It is hard to believe that after a year of preparations the Digital Antiquarian Conference and Workshop are now behind us. What began as a twinkle in my and Thomas Augst’s eyes when he was an NEH fellow here blossomed into a 10-day extravaganza here at AAS, starting with the largest academic conference the Society has ever hosted and ending with a weeklong workshop taught by no fewer than fifteen AAS catalogers and curators and three guest instructors. Thanks to the generous support of the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and New York University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as the Jay Last Fund at AAS, we were able to bring together leaders in book history, curators and librarians from university and independent research libraries, and innovators in the digital humanities to exchange ideas about the past, present, and future of historical information literacy and the archive.
To accommodate the 180 guests and the 20 speakers at the conference, we had to transform the reading room from a work space to a large meeting space, complete with four large monitors to show slides. And this new arrangement was a crowd pleaser. After Michael Winship and Ken Carpenter kicked off the events with their keynote on the first day, Carl Stahmer really blew the lid off of the generous dome with his presentation of linked open data and the future of bibliography and library catalogs.
Each day’s panels were organized around our collections and archival practices (Handling Newspapers, Editorial Matters, Book Ends, and Keyword Searches). The presentations were rich and full of reflections on, as one workshop participant put it, “the future of the past.” They were also incredibly jocular; as one workshop participant reflected, “This was the funniest conference I’ve ever been to.” Though this humor did not always translate to the slides, the participants have shared their visual presentations on the conference schedule website. The reception at the end of the first day featured a digital projects showcase including A New Nation Votes, Cassey & Dickerson Friendship Albums, Early Caribbean Digital Archive, The Occom Circle, TEI Archiving Publishing and Access Service (TAPAS), and Walt Whitman Archive. This event gave conference participants a chance to speak with the designers of these impressive digital humanities projects in a convivial atmosphere. Please read the Twitter stream from the conference on our website.
After the conference ended on Saturday, the workshop got underway Sunday night with a welcome dinner for the eighteen participants selected to take part. Most of the participants also attended the conference, so the icebreaking had been done, and we immediately started to gel as a group. Under the stewardship of Tom Augst and me, workshop classes began in earnest first thing Monday morning as the participants were whisked between the Elmarion Room for computer lab-like exercises and the Council Room for hands-on archival exercises. All of the curators and most of the catalogers ran sessions that had participants engaging deeply with the MARC format and considering how they might use the data in the AAS Catalog and in NAIP for their own digital humanities projects. To complete their exercises on MARC format, they consulted a number of bibliographies and electronic databases, and of course they had to reach for the resource most dear to our hearts at AAS: The Printers’ File. They also considered what work existing databases, such as America’s Historical Newspapers, afford and how if we don’t understand the archives behind such databases, we are likely to be confused, if not misled about the role they should play in our scholarship.
Curator of Books Elizabeth Pope productively flummoxed the group with questions around digitizing atypical books, using the AAS’s friendship albums collection as her guiding example. She also showed books that defy our standard definitions and asked the group how we might digitize them.
Curator of Manuscripts Tom Knoles presented the group with the researchers’ challenges around manuscripts with an exercise centered around the William Bentley notebooks held at AAS.
In addition to the AAS staff who dazzled the participants all week, three guest instructors joined us. AAS stalwart Michael Winship gave an overview of the history of editorial practice using the many editions of James Fenimore Cooper’s Red Rover (1827) to elucidate his points. That afternoon, Dawn Childress of Penn State Libraries taught a riveting session on TEI, using Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven as her guiding example. The next day, Tom Blake of the Boston Public Library joined Curator of Graphic Arts Lauren Hewes to ask the group to consider the challenges and opportunities that come with the digitization of graphic materials, including nineteenth-century games such as “Eureka Letters,” a game used to teach both spelling and morals. Please read the Twitter stream from the workshop on our website.
As the week drew to a close, hearts hung heavy for the group had really bonded.
But, the sense that the Digital Antiquarian was less coming to an end and instead really just beginning here at AAS was palpable. Stay tuned for more to come!