DH Project Update Research Projects Undergraduate Fellows

Mapping the Scottish Reformation: Transatlantic Adventures in the Digital Humanities

[Please enjoy this guest post by Michelle D. Brock, Associate Professor of History at Washington and Lee University. Professor Brock has been a fabulous supporter of DH at W&L through the years and we’re thrilled to see this project take off.]

In the spring of 2020 (before the world seemed to change overnight), I spent just over two wonderful months as a Digital Scholarship Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh during my sabbatical from W&L. During this time, I pursued work on a project called Mapping the Scottish Reformation (MSR), directed by myself and Chris Langley of Newman University and featuring Mackenzie Brooks on our project team and Paul Youngman on our advisory board.

Mapping the Scottish Reformation (MSR) is a digital prosopography of ministers who served in the Church of Scotland between the Reformation Parliament of 1560 to the Revolution in 1689. By extracting data from thousands of pages of ecclesiastical court records held by the National Records of Scotland (NRS), Mapping the Scottish Reformation tracks clerical careers, showing where they were educated, how they moved between parishes, and their personal and disciplinary history. This early modern data drives a powerful mapping engine that will allow users to build their own searches to track clerical careers over time and space.

The need for such a project was born of the fact that, despite a few excellent academic studies of individual ministers written in recent years, we still know remarkably little about this massive and diverse group. Many questions remain unanswered: How many ministers were moving from one area of Scotland to another? What was the influence of key presbyteries—the regional governing bodies of the Scottish kirk—or universities in this process? What was the average period of tenure for a minister? As of now, there is no way to answer such questions comprehensively, efficiently, and accurately. The voluminous ecclesiastical court records that contain the most detail about the careers of the clergy are not indexed, cumbersome to search, and completely inaccessible to the public or scholars less familiar with the challenges of Scottish handwriting. The multi-volume print source with much of this biographical data on ministers, Hew Scott’s invaluable Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, is not searchable across volumes and contains numerous errors and omissions. A new resource is thus necessary to both search and visualize clerical data, and we intend Mapping the Scottish Reformation to be that resource.

Our project began in earnest in 2017, when, thanks to funding from a W&L Mellon grant, Caroline Nowlin ’19 and Damien Hansford (a postgraduate at Newman University) began working with the Project Directors to pull initial data from the Fasti that could be used to test the feasibility of the project. Three years and a National Endowment for the Humanities HCRR grant later, we are in the pilot “proof of concept” phase of MSR, centered on gathering data on the clergy in the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale—a large and complex region that includes modern day Edinburgh. As such, my time at IASH was spent almost exclusively going through the presbytery records from this synod region to collect data on ministers at all levels in their clerical careers. I have often referred to this as the “unsexy” part of our work—dealing with the nitty gritty of navigating often challenging and inconsistent records in order to gather the data that will power Mapping the Scottish Reformation. There was, of course, no better setting to do this work in than IASH, an institute in the heart of the very university where many of the ministers in the Synod of Lothian and Tweeddale were educated and near to the parishes where many of the most prominent of them served.

Throughout my fellowship period, two questions were at the forefront of my mind: Are there patterns, chronological or regional, that account for the great variance in ministerial lives and trajectories? Was any such thing as a “typical” clerical career at all? What Dr. Langley and I have learned over the previous months is that the answers to these questions are significantly more complicated than previously understood by both historians and the wider public.

As we discussed during a presentation given in January at the Centre for Data, Culture and Society, the clerical career path was far less standardized than scholars usually assume. The terminology generally applied by historians and drawn from Hew Scott’s work— of “admitting,” “instituting,” and “transferring” ministers — was one of a distinct profession. Unfortunately, by applying such terms to the early modern ministry, we may be transposing a system and language of formality that just wasn’t there or wasn’t yet fully developed. Thus, one of our central goals is to shed light on the complexity of clerical experiences and development of the ministerial profession by capturing messy data from manuscripts and turning it into something machine readable and suited to a database and visualization layer. In short, we hope to make the qualitative quantitative, and to do so in a way that can also serve as a supplementary finding aid to the rich church court records held at NRS.

To date, my co-Director and I have gone through approximately 3,000 pages of presbytery minutes and collected information on over 300 clerics across more than twenty categories using Google Sheets. Dr. Langley has begun the process of uploading this data to Wikidata and running initial queries using SPARQL to generate basic data-driven maps. The benefit of using Wikidata at this phase in our project is that it is a linked open data platform and is already used as a data repository for the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, which captured information on most of the parishes and a number of the ministers in our project. We are deeply grateful to the University of Edinburgh’s “Wikimedian in Residence” Ewan McAndrew, who met with us early in my fellowship period to explore opportunities for using Wikidata, which is now a critical part of the technical infrastructure of our project. Thanks to a recently awarded grant from the Strathmartine Trust, in the coming months we hope to collaborate with an academic technologist to build our own Mapping the Scottish Reformation interface, driven by our entries in Wikidata.

