Creating Digital Resources in the Humanities:

The Work of Many Hands.

A panel proposal submitted May 7th, 1997 for the Digital Resources in the Humanities conference to be held in Oxford, England, September 14-17, 1997.

Contact: 	John Unsworth  			IATH		Alderman Library
		(804) 924-3137			University of Virginia
		Fax: (804) 982-2363		Charlottesville, VA 22903

Computers make it possible to pose questions that we in the humanities could never have asked or answered before, but this possibility is only hypothetical until one makes available large collections of information with which the computer can work. In almost every instance, compiling those large collections of information requires a great deal of hand-work, and therefore implies the participation of many collaborators; it also costs a great deal of money, and therefore implies an institutional commitment, public or private funding, and the involvement of a publisher, each of which carries with it its own sort of collaborative requirements. The extent and complexity of collaboration that we see in these projects is something new in the humanities, and humanists are still learning--sometimes slowly and painfully, sometimes with a great deal of surprise and pleasure--how to manage it.

Our proposed panel brings together representatives of several large, collaborative humanities computing projects, to discuss their experiences in creating digital resources. The projects range in disciplinary focus from literature to history to architecture, and the collaborations involved have been both on-site and networked. What follows are descriptions of those projects and of the background and perspectives that their representatives would bring to this panel discussion.

The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia is home to the projects represented below, and the panel discussion will be moderated by John Unsworth, the Institute's Director. After the moderator's introduction to the participants and the subject of collaboration, each panelist will briefly describe his or her project, with particular attention to the collaborative aspects of digital resource development, and will summarize the experience of collaboration in that project. Each of these segments will run not more than ten minutes, leaving at least half an hour in a 90-minute session for a larger discussion with the audience.

A note on scheduling: Two of the members of this panel (Unsworth and Eaves) will need to attend a meeting of the MLA's Committee on Scholarly Editions scheduled for September 18th and 19th in New York City. Therefore, if this panel proposal is accepted, we would request that this session be scheduled for one of the first two days of the Digital Resources in the Humanities conference, to allow the necessary travel time.

Behind the Scenes at the Blake Archive
Panelist: Morris Eaves
Chair, Dept. of English
University of Rochester

In 1994, when the editors of the Blake Archive, in cooperation with the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, submitted a grant proposal to the Getty Fund, we claimed that our project would serve as a prototype--of what could be done with pictures and texts on the Web, and of the type of collaboration it might take to bring off other, similarly ambitious projects in literary and art-historical scholarship. We promised to build a sophisticated and complex product and to be adventurously introspective about the process.

The editors on this project have had an extensive track record of professional collaboration going back more than twenty years. We had just completed demanding editorial work together in print. We trusted one another's expertise, good will, and judgment. We had demonstrated the ability to meet deadlines. We were even friends. On the other hand, there were also significant differences--in the upper reaches of art-historical and literary orientations, in the middle sphere of computer experience and interest, and in the lower reaches of habit and temperament. Our differences were made clearer than ever because we facing old problems, like editing texts and picture, in strange new circumstances.

The solid plan we formulated in our first summer session ("Blake camp") at IATH left us feeling optimistic: one of us would spend the first year as a Fellow in residence at IATH and work alongside our project director there to lay groundwork; the other two, in Los Angeles and Rochester, would stay connected by phone, mail, and e-mail.

In the two years since the halcyon days of that first summer, we have come a long way along the road of electronic collaboration, producing a searchable archive of Blake's words and pictures. Of course we could never have fully anticipated the rocks on that road. By September 1997, we shall have passed the two-year point of the three-year project, and we have chalked up a string of remarkable accomplishments--but getting here has chastened us, put our communication skills to the test, lowered our sights, and given us a new appreciation for the true meaning of the words "cooperation" and "compromise." The narrative of those alterations and the useful lessons we may have learned so far will be the subject of this paper.

