Professor Maryanne Kowaleski introduces the Center for Medieval Studies digital humanities projects to a capacity crowd at Digital Day.

On Thursday August 24, while all of Fordham buzzed with the orientation of new students, the Center for Medieval Studies hosted its third annual Digital Day. Students, faculty, and staff from across the university joined us for a series of excellent presentations aimed to introduce particular digital platforms and tools. Read on to learn more about Digital Humanities at Medieval Studies and why we have a Digital Day.

Why Digital Day?

As we continue to be surrounded by new applications for digital technology, it is not always obvious to medievalists and other humanists how that technology might inform our research and teaching. Indeed, students receive very little baseline training in the digital humanities as undergraduates, and the range of skills that students possess when they arrive in graduate school varies widely. In order to remedy this imbalance, and most importantly to help students get over any fears or apprehensions that might come with digital engagement, we offer this day of training and information.

Fordham Medieval Studies and Digital Humanities

Medieval Studies takes very seriously our commitment to the Digital Humanities. Our projects go right back to the beginning of digital scholarship on the internet, with the Internet History Sourcebooks, maintained on Fordham’s servers since 1996 by Paul Halsall, receiving millions of hits per year. Since then, we have embarked on numerous other projects, including the Online Medieval Sources Bibliography (originally launched in 2003, and maintained continuously by Maryanne Kowaleski and successive generations of Medieval Studies grad students). Recently, we have expanded in a number of new directions, including digital mapping projects and projects drawing upon TEI (the Text Encoding Initiative). Our mantra is not just “you can do it”, even if you may be completely new to digital humanities, but “we can do it ourselves”, by drawing upon open access and readily available technologies and learning through application and trial and error.

The poster for Digital Day

Training at Digital Day 2017

This year’s Digital Day introduces students to a selection of platforms concerned with mapping and spatial methods, buildings websites and blogs, text encoding, and digital exhibition platforms. In the morning sessions Katherina Fostano of Fordham’s Art History and Music program introduced us to the Omeka web publishing platform. A free and open source CMS (content management system) developed by the Roy Rosenzewig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, Omeka is a popular tool for buildings online exhibitions. Fostano showcased several existing Fordham Art History projects, for instance one exhibiting the works of  Michelangelo. Students were then given access to Omeka and taken on a tour of the platform. In a parallel session, Fordham History PhD student Alisa Beer demonstrated WordPress, another open-source online publishing platform (in fact the one that Fordham uses for its blogs, like this Venerable one!) Students were shown blogs that Beer had constructed, and talked through the process of designing a successful page.

After lunch students could choose between mapping and text encoding. In one classroom, Fordham Medieval Studies alumna Heather Hill demonstrated Carto, a Brooklyn based web mapping platform with whom Fordham has developed a close working relationship. Carto allows users to drop their data spreadsheets directly onto the map, generating instant cartographic visualizations of that information which can then be altered or rendered in a variety of ways.

Next door, Medieval Studies Affiliated Scholar Dr. John McCaskey introduced us to TEI (the Text Encoding Initiative). McCaskey’s talk explained both the history of the Initiative and the markup language with which it has become synonymous. Addressing a crowd of fellow medievalists, he paid special attention to the difficulties posed by rendering text found in medieval manuscript contexts as digital text. He used a memorable example in which the work appearing in the manuscript essentially could not be represented in one way that would satisfy all modern scholars. The advantage of TEI, he explained, was the every possible variant could be included in the encoding.

Finally, at the day’s end, we all gathered together to look at the Digital Humanities projects undertaken at Medieval Studies, from the Online Medieval Sources Database to the Oxford Outremer Map and into the future. With exciting new projects coming on line, we look forward to our new generation of digital medievalists playing an active role in the year to come.