Though I sadly had to cut my fellowship period two weeks short due to the COVID-19 crisis, I had a wonderful and productive two months as a Digital Scholarship Fellow at IASH, thanks in no small part to the general sabbatical support from Washington and Lee. In this time, Mapping the Scottish Reformation progressed by leaps and bounds, thanks to the generosity and support of the Scottish history and digital humanities communities at the University of Edinburgh, as well as our colleagues at NRS. Our talk at the Edinburgh’s Centre for Data, Culture and Society, which drew an audience not only of academics but also genealogists and local residents, was a real highlight, allowing us to make connections with a wide range of people interested in the history of Scotland, family history, the Reformation, and the digital humanities. These connections, and the ability to make access to data widely available, are more important than ever on both sides of the Atlantic, and I am looking forward to continuing this work at home in Virginia.

DCI DH Event on campus Undergraduate Fellows

Capstone Presentations and DCI Celebrations

Join us on April 2nd for capstone presentations from the students in DCI 393. Over the course of the semester they have worked to develop their own projects, which also include digital tools that are integrated into and essential to presenting their work. Katherine Dau ’19 will be presenting her project titled “The Atlantic Current” and MaKayla Lorick ‘19 will be presenting about “The Black General.”

We will also be coming together to celebrate the (almost complete) first school year of the DCI minor! If you are a DCI minor, taking any DCI classes, or are interested in learning more about DCI and the types of projects completed through DCI classes, we would love to have you come join us. We will have snacks!

DCI 393 Presentations and DCI Minor Celebration
Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019
Digital Humanities Workspace (Leyburn Library Level 2)

DH Undergraduate Fellows

DH Project Spotlight Series: Huon d’Auvergne

[Enjoy this first installment of the DH Project Spotlight Series, a series of posts on the DH @ W&L blog that investigate Digital Humanities projects from a student perspective.]

Ulyssess Aldrovandi, Serpentum, et Draconum Historiae (Bolognia, 1640)

My exploration of the many interesting DH projects starts with the Huon d’Auvergne Digital Archive. Led by Steve McCormick, Associate Professor of French and Italian at Washington and Lee University, the project makes Huon d’Auvergne, a Franco-Italian epic that is obscure even within the field of medieval studies, accessible after hundreds of years. The epic, which exists today thanks to four remaining manuscripts, details the story of its hero as he fights a fire-breathing dragon and is sent to Hell by the King in one of the first scenes to cite and imitate Dante’s “Inferno.” The four manuscripts that remain indicate that Huon d’Auvergne was so popular that it was translated into different dialects, allowing a new tradition of the embellished story to form.

The Huon d’Auvergne Digital Archive project has three phases, incorporating all four versions of the epic. Phase One, which is complete, included editing the text and making the manuscripts available on the website. Phase Two, which is currently in progress, involves bringing high-resolution images to the digital archive. The Huon d’Auvergne team partners with the libraries in Italy that house these manuscripts, which give the team the rights to put these images on the website. DH Fellow Megan Doherty ’19, who works on this project, said that this process requires a lot of trial and error with the coding work. Doherty remarked figuring out how to code on her own with the help of McCormick and the DH Program. Phase Three will involve editing more manuscripts, bringing in some of the texts that elaborate on Huon d’Auvergne.

Currently, Doherty helps McCormick bring high-resolution scans of the four existing manuscripts to the project, working with the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), and creating a server on which to put these images, using Mirador, an image browser. As a result, Huon d’Auvergne will be available for anyone to read with the additional benefit of seeing the text illuminated through illustrations.

According to McCormick, within medieval studies, a book isn’t just a book and an epic isn’t just an epic. Therefore, it remains important to think about how the story is transmitted to a larger audience and on what material or platform the story is read because this changes how the story is understood. The versions of Huon d’Auvergne, which were intended to be read on animal skin, are not all exactly alike, so providing the images from each of the existing manuscripts on the Huon d’Auvergne website gives this project additional context that each print version alone does not. Doherty cites this accessibility as a reason why DH is so useful and significant to interpreting and presenting the epic to a larger group of people, aside from making for a fun project on which to work and with which to engage.

