Tag Archives: Digital Humanities

Notes on the Economics of Library Economy



Stamps. From Library Bureau. Classified Illustrated Catalog of the Library Bureau …: A Handbook of Library and Office … Library Bureau, 1890. Internet Archive. Web. 13 Dec. 2016. Page 49

by Constance Crompton

While in Middlemarch, published serially in 1871 and 1872, dear Dorothea suffered great “annoyance at being twitted with her ignorance of political economy, that never-explained science which was thrust as an extinguisher over all her lights” (Eliot 42) there were many other economies being developed in the 1870s which would rely on women as employees and proselytizers. I will leave domestic economy to the side for the nonce — it’s the economy of knowledge storage devices and spelling reform that has my interest.

I have completely fallen for the late-century American passion for efficiency experts, so once again will, at the risk of taxing Victorian Studies readers, offer up a post that features more American cousins rather than British ones. I had touched earlier in this blog on the invention of the vertical file. I’d like to pick up where I left off with a few remarks about the company the marketed the vertical file, the Library Bureau and the Bureau’s founder, that great promoter of “library economy,” Melvil Dewey (Classification 5). I’ve been dipping of late into Dewey’s “Librarianship as a Profession for College-Bred Women”, published by the Library Bureau, while Dewey was Columbia’s chief librarian. Continue reading

Teaching the Dramatic Monologue

By Karen Bourrier

If your syllabus looks anything like mine, at least once a semester you’re dusting off your Tennyson and Browning skills and teaching the dramatic monologue. My personal favourites to teach are “My Last Duchess” and “Porphyria’s Lover” (Day One) and then “Tithonous,” “Ulysses,” and “St Simeon Stylites” (Day Two).

This semester I decided to do something a little different. I have the privilege of teaching my Victorian literature class in one of the fancy new classrooms at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary. My 40-person class has six big touch screens, and as a result we’ve been able to do a lot of hands-on work in small groups leading into discussions with the whole class.

In the past, on Day One I’ve introduced the dramatic monologue in terms of Robert Langbaum’s classic argument that we both judge and sympathize with the speaker. (The Duke is so evil! But so compelling!). Then, on Day Two, I introduce Cornelia Pearsall’s idea that the speakers of the dramatic monologue may not be bumbling fools, but might be well aware of the aims of their own rhetoric. (What if St Simeon is in on the joke that you can’t ask to be made a saint, especially by whining about the 30 years you’ve already spent atop that pillar).

This semester, in introduced a new component. We used Prism, a tool developed by graduate students in the Praxis Program at UVa that allows classes to crowdsource interpretations of a text. Students highlight portions of a text as falling into one to three categories (or facets) designated by the instructor. Then, Prism collates all of the highlights to see how most people categorized each portion of the text, which should lead to further discussion.


Prism allows collaborative highlighting of texts.

Prism works really well when you want students to highlight for two or three specific concepts, which is exactly what I wanted for my lesson plan on the dramatic monologue.

On day one, I asked students to highlight passages in Browning where they felt sympathy or judgment for the speaker. Starting with textual annotation and close reading actually led to a much more balanced discussion than I’ve had in the past when I’ve posed the question of whether we sympathize or judge Browning’s speakers. (I don’t think many students have outright sympathized with the Duke since the 1950s when Langbaum wrote his study.)

We then did two short mock trials, in which the Duke and Porphyria’s Lover stood accused of murder. One group stood as jury, and other groups were assigned the defense and the prosecution. It seems a little silly, but it was really fun, and all the same points came out that would have in a lecture or discussion. (Thanks to my colleague Anthony Camara for the mock trial idea!)

On day two, we used Prism again to highlight Tennyson, this time for sympathy, judgment, and comedy (shorthand for self-aware, motivated rhetoric), following Pearsall’s argument. Each group worked on a different dramatic monologue and was responsible for presenting their findings to the class. The groups also read portions of their assigned monologue aloud two different ways: as if the speaker is giving away more than he realizes (Langbaum) and as if he is in on the joke (Pearsall). Reading the dramatic monologues aloud helped a lot.

