Digital Humanities Symposium

The Spring 2022 Georgetown Digital Humanities (GU DH) Symposium is organized by Verena Kick, Assistant Professor of German, and is supported by the Georgetown Humanities Initiative. It will be held virtually on March 24 and 25, 2022.

The GU DH Symposium is the first showcase of Digital Humanities research, projects, and pedagogy at Georgetown University and beyond. 

The symposium aims primarily to bring together Georgetown’s faculty and graduate students who have been engaged in DH in their research and/or in their teaching. The symposium also brings researchers from institutions in the area on board, showcasing their DH-related work. In addition, Megan Martinsen, Digital Scholarship Librarian at Georgetown, will also join the symposium, as a moderator and commentator, and to help connect people with the digital scholarship support and resources available at Georgetown.

At the symposium, we look forward to learning about our colleagues’ digital projects, discussing the challenges of such projects, sharing strategies for starting and maintaining DH projects, while also hopefully inspiring our attendees at Georgetown and beyond to undertake research and teaching in the context of Digital Humanities. 


To register, please click here.

Spring 2022 Schedule

Thursday, March 24
1:00 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.

1:00 p.m.: Brief opening remarks

Amani Morrison – GU English 

In this presentation, I will discuss some of the considerations that I find central to the work of DH projects at the early design stages and at various stages of iteration. I identify three key core considerations–the ethics of the project (both conceptually and regarding labor), the organization of the data and metadata, and the technology/software leveraged to animate the data for both internal project collaborators and external end users. I will draw from my experience working on three large-scale DH projects that utilize data on Black historical subjects as well as from my own considerations as I begin the work on my own DH project.

Guy Spielmann – Georgetown Department of French and Francophone Studies 

In 1996, two years after joining the Georgetown faculty, I initiated one of the earliest DH projects ever created at this institution: “OPSIS: Early Modern Spectacle” (Spectacles du Grand Siècle in French). It involved creating a curated, hypertextual collection of documents (texts, images, video- and audio-recordings) relating to spectacle and performing arts in the Early Modern Period, primarily with a focus on French and Italian practices.

This was definitely pioneering work (at a time when the university did not even routinely issue a computer to professors), which was initially recognized as such (it was featured in a showcase event for the G.U. Board meeting in 2000), and well received: it had hundreds of subscribers world wide, and I was repeatedly invited to lecture on the promises of “the Internet” for teaching and research (the term Digital Humanities was not yet in currency then). 

Twenty-five years later, however, the project is dormant, and mostly off-line, waiting for a “reboot” that has been delayed over and over for a variety of reasons—lack of interest from the public not being one of them. 

I would like to take OPSIS as a case study of the challenges facing DH projects, not necessarily in their creation, but in their evolution and existence over the long term, which is only partially the responsibility of the scholars who initiate them. How can we avoid putting ourselves at the mercy of the on-campus IT community, but also of the larger tech communities (such as software manufacturers), both with their own priorities and professional culture? I will argue that anyone interested in developing a DH project needs to take into account certain unavoidable realities in order to ensure not just the initial success of the endeavor, but its persistence over time.

Break: 2:00 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.

2:15 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.

Marianna Ryshina-Pankova – Georgetown University Department of German 

Kerstin Kuhn – Georgetown University Department of German

Digital storytelling (DS) as digital narratives that combine visual and acoustic material, such as images, sound effects, and video clips with a narrator’s voice-over to present a story has been used in education as a popular tool for fostering learner engagement, identity construction, and deep reflection. In this presentation, we report on the specific ways DS can function within the L2 learning and teaching context. We start with presenting some research evidence on the effectiveness of DS for developing capabilities crucial specifically for the goals of L2 instruction, such as oral and written literacies and cultural and intercultural learning. We then lay out the steps for implementing the DS task in a FL classroom and show some examples of student work. The presentation concludes with a discussion on the ways to assess DS by L2 learners. 

Break: 2:45 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Verena Kick – Georgetown University Department of German

This digital project, built with the platform Scalar, showcases the montage principle at work in Kurt Tucholsky and John Heartfield’s photobook Germany, Germany Above All (1929).

Scalar allows to put the photobook’s photos front and center. In being able to annotate them, I can show how they “speak” to each other across the book pages’ layout. Similar to traditional print scholarship, these annotated photos are also accompanied by commentary that elaborate on the concept of montage that draws on ideas of film montage, photomontage, and industrial montage. In focusing on the montage of photos, approaching the photobook in this manner shows how Tucholsky’s and Heartfield’s photobook managed to specifically showcase conditions of the working class during the Weimar Republic.

Jonathan Fine – German Studies, Brown University 

The Fragments Controversy was the most significant theological conflagration of the German Enlightenment. It began in 1774 when the playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing began publishing excerpts from a clandestine deistic manuscript written by Hermann Samuel Reimarus. The heretical ideas contained therein cast doubt upon the foundational teachings of Christianity, and Lessing hoped to force people to grapple with these points of contention as part of a public educational process. Lessing carefully stage managed much of the controversy, which eventually led to the publication of hundreds of refutations ranging in length from multi-volume denunciations to short articles in many periodicals throughout Europe. 