The Blake Archive in its current public form can be seen at, and proposal reviewers may also see (but are requested not to recirculate or otherwise publicize) the following URL:

The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War
Panelist: Ed Ayers
Hugh P. Kelley Professor of History
University of Virginia

This paper will discuss the experience of building a digital resource with a large number of (mostly) on-site collaborators, over a long time, and it will consider the new opportunities opened for students and teachers by this model of digital resource creation, as well as some of the practical problems involved in coordinating and supervising this kind of work. The following is intended to give you an idea of the nature and scope of the Valley Project, its funding and staffing, and its results to date. The project itself, in its current state, can be found on the Web at

The Valley of the Shadow Project is collecting, digitizing, transcribing, indexing, and cross-referencing all the extant records concerning Staunton, Virginia and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania during a thirty-year period before, during, and after the Civil War. This immense undertaking encompasses tens of thousands of pages of newspapers, multiple censuses, military rosters, tax and insurance records, diaries, letters, personal papers, photographs, paintings, quilts, maps, and many other types of information.

The Valley Project was one of the first two projects undertaken by the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, during its initial year of 1992-3. Since then, the project has received support from many sources: the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace installed a sample of the project in Staunton and brought the Augusta County community into the project; the Valentine Museum helped accelerate the research in the late summer and early fall of 1994; the University of Virginia provided generous support for the project throughout 1995 and 1996; in the spring of 1996, W. W. Norton and Company agreed to publish a version of the Valley Project on CDs, the first of which will be available in 1997. In the fall of 1996, the Valley Project received a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities' Teaching with Technology Initiative.

The great majority of the financial support that the Valley Project has received has been spent on people, and a large number of people have participated in creating this resource, from students to faculty members to information technology experts and computer professionals to retired military officers. The active staff of the project currently numbers eighteen, and includes a full-time project manager (Will Thomas) plus a census expert, a team of mapping researchers, a newspaper research team, specialists in material culture and in religion and church history, a statistician and data analyst, a curriculum development specialist, digital imaging and web editing personnel, perl and C programmers, and a user interface designer. Fourteen other students, most from the history department, have worked on the project in the past, as have technical staff from the Institute and the Library, providing information systems design, system administration, software support, programming, VRML modeling, SGML design and implementation, geographic information systems support, database and statistics software support, digital audio, and digital imaging services.

Dickinson Electronic Archives
Panelist: Martha Nell Smith
Dept. of English
University of Maryland

(Pedagogical samplers at
user name: dickinson | password: ink_on_disc)

Formed in 1992, the Dickinson Editing Collective (of which I am the primary Coordinator) has embarked on a project of completely re-editing all of her writings outside her fascicles (or manuscript books)--i.e., poems, letters, letter-poems sent to 99 (or more) correspondents, as well as fair copies, drafts, and fragments found among her unbound sheets--in production performances that digitize images of her manuscripts and provide diplomatic transcriptions and notes in searchable electronic form. This paper will discuss the experience of organizing this complex editorial project, with multiple participants carrying out coordinated tasks in disparate locations.

For the vast majority of her readers, Dickinson's poems have been seen as typographical objects, and the iconic page in the reader's mind's eye has been the printed page, not her manuscript page. The publication of R.W. Franklin's The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson (1981), however, made Dickinson's manuscript page and her holographic performances visible again via superb halftone photographic reproductions. Dickinson's textual world, conceived for decades in terms of the typographical page, began to be reconceived in terms of her handwritten artifacts. The Manuscript Books directed critical attention primarily toward the fascicles (books Dickinson made and left for posterity), but that is only one textual body among several corpora of Dickinson's writings: examining her scriptures--epistolary, fragmentary, and mixed media (featuring cutouts, drawings)--in their holographic forms is necessary in order to reimagine her literary project as what it in fact was, an astonishingly energetic and ambitious creative endeavor not bound to and by the Book and print technology's presentation of literature.

In order to facilitate such a reconceptualization of Dickinson's textual world, the Dickinson Editing Collective (coordinated by myself, with General Editors Ellen Louise Hart and Marta Werner) is producing electronic archives of her writings. The three main editors reside in Maryland, Santa Cruz, and Atlanta, and there are coeditors in Charlottesville, Utah, Norway, San Francisco, and Iowa. IATH serves as our principal support and advisory group, and through an electronic discussion list, the general editors and coders in Charlottesville, at UMCP, and in Atlanta are able to analyze various issues and hypothesize solutions, with input from advisors at the Collaboratory at the University of Michigan and the Brown Women Writers Project.

