Digital Yoknapatawpha in the Context of the Digital Humanities: Abstract

Wiliam Faulkner used leading technology of the day to write. He also wrote longhand.
William Faulkner used the leading technology of the day to write. He also wrote longhand.

In summer 2016, the Mississippi Quarterly will publish a roundtable on “Digital Yoknapatawpha” (DY).

The papers will be on the following topics:

1. Overview of the project, “Digital Yoknapatawpha”
2. “Digital Yoknapatawpha”‘s progress to date
3. A humanist does digital humanities
4. “Digital Yoknapatawpha”‘s value for scholarship and criticism
5. “Digital Yoknapatawpha”‘s value for teachers and students
6. Faulkner and DH — how they illuminate each other
7. “Digital Yoknapatawpha” and DH << This one is mine!

“Digital Yoknapatawpha in the Context of the Digital Humanities”

A searchable database, a map, a timeline, interactivity, links to archival resources and other digital elements are what make “Digital Yoknapatawpha” valuable to  both teachers and scholars. Those same assets are reasons why this born-digital project, which will never be published via traditional means (because it can’t), is considered a digital humanities project and not just some fancy website. This paper gives a definition and historical introduction to the digital humanities, and then describes some of the methods and practices central to digital humanities projects that have been used to create “Digital Yoknapatawpha.”

And in case you’re wondering…
What is Digital Yoknapatawpha? “Digital Yoknapatawpha” aims to enter every character, location and event from the individual texts into a robust database and then to map that data into an atlas of interactive visual resources, so that users can better understand and study the acts of narrative re-creation Faulkner undertook, according to the demands of a particular story. The project ultimately aims to link the entire body of Yoknapatawpha fictions together and dynamically generate new, cumulative maps. These will enable scholars or students to study, for example, all black inhabitants and the roles they play in his texts, or Faulkner’s representations of violence, or religion, or family.

The project is a collaboration of Faulkner Scholars with the University of Virginia’s Digital Media Lab, Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities and SHANTI. (Source: Digital Yoknapatawpha)

THATCamp Digital Writing, May 2-3, 2014

Sponsors for THATCamp Digital Writing
  Sponsors for THATCamp Digital Writing

From tweeting to multimodal research papers to Prezi, writing these days means more than just black text on a white background. Through workshops and discussions, THATCamp Digital Writing aims to deepen and advance our notions of all facets of writing. Participants in THATCamp Digital Writing will explore how to effectively write using different digital tools and platforms. This event will take place in New York City. We begin with a special lecture on Friday afternoon, May 2, 2014, at John Jay College, and continue all day Saturday, May 3, 2014 at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus with workshops, discussions, and a Maker Challenge.

At THATCamp Digital Writing, join a dynamic cast of participants to

  • Learn more about innovative ways to digitize your work and publish it online
  • Share pedagogical methods that use digital media for writing and research assignments
  • Explore how to evaluate online writing and give feedback
  • Question how tools, technology, and methods for publishing work shape the way we write
  • Take workshops on Scalar, Juxta, and collaborative writing
  • Make connections with others
  • Establish new collaborations.

TCDW is being organized by Amanda Licastro, a PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center, and Elizabeth Cornell, Post-Doctoral Teaching Fellow in English at Fordham University.

Upcoming Events

Grapes on the Shawngunk Wine Trail, Ready for Harvest. (c) Robert Goldwitz 2013
Grapes on the Shawangunk Wine Trail (c) Robert Goldwitz 2013


Spring 2014
>>May 2-3, THATCamp Digital Writing,
Fordham University and John Jay College campuses, Manhattan. Various sponsors.

Fall 2013
>>November 13: Using Prezi for Making Arguments and Presenting Research: Organizer of this 2-hour workshop. Kimon Keramidas, Bard Graduate Center, workshop leader. Sponsored by Fordham GSAS, Fordham Grad Student DH Group, and various university departments.
>>November 19: How to Use Zotero  Will lead 45-minute workshop for faculty. Sponsored by Fordham IT.

The Humanities Do Matter

Humanities Matter 1
Screenshot from “The Humanities Matter!” by M. Terras, et al. 2013. Infographic,

The good thing about all the doom and gloom over the so-called demise of the humanities is that it has caused humanities people to think about why the humanities are important and to quantify their place in our culture (see, for example, “Why English Majors are the Hot New Hires” by Andy Smith). One response to the “humanities is in crisis” debate comes in an infographic, The Humanities Matter!, from the University College London (UCL) Centre for Digital Humanities and 4Humanities.

The infographic visualizes statistics and arguments for the humanities, and some of the statistics might be surprising. For example, did you know that a “2012 survey of 652 US-born Chief Executive Officers and Heads of Product Engineering showed [that] almost 60% had degrees in the Humanities”? The entire banner, which has a Creative Commons license, can be downloaded here.

Imagine, for a moment, what it would be like if we did not have novels, poems, biographies, as well as film and television. All the things that examine and challenge our understanding of what it means be human. We might have poor imaginations, for one thing.

