Ashley Reed’s Day of Digital Humanities at the WBA

As the Project Manager of the Archive most of my days consist of short bursts of activity on many different tasks; I rarely get to sit down and concentrate on one thing for a long time. Tasks involving content generation, text and image editing, or tech fixes get farmed out to someone else, while I keep about twenty different balls in the air.

I began my day fielding emails from our team at the University of Rochester, who have been responsible for putting together our forthcoming digital edition of 21 of Blake’s late letters. We have been debating the best way to present the letter TOC and the Group Information page. We seem to have finally gotten everything to look the way we want it to, a process that involved lots of tweaks to the XSLT by our technical consultant, Joe Ryan. We tried out these tweaks on our development site; once they’re approved by the editors they’ll go live on our public site, and we can send out an email announcement notifying Archive users that a new electronic edition is available.

The Archive's current homepage

The Archive’s current homepage

I then chatted with Joe Viscomi a bit about the front page of the Archive. A few months ago we removed the welcome page that met users at the front of the site; while to some of the staff it seemed an unnecessary encumbrance, Joe is concerned that our current design doesn’t make our scholarly mission clear enough, and also doesn’t showcase Blake’s glorious images as much as it could. This conversation is part of a larger discussion we’re having about redesigning the site. Our Technical Editor Will Shaw (now Digital Humanities Technology Consultant at Duke University) is currently reimplementing our object view pages to restore some functionality that we lost when we disabled Java a few months ago because of security concerns. Will’s new design should make the OVP pages sleeker, faster to load, and easier to use, and I hope it will drive a more comprehensive redesign of the site that will improve on both functionality and ease of navigation.

Joe wants to add the topic of the welcome page and the larger redesign to the agenda for our annual Blake Camp meeting, which will take place this year at the home of Archive editor Robert Essick in conjunction with a Huntington Library Symposium coordinated by Archive bibliographer Mark Crosby. After chatting with Joe I updated the list of topics that will go on the agenda for BC; one of my jobs as Project Manager is to plan and run this annual meeting. This year the planning has mostly involved buying plane tickets, since Bob is hosting and will handle a lot of the catering and coffee duties. But once we’re there it will be my job to keep us on schedule, give a report of our progress for the year, and take minutes for the meeting; these minutes guide our workflows for the subsequent year.

Lunch of DH: apple and goat cheese fritters, wilted spinach, chicken salad

Lunch of DH: apple and goat cheese fritters, wilted spinach, chicken salad

I also got in touch with folks at UNC’s Library Systems department (who handle our server support) to talk about implementing the Subversion versioning system. Right now the Archive uses manual versioning of our XML documents (which we call BADs–Blake Archive Documents): assistants make a copy of a document they’re about to edit and upload it to the server in case they break something and need to revert to the earlier version. This was workable when the Archive had a staff of three or four people, only one or two of whom ever touched the XML. But now that we’ve got seventeen assistants working on BADs on two different campuses the potential for error and loss–what Will Shaw calls “the probability of disaster”–has grown exponentially, so it’s time to automate versioning. We’ve chosen Subversion (rather than, say, Git) because the UNC libraries already support Subversion and because all of our project assistants are familiar with Oxygen, which has built-in support for Subversion.

100 dpi color-corrected JPEG, textual transcription, and a detail from the 300 dpi JPEG enlargement of Blake’s letter to George Cumberland, 12 April 1827

100 dpi color-corrected JPEG, textual transcription, and a detail from the 300 dpi JPEG enlargement of Blake’s letter to George Cumberland, 12 April 1827

After lunch Joe Fletcher and I heard from Joe Ryan, who was able to take a minute out of his busy schedule (we’re one of many projects he helps to support) to implement the now-approved changes to the TOC for the letters. After the go-ahead from the editors Joe F sent out the publication announcement and I tweeted our achievement. This publication was actually delayed by a couple of weeks, but I have to admit I’m pretty pleased to be announcing a publication on the Day of Digital Humanities.