Teaching to the Digital Natives

Marc Prensky talks of thinking up ways of teaching to digital natives in such a way that makes use of their particular skill set, so I wish to try something of my own.

Last night I gave a talk at the monthly meeting of Watson’s Tin Box, the Sherlock Holmes Society to which I belong.  When I was done many of the older members of the group approached me and said that they wished DH had been better established 40 years ago–if it had, they might have stayed in the English Department. While it may be too late to bring them back to the fold, so to speak, the articles we read this week have me wondering what I can do to attract younger crowds to the original Holmes stories–and maybe the society.

In fact, an interesting point became clear last night, that a good many of our newer and younger members were attracted to Holmes not from the novels or short stories, but by the recent films and television shows.  It’s really wonderful, but not all fans–particularly children–make the switch from television back to the texts that inspire the show.  I fear that to the digital native Victorian London might not hold the same appeal as the BBC’s Sherlockian London of cellphones, texting, blogs, and mile-a-minute modern dialogue.

Every year we run an essay contest for young readers. They read “The Speckled Band” and  write about it. This is wonderful, but I’m wondering if there isn’t more we can do–something specific that will appeal to the digital native.

To begin with, while I doubt that we were the first generation to discover that learning can be made fun–Sesame Street was also not the first to stumble upon that idea (I remember my mother had a board game which my brother and I inherited when we were kids based on Captain Kangaroo–a show that was making learning fun more than ten years before Sesame Street).  Still, even though Pansky’s essay over simplifies things, I do recognize a lot of the qualities he notes from my own experience.  So, whatever the method, it ought to stress things like parallel thinking, random access, entertainment, and user-specified speed.  Further, Bogost and Hieronymi, would have us not forget everything old in favor of the shiny new technology.  Likewise, I think, in this case it is important to make use of the original text–popular culture will introduce students to Holmes, I want to introduce them to the text in a way that is enjoyable and make them pull the complete Canon from the library shelves in time.

So, perhaps, I can create a game with graphs, links, and perhaps even sound where one can find clues by investigating around the story through hyperlinks, but which still uses the actual text–so we aren’t replacing Holmes, but creating a more entertaining, digital native, way of approaching it for the first time.  When the snake of “The Speckled Band” appears (I hope I haven’t spoiled that for anyone), one could offer a link to see that particular type of snake looks like.  I would love to create something that is the updated and more faithful version of the Sherlock Holmes books I read as a kid–the cause of my current addiction–which allowed one to solve the original cases in the style of Encyclopedia Brown, with the solutions in the back of the book when you wished to test your theory.  Something like this imagined game, I believe, would be a great way to introduce young digital natives to Holmes–and help bridge the gap from fandom to the original texts.

Finally, I’d just like to add that one of the few things I believe from “Don’t Confuse Technology with College Teaching,” I agree that podcasts as the the textbook of the digital age and not the teachers, but that doesn’t meant that the educator can’t fulfill a new–or perhaps it is an old role–as guide rather than lecturer or coach?  A sort of Gandolf-like role?  I think one of the best examples of ways to teach to digital native comes out of West Nottinghamshire College, where professors used one of my favorite games of to cause students to pull all-nighters to study.  Using Neverwinter Nights, which has always allowed one to imagine and create one’s own story (many of which are as good as if not better than the original campaigns), the teachers created a story that demanded math and reasoning skills to progress.  My favorite quote from the article comes from one of the designers who complains, “They would come knocking on the staff room door and wouldn’t let us go until we had taught them how to calculate area.”  That, for me, is the best evidence to support the idea of transforming teaching styles.  I hate math with a passion, but even I would be willing to study a bit harder to try this game out.

Following Compelling Words

I was not impressed by howling dogs at first.  The mental hospital feel of the first rooms was oppressive and yet not engaging, more off-putting than anything else.  The sort of monotony of the initial world lends itself better to a novel, I feel.  Even in the most dull of novels, one is spatially aware that there is an end to the tale and that one is moving closer to it.  In howling dogs, however, this awareness is not permitted and that I found to be one of the greatest flaws with the story and quite distracting.

I am not, by nature, an impatient reader, yet there were several times at the start of howling dogs that I had all but determined to close the window and choose a new twine creation.  Nothing seemed to be happening, each return to the little room forced the same routine–eat, drink, bathe, clean-up, occasionally glance at the picture, and return the the activity room.

Further, the initial jaunts in the activity room were not captivating enough to truly hold my attention.  I hated the feeling of not actually getting anywhere or learning anything.  For all I knew, the game could go on for days like this with hundreds of possible visions possible.  Other than slight changes, there was little to suggest that you weren’t simply back at the start each time one returned to “reality.”  Even these slight changes could have been produced with a code that randomly selected from a few different results on each reload of the starting rooms.