Without the humanities, I imagine it would be a little like living on Camazotz, the planet ruled by a big, bad brain called IT in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. When Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin arrive on the planet for the first time, they encounter a neighborhood where all the houses look alike. That’s not so strange to them as is the sense that something is “off” about the children who are outside, skipping rope and bouncing balls. Charles Wallace figures out what’s wrong: “Look!” he says. “They’re skipping and bouncing in rhythm! Everyone’s doing it at exactly the same moment.”1   They quickly discover that people on Camazotz can’t think for themselves. They can’t make up stories or question anything. The humanities doesn’t exist on Camazotz. But when Charles Wallace gets trapped by IT, it is Meg’s stubbornness and her deep love for her brother that helps him escape. She realizes that these two things, which are integral to her humanness, are potent weapons against IT’s mind control.

Without the humanities, Albert Einstein might only have studied science and math. Imagine if he’d ended up in that patent office in Bern, Switzerland until he died, spending his whole life testing out other people’s inventions. Imagine if Einstein hadn’t been acquainted with the philosophy of Spinoza, which helped shape his understanding of order and determinism. How might that have altered his formulation of the theory of relativity? If Einstein had never learned to play the violin, how might that have affected his ability to arrive at E=mc2? How would he have relaxed his big, amazing brain? We don’t know these answers, of course. But, as humanists, we can speculate and imagine, “what if.” In fact, that’s what Einstein did. He asked, “What if the ether did not exist?” If he hadn’t asked that question, if he had assumed like everyone else that the ether existed, he might never have discovered the theory of relativity. The scientist and the humanist have many things in common.

Humanities Matter 2
Screenshot from “The Humanities Matter!” by M. Terras, et al. 2013. Infographic,

1 L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 1962. Pg. 103.

If Whitman Had a Blog

Walt Whitman is one of America’s great cataloguers of  grass, “the blab of the pave,” and firemen, among other things. If he had a blog, what would it look like? If he had iPhone, how would he record the “glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings–on the walk in the street, and the passage over the river” (“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”)?

These questions came from two students in my “Tales of Gotham: NYC in Fiction” course. But before answering those questions, the students first explored good blogging practices, which was part of their assignment. They gave the class an introductory lesson on using WordPress followed by an overview of blogging. They created an Infographic to highlight their important points:


The group then used Tumblr to create a blog for Whitman called, appropriately, “Blog of Myself.” Their updated version of Whitman’s style is fun to read. Since the course is about New York City, the students chose to imagine Whitman walking through the city and posting images and passages of poetry describing what he sees. Reflecting Whitman’s own mild obsession with publicity for his work, they’ve imagined some “Fan Feedback” from Galway Kinnell, who edited the collection of Whitman poems assigned in the course. Tumblr’s great for reposting other people’s work, and naturally Walt reposts the insightful musings of his friend, Ralph (Waldo Emerson): “The action of the soul is oftener in that which is felt and left unsaid than in that which is said in any conversation.”  Whitman, however, can leave few things unsaid, unsung, or unrevised. He revises his own work on his Tumblr, of course, and “takes another stab” at an earlier post of poetry called “Solidarity.”

For the final part of this assignment, the students wrote posts for the course blog describing their process and reasons for creating their “Blog of Myself” using Tumblr. One student writes: “Our hope is that experiencing Whitman through the context of a blog will yield new perceptions of the poet. Certainly, blogging can allow for poetic expression– Whitman’s claim to fame. However, a quiet sense of solidarity pervades much of Whitman’s work, and “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” harps on connectedness through time. Since blogging can be such an interactive experience  (re-blogging contemporaries, commenting, etc.), we believe Whitman would have taken advantage of these features to reach out to others on the Web.” The other student adds, “Critics often portray Whitman as someone who perpetrated intentional ‘separateness’ between himself and his surroundings. He situated a subject in its environment and described them from a distance, confining himself to the role of ‘observer.’ I’d argue, however, that this was less a matter of personal choice and more a necessity of the time. If Whitman had been able to engage with his audience in the way that modern technology allows us to do, he would have jumped at the chance to more fully integrate himself into the New York City landscape and interact with his audience.”

These students demonstrate that whether or not students today are digital natives is beside the point. In my three classes this semester, my students’ skill levels with digital tools range from minimal to advanced. What I’ve discovered so far is that regardless of their skill level, they enjoy using digital tools to think about texts. And they’re eager to use them effectively for critical purposes. These two students used blogging as a means to plunge themselves into Whitman’s work, reflect on his creative process, and explore his cultural and historical contexts. One could argue that blog posts are no substitute for a five-page critical analysis of “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” On the other hand, how many students will be writing five-page critical analyses in their future jobs? It’s likely that many students will have jobs in which they need to distill information and present it in an attractive, organized way as exemplified in the Infographic, above. They will need to explain and defend their process for executing a task or creating something, as these students did in their blog post. Finally, the blog platform allowed my students to express their ideas and understanding about Whitman’s work in full color and in a dynamic way for an audience of more than just one.