Many more students have decided to write on the dramatic monologue for their final paper than has been the case in the past, so I think this was a successful lesson. We’ll see tomorrow, when we tackle “Locksley Hall.” Am I the only one who has vivid memories of being an undergraduate and not understanding at all what was going on in that poem?

Floating Academy: The Transatlantic Digital Moonstone

the title page of the Moonstone shows an illustration of a naval scene.

The Moonstone, Harper’s Weekly, 1868-05-23. Image digitized by Melanie Radford, courtesy of Special Collections, University of Calgary Library.

By Karen Bourrier

In my senior seminar on “The Victorian Bestseller,” we’ve just finished a big class project. When I found out that our Special Collections at the University of Calgary holds both of the periodicals in which Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868) was originally serialized–Harper’s Weekly in the U.S. and All the Year Round in the UK–the opportunity to get students into rare books and thinking about the material culture of the text was too good to pass up. In conjunction with Special Collections, the assignment I devised asked each student to take on one of the thirty-two parts The Moonstone originally appeared in, and to compare and contrast its publication in Harper’s and All the Year Round. Students selected and annotated about half a dozen images from the periodicals–which could be anything from advertisements, to illustrations, to the articles and fiction that appeared alongside the novel–to make an argument about the difference the publishing context makes to the reading experience. They then used Omeka to mount a digital exhibit showcasing what they had found in the archives. Our class archive now explores 13 out of 32 parts of the novel, leaving room for another class to try this project again.

The results were fascinating. Students found everything from advertisements for diamonds to articles on the colonies and knots and riddles–important contexts for a mystery story about a gem stolen from India! This project was both more work, and I think more rewarding, than the traditional research essay for all involved. It was only possible because of the tremendous support we had from Annie Murray, Kathryn Ranjit, and Catelynn Sahadath at the University of Calgary Library. Here are a few of my takeaways from the project:

  • This project required a lot more organization on my part as instructor. I started planning with our Head of Special Collections, Annie Murray, back in July, and it took a lot of co-ordination to book time for students in rare books, the digitization studio, and in a special metadata session. By contrast, I just wrote the prompts for our final research paper in an hour yesterday afternoon.
  • The project also took more time. We spent two class sessions on learning about Omeka and metadata, and I held extra office hours in case any technical problems cropped up for the students. Amazingly, other than some images being very slow to load, we didn’t have a lot of technical problems. But this also wasn’t a project where I felt comfortable just handing out the assignment and seeing what students turned in. (Actually, after having spent several years teaching writing, I don’t do that for essays either, but that’s another story!)
  • Having a small class size (in this case thirteen students) was essential to the project’s success given the organizational challenges and demands for time. I haven’t yet figured out how I would do this with a larger class (for example, one of our Victorian literature survey classes that typically have 40 students). Suggestions?
  • Although the technology turned out to be pretty easy for the students to navigate in the end, it was harder for them to complete the project without seeing an example. Many of us know what a successful essay looks like, but what does a successful digital exhibit look like? Hopefully, the next class won’t have this problem, since there are now many successful examples in our class archive!
  • Many students found the project more meaningful than essays they’d written in the past. In our final wrap-up session, several students commented on how this project felt like it meant more since it was for a public audience online, and not just their professor reading it. They even asked me to let them know if they’d “done anything wrong” so that they could fix it. I’ve never had students ask to revise their papers for no extra credit before!
  • I always build in the potential for anonymity when I require digital projects, but almost no one ever takes me up on it. One of the biggest thrills for students was seeing their projects indexed in a Google search, and students were also happy to have me tweet about it.

I want to stress that I still think writing research papers is essential to our discipline–my class is just starting to write their final research papers now. But it was a lot of fun to do something different, and it stretched both me and the students in new ways. Even if they’re not digital, I’d love to hear about assignments you’ve done in the Victorian studies classroom that depart from the traditional term paper. Let me know in the comments!

