2015 CEA Proposal


Novels in Context: A TEI Database of Primary Resources for Teachers, Students, and Scholars
College English Association 2015

This Fall, I was awarded a sabbatical grant to pursue work in the digital humanities, specifically the creation of a free- and open-source relational database of curated, excerpted, annotated primary source materials useful for the study and teaching of the 18th century novel in English. The Novels in Context (NiC) project combines my interests in DH with my scholarship in eighteenth-century studies while creating a pedagogical opportunity for student-faculty research and publication. The goal of the NiC project is, most immediately, to provide an agile and accessible alternative to 1.) the costly and proprietary Eighteenth-Century Collections Online, 2.) the single print anthology on the subject, and 3.) the free but scattered and often unreliable resources available on the Internet.

NiC is built on TEI-formatted XML in an eXist database, an open-source native XML platform. To ensure the project remains free and ethically unencumbered by proprietary concerns, all the texts are transcribed and marked up individually and page images secured through library collections holding first editions. The XML is both structural and critical, including key themes and topics–this is primarily in anticipation of the time when NiC can incorporate MALLET topic modeling and other modes of visualization. The project will incorporate an editorial board to publish user contributions more broadly, including student-faculty collaborations. In the long term, I hope to create a portable platform that instructors can use to generate coursepacks of quality, reliable material (headnotes, reading questions, and so on) that could potentially stand in for the ubiquitous and costly textbook. NiC is currently in the working prototype phase, and a copy of the current build is available for technical collaboration on GitHub (https://github.com/tonyahowe/NiC); I am also eager to find collaborators among the world of scholars and teachers of literature.

While I am primarily a scholar and a teacher of literature, not a coder, I believe deeply that these skills have an important role to play both in the classroom and in the professional world beyond. Not only do they offer students a way to participate in the changing world of scholarly publishing as both editors and authors; they also provide a unique forum for close reading and a venue for developing critical, logical thought in a hands-on manner. I would welcome this exceptional opportunity to share the project and its goals with an audience of digital humanists, scholars, and–most importantly–teachers.

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