The General Editors have divided the work so that Werner is responsible for Dickinson's Late Fragments, Smith & Hart for Dickinson's most prolific correspondence (with Susan Dickinson), and all three are responsible for her 99 other correspondences. To produce this resource, we have enlisted various coeditors to take responsibility for particular correspondences (e.g., Jerry McGann is responsible for Dickinson's correspondence with Thomas Higginson). Through dickinson-l, the discussion list, we share information about successes and failures, and we discuss strategies for production. Responsibilities inevitably overlap, and that has so far proven to be the source of both the most tension and the most serendipitous problem-solving.

Critical Collaborations: The Work of the Walt Whitman Hypertext Archive
Panelist: Ken Price
Dept. of English
College of William and Mary

This paper describes how the Walt Whitman Hypertext Archive (the current public state of which can be found at came into being under the aegis of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia (IATH), how our work is coordinated, and how we mean to proceed in the future.

The overall goal of the Whitman Archive is to collect, digitize, transcribe, encode, and present in a hypertext environment all aspects of Whitman's work and a rich array of contextual material as well. Ed Folsom (University of Iowa) and I are directing the development of what we hope will be both an authoritative scholarly resource and an exciting and flexible teaching tool. Despite the enormous size of this undertaking, we are energized by the realization that Whitman is especially well-suited to hypertext because of his compulsive self-revisions (his Leaves of Grass appeared in six different versions).

Historically, most literary scholars have worked alone. This paper will describe our victories and defeats as we have come to better understand the need to work differently so as to meet the challenges of a massive on-line project, especially one which involves re-editing a major writer. We rely heavily on IATH for technical advice, server space, and consultation. The key work on this project typically takes place not through personal meetings but instead through networked collaboration. Without such teamwork, the College of William & Mary could not serve as a key base of the project because the College is technologically underdeveloped. Our alliance with IATH has led to contacts with scholars conducting similar projects, contacts which have led to joint grant proposals--for example, a joint proposal with the Emily Dickinson for a grant to develop a Whitman-Dickinson instructional CD-ROM.

Our project has required the development of new work habits and a modified sense of our roles as scholars and teachers. For example, Charles Green, a graduate student, plays a pivotal role in the project as Project Manager: if we were preparing a print-based edition, it would be almost inconceivable that a graduate student would have a role of comparable importance, a fact that underscores the new type of teacher-student interaction that frequently emerges when working collaboratively on an electronic project. This paper also considers the advantages and dangers of volunteer help; the challenges of coordinating an Advisory Board and Board of Consultants; the need to work effectively up and down the institutional ladder (for example, to persuade administrators to purchase equipment and to interest students in the intellectual project); and the needs and difficulties involved in seeking partnerships with publishers.

The Design Resources Center: Technology and Community Engagement
Panelist: Ken Schwartz
Associate Dean, School of Architecture
University of Virginia

As with many small towns and communities, the preservation of culturally distinct neighborhoods in the Charlottesville area faces challenges from the forces of growth. Although it is difficult to achieve a balance between the present state of a community and visions of what the community might become, citizens, developers, and public authorities know that former models of "urban renewal" destroyed historic neighborhoods in the 1960s. To build a future that learns from the past, we hope to model an electronic and participatory forum where the rich history of the community and the talents of all its citizens can be brought to bear on decision-making.

Current work on a new Design Resources Center for the City of Charlottesville builds on preliminary research and modeling from an Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities Fellowship in 1995-96 entitled "Charlottesville Urban Design" (a report on this phase of the project is available at In the current stage of the project, the Web is explored as a vehicle of community engagement, where interested citizens, K-12 students, city planning officials, elected officials, property developers and professionals work together to create and explore computer models of alternative approaches to neighborhoods and growth within the community. Computer-based models will combine landscape and building inventories with public records and residents' oral histories. Through the Web, concerned citizens, developers, and government bodies can visualize and test different ideas, working together to explore alternative strategies and to shape changes. It is hoped that the provision of technology in several public schools, with a diverse representation of involved citizens of all ages, will allow a high level of engagement for traditionally marginalized groups in the process of planning new building within the city.

Funding for the initial stages of a Design Resources Center is currently being sought by the University of Virginia School of Architecture in collaboration with the University's Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities. If funded, the Center's mission will be to provide the citizens, businesses, and community organizations of Charlottesville and Albemarle County with the necessary design and planning tools to assess, envision, and enhance the vitality and sustainability of their neighborhoods.

---------------------------[END of DRH '97 Panel Proposal]---------------------------