Floating Academy: Teaching the Yellow Nineties Online

Screenshot of the homepage of the Yellow Nineties Online.

By Karen Bourrier

A couple of years ago, Connie introduced us to The Yellow Nineties Online, a project edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra and Dennis Denisoff at Ryerson University dedicated to producing a TEI-edition of late Victorian periodicals including not only the Yellow Book but also periodicals like the Evergreen and the Pagan Review. Since that post, I’ve used The Yellow Nineties Online in two of my courses this past winter term (we don’t even pretend to call it a spring term here in Calgary!), and I thought it would be a good follow-up to blog about my experiences in the classroom here.

Continue reading

Floating Academy: Twitter in the Victorian Studies Classroom

By Karen Bourrier

For the past few semesters, inspired by Joshua Eyeler’s post on “Teaching with Twitter; or Adventures in Student Engagement,” I’ve had a social media participation component in my classroom. I’ve now used Twitter at all levels, from the freshman writing seminar to the graduate classroom. It’s worked well in all of these settings, but I think I’ve had the most success at the 400-level, with third and fourth year university students studying Victorian literature. The reason for this success, I think, is two-fold. One, third and fourth year students are sophisticated and engaged enough with literature that they get the possibilities of the medium immediately: they use Twitter to respond in real-time to plot developments (there’s a madwoman in the attic!), to comment on versions of Victorian texts that have entered the cultural mainstream (Please sir, can I have some more?), and of course, to raise questions for class discussion. The second reason for this success, I think, is that third and fourth year university students are not yet too worried about formulating identities as professional literary critics on the web, which leaves room for a freewheeling discussion.

What I enjoy most about using Twitter in the classroom is finding out more about my students and what they think about the works we’re reading early on in the semester. I learn about their sense of humour and the many ways they encounter Victorian literature in popular culture. I also find out who the really smart but shy students are early on, since they will Tweet, but not necessarily put their hands up in a class of 40. (Incidentally, our class Twitter stream is also a pretty good gauge of who is keeping up with the reading!) In my class of 40, which is something in between a seminar and a lecture, social media fosters some of the bonds that would come from a smaller classroom. I also assign a Storify, where a student archives the Tweets from one day’s class, in lieu of a seminar presentation. This serves as a record and a study guide for the final exam.

The odd student won’t complete the Twitter assignment. That’s okay, it’s only worth 5% and won’t kill their grade. When I started this assignment, I thought more students would want to remain anonymous, and though I have the option written into the assignment, I have yet to have a single student take me up on it. If you are interested in seeing what we’ve done with Twitter, you can take a look at our Storify archives for Early Victorian Literature here, and Late Victorian Literature here.

I’ll post my assignment below. In the meantime, I’d love to know, have you used social media in the classroom? Was it successful?

Twitter Assignment for ENGL 449

The social networking site Twitter has gained tremendous currency over the past few years as a place where academics and professionals can learn and share ideas. To spark our class conversations and keep them going throughout the week, everyone in the class will tweet a minimum of six times a week (three tweets per class). We will use the hashtag #ENG449 to keep track of the tweets. The only guidelines are that your tweets must be respectful and relevant to the class. Your tweets could include 1) a question or an observation about the reading 2) a quotation from the reading 3) a response to a tweet 4) a link to a relevant resource (scholarly article, film adaptation etc.). Each student will also be responsible for creating a Storify narrative of the tweets from one day’s class, due before the next class, which I will post to our course website, and which everyone can draw on to generate ideas for papers and to study for the final exam.

Because Twitter is public, I encourage you to put your best, most professional foot forward in your tweets. You can follow your classmates and me @kbourrier, but I also encourage you to follow people in your future career path. It will be easiest for everyone in the class to link Twitter identities with classroom identities if you are comfortable using your name and a picture of yourself as part of your Twitter handle, but this is not required. If you choose to be anonymous, let me know what your Twitter handle is so that I can give you credit for participation. Students who complete the Storify assignment, the minimum number of tweets (78) and whose tweets show engagement with the texts can expect to receive an A- (4/5), with an A+ (5/5) being reserved for exceptional engagement.