When the trash disposal finally broke I had all but given up hope of being able to actually “finish” the game.  I’m not entirely sure why finishing was suddenly of such importance for me, but in this story it very much was.  I wanted something to happen–perhaps find a means of escape from the rooms that didn’t involve being drugged? I admit, I spent far too long hoping I could jump or wriggle my way down the trash chute, if just for a change of scenery.  In the end, the trash disposal breaking was enough to suggest there was an end in sight.

And so, while I was terribly bored at first, I’m glad I stuck it out, for it was an interesting story.  I feel the start could have been far better.  Some indication sooner that one wasn’t in a continual loop of visions would have been appreciated, and yet, having finished it, I do appreciate that the monotony was done with a purpose and set a tone.  I was truly impressed with the blurred lettering on some of the pages–particularly the ones that blurred as you moved your mouse. There was something both illusive and compelling in that effect that seemed to me to capture the essence of the text.

Further, the later visions were fascinating–particular the one concerning the empress, the ambassador, and dreams.  Once the visions became as fully fleshed out as those–the turning point for me being when the murder occurs–I felt myself being drawn forward by curiosity and my early frustrations forgotten.  However, as a lesson to take away from this experience, I would suggest that one either keep the momentum going from the start or give the reader something more compelling than trees and sunlight and sleep to tantalize and encourage them.  I would like to experiment in creating a twine tale like howling dogs which does not so much offer choices as it does encourage you to select the word one is most drawn to in a text.  While one seemed to inhabit the main character’s mind, it still felt more like a text than a game–you simply followed the words that most compelled you to their conclusion.

P.S. Was anyone else who read this particular tale caught off guard by the realization (for me, during the murder) that the main character is a woman?

The Best Place no one Seems To Go

That, at least, was how I described the Walters Art Museum to my boyfriend as I introduced it to him for the first time; “It is the best place in the world that no one seems to know of or visit.”  With such a plethora of museums in DC that anyone living in Maryland or the surrounding areas has been dragged to on fifteen occasions–at least!–before the age of nine, the Walters in Baltimore is often overlooked.  It’s a very great pity for, if you haven’t been, you have missed out on one of the most enjoyable places to spend an afternoon.  Not only does it possess among the most stunning collections of art in the area–and among the most varied–but the Walters’ work with the preservation and study of manuscripts is astounding.  I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures; I wasn’t entirely convinced that pictures was permitted so, while I snuck in a few here and there with my phone (flash off, of course), I don’t have many to show for my Sunday afternoon.

Of particular interest to this class would, of course, be their manuscript room.  The room itself isn’t terribly impressive on first site.  So many of the books the Walters owns are displayed in the rooms with other artifacts of a similar period or theme and so the manuscript room is rather small.

Part of the history of the book on the wall of the manuscript room.

Part of the history of the book on the wall of the manuscript room.

(There is an interesting book in the corner which asks visitors to describe a treasured item and how its meaning, appearance, or function has changed for one over time.  The majority of people–standing in the prominently labeled “Manuscript Room” describe books and how they have received wear and tear over the years.  Interestingly, though, no one seems to approach the question of a change in function or even consider it in the context of books.  It’s meaning is the same as the day they first read it.  The only person who seemed to approach the idea of changing meaning or function was a gentleman who described his childhood purchase of a Green Lantern ring–something that represented power, responsibility, and adventure to him as a child when he wore it everywhere, but which now hangs on his keyring as a sort of totem (long ago becoming too small for his fingers) to remind him of youth and imagination.)


However, the main attraction of the room is an area devoted to the crafting of manuscripts–the materials, tools, and labour–with a touch screen monitor in the center of it.  The monitor offers one several choices of which I found the curator and the “library” to be of the most interest.  I’m very envious of the curator of the Walters manuscript’s job.  He gets to examine the 1200 beautiful books of the collection by hand–including a first edition of Homer!  However, their digital library visitors can interact with somewhat soothes my jealousy.  The team at

Some of one's options for a bit of light reading at the Walters.

Some of one’s options for a bit of light reading at the Walters.

the Walters has painstakingly scanned many of the more beautiful texts into the computer to allow the casual visitor to take them “off the shelf” as it were and flip through the pages.  This isn’t simply some in house version of Google books, however, for each page offers one the ability to examine minute aspects of the decoration and calligraphy, in addition to providing a detailed account of what is on the page, the meanings guests might otherwise be unaware of, and some historical context for understanding the text.  I think what makes their own DH project, as it were, so valuable is that these manuscripts–one of a kind, decorated in fine gold, handcrafted and hand-painted–are works of art that one would not normally get to flip through so casually as one does on the computer system.  Even digitized, these tomes take one’s breath away and the level of detail the system provide makes them that much more valuable.  It is clear from the curator’s remarks that this is, for him, a labour of love and I can see why; I were so lucky to be able to see these every day, I’d want to share them too.

