. For more information, please visit his blog at www.carlstahmer.com.

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