Adapted from Josh Eyler, Rice University: https://josheyler.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/teaching-with-twitter-or-adventures-in-student-engagement/

Floating Academy: Teena Rochfort Smith: the Ada Lovelace of the digital humanities

By Alan Galey

Teena Rochfort Smith, as pictured in F.J. Furnivall, Teena Rochfort Smith: A Memoir (1883). Available on Google Books.

Teena Rochfort Smith, as pictured in
F.J. Furnivall’s Teena Rochfort Smith:
A Memoir (1883). Available on
Google Books.

In 1883, a young woman named Teena Rochfort Smith created a prototype of an experimental edition of Hamlet that, to this day, remains the most visually complex presentation of the play ever attempted.[1] Even present-day digital interfaces such as the Enfolded Hamlet are less ambitious than what Rochfort Smith envisioned, which pushed Victorian typography and printing technology to its limits. Given both Hamlet‘s unique complexity within the Shakespeare canon and Shakespeare’s textual complexity within the larger canon of English literature, Rochfort Smith’s prototype should rank among other great experiments in humanities interface design, including Origen’s Hexapla; the Complutensian Polyglot Bible; Robert Estienne’s 1550 edition of the Greek New Testament; the New Variorum Shakespeare, begun by Horace Howard Furness in the 1870s; the BBC Domesday Book project (an experiment, if not a great success); and more recent digital humanities projects, such as the Versioning Machine, which visualizes the relationships among variant texts of the same literary work. Although Rochfort Smith’s story is a tragic one—she died very young, and has been remembered mainly as Frederick Furnivall’s mistress—she was nonetheless a protodigital pioneer in an area that’s booming in the digital humanities today. She accomplished all this as a Victorian woman in a male-dominated field, and she did so by the age of twenty-one.

 cover of Teena Rochfort Smith's Four-Text Hamlet

Teena Rochfort Smith, ed. A Four-Text Edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. London: Trübner, 1863. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Folger call no. PR2807 1883b Sh.Col. High-resolution full version available here.

This post is the last in a three-part series based on my new book, The Shakespearean Archive, which considers the use of Shakespeare as prototypical material for new media experiments, especially during the new media explosion and nascent information culture of the late Victorian period. My interest in Rochfort Smith is motivated in part by media archaeology, a subfield that looks to the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries for examples of media—especially strange, unsuccessful, or overlooked experiments—that unsettle the teleological progress narratives of traditional media history, many of which persist in the digital humanities today with too little critique.[2] In earlier posts, I looked at the Victorian new media demo as a performance genre (not unlike Apple’s rollout events) and an 1885 experiment in composite photography that attempted to reveal Shakespeare’s true face (based on some truly bogus science). With these posts, I’m taking the opportunity to make high-resolution digital images from the book available in a medium that lets us dig into the details, but I’ll also discuss Rochfort Smith’s work as a healthy challenge to the tendency to overlook the paper-based forms of computing, including humanities computing, that can be found in the Victorian period.

parallel-text edition of Hamlet

Early facing-page facsimile of Q1 and Q1 Hamlet,
from Birmingham: Josiah Allen, Jr., 1860. Used by
permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under
a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0
International License
. Folger call no. PR2807 1860 Sh.Col.

Rochfort Smith’s project arose in response to a problem that’s not uncommon in literature, in which a major work has come down to us in variant forms: the version of Hamlet printed in the 1623 Shakespeare First Folio (F) differs markedly from the one published as a single-volume quarto in 1604 (Q2, dated 1605 in some copies), both of which differ even more radically from a seemingly corrupt quarto version published in 1603 (Q1). Although the work in question here is early modern, the understanding of the problem is very Victorian in the sense that it plays into a particularly late nineteenth-century anxiety over humankind’s imperfect reckoning with the inherited past, especially as embodied in material records. Even a pillar of cultural heritage as supposedly stable as Hamlet could be put into question by the discovery of a new version, such as the discovery of the Q1 version in 1823, when a copy (one of only two that now survive) turned up in a closet.[3] As Dickens showed in Our Mutual Friend (1864–1865), one never knows what documents the dust-heaps of history will cast forth to complicate the present.
The picture included here is an example of advertisements for photographic facsimiles of rare Shakespeare books, and other Shakespeareiana, in the Publishers’ Circular 15 April 1864: 216. Google Books. (Scroll down at the link to see more.)