This Scalar project is the first introduction to the controversy that pairs commentary with digital copies of the texts. It features texts digitalized previously by European libraries as well as digitalizations especially commissioned for this project. Moreover, this project pairs each of the longer texts with the journalism that addresses the texts found in newspapers published in every major European language. It takes advantage of numerous features available to users of Scalar to display the many intertextual networks in operation. It additionally includes visualizations such as timelines and maps that show the longevity and wide dissemination of Lessing’s polemics.

Break: 4:00 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.

4:15 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.

Dylan Lewis – English, University of Maryland

My talk explores my project, the Samuel Richardson Bibliography Online. SRBO is an Omeka-powered comprehensive digital bibliography of eighteenth-century British author Samuel Richardson’s works. The primary purpose of the site is to provide an exhaustive enumerative bibliography of Samuel Richardson’s novels, including foreign and serialized publications. Unique to the project is a collection of the title pages to not only the London imprints of his novels, but also of non-English editions of his texts and various adaptations and remediations of his work. The “exhibit” feature on Omeka allows me to present thematic exhibits of certain texts through these title pages, such as “Samuel Richardson’s Novels in Germany.” This exhibit, for example, contains explanatory paragraphs about the printing, publication, and reception of his novels in Germany, and explores Richardson’s influence though German adaptations and remediations of his novels. Though this project’s primary contribution to the field is as a comprehensive enumerative bibliography, the inclusion of these exhibits provides new insight on the importance of Richardson’s transnational circulation as it relates to our understanding of the rapidly growing and shifting eighteenth-century print marketplace. 

Elisa Reverman – GU Philosophy; 

Lovely Umayam – Bombshelltoe Policy and Arts Collective; Non-Resident Fellow Stimson Center

Lifelines is a collection of personal reflections about the experiences of nuclear policy and technical practitioners during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic (2020 – 2021). Many of these stories come from women in the field who, like everyone else, suffered the immediate physical and mental strain of this crisis: fear of widespread illness and death; the loneliness of lockdown; and the exhaustion from a frenetic lifestyle that collapsed the boundary between personal and professional space. Yet they also wrestle with biases and challenges — as nuclear experts who double as mothers, or junior and mid-careers reckoning with gender barriers reinscribed in virtual, socially-distant work environments — that complicate their vision of a secure future for the world and for themselves. 

The project includes guest essays from women working in the field of nuclear security, anonymous narratives from a survey conducted by the Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy, writing by Lovely Umayam, and illustrations by Elisa Reverman. Lovely Umayam is a nuclear nonproliferation expert and writer. She is the founder of the Bombshelltoe Policy and Arts Collective, a creative organization pushing for an active exploration of arts, culture and history to promote nuclear nonproliferation, arms control and disarmament. Lovely is also a Non-Resident Fellow at the Stimson Center, where she conducts research on technologies like blockchain (distributed ledger technology) and their potential applications for tracking nuclear materials and protecting related facilities. Elisa Reverman is a Georgetown University graduate student, working on a PhD in the Philosophy Department. The collective project will be housed in a web-based exhibition.

End of the day: 5:15 p.m.

Friday, March 25
1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Paula Chan – Georgetown University Department of History

On November 2, 1942, midway through the Battle of Stalingrad, the Soviet government created the Extraordinary State Commission to gather evidence of Nazi crimes. By the end of 1945, this organization had carried out investigations in the Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian, Moldavian, Karelo-Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian republics, with more than seven million citizens generating 54,000 official reports and over 250,000 witness testimonies. These documents served as the core of the Soviet prosecution at Nuremberg and fueled numerous other war crimes trials both at home and abroad, but remained off-limits to all independent research until after the collapse of the USSR. Since 1991, scholars have struggled to navigate a body of records that spans more than 43,000 files stored in Moscow and another estimated 30,000 files scattered across other post-Soviet national and regional archives. My dissertation employs digitization and publicly facing digital tools to establish intellectual control and facilitate discovery across this broad scope of materials with the goal of recreating the Soviet information network for a deeper understanding of the Nazi occupation and its consequences in the USSR.

Bradley Gorski – Georgetown University Department of Slavic Languages

What happened to Russian literature, culture, and the public sphere more broadly in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union? How was the chaotic transition to capitalism connected to the rise of misinformation campaigns, “sovereign democracy” and the worldwide spread of fake news? This presentation showcases two digital projects that approach this question from different angles. The first grows out of my own research into Russian literature that arose during the capitalist transition. It tracks the formation of the bestseller as a powerful statistical indicator in post-Soviet Russia that implicitly argued for the primacy of market-based popularity over expert opinion or intrinsic aesthetic worth. This project tracks Russia’s brand new bestseller lists over the course of the first capitalist decade to show which works sold best, when, and why. The second project is a large-scale collaborative research project called “Archiving the Post-Soviet 1990s,” which has recently been awarded NEH funding to collect a digital archive on the decade that pays special attention to the rise and fall of free and open debate in the public sphere. 

