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.

Why Faulkner and the Digital Humanities Need Each Other: A Short Introduction

Four Definitions of "Digital Humanities"

On July 9, I delivered “Why Faulkner and the Digital Humanities Need Each Other: A Short Introduction” to the 2012 Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference: Fifty Years After Faulkner. The conference is composed of an international array of new and seasoned scholars who come to read and listen to papers. The audience also consists of secondary-school teachers, college and grad students, as well as many with no academic affiliation at all. They attend because they have interest in (and love of) the work of William Faulkner. All kinds of people show up: Scientists, lawyers, economists, retirees, artists, librarians, and ad execs. Past years have seen at least one beautician and a Waffle House waitress (actually, she was a college student from Ukraine working in Florida for the summer). Some in the audience live in Oxford, MS, where the conference is held, and a few (many have died in recent years) knew Faulkner and his family. Thus, speakers are advised to keep academic jargon and pretension to a minimum and enjoy the sizable audience (50-100 people) that usually is very friendly as long as words such as Yoknapatawpha, Beauchamp, and Lafayette are pronounced correctly (or gentle correction will ensue). Given these circumstances, it seemed appropriate to introduce the panel I organized, “Virtualizing Native Soil: Faulkner and the Digital Humanities in the 21st Century,” with a brief and basic explanation of what it means to say “digital humanities.” Aside from this panel, all the papers were traditional in their scope and presentation.

A Prezi illustrates my talk. The presentation sweeps to the next circle every time CLICK appears in the text below.

As many of you have heard, the latest rage in academia is the digital humanities. In fact, the digital humanities is not a passing fad. It is here to stay.

What are, or is, the “digital humanities?”

The precise definition of “digital humanities” is still taking shape, and there are many definitions. Here’s a few I’ve culled from about three hundred different definitions offered this year by people with some connection to the digital humanities:1  CLICK [italicized definitions are paraphrased in the talk]

“A diverse and still emerging field that includes the practice of humanities research in and through information technology. It also includes the development of digital educational / research / teaching / archival / publishing resources for the specific use and study of the humanities and interconnected disciplines. The digital humanities is also concerned with an exploration of how humanities may evolve through their engagement with technology.
—Ernesto Priego

Ernesto Priego says the digital humanities is emerging; it uses information technology for research, education, archival preservation, and publishing. It is an exploration and an evolution of the humanities through and with its engagement with technology. CLICK

An interdisciplinary field with porous borders that is generally concerned with the impact of digital technology on traditional academic practices of teaching, research, and service.
—Matthew K. Gold

Matthew Gold claims the digital humanities is interdisciplinary. It is what happens when technology intersects with the traditional practices of teaching, research, and service. CLICK

It’s beyond interdisciplinary–it’s a new ecosystem that includes scholars, librarians, archivists, computer scientists, graphic designers, administrators, students, teachers, granting agencies (public and private), and anyone else interested in promoting humanistic ways of experiencing digital media (or digital ways of experiencing the humanities).
—Edward Whitley

It’s beyond interdisciplinary, argues Edward Whitley, because it extends beyond individual academic departments to all areas related to academia: from librarians to computer scientists to deans to granting agencies. CLICK

And finally, according to Roger Whitson, the digital humanities is “Making stuff, and using it to collaborate and connect with the public.” CLICK

I analyzed these four definitions using Wordle. CLICK [See image, above.]

Wordle, if you don’t already know, is a very simple text analysis tool that highlights words in a text according to frequency of appearance. It’s helpful for revealing keywords in a text, but also for revealing what’s not being explicitly stated, but implied (Try putting some Faulkner text into a Wordle and you’ll get some interesting results). Aside from digital and humanities, the words that pop out as being most used in these definitions are experiencing, teaching, research, interdisciplinary, includes, and technology. CLICK

What strikes me about this combination is that aside from “technology” all these words come from the realm of the traditional humanities. “All” we’re adding is technology: But technology changes things in a potentially dramatic way—whether it’s a positive or negative way depends on how the technology is used, of course. Nevertheless, technology can potentially change how we experience or process knowledge; it can change the way we teach and research; it can change the way we publish and disseminate knowledge. Technology forces us to be interdisciplinary: For example, some research projects may require historians, literary scholars, graphic artists, and computer programmers.

Technology also redefines for the humanities what it means to say “include”: For example, we can use technology to make contact with people and sources of information, such as in archives and databases, in multiple locations, simultaneously, any time of day or night. CLICK

Neil Fraistat suggests that instead of asking “What is the digital humanities,”2 we might ask, “What do you want from the digital humanities?” Or, to rephrase that, what does Faulkner Studies want from the digital humanities? CLICK

I think this is why I like the last of those four definitions, which can be rephrased as “We want to make stuff and use it to collaborate with others to connect with the public.” CLICK

Steve Railton’s several projects at the University of Virginia involving Faulkner are wonderful examples of that definition and what we as Faulkner scholars might want from the digital humanities. These projects include online sound recordings of Faulkner speaking, as well as mapping, timelines, and visualizing data. John Padgett’s William Faulkner on the Web is also an incredible resource for Faulkner scholars. Much of this material and its implications for Faulkner Studies will be discussed by the panelists today. CLICK

The integration of computer technologies with traditional humanities research, publishing, and teaching can “can help us imagine academic practices in new ways” (Sayers).3 This panel will give you at least a glimpse of what the digital humanities has and will offer to Faulkner scholarship. I hope it will inspire you to start your own project or contribute to a current one.

1All definitions taken from “How Do You Define DH?” A Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities, CenterNet, 2012.
2Neil Fraistat, “The Question(s) of Digital Humanities,” MITH, University of Maryland, 7 Feb 2011.
3Technology, Scholarship, and the Humanities: A Conversation with Jentery Sayers,” Simpson Center for the Humanities, 21 May 2012.