Examples of advertisements for photographic facsimiles of rare Shakespeare books, and other Shakespeareiana, in The Publishers’ Circular (April 15, 1864), p. 216. Image from Google Books. (Scroll down at the link to see more ads.)

Example of advertisements for photographic
facsimiles of rare Shakespeare books, and other
Shakespeareiana, in the Publishers’ Circular
15 April 1864: 216. Google Books.
(Follow this link to see more examples.)

If the Victorians were increasingly conscious of the past’s mediation through documents, they also witnessed new ways that documents themselves could be mediated through new forms of book design and technologies of mechanical reproduction. In literary terms, this meant that after 1860 or so, Victorians would increasingly encounter new reading interfaces for texts with complex histories. Some, like photographic facsimiles, would seem to offer transparent access to the past (see the language in the ads linked t the left); others would make the complexities of textual difference all too visible. Rochfort Smith’s Four-Text Hamlet is definitely one of the latter.

Following Origen’s example in his six-column parallel-text presentation of versions of the Old Testament, Rochfort Smith placed the three authoritative texts of Hamlet (Q1, Q2, & F) side by side, along with a fourth column offering a conflated text like the ones readers would recognize from contemporary critical editions. Parallel-text layouts and complex typography weren’t uncommon in Rochfort Smith’s time, but her insight was to use mixed typefaces to visually flag the differences within the lines themselves, like so:

PR2807 1883b Sh.Col., p. 20 || p. 21

This snippet of two columns—Q1 and Q2—shows that Rochfort Smith wanted readers to use the typographic signals to see the differences across all four texts, with the potential to reveal patterns:

PR2807 1883b Sh.Col., p. 20 || p. 21

If you look at the first line of dialogue in each of the columns above, you’ll see one of Hamlet‘s major textual variants in context: “sallied flesh” in Q1 & Q2 and “solid flesh” in F. Recalling that “sallied” has usually been taken by Shakespeare editors to be an early modern spelling of “sullied,” we can consider the interpretive stakes of Hamlet referring to his flesh as “sullied” versus “solid”: the former word emphasizes the moral stain of his mother’s incest, while the latter word gives us a more corporeal image—and a link, perhaps, to Hamlet’s later dialogue with the Gravedigger on death and materiality, and the recycled flesh of kings going a-progress through the guts of beggars. (There’s a theme from Our Mutual Friend again, too.)

That’s just one variant, but Hamlet is full of them, as becomes clear as one progresses through Rochfort Smith’s seemingly postmodern typographical riot. Although reading interfaces to show textual variation go back a long way in Shakespeare, the Bible, and legal texts, Rochfort Smith outdid her predecessors—and her successors, for that matter—by recording variations in spelling as well as substantive meanings (like “sallied” versus “solid”). This results in an extraordinary level of granularity in her visual markup, with typographical variation inside words themselves. (Anyone reading this with experience in Text Encoding Initiative markup can imagine how difficult this would be to do with XML tags, even on a moderate scale.) Notice the differences signalled within the words “Dew” and “Selfe” below, in this snippet from the F column:

