Teaching with The Digital Woman's World

In addition to its direct preservation of Women’s World, Digital Women’s World models a method to improve student engagement with historical periodicals. Although access to these historical documents is possible within archives and via databases, these methods are accompanied by a steep learning curve and expensive subscription databases. In addition, for both students and professionals these methods can tend toward keyword research or textual mining—that is, extracting selective evidence—rather than an immersive reading experience. The Omeka platform enables new methods of organizing, accessing, and reading historical newspapers. that better accord with the diverse methods of access and reading order that historical readers practiced.

“The task of conceptualizing Victorian print culture and devising methods to navigate its massive materiality has become more pressing because of the digitization of Victorian periodicals,” Linda K. Hughes writes. If the available corpus of historical newspapers and periodicals has challenged professional methods, then it has brought an accompanying set of challenges to student research. The massive array of material threatens to overwhelm students and hinder, rather than augment, student learning. In an effort to make this material “manageable and comprehensible,” Digital Women’s World provides a template for scaffolding student engagement with periodicals and giving them organizational and interpretive control over the material. In addition, tasking students with the stages of digital preservation, including transcription, proofing, tagging, and uploading, provoke conversations about the scope of digital humanities work.

The methods that have been used with Digital Women’s World may be translated into student-led editions of other newspapers and magazines that engage students with close-reading and analysis of historical content and introduces foundational questions, tools, and methods of digital editions. Sample, scaffolded assignments to help students build their own digital editions are outlined below.

Assignment #1: Preservation and Transcription

The first assignment will familiarize students with predominant methods of database preservation, as well as current digital editing projects. Using the suggested Baker reader as a guide,  students will discuss the limitations of standard approaches, then consider how digital humanities methods might overcome these limitations. 

Once introduced to historical and emerging methods of collection and preservation, students will begin work on their own digital edition(s). The class might collectively work on a single periodical or magazine, or groups of students might select separate publications to work on. Artifacts might be located on a database, such as a HathiTrust, or they may be materials within Special Collections. Students select one article and are responsible for (1) generating and cleaning its OCR’d text, (2) uploading the clean transcription, and (3) adding necessary metadata to Omeka.

Suggested Readings

  • Burdick, Anne; Drucker, Johanna; Lunenfeld, Peter; Presner, Todd; and Schnapp, Jeffrey, eds. Digital_Humanities, MIT Press, 2012.
  • Baker, Nicholson, Doublefold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, Random House, 2001 (especially particular Chapter 3, “Preserving to Destroy” and chapter 5, “Virgin Mummies”)

Suggested Resources

Assignment #2: Close-reading and Annotation

Once Omeka is populated with content, students will work on contextualizing the material. Each student will select an article to annotate. It may be the same as, or separate from, the article that they have transcribed and uploaded. Depending on the complexity of the material, a set number of annotations may be assigned. The Digital Women’s World encodes annotations; however, a Text Annotation plug-in may be installed that allows students to add annotations using hypothesis.is.

Suggested Resources:

Assignment #3: Blog Post

To engage with the historical content students will write a blog post using the Omeka Exhibit Builder function. In their post, they will focus on a topic that the periodical is invested in. Their post will use several articles to interpret the periodical’s approach to this topic. The collective tagging that the students have done will help locate related articles for the post. The final, summative assignment challenges students to comprehensively approach periodical texts, and to build sustained arguments using primary sources.

Suggested Readings

  • Penrod, Diane. Blogs as a New Writing Genre” in Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy: the next powerful step in 21st-century learning, Rowman and Littlefield, 2007: 

Suggested Resource