So many of the things we talk about in classrooms are much more conceptual, but to be able to actually see the manuscripts and work with them while doing the reading is helpful and enlightening.” -Megan Doherty ’19

McCormick finds the project exciting because he collaborates with two other co-principal investigators, Dr. Leslie Zarker Morgan from Loyola University and Dr. Shira Schwam-Baird from the University of North Florida and because the project was awarded funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, which is difficult to get and a prestigious indicator of the project’s merit. Former DH Fellow Abdur Khan ’17 worked on the Huon d’Auvergne Digital Archive while he was a student at W&L. Now, Khan attends Loyola University Chicago and studies Digital Humanities, providing an example of how DH brings people from different levels together and inspires further engagement with the discipline, embodying the spirit of DH. DH work not only takes something as obscure as Italian epic and makes it accessible to a larger group of people, but it also exhibits the collaborative work of scholars, students and faculty, differentiating it from traditional scholarship.

“I get to work with great students like Megan, and I get to bring them what I find exciting about medieval epics and help them get something out of the work as well.” -Steve McCormick

Encouraged by her work with Huon d’Auvergne and the DH Program, Doherty is pursuing a French Honors Thesis working with medieval manuscripts, hoping to incorporate a DH component. Specifically, she looks at LGBTQ+ representation during the Middle Ages by examining patterns in the text, reading theory that has been published on how to study same-sex relationships before the language for it was inherited in the 19th century, and considering how people spoke about same-sex relationships without this accepted language to describe it. Doherty is also interested in the illumination aspect of the manuscripts, including the medieval art presented on their pages.

Doherty was awarded the Mellon grant to work as a Summer Student Researcher with McCormick on the project and the website, putting coordinates on the pictures and mapping them out to create an interactive experience with the text, including pop-ups filled with small bits of information. Additionally, Doherty has the unique opportunity to help McCormick publish an article about the project, which is an exciting accomplishment for an undergraduate student. The publication will document their process, detailing how they deploy technology skills in the context of the manuscripts and why the Huon d’Auvergne Digital Archive is an important project.

“A big takeaway from DH is for us to realize that we’re in a moment of enormous change in history in which we must move from print to digital, and it’s urgent. Every artifact we have needs to be encoded in programs and represented digitally.”  -Megan Doherty ’19

By extension, Doherty recommends that students take DH classes here at W&L because the skills and topics covered in these classes could help students realize that there are so many different aspects to the projects and literature with which they traditionally work. In essence, DH is applicable to nearly everything, and it expands learning in the classroom beyond what we normally consider.

This post was written using interviews with Professor McCormick and Megan Doherty ’19.

-Jenny Bagger, DH Undergraduate Fellow

DH Event on campus Speaker Series Undergraduate Fellows

Dr. Roopika Risam: Calling Attention to Activism through Digital Humanities

During her talk on Thursday, September 20th, Dr. Roopika Risam, Assistant Professor of English, Faculty Fellow for Digital Library Initiatives, and Coordinator of the Digital Studies Graduate Certificate Program at Salem State University, posed the question: what are the rights and responsibilities of humanities scholars in the 21st century?

While Risam draws an important distinction between digital humanities and activism, she argues that digital humanities methods can be effective tools for calling attention to campus activism in the past and supporting student activists on today’s college campuses. The Torn Apart/Separados project, which she created with seven other scholars in one week in June 2018,  served as a reaction to Donald Trump’s immigration policy and the family separation crisis and as a means to think about how to respond or intervene. Using data from documents that were previously obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the project displays a series of data visualizations that represent the landscape of ICE detention in the United States, showing that recent immigration policy impacts many places throughout the country, not just on the Mexico-United States border.

The reluctance amongst academics to tackle divisive issues or political work sparks the perplexing question: can one be both an activist and an academic? Risam claims that not tackling political issues in one’s work is a privilege, and Digital Humanities makes activism possible, offering hope for reappropriating knowledge production. For instance, the Torn Apart/Separados project is not an activist project, but it puts data into the hands of people who can make a difference. Instead of suggesting what consumers of this knowledge should do with it, the project recognizes the limitations of its own knowledge and simply aims to publish and display data. According to Risam, we should be excited about what is made possible by Digital Humanities methods yet remain wary about the utopian world they create.

Some of the most important work Digital Humanities does, according to Risam, is exert power over the means of producing knowledge. Specifically, Risam teaches her students at Salem State University how to conduct archival research, builds their soft and technical skills, and encourages them to think about the history of activism within their community: Salem State University and the city of Salem, Massachusetts. The students were overwhelmingly drawn to digital histories of activism, exploring records and archives of student organizations from the 60s, 70s and 80s to find out all they could about student activism on their campus. Ultimately, Risam and her students developed Digital Salem, a digital presentation of their research findings, that encourages students to engage with these issues in their lives and with contemporary political issues. The students feel validated when they are participating in activism, Risam stated.