PR2807 1883b Sh.Col., p. 20 || p. 21

Now imagine this level of granularity scaled up to the level of an entire play, let alone the entire canon of Shakespeare’s texts. It’s a level of complexity that even modern-day digital editions rarely foist upon their readers, yet Rochfort Smith evidently imagined readers who had internalized the typographical markup conventions spelled out at the beginning of her edition:

teena rochfort img 8

At first glance, it seems like a lot to remember, but like musical notation, it sinks in with time and repetition. I’ve read through Rochfort Smith’s three-scene prototype several times in the course of my research, and it’s come to feel more intuitive than one might expect. But this prototype still leaves us with the question of how exactly Rochfort Smith imagined her Four-Text Hamlet would be read and used—as a primary reading text for the play, with occasional glances between columns, or as a reference source, designed for discontinuous reading and referencing to answer specific questions? She left no direct answers to these questions, to my knowledge; we can only deduce what we can of her intentions from the artifact itself.

Full opening from Teena Rochfort Smith (ed.), A Four-Text Edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (London: Trübner, 1863). Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Folger call no. PR2807 1883b Sh.Col. High-res full version available here.

Full opening from Teena Rochfort Smith, ed. A Four-Text Edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. London: Trübner, 1863. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Folger call no. PR2807 1883b Sh.Col. High-resolution full version available here.

So, did all this visual complexity prove too much for Victorian readers? Sadly, we’ll never know, as the project proved too technically complex for her printer, N. Trübner & Co. of London. Imagine these pages from a typesetter’s perspective: Rochfort Smith required highly precise placements of Roman, italic, Clarendon, sans-serif, gothic, bold, and small-capital type, sometimes merging different types in the same word, and sometimes in combination with various diacritical marks. Just as Charles Babbage’s design for his Difference Engine exceeded the capabilities of Victorian machining (even though it worked on paper), so did Rochfort Smith’s vision exceed the capacities of Victorian typography. Rochfort Smith’s project didn’t go beyond the three-scene prototype shown here, created for members of the New Shakespeare Society to comment upon. To the best of my knowledge, the only surviving copy is the one at the Folger.[4]

Let’s consider a different perspective on this textual artifact: imagine what Rochfort Smith’s manuscript copy for the printer must have looked like, and for that matter, what her working papers must have looked like. As Frederick Furnivall describes in his posthumous memorial to Rochfort Smith, she took “infinite care” to prepare the manuscript version of her edition “with four different kinds of ink, and with three different forms of underline” to indicate variance among the four texts.[5] I suspect Rochfort Smith’s manuscripts would look remarkably like the so-called paper prototyping stage of markup that my students and I undertake when tackling a particularly challenging textual artifact using XML.[6] What I find so extraordinary about Rochfort Smith is that she was thinking like an encoder and information designer, even in 1883. She would not have recognized the names we now assign to those roles, but I’m certain she’d have understood the nature of the work—perhaps better than many of us do today. She also gives us a reading interface that not only records the many variants in a complex literary text but also visualizes the problems under consideration themselves In other words, her prototype invites us into the mystery of Hamlet‘s texts, instead of just giving us her solution to it (although she gives us that, too, in the fourth column).

My initial appreciation of Rochfort Smith’s work comes from being a coder and Shakespearean myself—when I discovered her work, it felt like I’d found a lost ancestor. But it’s worth remembering that media archaeology calls us to do more than simply fill in the family trees of present-day media or appreciate the quirky steampunkery of Victorian new media experiments. Media archaeology, as practiced by Wolfgang Ernst and others, is specifically not about fine-tuning our origin myths but about disrupting them to see the present differently.

Ada Lovelace, as depicted in Sydney Padua’s webcomic 2D Goggles, or the Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.

Ada Lovelace, as depicted in Sydney Padua’s
webcomic 2D Goggles, or the Thrilling
Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.

