Presenting the 2020-21 CDH Dataset Curation Grant Recipients

What can sixteenth-century maps teach us about climate change? How do musical patterns feature in the sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti? How do Chinese national minorities feature in the collections of state-run Chinese archives?

These are just some of the questions inspiring the work of this year’s recipients of the Center for Digital Humanities (CDH) Dataset Curation Grants, which support Princeton affiliates in learning about the analytical and technical practices of working with humanities data. Collaboration is critical to many of this year’s projects. Several grants went to teams comprising a researcher and a Princeton University Library (PUL) staff member; other recipients plan to take on undergraduate and graduate researchers for their project.

For their project, Thomas Keenan (PUL) and Katherine Hill Reischl (Slavic Languages and Literatures) will convert images of early Soviet periodicals on the performing arts into a dataset usable for computational research. As Keenan and Reischl explain in their proposal, the periodicals, held by Special Collections, “offer rich territory for text-mining and image analysis and for higher-level structural analyses.” Keenan and Reischl’s project will build upon prior collaborations between PUL and the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures—in particular, two international symposia highlighting Slavic materials in Special Collections.

Rebecca Sutton Koeser (CDH) and Chloe Pfendler (PUL) will collaborate on a project involving the newly opened collection of letters from T.S. Eliot to Emily Hale, held by Special Collections. Koeser and Pfendler plan to extract data—such as date, location, and people mentioned—from the correspondence, which has already been digitized, and create catalogs of Eliot’s letters and Hale’s letters, as they are known via Eliot’s correspondence. Koeser and Pfendler describe their project as “an act of recovery to partially undo Eliot’s erasure of Hale’s voice by burning her letters.”

For her part, Dannelle Gutarra Cordero (African American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies) will work with Steven Knowlton (PUL) on the slavery-related manuscripts held by Rare Books and Special Collections. Gutarra Cordera explains that she will develop a new database that eliminates the “dehumanizing language” in the current catalogue, including the term “slave.” The new database will also allow for “search categories that are centered on the stories and experiences of the enslaved” rather than those of the slaveholder.

Joshua Seufert (PUL) will use his grant to engage with a collection of archival handbooks from state-run Chinese archives. Seufert plans to work with Thomas Ventimiglia (PUL) to scan and apply OCR (optical character recognition) to the handbooks’ tables of contents. Seufert writes that the project promises not only to assist researchers, who often cannot find information on the contents of state-run Chinese archives, but also to shed light on Chinese conceptions of the archive and on the representation of Chinese national minorities within it.

Maps figure prominently for Emmanuel Kreike (History) and Tsering Wangyal Shawa (PUL), who will work alongside William Guthe (Princeton Research Computing) and Carla Zimowsk (History) to create datasets from historical spatial data, including maps related to the tactical flooding by Dutch rebels fighting against Spanish forces in the 1570s, maps involving the nineteenth-century Dutch conquest of Sumatra, and aerial photographs from 1943 and 1972. The former two datasets may be placed alongside current maps to study issues of climate change and will also be used to make a computer simulation for teaching purposes.

Geographic information is also important for Lucas McMahon (History) and Abigail Sargent (History), who will create a database of georeferenced medieval Byzantine seals. As McMahon and Sargent explain, information about the seals, which promises to shed light on communication in the Byzantine Empire, is scattered throughout academic publications in multiple languages. McMahon and Sargent plan to hire fellow graduate students to track down the references.

Herrissa Lamothe (Sociology) will train undergraduate researchers to assist with her dissertation project on the work of Roberto Busa, who is often credited as a founder of digital humanities. Illuminating Busa’s contribution to the fields of semantic linguistics and the philosophy of language, Lamothe will use the grant to conduct what she calls “a preposition-based semantic annotation of 5 percent of all instances of the preposition ‘in’ in the Index Thomisticus,” Busa’s digital concordance of Thomas Aquinas’s work.

Finally, Jérémie Lumbroso (Computer Science) will collaborate with Nicolas Sceaux, who will digitize a subset of sonatas by the Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti. Not only will the digitized sonatas allow scholars to apply quantitative analysis to Scarlatti’s understudied corpus, but Lumbroso also plans to develop new tools to track repetition in the music. Lumbroso writes that the project is “an opportunity to illustrate the incredible heft that computational techniques can provide the analysis/characterization of art.”

Congratulations to all of this year’s recipients!

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