My summer at END

Katy Frank, 6/29/2016

My summer at END, pt. I

Digital humanities: Not just using digital means to represent the humanities – e.g. a PDF of your thesis – but also using the digital to explore the humanities – using digital tools to look at trends in prefaces across vast quantities of non-canonical books, for example. The digital humanities is a nascent and highly contested field, and I am extremely happy that I’ve gotten to learn more about what it is, exactly, at my summer job, thanks to the Hurford Center.

This summer, I’m working at END, the Early Novels Database, in UPenn’s Van Pelt Library. In the mornings, we catalogue old books using a library computer language called Marc XML, which resembles HTML. We record extremely detailed metadata about the books paratexts, authorship, publication, and more. This summer we’ve mostly been cataloguing books from the 1780s, though we’ve seen books from throughout the 18th century. We mostly look at books from England, though there are a few from Ireland and the colonial U.S.A. We’ve seen some great titles, including:

  • Love and Madness: a Story Too True, In a Series of Letters, Between Parties Whose Names Would Perhaps be Mentioned Were They Less Known or Less Lamented
  • Discipline: a Novel. By the Author of Self-Control.
  • The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy
  • Memoirs and Adventures of a Flea
  • The School For Husbands

A typical day at work looks like:

Day at work pt. 1

Day at work pt. 1

    In the afternoons, we have a more varied schedule. We have Theory Thursdays, where we – you guessed it! – discuss theory re: both early novels and digital humanities. There are hints of both Jsem and a John Muse class in these short, excerpted readings, which range from Leah Price’s The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel to Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, and Trees. We’ve also listened to talks on topics including 18th century female book collector (a rarity!) Eliza Gifford; commonplace books and the history of reading; and the practices of institutional repositories at UPenn and beyond. In this sense, I feel like I’m at a science internship: rarely do students in the humanities have a chance to work with seven other undergraduate interns, four lovely bosses with a great deal of expertise, and such a wide variety of scholars.

We also have time to work on our own personal research projects. My project aims to explore the construction of privacy, and its gendered valences. Are the notions of privacy and femininity in the novel mutually constitutive? I want to look at both texts and paratexts to try and answer this question. I’m going to use our data to select a cross-section of first-person diaristic and epistolary novels, and use topic modeling to see which words accumulate around such words as closet, privacy, and intimacy.

An example of an epistolary novel:

An epistolary novel

An epistolary novel


Something I really like about digital humanities is the chance to do “distant reading” – to analyze larger amounts of novels or texts at the same time. There is a chance to here to look at the non-canonical novels and thus elevate the voices of the “common people,” people who weren’t the white English landowning men. Of course, authorship was and is still a privileged position, but by looking at forgotten, obscure, or one-hit-wonder novels using digital humanities, we can gain a sense of the history of novels in the Anglophone world that is much more complex than a simple list of The Best Novels.


An epistolary novel cont'd

An epistolary novel cont’d