In that spirit, I would suggest remembering Teena Rochfort Smith the way some computer scientists remember Ada Lovelace—as someone who represents an alternate history of a discipline. As I learned from my iSchool colleague Kelly Lyons, who advocates for women in computing, Ada Lovelace Day is celebrated annually to draw attention to the achievements of women in the STEM disciplines. Even digital humanities, whose adherents would likely consider their field to have a less paternalistic history than computer science or engineering, tends to narrate its origins in terms of founding fathers, namely Roberto Busa and Vannevar Bush, and still sparks debates over the effacement of gender, sexuality, and race in its emphasis on building tools and applying technologies.[7] Rochfort Smith did not collaborate with computing giant IBM on a large-scale project (as Busa did, beginning in 1949), nor was she a powerful government research administrator (as Bush was, especially after assuming the directorship of the Office of Scientific Research and Development in 1941, a parent organization for the Manhattan Project). She was a twenty-one-year-old, unmarried Victorian woman when she completed the Four-Text Hamlet prototype, and she died not long afterwards when her dress caught fire while she was burning some letters. (See Thompson’s article for the story.) Although Teena Rochfort Smith’s career was not as long or successful as Ada Lovelace’s, her work deserves to be remembered, and humanists might find in her a comparable measure of inspiration.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Four-Text Hamlet, it’s that great experimental scholarship can be found in unexpected places. As such, I go into greater detail about Teena Rochfort Smith and the broader context of Victorian new media experimentation in the Shakespearean Archive (in a part of the intro, currently previewable in Google Books). If any readers know of copies of the Four-Text Hamlet other than Folger’s or have come across any of Rochfort Smith’s other manuscripts related to this project, please let us know in the comments section!


[1] In making this claim, I’m echoing Shakespeare scholar Ann Thompson, who published the first serious study of Rochfort Smith in 1998, to which my own research is very much indebted. Based on my own experience in the field of digital editions, I’d say Thompson’s claim is still valid. See Ann Thompson’s “Teena Rochfort Smith, Frederick Furnivall, and the New Shakespeare Society’s Four-Text Volume of Hamlet.” Shakespeare Quarterly 49 (1998): 125–39. See also the blog post “Recovering Teena Rochfort Smith” by Amanda Visconti, who also initiated the Wikipedia entry for Rochfort Smith.

[2] Useful critiques of technological progressivism within digital humanities may be found in Andrew Prescott’s blog post “Making the Digital Human,” originally presented as a lecture for the Digital Humanities Summer School at Oxford in 2012, and Johanna Drucker’s article “Pixel Dust: Illusions of Innovation in Scholarly Publishing.” Los Angeles Review of Books 16 January 2014.

[3] The discovery and reception of Q1 Hamlet is the subject of Zachary Lesser’s new book, “Hamlet” After Q1: An Uncanny History of the Shakespearean Text (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014).

[4] The story might not end here. An announcement in the 30 January 1891 issue of Science: a Weekly Newspaper of All the Arts and Sciences (17.417) mentions that the Shakespeare Society of New York was aware of the Four-Text Hamlet project and the difficulties it had encountered, and had undertaken their own complete edition of Hamlet on Rochfort Smith’s model on a subscription basis. If the New York Shakespeare Society’s plans progressed beyond fundraising, I have found no record, though someone else might turn up more leads.

[5] Furnivall, Frederick J. Teena Rochfort-Smith: A Memoir, with Three Woodbury-Types of Her, One Each of Robert Browning and F.J. Furnivall, and Memorial Lines by Mary Grace Walker. Suffolk: Clay and Taylor, 1883. 5. This pamphlet does not name Furnivall as an author; the attribution is by Thompson (cited above), who also notes some inaccuracies in Furnivall’s account of the circumstances of Rochfort Smith’s life and death.

[6] Some of my students’ work along these lines is linked on the blog for “The Future of the Book”, my course at the University of Toronto’s iSchool. (I normally set an “encoding challenge” as the second assignment.) My own encoding/interface work, which I often integrate with teaching, happens within the framework of my Visualizing Variation project.

[7] These critiques have recently coalesced into the #transformDH hashtag and blog. See also the cluster of articles under the heading “Critiquing the Digital Humanities” in Matthew K. Gold, ed. Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2012. For in-depth discussions of gender in digital humanities scholarship, I recommend Jacqueline Wernimont’s “Whence Feminism? Assessing Feminist Interventions in Digital Literary Archives” in Digital Humanities Quarterly 7.1 (2013), and Julia Flanders’s “The Body Encoded: Questions of Gender and the Electronic Text” in Kathryn Sutherland, ed. Electronic Text: Investigations in Method and Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. 127–43.