Basil Lvoff – Hunter College, CUNY, Department of Classical and Oriental Studies, Division of Russian and Slavic Studies

A century ago, the Russian Formalists ushered in contemporary literary theory in circumstances similar to those of today’s literary scholars within Digital Humanities. Both movements emerged in the wake of a big bang of data, concomitant with the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ secular concern with social laws. Digital Humanities flourished as a result of the ongoing information revolution: the growing accessibility of IT and, most importantly, exponentially multiplying data, which spurred the search for patterns and compelled a new understanding of meaning qua information. Likewise, Russian Formalism was necessitated by positivism: its ocean of new facts about literature and the perceived reluctance of the positivists to fathom it.  Yet, no matter how groundbreaking in their discoveries, the Formalists were much indebted to the fact-gleaning of nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century philologists. Moreover, both Russian Formalism and Digital Humanities issued new demands to literary scholarship, with an eye to the same end:  to study literature as a system, which functions according to certain regularities and, possibly, laws. This approach to literature, dialectically opposed to exegetic interpretation of the text, is distant reading proper, which could also be called estranged reading, to use a translation of Viktor Shklovsky’s famous notion of ostranenie. Distant reading focuses on the status of the device, work, or genre in the system of literature, this status being established as against the other elements of the system, as in place-value notation, while authorial intent, so important for close reading, is estranged—bracketed off like noise, in Claude Shannon’s terms.  

Distant reading thus understood is not new; what is new is that Digital Humanities is quantitative, not qualitative, formalism (Franco Moretti and his colleagues’ definition). That would make the distant reading of DH fundamentally different from Russian Formalism if not for the Formalist Boris Yarkho, who is being rediscovered in Russia and the West. Yarkho’s trailblazing application of statistics-propped evolutionary biology to literature anticipated the quantitative formalism of Moretti and other digital humanists by more than a half century. The purpose of my talk is to conduct a distant reading of both formalisms, Russian and that of Digital Humanists, uncovering their values and axioms, for the sake of reconsidering and clarifying our own. 

Break: 2:30 p.m. – 2:45 p.m.

2:45 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.

Seth Perlow – Georgetown University Department of English 

This project develops computerized methods for literary handwriting analysis. The interpretation of manuscripts remains important in literary scholarship, but today’s software cannot reliably decipher handwriting, let alone detect the nuances that help critics date and authenticate manuscripts, assess an author’s mood or health, and prepare new editions for publication. Existing digital-humanities tools for analysis of visual artifacts such as paintings and advertisements do not support the interpretation of handwriting. This project uses forensics software, a pen-wielding robot, and other equipment to read manuscripts from Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe to recent Instagram poetry. It situates these methods within an interdisciplinary history of graphology to show how technological challenges help us to rethink the value of seeing literary manuscripts in the first place. 

Break: 3:15 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Molly Thacker – Georgetown University Department of History

In the opening decades of the twentieth century, the United States Bureau of Immigration began to restrict the entry of unaccompanied children. My dissertation investigates what sparked this curtailment using two Digital Humanities tools: Ocular Character Recognition (OCR) technology in digitized newspapers databases, and Tropy, a knowledge organization software that I deployed to catalog thousands of photographs of immigrant children’s archived casefiles. Using OCR-powered searches, I tracked the spread and prevalence of newspaper coverage about certain unaccompanied immigrant children—from heartwarming tales of scrappy stowaways on returning American troopships to the sensationalized stories of young Greek bootblacks “enslaved” by padrone bosses. This research revealed that inland newspapers not only reprinted articles from the Eastern seaboard, but also repurposed those narratives to bolster editorials about only admitting the “right kind” of future citizens. Such media discourse directly led to the formation of restrictive immigration laws against unaccompanied children. Additionally, I located hundreds of these children’s federal immigration casefiles in the National Archives, and using Tropy’s research photography management capabilities, created a database documenting the immigration experiences of over 950 children, with photographs, investigative reports, and the children’s own testimonies. These DH tools help illuminate the contours of earlier public dialogues and the U.S. government’s actions regarding unaccompanied children.

Jana Keck – German Historical Institute, Washington DC

Have you ever heard of the short story “Die weiße Sklavin” by the German author Agnes Schöbel or the poem “Deutsch-Amerika” by the German-American writer Marie Raible? Rather unlikely. The works of these women and many other unknown authors to this date appeared in numerous German-American newspapers of the 19th century – reprinted again and again from Ohio to Texas, from Maryland to South Dakota. In my project, I use digitized newspapers (Chronicling America) in conjunction with text mining and machine learning methods, network analysis, corpus linguistics and close reading to analyze texts that spread across states and decades. Based on the term “Ger (wo)manness,” I question whether the history of the German-American press can no longer be written as a dominant male space created by successful editors, because there are numerous reprinted texts – from hard news to poems – for, by, and about women. Only these hidden or neglected stories provide more information about many aspects of the millions of German-speaking migrants: their wishes and hopes, difficulties and successes.

End of the symposium: 4:30 p.m.