While that particular gallery was the primary reason which brought me the museum, it was hardly the only reason for going.  The Walters has a great deal more to offer–in fact, the room devoted to their manuscript collection is quite small.  However, the Walters does not fail to delight the bibliophile; around each corner one can usually count on discovering an illuminated manuscript or beautifully bejeweled tome hiding among the other priceless artifacts of the era.  My favorite is a small book of hours in the Romanticism gallery on the top floor, the cover of which is ornately carved with plants and animals which apear very much alive.

The placement of the artwork in the Walters is as much an artform as the art itself.  Each room frames the pieces inside it.

The placement of the artwork in the Walters is as much an artform as the art itself. Each room frames the pieces inside it.

Also not to miss is the Hackerman House (connected by bridge to the Walters) that houses the Asian art exhibits.  There are a few pieces there, such as a huge basion with a magnificent dragon towering over it, which never fail to take my breath away.  Not only due to the setting–at the base of a spiral staircase which serves as almost an answer to the curls of the dragon’s tail–but the power of the piece.  Similarly there are som rather delightful works by Barye sprinkled about the many galleries–Mr. Walters must have been as great a fan of his works as I myself am.IMG_0438


Max and I are long-time friends.

Max and I are long-time friends.  He’s kept an eye on my things while I’ve been lost in a book or a sketch I’m working on, on numerous occasions.  He’s always of great assistance.







And while you are there, please say hullo to my friend, Max (named for the Maximillion style of armor).  He guards a little mediaeval feast hall with inviting chess and checkers sets to pass a few minutes or hours.  My boyfriend and I always ended up in a rather heated chess battle–one which he usually wins with a mere pawn and queen remaining to defend his lonely king–to the amusement of the docents.

Suffice it to say, as ways to spend an afternoon go, I highly recommend the Walters as one of the most enjoyable.

A Personal Odyssey

So I tried doing going to do something different for this assignment and I hope that’s all right. My plan was to map three places at once, all of which have unique significance to different people in different ways, but which don’t usually go marked or shared. I was going to place my QR code in a book–The Odyssey by Homer, to be precise–but, as you who are seeing it just now must be aware, that didn’t happen. Our class assignment was to place our code somewhere of significance where others might see, and I argue that this is such a spot–even if the passers-by may be fewer and further between and the significance is not one clear reason. (To anyone who may have stumbled across this little “bookmark,” so to speak, I’m quite thrilled to meet you, it is a pleasure, and please do leave a comment!)

This place, this book, this particular passage (I had intended to mark) is a place of great significance and, for me, it has a story, for it is where I became an English major.

The scene of the crime, so to speak, where I discovered where I was an was not meant to be.

The scene of the crime, so to speak, where I discovered where I was an was not meant to be.

All who have had class with me know of my affection for Holmes and Dracula, but Odysseus was my first love and–ironically enough–my reason for becoming an Archaeology major, as well. I was determined to find Odysseus’ lost palace on Ithaca. But, time after time and paper after paper in my Archaeology courses, I wrote not about the distinguishing features of the palace, which might allow the determined scholar to find it, but of Odysseus, the man and hero.

And so I found myself, in this library, chasing down yet another translation to compare in an effort to prove how Odysseus and Penelope represent the ideal of marriage–I realized I was a dreadful Archaeologist.  Dreadful might even be too kind of a term.

On the positive side, chasing texts down on the shelves is far safer than running from giant boulders and punching Nazis.  Though, I will have to try to remember our lessons on how to grab your hat as you side through closing doorways--I feel that might come in useful at some point.

On the positive side, chasing texts down on the shelves is far safer than running from giant boulders and punching Nazis. Though, I will have to try to remember our lessons on how to grab your hat as you side through closing doorways–I feel that might come in useful at some point.

I returned to college–on the verge of being too late in my undergraduate career for such a discovery–a beaten woman and confessed my terrible sin to my kindly advisor. Quite alarmingly–as I sat there, wiping the distressed tears from my cheeks–he leapt from his chair, ran from the office, and pounded on the other professor’s doors with the cry of, “You owe me $40!”

It soon became apparent that there had been a sort of betting pool in the Classics Department to see when I would discover my mistake–one they had all realized within my first weeks in their courses, but which they were too polite to make mention of.  They knew, as now do I, that being told you aren’t right for the job isn’t quite the same as suddenly realizing where you belong. Given the choice, it is far better to experience the latter.