So, what are the rights and responsibilities of humanities scholars in the 21st century? According to Risam, campus climate and student interests may require expanded responsibilities that academics previously did not consider their own, and Digital Humanities may be able to assist students in these activist endeavors.

-Jenny Bagger ’19, DH Undergraduate Fellow

Conference DH Event off campus Undergraduate Fellows

DH Fellows Attend 2018 UNRH Conference

“The potential for digital humanities is essentially boundless because there are no rigid definitions for such pursuits, and there is so much information to be observed, studied, digitized, and presented—not just academically speaking, but socially as well.”
–Colby Gilley ’20

In February, DH fellows Katherine Dau ’19 and Colby Gilley ’20 attended the Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities Conference at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. The conference, which is held annually and aimed at building a network for collaboration and providing a platform for peers to share projects, gave Dau and Gilley the opportunity to learn more about Digital Humanities.

Photo originally posted on the UNRH Twitter page

Dau and Gilley were able to present their project Florence As It Was to fellow undergraduate researchers, receive feedback on it, and explore the projects of other students interested in Digital Humanities. In particular, they were able to learn about ArcGIS, a geographic information system for working with maps and geographic data, and how useful it could be to their own digital reconstruction project of early modern Florence.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Jacob Heil, the College of Wooster’s Digital Scholarship Librarian and the Director of its Collaborative Research Environment (CoRE). According to Dau and Gilley, Dr. Heil emphasized the significance of the “betweenness” that comes to represent Digital Humanities. Because Florence As It Was incorporates various skills and disciplines, including website design, photogrammetry, 3D design methods, art history, architecture, history and religion, Dau and Gilley, like many other DH fellows, understand the importance of being able to maneuver between and transcend traditional academic boundaries.

Overall, Dau and Gilley highly recommend attending the UNRH Conference to students who are interested in learning more about Digital Humanities projects from around the world, sharing challenges and goals with a community of undergraduate researchers, and becoming a part of the next generation of scholars in Digital Humanities and academia.

This post was written using interviews with Katherine Dau ’19 and Colby Gilley ’20.

-Jenny Bagger, DH Undergraduate Fellow

Event on campus Undergraduate Fellows

“My Beloved Community:” Uniting People Through Visual Activism

Photograph by Mackenzie Brooks

The opening of DH fellow Arlette Hernandez and classmate Ellen Kanzinger’s exhibition “My Beloved Community,” an ongoing art exhibition aimed at establishing an inclusive space where everyone’s humanity is acknowledged and everyone’s voice is heard, was emotional and candid. The exhibit consists of portraits, which were taken by Ellen Kanzinger ’18, as well as striking personal statements. It also contains a digital component, which was created by Arlette Hernandez ’18.

Depicting people on the social margins as well as those who fit society’s rigid expectations, the exhibit provides participants an opportunity to express their true selves. No matter how complex or unique it might be, every person’s story is important and deserving of representation.

Exploring the portraits and statements on the walls of the Wilson Atrium alongside fellow wanderers, I read provocative stories of discovering identity at W&L, realizing the differences between knowing versus seeing and being versus appearing, and believing in one’s own beauty. Suspenseful and honest, the narratives compelled me to consider the intricate history and expectations of my community.

Photograph by Mackenzie Brooks

The term “Beloved Community” was popularized by Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., inspiring love, respect and acceptance between people. Created in response to the displays of white supremacy during August of 2017 in Charlottesville, VA, the exhibit is an example of effective visual activism that aspires for empathy and meaningful conversations about social justice and difference. During the exhibition’s opening, the Wilson Atrium was filled with serene understanding, appreciation and sense of community, rendering it a sweeping success.


There’s still time to go see “My Beloved Community” in the Wilson Atrium! The exhibit will be moved to Leyburn Library in March in case you miss it!

-Jenny Bagger, DH Undergraduate Fellow

Event on campus Undergraduate Fellows

“My Beloved Community:” Exhibition by DH Fellow

Check out what DH fellow Arlette Hernandez has been working on with classmate Ellen Kanzinger:

Wednesday, February 28, 2018
5-6:30 PM
Wilson Atrium

Hernandez ’18 and Kanzinger ’18 have been working to curate an art exhibition entitled “My Beloved Community,” the goal of which is to pair portraiture and creative writing to talk about difficult issues surrounding identity, visibility, and marginalization.

The opening reception for the show is Wednesday, February 28th from 5-6:30 PM. There will be food provided and a portrait booth for you to have your picture taken so that you too can join the project, which is ongoing and housed on the project’s website.

