Author Archives: Constance Crompton


Our kanagaroos have arrived!  My colleague Hussein Keshani has arranged to build DH lab space in alongside UBCO’s fine arts printing lab.  The new space will house fledgeling DH projects.  Construction of the new workstations has only just started, but the kangaroo platforms, meant to convert regular desks into standing desks, arrived this afternoon.

Student Edition

My post about my Children’s Lit students reads like a bit of a brag (it really is a great class!).  My students are very much on my mind, so if I am going to crow about one class, I might as well crow about the other.

My Digital Humanities for Critical Literary Studies students don’t have a final exam (Let me digress — I would love to hear from anyone who has devised a meaningful exam for a DH course.  The pen-to-paper-with-timer-going format doesn’t seem to fit the project-based learning we’ve been doing all semester.  That said, I will be teaching a second year DH class next year, and my course would be alone of its kind in the department if it doesn’t have a final exam).

Map of the locations in Dracula

Map of the locations in Dracula

My DH students have been building an online edition of Dracula, encoded in TEI (I should warn that it looks a bit wonky any browser other than Firefox), and are almost done.  While I did grade the students on the scholarly content of the edition and the wellformedness of their code, each student’s encoding rationale, in which s/he had to explain what s/he had set out to encode, which tags s/he had used and why, and how s/he had problemsolved when Oxygen kicked back, will make up the majority of their final grade. The rationales are in, waiting to be graded. I want the students to be fearless encoders who are undaunted by the TEI guidelines. We’ve taken the last paragraph of David Birnbaum’s What is XML and Why should Humanities Scholars Care? as the touchstone for the course:

It isn’t necessary to memorize—or even understand—all of the details of this introduction on first reading. You probably understood some parts very well, while others may have seemed complex or confusing. That’s not a problem; you’ve been exposed to the terms, which will sound familiar and make more sense when you hear them again in context, and you can return to this introduction at any time to as you gain more hands-on experience working with XML yourself.

We’ve replaced “this introduction” in the first sentence with “Google fusion tables,” “Voyant,” “HTML,” “CSS,” and “the TEI guidelines” this semester.  The goal wasn’t conformance — what I hope to see in their rationales is fearlessness and a willingness to troubleshoot using more that one strategy.

We’ve used John Walsh’s Boilerplate XSLTs and CSS to publish an online version of the class’ edition.  Thoughtful descriptive markup is a virtue in its own right, but I though the students might like to have a version of their code that was intelligible to folks who aren’t used to reading XML.  That said, next year I think I will have each student publish their encoding rationale. The edition’s summative rationale only covers a few of the chapters.Gush_05prospectTermaine_08letter

The students have submitted their final bug reports (most of which have to do with my attempts to extend Boilerplate to accommodate their custom encoding).  A few more edits, and I will be able reload the edition, and bring the course to a close.


I can’t mark while munching because I don’t want to return my students’ papers festooned with crumbs, but I don’t mind be-crumbing my keyboard.  Between bites I’ve booked my flight to Lincoln for DH2013.  The booking feels like a promissory note — an IOU to Lesbian and Gay Liberation in Canada, one of my research projects, ensuring it that I will get down to brass tacks once the semester is over.

My research partner, Michelle Schwartz, sent me a rather grim Onion article the other day as a reminder not to let the LGLC project get buried under other tasks.  Point taken.


The Professor of Practical Jokes on Wikipedia

The Professor of Practical Jokes

I brought the essay stack from Studies in Children’s Literature into the office with me.  I want it to look at me reproachfully, as I ought to be marking.

My Children’s Lit students have, in effect, written two papers for the class.  The stack represents the second and more traditional analytic essay of the two.  The first was a collaborative summative paper, or rather, a Wikipedia article about a fin-de-siècle literary fairy tale.  The students had to analyze three wikipedia pages, and recommend scholarly best practices, which I boiled down into a rubric for their final wikipedia articles (hat tip to Laura Estill for the idea).

Each student worked with a partner on the encoding, research, and proofreading for their article. We had long discussions about the culture of Wikipedia, as Wikipedians are less hospitable and more territorial than users of other social media spaces, and followed the #TooFew editathon.  The students had work together to learn how to handle criticism, deletions, and commentary that might seem unjust or unfair (a life skill if ever I met one).  Some of their articles were accepted by the broader Wikipedia community, others rejected.  The articles were a huge amount of work.  The students have let me know that now that they’ve run the gauntlet, they are more wary about information on Wikipedia but but have real respect for the amount of work that the encyclopedia represents.

I wonder if I can replace the final essay with a Wikipedia article next year? On the whole the students engaged in more thorough research and better proofreading than they tend to when I am the sole audience for their work, but Wikipedia articles don’t allow for original arguments about the meaning of the text — the central feature of the final essay.

Now it is time for me to set the Children’s Literature exam.  Unfortunately, I won’t be able to incorporate their new knowledge about Wikipedia into the pen-to-paper exam: “Choose one of the following two terms and discuss how it …”


I’ve arrived at UBCO to find that two of the three meetings that I had on the books for today will have to be rescheduled.  My INKE GRA has offered to Skype in during what is turning out to be a major illness, to discuss our summer plans, but I think it is best for us to wait until she is back and we can sit down together.

Twitter and Coffee

It’s the first day of the exam period and I am sitting next to a pile of essays.  The stack seems to look at me reproachfully. I should be marking, but I am loathe to change my morning routine.  One of the perks of my move to western Canada is that by the time it is 6:30 here, most of the rest of the continent is up and doing, and, best of all, tweeting it out. Cathy Davidson’s HASTAC tweets are near the top of the feed, as is Stéfan Sinclair’s lament about starting his Day of DH under the weight of a cold. I see that Margaret Thatcher has shuffled off this mortal coil.

I co-tweet for a Victorian Studies journal, so once I’ve stopped being me on twitter, I’ll log on and be them (or, rather, it).