So, this is where I belong.  Don’t misunderstand–I’d still love to see Odysseus’ palace discovered someday (perhaps, you, whoever you are who found my code, if you are looking for something to do, can find it for me?) and it would be nice if my Homeric and Attic Greek and Latin didn’t go to waste–but, really, this is where I belong. Here, in a library, buried in a book, rather like my QR code. I hope everyone finds their place too–especially if it puts another place on the map: Odysseus’ palace.


A post-it note really works quite well for this sort of thing.  Goodbye QR code!  Let me know how life treat you!

A post-it note really works quite well for this sort of thing. Goodbye QR code! Let me know how life treat you!

But, please, before you go, my dear reader, would you do me one last favor?  You’ve been so kind to listen to me all this time, but there is something I must ask of you: If it’s there, The Odyssey by Homer, could you move this little bookmark into it?  I won’t ask you to find the right page, that would be too much, but perhaps you could just move it over?  Thank you!  You see, upon arriving to place my code in the book I found my fears realized–no book!  All the copies remained out in the world having adventures of their own and, I hope, inspiring others. What’s a girl to do? So I did the most sensible thing I could: I plucked the best copy of criticism on The Odyssey from the shelves (the one you now hold) and tucked my code in between an article on homecomings and Penelope as wife and partner. That feels quite proper to me. Perhaps not ideal, but quite proper all things considered.

Oh, and what of the passage? For you, who has the book near at hand, it’s right there–no, no, not there, a little further in, now up a bit… yes, there you are. It’s the passage where Odysseus, barely alive and naked, implores the white-armed Nausicaa and her handmaiden’s for aid.  Our–or mine, at least–hero, that noble philanderer (though, pray, let us forgive him for the moment)–appeals to them as a husband who misses his wife and home:

For nothing is greater or finer than this,

When a man and a woman live together

With one heart and mind, bringing joy

To their friends and grief to their foes.

I love that line. It is precisely what Penelope and Odysseus do–even hundreds of miles away from each other and years apart–they live their lives together, as one unit of one mind and one heart, using their clever, quick wits to the defeat of their enemies and for the pleasure of their friends.  And I strongly suggest you find Stanley Lombardo’s translation, which captures the essencial meaning of the Greek and the sound and rhythm of the language.  If you were just flipping through the book when you found my code, I hope I’ll have convinced you to read the Odyssey after all and if you haven’t read it, I hope my post will act as a map and help you to find it.

P.S. When did they install this thing and, really, a celebration of Pi?

It's dedicated to Pi.  I really hope it opened on 3/14.  And there we have it; I ended up documenting a monument of significance rather than my book after all.

It’s dedicated to Pi. I really hope it opened on 3/14. And there we have it; I ended up documenting a monument of significance rather than my book after all.

Lost in Transcription

I choose to transcribe a page concerning the role of Judges in the court system.  The page looked rather simple–having had experience with the Shelley-Godwin archives in Technoromanticism–but I found it far more of a challenge than I anticipated.  Like Charity, I ran into some difficulties deciphering Bentham’s handwriting.  There were a number of words which I struggled to make out and had to leave as questionable if not unclear.  However, nothing bothered me quite so much as this particular word:

Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 11.19.12 AM

My boyfriend and I puzzled over it for a long time, but were unable to come up with a satisfactory transcription.  I’m really hoping that someone can suggest something so that it I can stop obsessing about it.  If it helps, it is used in the following contexts:

1.  ”But [word here] who are designed by them Judges may be chosen by the People of their district”

2.  ”No harm will come from the connection which the [word here] may have in the country.”

I’m really hoping someone can see something that makes sense that alluded me.

Sherlock Holmes Would Have Been a DHer

Alright, it is time for a super geeky confession: I belong to a Sherlock Holmes society.  At the last meeting a number asked me what I was studying and I tried to explain Digital Humanities to them.  It wasn’t, shall we say, the greatest success.  So I’ve been thinking, at one of our next meetings maybe I’ll finally give the presentation–a duty I’ve shirked for all of the 10 years I’ve belonged to the club.  I was trying to think of ways to blend DH with Sherlock Holmes and show how even the most basic of DH tools might be useful when understanding the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Well, the work for this coming week to find a library of sorts related to our texts started me thinking about the similarities between Dracula and Sherlock Holmes–and the men responsible for their creation.  Both authors considered themselves to be the epitome of the Victorian gentleman–upholding the beliefs fundamental to that image.  As such, wouldn’t they have a tendency to choose from the same offerings of the LDA Buffet?  Some additions of Dracula, such as my Project Gutenberg copy, even bill it as “A Mystery Story.”  Would the two men’s word choice reflect this similarity in experience and ideal?

