#digitalhumanities: As a newbie to digital humanities
(or rather: DH, as I learned; DH is very much about abbreviations), I started
my week at the International Summer School at the Academy
of Sciences and Literature in Mainz on October 8, 2019. Two weeks earlier, I had already
been to a Dariah workshop @IEG in
Mainz, so Mainz really stood out to me as the place to be when it came to DH in
Germany. It hadn’t been easy to find practice-oriented opportunities for a new
DH fan. During my studies @FAU
in Erlangen, I had read a couple of theoretical articles about the digital humanities
and what they can do, how they change the field of literary studies, and how we
can combine research endeavors in the humanities with computer-based tools that
support them or even raise new questions altogether. During the two workshops,
and especially the ISS, I dived into some really fun tools such as Git,
Animexgeo, Neo4j, app.rawgraph.io, … and many more.
Several presenters guided us through a wide range of
immensely fascinating topics and recent issues of DH and its tools. The one I
would like to discuss in more detail is Martin Prell’s talk about ‘Historical sources of women in the
Digital Humanities – overview and automated text analysis.’ Why this topic?
Well, first of all, for someone only recently exposed to DH practices, it was a
presentation that I could easily follow. Also, the idea of raising gender as a
category and drawing attention to women in the archives resonated with me and
the project that Katrin and I are working on. Specializing in NLP (Natural
Language Processing – remember, the abbreviations, very important), Martin
Prell analyzes letters of pietist Erdmuthe Benigna using a range of DH tools. Additionally,
he critically examined gender issues in the digital humanities. Referencing
Mark Hall’s talk @DHd2019, Prell observed that “DH is the Study of dead Dudes.” Women are not the
major center of attention when it comes to research on archival material and
they are hardly mentioned in DH projects presented at Dhd conferences. Women
are thus marginalized and erased in public discourse, an ongoing process that
is reinforced by the digital humanities. Even if DH researchers may not
actively focus on male subjects, DH projects work with texts that are already
available in a digital format. Women’s archival material may not be as
accessible. Restrictions of access can have many reasons, such as:
documents were not preserved in the archives due to gendered notions of what is
worth being archived
are often not available in digital form or
cannot find them in an online search as women’s archival material may be stored
together with the items of their husbands.
The result is a cognitive bias. DH projects usually start with data that is already digitized. Hence, DH projects study mostly male subjects.
The most tangible result of my time at the Library of Congress so far: my article on the uses of gossip in Edith Wharton’s fiction is now available online!
Abstract: In the United States of the late nineteenth century, the home was increasingly discussed in terms of privacy and the domestic was viewed as a protected “feminine sphere.” Focusing on the work of an author almost synonymous with the literary depiction of homes, Edith Wharton, this article questions domestic myths of the US home. As a vehicle for its critique, it relies on a mode of communication that is firmly located in the domestic sphere and yet destabilizes its premises of privacy and sanctity: gossip. By analyzing the depiction of homes and the reliance on “idle talk” as both content and narrative technique in “The Lady’s Maid’s Bell,” The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and Summer, the article shows how Wharton exposes the feminine sphere as a dangerous place. To this end, she combines elements of Gothic fiction that subvert the domestic ideal with depictions of homes that are porous to gossip, which both uncovers abuses and invites them. Concentrating her attention on female protagonists (rather than enfranchised white men), Wharton paints a drastically different picture of the home and the possibility of shielding the private from economic or public concerns than evoked in contemporary legal and journalistic discourses.
It’s my last day at the Library of Congress and that means: returning books and saying goodbye to the most convenient work place I have ever had the pleasure of working at. Soooo many books, most of them deliverd to your desk within hours; supportive librarians everywhere; reading rooms with everything from handwritten letters to original copies of magazines, to audiovisual material … it’s hard to imagine a better place for research.
I have learned a lot these past few months and my project (and my understanding of it) has grown tremendously, I’ve also submitted an article which has been accepted (! more on that when it’s out), I organized a panel with a colleague (which also got accepted), I met great people, and I’ve read so much gossip! In magazine articles, in conduct literature, in diaries, in letters – gossip was everywhere I looked. In reading all of this material alongside each other, gossip emerged, among others, as a very specific form of public intimacy which reached its readers (whether in Godey’s Lady’s Magazine or in Eliza Potter’s Experience of a Hairdresser in High Life) in a public, massmediated setting, yet addressed them as intimate friends and like-minded individuals. This paradoxical use of public gossip for intimate purposes (such as: distracting from the public and economic role of the women from which it originates) promises to be an exciting new avenue of inquiry into gossip’s uses at the end of the nineteenth century. After the fun part of discovering so much primary and secondary material, now it is time to analyze, combine, revise, summarize, re-think, and form all of this into coherent thoughts and sentences. That might take a while. So for now, I’ll allow myself a short break and simply enjoy the memories of full bookshelves and an extremely scenic walk to work.
That many people aren’t exactly fans of gossip (and haven’t been in the nineteenth century), isn’t new to me. That people felt strongly enough about it to put their disapproval into rhyme, however, is definitely a new insight! “Gadding and Gossip” by Georgia A. Peck, Good Housekeeping (Dec 29, 1888: 906) “They Say” by Richard S. Spofford, Harper’s Bazaar (Oct 31, 1885: 19)
Long overdue, but what better topic for my first blog entry than my first day of archival research at the Library of Congress? I am currently a Kluge Fellow here and will stay until Christmas, so expect a couple of additional posts from this amazing place. My first trip after getting orientated was to the “Rare Books Reading Room,” where I had a glance at sample issues of Godey’s Lady’s Book (later Godey’s Magazine) to get an idea of the role of gossip in this seminal 19th century publication. Turns out, I’m lucky! In 1894 at least, there was a regular column titled “Foreign Gossip” (the first issue I came across incidentally covered Bayreuth of all places) and in 1895 they seemed to have introduced “Women Up to Date” – a comparatively tame tabloid column, but a tabloid column nonetheless. I also came across a lengthy portrait of the actress Mrs Potter, whose marriage and divorce drama already provided an insightful case study for my analysis of Town Topics‘ rhetorical style (the magazine’s evocation of a gossip community between “The Saunterer” and his readers will be the topic of another post soon). All in all, off to a promising start!