As part of our recent Digitial Humanities Doctoral School's programme, participants were asked to write a blogpost capturing their experiences with the digital humanities. In this week's blogpost, we welcome Leah Budke, a doctoral research fellow for the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) carrying out her doctoral research project at Ghent University. Before beginning her PhD project, she completed her first bachelor’s degree in modern languages at Fort Hays State University in the United States. Thereafter, she completed a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in linguistics and literature at Ghent University. Her research interests include poetry, modernism, and print culture. Her current project focuses on the serially published modernist poetry anthology and related or affiliated modernist magazines.
The Making of the Digital “Back End” of “ModMarkMake”
After having written two lengthy research papers on the subject of modernist periodicals, I was well aware of the complexities that research on such publications often presents. During my undergraduate years, my research was predominantly centered on just one publication, albeit with multiple serial issues. My doctoral research project, ModMarkMake, however, looks at a larger corpus of periodicals, comprising a provisional total of five serially published poetry anthologies and seven related or affiliated little magazines. With a significantly larger corpus, coordinating the various levels of analysis becomes more complicated. While the initial prospect seemed challenging, I was also certain that focusing on such a large corpus would yield interesting results. The next step in the PhD proposal process was to make a convincing plan of how I could manage such a large amount of data throughout the course of my PhD project.
When I began thinking about how to manage my corpus materials, I made a list of all the information I would need to collect in order to conduct my analyses. I considered information such as titles of poems, names of poets, names of editors, names of publications, and dates of publication. My instinct told me that I needed to organize this information in some structured way. I mentioned the phrase “index of poems” while presenting an early version of my PhD proposal and a very helpful colleague said, “What you’re talking about is actually a database, right?”. From that point on I began to research ways that digital tools, such as databases, could benefit my project.
From the outset, it was very clear that the data I plan to collect is intertwined in complex ways. The project focuses on poetry anthologies and related or affiliated magazines. This is because the poems published in the anthologies were often also published in various magazines. A relational database comprising what one can call “a set of relations” holds the most promise for organizing and interpreting my data (Date 2001). After initial research on relational databases, I began to think of the data I wanted to collect in different terms. Rather than as simply information, I learned I should distinguish between “entities” and “attributes” (Ramsay 2004). The provisional data model for my database contains entities such as poems, poets, containers (poetry anthologies or magazines), publishers, and editors. These entities, in turn, possess a set of specific attributes. The poet entity, for example, considers the poet’s first and last name, date of birth, and date of death. The relational nature of the database allows connections to be established between separate entities. This means that a certain relationship can be established between two poets, between a poet and editor, between a poet and a container, and so on.
Although the relational database is still in the developmental stage, as the project progresses I plan to make the data public so that other researchers can make use of the groundwork I lay. In order to facilitate easy and useful exchange of data, I am exploring options for using linked data, a form of machine-readable structured data that can be linked to other external data sets (Bizer et al. 2009). In sharing my data, I also hope to be able to generate publicity for and interest in the serially published modernist poetry anthology, a publication type that is too often overlooked in modernist and periodical studies.
Bizer, Christian, Tom Heath, and Tim Berners-Lee. 2009. “Linked Data - The Story So Far.” International Journal on Semantic Web and Information Systems (IJSWIS) 5 (3): 1-22.
Date, C. J. 2001. The Database Relational Model: A Retrospective Review and Analysis: A Historical Account and Assessment of E.F. Codd’s Contribution to the Field of Database Technology. Reading: Addison-Wesley.
Ramsay, Stephen. 2004. “Databases.” In A Companion to Digital Humanities, edited by Susan Schreibman, Raymond George Siemens, and John Unsworth, 177-97. Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.