Dracula Word Cloud Sherlock Holmes Wordle

I tried doing the Holmes word cloud with one text–Hound of the Baskervilles–but the names like Baskerville and Henry started to dominate so much so that one couldn’t see much of the other language, so to balance it out I stuck as much of the Sherlockian Canon as I could find into Wordle the resulting “footprint,” if I may so call it, seems more representative of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing as was the goal.  And judging by the results, it would seem that the two do share a similarity in word choice.  Words like “man,” “know,” “must,” “may,” “light,” “night,” and so on all have strong followings in the clouds.

Now, I’ve often heard said of Doyle that he was not a terribly good writer and that he, instead, had the good fortune to create a character who was original and fascinating enough to come to life in spite of this less than fortuitous entrance into the world.  Holmes captured the imagination of the readers in spite of Doyle’s talent rather than because of it.  Could the same be true of Dracula seeing the linguistic similarities between their authors?  I’m not entirely sure how to test this particular theory–maybe someone else will be able to suggest one–but I thought I could test how the popularity of the characters of Dracula and Holmes have compared to that of their creators.  The idea being that if Holmes and Dracula and their creators shared the limelight it would suggest that there was as much to be said about the creation as the creator.  Doyle and Stoker would be as interesting as authors as their creations were as literary characters.  The result is as follows:

Screen Shot 2013-02-14 at 6.43.00 PMGoogle’s Ngram Viewer would seem to support this theory.  The characters have survived far better than their creators–in fact, Holmes leaps to the forefront from the instant of his creation (Dracula has a bit more of an uphill battle at first).  But maybe this is to be expected?  Do characters always do better than their creators?  If so, let’s test on an undeniably talented author and their beloved creation, Jane Austen and Darcy:

Screen Shot 2013-02-14 at 6.44.54 PM

Now, the one problem with the above, is that it doesn’t take into consideration that Darcy is rarely called by his full name and has a very common one, at that, unlike Holmes and Dracula.  So, here is the above result modified with the revision of “Mr. Darcy” rather than simply “Darcy.”  It is not ideal, how often does, when writing about Austen’s ideal man, so formally refer to him as “Mr. Darcy.”  But, one should at least be able to mentally average the two results to attain some sense of our Darcy’s popularity in English writing:

Screen Shot 2013-02-14 at 6.45.08 PMSo clearly, this is not true among all authors and their creations.  Austen gives Darcy a run for his money.  Now, one must also take into account that Austen published far more texts than Stoker or Doyle.  Her’s were also far more popular–anyone heard of or remember The White Company? No? That suggests to me that Doyle’s talent with the written word is not as strong Holmes’s persistance in the memory.

Further, this research suggests that Stoker and Dracula shared a similar relationship with their fictional creations and made similar word choices.  We can’t definitively prove that Stoker and Doyle were particularly terrible writers, but the results suggest that other writers do not stand in the shadows while their creations take the limelight as these two do.

As a final note: the class discussion of anime reminded me of a statistic I read long ago that stated that there were more Sherlock Holmes societies in Japan than their were in the UK.  As it turns out, according to the list of active Sherlockian societies kept by Peter E. Blau (a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, the most illustrious Sherlockian society), Japan has 15 societies while the UK has 16.  Still, the figure is impressive and made me curious how Holmes’ popularity (and Dracula’s) compared by geographical region and language.  Alas, I don’t know how to translate Holmes into Japanese or Russian (there is a large following there as well) so I’m limited to American and British English for Google’s Ngram Viewer.  However, the results were still fascinating:

I find it fascinating that to the Americans, Holmes's popularity grew far more rapidly than in England, yet once again, the vampire steals the show.

I find it fascinating that to the Americans, Holmes’s popularity grew far more rapidly than in England, yet once again, the vampire steals the show.

It would seem that while Holmes was very popular in the UK since his creation, Dracula has recently stolen center stage--in spite of all the latest Sherlock re-imaginings.

It would seem that while Holmes was very popular in the UK since his creation, Dracula has recently stolen center stage–in spite of all the latest Sherlock re-imaginings.

In conclusion, I think Holmes would have been a DHer.  The man who cried, “Data! Data! Data! [....] I can’t make bricks without clay,” would have appreciated the way in which DH offers one tremendous information at one’s fingertips and the tools to make sense of it.  Holmes would especially have to appreciate the fact that the methods of the Digital Humanities could be used to catch our own Napoleon of Crime, so to speak, Osama bin Laden.  And as for Dracula?  Well, clearly DH has brought him out into the light of day.


Dracula: Simplicity and Survival

I’ve always loved Dracula, not because it is revolutionary in and of itself, but because future readers and their interpretations have made it so.  Bram Stoker, I am thoroughly prepared to believe, was a particularly Victorian gentleman.  That being said, I have never “dug” into Dracula, so I look forward to seeing what arises when one does a bit of literary archaeology with the text.

While we were not asked to provide out Ngram data–and in the light of the TED talk–I felt it was a good place to start. Sticking with my theme, here are my Google Ngram Viewer results:

Clearly we can see who is winning in this battle of the vampires.