Stop by to see what Hernandez and Kanzinger have accomplished, and don’t miss out on becoming a part of their groundbreaking and engaging project!

DH Undergraduate Fellows

Another DH Fellow!

[Enjoy this post by DH Fellow Caroline Nowlin ’19. She is working with Professor Michelle Brock on her Mapping the Scottish Reformation project.]

Hello, everyone! My name is Caroline Nowlin, and I am a junior here at Washington and Lee, majoring in Accounting & Business Administration and European History. I became a Digital Humanities Research Fellow this past fall and am currently working with Professor Michelle Brock on a project to comprehensively chart the growth and movement of the Scottish clergy during the Reformation.

If someone had told me a year ago that I would soon be involved in the creation of a research database, I highly doubt I would have believed them. Naturally inept with technology, I was initially intimidated when a history course I took with Professor Sarah Horowitz required the incorporation of digital scholarship techniques into the final class assignment. Much to my surprise, by the end of the semester I had become fascinated with the field of digital humanities and its potential for furthering historical exploration and research. As a result, I jumped at the chance to expand my experience by collaborating with Professor Brock on Mapping the Scottish Reformation.

I am very grateful to Professor Horowitz for introducing me to the digital humanities and to Professor Brock for allowing me to work with her on this project. I have loved my experience with the Digital Humanities program here and look forward to seeing where it takes me in the year and a half I have left at Washington and Lee.

Undergraduate Fellows

Hi DH! I’m Jenny

Hi! My name is Jenny Bagger, and I’m a junior from Westfield, New Jersey. I am so excited to be the new Digital Humanities Strategic Communications Fellow!

I joined the W&L Digital Humanities team because I wanted to gain relevant and energizing hands-on experience along with my academic coursework. My passion for the English language as well as my desire to learn more about editing drew me to DH, specifically the Strategic Communications role. I was intrigued by DH’s initiative of fostering research at a small liberal arts school, while also collaborating as a team of researchers and coders. As the DH Strategic Communications fellow, I have the privilege of exploring the projects and writing blog posts about the many endeavors of the DH program. While I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into before I started, now a few weeks in I am confident that my work with DH is going to be so much more fun and rewarding than I ever could have imagined.

Although I am a Business Administration and English double major rather than a student of communications, I learned a lot about promoting events and writing about my experiences at my internship this summer. For eight weeks, I lived in London and worked in the marketing department of a theater, where I was responsible for researching different target markets, developing and implementing a community marketing plan for the upcoming theater season, preparing a social media report for the Board of Trustees, and executing social media communications. Once the summer was over, I knew I wanted to continue practicing what I learned about marketing, communications, and representing a larger organization on social media. DH is the perfect opportunity for me to expand on my knowledge and develop my interests, while also learning about things that are completely new to me.

I didn’t think that I would be able to have an engaging real-world experience such as this as an undergraduate student, but through Digital Humanities at W&L, I get to work and practice writing, communications, and even coding!

I’m so excited for what’s to come!

Undergraduate Fellows

A New Blog Post from a New DH Fellow

Hi! My name is Laurel Myers and I am a junior from the cornfields of Cedarville, Ohio. Even though I am an English major, I am having a deceptively hard time writing this intro blog, which is probably due to the fact that I don’t have much experience with Digital Humanities.

I stumbled upon the field and the fellowship opportunity this summer when I was trying to find a job on campus. With a six-week gap in the middle of my summer due to attending the Virginia Program at Oxford, I needed a flexible job that I could start and come back to. Thankfully, there was a project that had been sitting on the shelves for three years that was waiting to be catalogued. Special Collections had acquired the personal library of Thomas H. Carter, a literary critic and former editor of Shenandoah who had personal correspondence with Ezra Pound. I spent the summer collecting data and creating spreadsheets about his books, journals, and connections in the literary world. I am looking forward to taking my project further throughout the academic year as a DH fellow and using the information I gathered to form a comprehensive narrative about Carter that can act as a snapshot of the literary scene during the 50s.

At the moment, I am in two classes that bring together my DH project: a 20th Century British and Irish Poetry class and a Digital Humanities class. In the poetry class, we will be investigation the correspondence between Carter and Pound and also creating a journal of our own. With the Digital Humanities class, taught by Mackenzie Brooks, I will be able to work on my coding skills and learn new ways to present my research.

As an English major who also takes as many Spanish courses as possible, I saw an enormous advantage in learning more about the Digital Humanities. Being a part of DH @ WLU, I will not only gain an invaluable skillset, but also be challenged. Expanding my limited knowledge of coding while also designing platforms to showcase my project is an exciting application of what I have learned during my college career at W&L so far.