Floating Academy: Close Reading Christmas Comedy

By Constance Crompton

Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball by John Leech. Image courtesy of Philip V. Allingham and the Victorian Web http://www.victorianweb.org/art/illustration/carol/1.html

Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball by John Leech.
Image courtesy of Philip V.
Allingham and the Victorian Web

One of my Digital Humanities classes is working on a digital archive of A Christmas Carol. In addition to encoding and annotating each stave, they will be creating introductions to the text, to John Leech’s illustrations, and to a few key early 20th-century adaptations (from the first film version (1901), to Edison’s adaptation (1910), and Orson Welles and Lionel Barrymore’s radio play (1939) to a TV version narrated by Vincent Price (1949). I will spare you the rationale for these particular choices (“why no Victorian theatre adaptations?” you ask, to which I say “is there no copyright? Are there no license fees?”) and will zip right along).

I have given many Victorian Studies lectures in Digital Humanities classes. I am a Victorianist by training and passion, and while Digital Humanities classes tend to focus on digital methods and building as a methodology, they rely on a deeply humanist engagement with the material and cultural past. In short, the humanities part of Digital Humanities mandates that DH projects, while D, must be about and through H. This time ‘round, I decided to give the students a contextual lecture about class, the workhouse, and early Victorian childhood, with a little excursus on early-Victorian Christmas traditions (or lack of them—Cratchit and his daughter Martha only get to pick their employers’ pockets, as Scrooge put it, on the 25th of December and not on the day before or after, as they might have 100 years on). Not all my students have a background in Victorian literature and culture, or even in English, but the child Dickens, Tiny Tim, and indeed, even junior Scrooge, make for very sympathetic lecture material, so all went well.

I hadn’t expected that the class wouldn’t find the novel funny. Which they didn’t. Not a whit (or wit, if you will pardon me the pun). This afforded me the perfect opportunity to continue our discussion about close reading and distant reading. Distant reading is the practice of algorithmically discerning patterns in a single text or in a corpus. The class had done some distant reading using the Voyant tool set for visualizations, but in the context of an undergraduate classroom it turns out that humour requires real close reading.

It is easy to skip over what Scrooge leaves unsaid in his dismissal of his nephew:

“‘Don’t be angry, uncle. Come! Dine with us to-morrow.’
Scrooge said that he would see him—-yes, indeed he did. He went the whole length of the expression, and said that he would see him in that extremity first” (10).

Furthermore, the contemporary meaning of intercourse can obscure just why we should be tickled by the novella’s concluding lines:

“[Scrooge] had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards” (166).

Even though I was glad to have the opportunity to talk about close reading, I was puzzled by the students—as a rule engaged and conscientious readers—missing the jokes. What’s not to love in

“Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail” (1)?

I think I have found a culprit, or rather culprits. None of the other adaptations that the students had been watching and hearing were humorous. The adaptations from the second half of the 20th century, which we weren’t addressing in class, with Alastair Sim’s bulging eyeballs and Miss Piggy’s karate chops are pleasingly zany (say what you like about the Muppet Christmas Carol’s conflation of the narrator with Charles Dickens, Gonzo-as-Dickens’ delivery of the all-caps closing vociferation that “Tiny Tim did NOT die” is delightful). The Edison film, however, doesn’t make one smile, and Lionel Barrymore with his flat east coast accent breaking through his attempt to sound British (backed, best of all, by earnest American carolers), is suitably heartwarming but is far too staid to be funny. While the Price version is campy it cuts out Scrooge’s Spirit-related abstemiousness. I can tell that distant reading won’t help me here: why do Dickens’ jokes end up on the cutting room floor in the adaptations of the first half of the 20th century?

Originally published on the Floating Academy blog November 10, 2014