Clearly we can see who is winning in this battle of the vampires.

Now, I know this may not seem particularly fair–after all Edward Cullen has hardly appeared on the vampire map, as of yet.  It did, however, warm my heart to see that nothing has diminished Dracula’s ever growing popularity as a literary figure.  A little bit of a dip down in the past few years–I blame the dreadful Keanu Reeves film for that stumble–but all in all a steady climb.  In fact, I was surprised to find how long it really took for Dracula to get off the ground–and interested to know what sort of research into the real man Dracula (as opposed to the fictional vampire who stole his name) caused his little hop from obscurity in the 1820s.  (Edward Cullen, I’d like to point out) appears just as must before the Twilight novels were released as after, leading me to conclude that the name has appeared in other novels prior to his rise as a vampire, as well.)

Moving on from there, my Wordle word cloud:

Dracula's language really doesn't look terribly haunting like this.  The words are all painfully simple.

Dracula’s language really doesn’t look terribly haunting like this. The words are all painfully simple.

I find it interesting that even with Wordle supposedly removing commonly used English words from its cloud, the result is exceptionally boring.  No evidence of complex language in the least and nothing particularly atmospheric either.  I would have at least expected vampire to make an appearance in the cloud–or even Dracula–but the result it more than a little disappointing. And once again, even in Word it Out, this is not Dracula’s shining moment:

Let's just say I would never provide someone a word cloud in order to entice them to give Dracula a try.

Let’s just say I would never provide someone a word cloud in order to entice them to give Dracula a try.

The result looks closer to the vocabulary on an elementary school spelling test than the palette of a novel.  One might even suggest, based on the two clouds, that the novel be called Van Helsing as he makes a far more clear impression on the clouds than either “Dracula” or “vampire” manages.

As one might well expect from these word clouds, Up-goer Five Text Editor has very few stumbles at all–even after one permits Wordle to remove the most common English words from the cloud.  The real stumbling blocks for Up-goer Five are names (such as Lucy, Mina, Arthur, Jonathan, Van Helsing, and Harker), titles (such as Dr., Madam, Count, or Professor), and a few stray words (some obviously antiquated such as whilst and till and others, which came as more of a surprise such as terrible, poor, and thin).  The language of Dracula appears on the whole to be quite simple and common, indeed–certainly nothing Dickensian here.

Even CLAWS Part-of-Speech tagger suggested that the language of Dracula was far from complex and showed a most un-Victorian and un-Gothic abhorrence for description and complexity.  All of Dracula appears to be made up of nouns doing things either in the past, present, or future with little attempt at describing where, when, or how the action is taking place.  Further, there was only one conjunction (“whilst”) tagged among the output of the word clouds.  Again, all this argues for a lack of complexity in Bram Stocker’s language choices.  Even if one could argue that Stoker may simply have employed a wider and more varied range  of words–thus discounted from the word cloud–the fact that “and” doesn’t even appear in the Word It Out cloud (which did not remove the most common English words from the results) would appear as evidence of the relative simplicity of language within the text.

TAPoR was causing me difficulties and so I then moved on to Voyant, with which I was at least passingly familiar.  The results were, once again, surprising to say the least.  The cloud it provided was almost entirely made up of the most basic of language (it, he, she, they, then, etc) of which only one word was over four letters in length: “which.”  Turning to the word trends I plugged in “Dracula,” “vampire,” and “Van Helsing.”  Judging by the results, the books title Dracula is a misnomer.  Even its former title, prepublication The Dead Un-Dead or The Un-Dead would have been a gross mistake.  To call it a book about a vampire might even appear to be presumptuous.  According to Voyant, Dracula really ought to be called Van Helsing, who–once on the scene–has a soaring relative frequency.

For much of the novel, neither vampires nor Dracula are mentioned.  Van Helsing, however, seems to make a rapid climb to popularity and stay at the heart of the novel from that point forth.

For much of the novel, neither vampires nor Dracula are mentioned. Van Helsing, however, seems to make a rapid climb to popularity and stay at the heart of the novel from that point forth.

Thinking that perhaps Stoker had preferred the term “un-dead” or “dead” over “vampire,” I added both those terms to my graph with little change.  While slightly more popular throughout the text was the term “dead” over “vampire,” even that hardly ever rose higher than the 0.3 mark.

In and of themselves, these tools may not prove much–or at least “the effect is not the immediate apprehension of knowledge”–however, the conclusion that I would draw from the data is as follows:  Dracula, is not a complex novel. Its direct and uncomplicated language reflects the values of its solid, stalwart, and sensible middle-class men of the “modern era” with their modern inventions (such as the typewriter and stenograph) and science (such as blood transfusions).  Further, while Stocker may have forced Dracula (and his fellow vampires) to recede in the face of the Professor Van Helsing, hero and true main character of the novel, Dracula refused to die.  I tested out the following:

Van Helsing may have succeeding in ridding the fictional world of his foe, Dracula, but in the real world, Dracula thrives.

