Training Materials for Literature in Context

For folks interested in contributing materials to Literature in Context, a federally-funded “Slow DH” project that is also an OER, I thought it would be helpful to make these training materials available. Eventually, they’ll be up on our site, but for the time being, I’ve assembled them here. This summer, John O’Brien (UVA) and I (formerly of Marymount University, now George Mason University contracting with UVA), are getting our smart new Graduate Project Assistants up to speed.

What is LiC?

LiC is a web application and an anthology of literature in English for use in high school and college classrooms that offers an intervention in the publication of OERs. Open textbooks–which a literature anthology (like the Norton or the Bedford) is–have typically been made available as PDFs, essentially a medium that mimics the logic of print.

An open anthology of American literature post 1865 (PDF form)

Instead of starting from the principle of a free and open textbook imagined as a book that is digital, and available either as PDF or ePUB, Literature in Context is an infinite book that you assemble (and potentially create the parts that others can assemble). We imagined it as imagined as a born-digital resource, enhanced by the affordances of the web to provide interactivity, media-rich annotations, data visualizations from our linked open data, and more.

LiC is built in eXist-DB, an open-source XML database platform, and each text is a stand-alone XML file hosted on GitHub. The texts point to images (facsimile page images and images in annotations) hosted on The University of Virginia’s AWS. The application and the XML data can be downloaded and manipulated by anyone interested, via GitHub. This means anyone can start their own digital text anthology using our code. We have a fantastic web developer, Winona Salesky, who has helped us bring our ideas to life–if you’ve got a project for her, drop her a line. You won’t regret it!

Basic Workflow

If you’re going to be adding a text to LiC–including page images but not annotations, which are time-consuming–then this is the workflow for you. There are many ways to interact with and contribute to LiC, including proofreading individual texts, adding XML annotations, and collaborating to produce complete digital editions, but as much of the work is personal and idiosyncratic, we’ll focus on this for now. Our 2023-2024 NEH ODH grant is focused on building out the content of Literature in Context so that faculty can legitimately turn to our anthology to create virtually any course reading list they may want, and in order to do that, we needed to focus on getting the basic, reliable content of the digital text in, rather than enhancing it with annotations.

Essentially, the basic workflow is 1.) Figure out which text you’re working with, 2.) find a good XML version of it (or create your own!), 3.) find quality page images, preferably in full color (or create them yourself from a physical copy in a nearby library), 4.) get the XML into our flavor of TEI, 5.) add the LiC teiHeader, 6.) correct and proofread, 7.) add your details so you can be named as a contributor, and 7.) most importantly, celebrate!

Our version of TEI-formatted XML is a little different than what you may find in other like collections, but not by much. Here’s an overview, which includes a conceptual introduction to XML, where to find existing files, and so on.

There are a lot of nuances to many of these steps–how to integrate GitHub and Oxygen for use, how to label and your image files for upload to AWS, and more–but essentially that’s it. In the workshop, we’ll go over these steps in more detail, and folks will have an opportunity to ask questions and get some hands-on experience.

What is slow DH?

Slow DH is a concept in digital humanities–and an approach to the practice–that privileges a deep understanding the nature of our work and the values that inform it, like the slow food movement. Claudia Berger describes it as an approach to DH that focuses on the practitioner, not the product; treats sources and data ethically; emphasizes “spending time with our materials”; and thinks continually about sustainability (Berger, 2019).

Because Literature in Context is co-created with faculty and students, it is first and foremost a pedagogical opportunity, enabling discussion of and practice in writing, critical thinking, research, and public scholarship.


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