Van Helsing may have succeeding in ridding the fictional world of his foe, Dracula, but in the real world, Dracula thrives.

It is clear that Stoker created a character that need not have appeared solidly throughout the novel to have a lasting impression on the reader.  Dracula’s ever growing popularity is proof of this.  So, perhaps, it is right after all that the novel be named for a character that does not even appear for much of it; for, in reading it, it is not Van Helsing who captures one’s imagination, but the vampire, Dracula.  He lives on, healthy and well-loved, in the modern world while Van Helsing struggles in his shadow.

Dracula and the Digital

I’ve selected as my book of choice Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  While it may not test or strain the abilities of Google Books in quite the same way as Paul Duguid’s selection, Tristram Shandy, it does offer unique ways in which to present the book in the digital format.  The epistolary style could be better presented in the digital format than it has ever been in the printed editions.  And while I recognize that what we are doing with this particular exercise is simply to survey how well Google Books, Project Gutenberg, HATHITrust, and/or the Internet Archive succeeded in capturing the bookness of our selected text, I still was interested to see how they would manage with such an interest on as Dracula.

Dracula is available in a wide range of formats, Project Gutenberg–as one might expect–offering the most (HTML, EPUB (without images), Kindle (likewise, no images), Plucker, QiOO Mobile, Plain-Text UTF-8, and even audio.  I must say, however, the warning that the EPUB and Kindle versions lack images seems pointless as I couldn’t, in a glance through the other offerings, locate any images in any of the formats.  Further, even in the PDF format offered by HATHITrust, the full text online offered by the Internet Archive or its EPUB version, or the ebooks Google presented could I find an illustrated version.  This is fine by me as I can’t recall any of my editions (other than the annotated Les Klinger copy I have) having any images at all, it just seemed that if Project Gutenberg saw fit to warn me about the lack of them, they might have at least snuck in a small image of a blood-sucker somewhere or other in the other versions to make it all worth it.

The provenance or source of the digital texts is a bit spotty.  For example, while Project Gutenberg assures us that their copy is based on the 1897 edition of the text and that the digital copy was published May 9, 2008 and updated September 3, 2012 there are few other specifics provided such as publisher, city of publication, or anything else that one might find on the inside of a printed copy.  Google fairs a bit better, though one of their versions simple details the digital copy’s origin (Plain Label Books, Aug 30, 2007), the other proclaims that it is published by W. R. Caldwell in 1897.  That particular edition even has a make of inheritance as Duguid discusses as the first page is emblazoned with “Stanford University Library, Gift of John W. Dobbins, Esq.”  To be fair this is also the nearest one of the digital versions come to being illustrated as there is an image of “Castle Dracula” on the fourth page and some owls on the fifth–this is apparently the “three owl edition” of the story.  HATITrust’s copy, amusingly enough, is actually one of Google’s digitized copies from the University of Michigan (and a very poorly scanned one at that, as several pages are more than half cut off at the start of the book) and of a far more recent printing (judging by the image of Bela Lugosi on the front cover).  In fact, the full text version that the Internet Archive offers is actually copyrighted Project Gutenberg and seems to be the identical copy to the HTML version offered on their site with the same source and publication dates.

As I mentioned before, some of the scanning or digitizing of the copies was less than ideal.  HATHITrust’s version looks as though the first scanned pages were trying to escape the scanner and no one noticed, though as that may have been the interior of the dust-jacket, it may be understandable.  Google’s version from Stanford University has a few badly scanned pages with small portions of texted clipped off at the edges of pages, it appears, but nothing too apparent.  The Internet Archive HTML version appears to have just been a rough cut and paste of Project Gutenberg’s as they have managed to copy the link names, but not the links, to the mp3 audio files that Project Gutenberg provided in addition to the text.  The Plain Label Books edition offered on Google Books or Project Gutenberg’s own HTML editions appear to be the easiest to read, though neither has even attempted to retain the “bookness” of the book.  Rather than scanned editions, they have retyped the text.  The effect is, at least for me, a bit jarring as it no longer looks like a “genuine book” to me, which is to say a printed copy; however, the pages are not marred with artifacts and smudges from life on a library shelf and there are no missing parts of pages or words so in that way they are much easier to read.  Nothing has been lost from the presentation in these, certainly, and Project Gutenberg has even taken the time to add hyperlinks to the table of contents so that one may jump to a desired chapter with ease.

None of the editions seem to provide an easy or obvious method to report or correct errors, though at least in the Project Gutenberg Kindle edition one was able to highlight or annotate the text–a feature that I couldn’t find on the other versions.  Further, all except the poorly copied version of Project Gutenberg’s HTML offered by the Internet Archive, offered means to jump through the text.  Most did this with a “go to page” field one could use, though Project Gutenberg stood out by offering the linked table of contents as well as the ability to create bookmarks.  HATHITrust was also original in that it also offered the ability to view the text as a series of thumbnails.

All the versions I explored offered the ability to search within the text for given words, though the Project Gutenberg HTML required on to do this with the use of the search or find feature in one’s browser, rather than offering a specific search box for the purpose.  All of the sites, with the exception of Project Gutenberg, did offer the ability to add it to a “library” if one signed into the website, however.  In fact, if one preferred to read offline, all of the site offered the ability to download the text in one or more formats for later study.

Finally, while the sites offered many abilities with the text they were all about the same.  None stood head and shoulders above the others in terms of affordances.  This is a shame really, considering the digital medium.  One was really is limited to reading the texts from start to finish or searching them for select terms.  The idea of “flipping through” the text was almost non-existant for the time it took to load the scanned pages in Google Books and HAHTITrust made that impossible (while my internt could be to blame here, I doubt it, given that I’m the only one using it at the moment).  Further, affordances one would have with the physical copy were no offered online–highlighting, dog-earring pages, etc.  So while the possibilities ought to be almost endless with the digital version of the text, they were sadly underutilized.

Building Relevance

Hullo, all!  Once again, my name is Clifford or Cliffie, as you prefer.  As I almost always have to explain I might as well start with it: I’m the ninth generation female Clifford in my family, it goes back over 200 years, and the name is a corruption of an old Gaelic female name “Glyfford” (or something there about) meaning “spirit/witch of the woods.”  That out of the way, I am a second-year master’s student interested in Victorian Literature, Horror, and–more recently–the digital humanities.  I, too, took Technoromanticism with Professor Fraistat and then Professor Kraus’ Book 2.0 and fell in love with the field.

During my undergraduate studies (at a liberal arts school in the middle of nowhere), I had a classics professor who described the campus humanities building as such:  “On the first floor there is the Classics and Archaeology Departments, forming the corner stone that supports everything else, essential to the stability of all other disciplines.  When you go up the stairs you have a choice, on the left, the sinister side–those of you studying languages will understand that–is the theology department.  On the right–the proper side, if you will–there is the philosophy department.  Finally–bloated, full of itself, and thoughts lost on airy nothings–the English department takes up the top two floors, barely allowing the structure of the building to contain their airy thoughts that no one–other than other English majors–care about.”  I was an archaeology major then, but I suspect my professor was more than a little horrified when at the end of my sophomore year I switched studies to join the English Department.  From then on I was “English major” and called upon to “decipher the meaning of Homer” rather than translate–not that I minded, I’m rubbish at ancient Greek.  However, the point of all this is that I don’t think his is an uncommon view of English majors or English departments.  There seems to be the idea that a degree in English isn’t useful, it doesn’t “do” anything, and–worst of all–nothing one writes about matters to anyone outside the field.  Science majors can improve or even save our lives with their studies, engineering students can design the world of tomorrow, but what does English and the humanities “do” for us?

Digital Humanities pushes back against this and that, I think, is essential to its definition.  As Kirschenbaum writes, “digital humanities, with a culture that values collaboration, openness, nonhierarchical relations, and agility might be an instrument for real resistance or reform” (“What is DH” 5).  He also states, “This [transformation] is manifested in the intensity of debates around openaccess publishing, where faculty members increasingly demand the right to retain ownership of their own scholarship—meaning, their own labor—and disseminate it freely to an audience apart from or parallel with more traditional structures of academic publishing, which in turn are perceived as outgrowths of dysfunctional and outmoded practices surrounding peer review, tenure, and promotion (“What is DH” 6).  Not only is DH about doing things–inventing, experimenting, investigating–to learn, but it is doing things to improve–in my opinion–even the way Universities and publishing work.  Thus, while DH is a method–actually a myriad methods inspired by or built upon the use of technology–to study literature, it produces and can “do” things that is truly exciting.  It refutes my professor’s accusation and removes us from the lofty and bloated classrooms.  DH produces things of genuine merit and use both to academia and outside of it–archives, web sites, twitter conversations, blogs, altered reality games, altered and “hacked” books, and far, far more.  To me, that is the most important definition of DH, as a method to investigate and create inside and outside of the classroom and to reinvent the world and the way in which we define “literature” and the “book.”  And so I have to agree with Ramsay, “Personally, I think Digital Humanities is about building things. [. . .] If you are not making anything, you are not…a digital humanist” (“On Building”).