Apply today! NYCDH Digital Humanities Graduate Student Project Award

NYCDH  is pleased to announce its third annual cross-institutional NYCDH digital humanities graduate student project award. We invite all graduate students attending an institution in New York City and the metropolitan area to apply by Monday, August 15, 2016.

First prize winner(s) will receive a cash prize of $1000. Two runner up positions will receive $500 each. All three winning proposals will have the opportunity to receive support from one or more of the many centers affiliated with NYCDH. Winners will also receive exposure on our site and through our social media outlets.

Project proposals can be submitted by individuals or teams. In the case a team wins, the prize is to be divided among the team members equally. We are accepting proposals for projects in early or mid stages of development.

All applications should include a clear description of your project, how it falls into realm of the digital humanities, a timeline for the project work, and a transparent, itemized explanation of your funding requirements. For more details, see the Graduate Student DH Project Award page on our website.

We encourage prospective applicants to contact us to talk about your proposal before you submit. To set up an appointment send us an email at

Proposals will be judged by a committee selected from the NYCDH Steering Committee. The winners will be chosen based on their intellectual contribution, innovative use of technology, and the clarity of their work plan.

To learn more visit our award information page:


TEI and XML Markup for Absolute Beginners

You have likely already come across the term TEI in digital humanities circles. Perhaps you have (like me) downloaded a TEI edition of a text before, but have not known how to read it or what to do with it. You may have (also like me) even deployed the term in casual conversation without completely understanding what TEI is or what it does.

This post aims to provide you with a concise and basic introduction to TEI and XML markup. I hope to provide definitions for all technical terms and to point you to useful resources to reference either when using TEI-encoded texts or when you eventually create your own. I have also included some step-by-step instructions on how to create an XML markup of a text in the last section of this post.

  1. What is TEI?

TEI is an acronym for the Text Encoding Initiative. The “text” here is clear enough for the time being. But what about “encoding?” All text that we view on a website is encoded with information that affects the way we see the text represented, or the way in which your computer sorts and interprets the text. There are many different languages in which one can encode text.

Because there is no single agreed-upon format or standard for encoding text, a consortium of humanists, social scientists and linguists founded the TEI in 1994 to standardize the way in which we encode text. It has since become a hugely popular standard for rendering text digitally and is still widely used today.

  1. What is XML?

Most versions of the TEI standards (of which there are a few) make use of XML: Extensible Markup Language. XML is a text-based coding metalanguage similar to HTML (in fact, both are markup languages, hence the “ML” at the end of each acronym) that, like the standards of TEI, has undergone several changes and updates over the years.

XML documents contain information and meta-information that are expressed through tags. The tags are similar to those used in HTML, if you are familiar with these. Below is a brief example of an XML document:

<p>the quick brown fox</p>

<!–this is a test–>

<p>jumps over the lazy dog</p>

The letters bounded by these symbols “< >” above are tags. In this case, the tag being used is “<p>” which is used to separate paragraphs. All tags must be both opened and closed, or your code will not work. “<p>” is the opening tag and “</p>” is the closing; all tags are closed in the same way. The text in between the opening and closing tags is what will be encoded.

To insert comments into your XML document that will not have any bearing on the function of your code, follow the format found on the middle line of the document above, i.e. <!–YOUR TEXT HERE –>

  1. Why know or use TEI and XML?

Before we delve into the actual process of creating a simple XML markup of a text, you might already be wondering precisely how learning a bit of XML and TEI will be beneficial to your scholarship.

There are a few ways in which we can envision the uses of a working knowledge of XML and TEI. First and foremost among these is the possibility of you creating and disseminating your own TEI editions of texts – perhaps a transcription of a manuscript few others have seen, or handwritten notes you have uncovered in your archival research. In this case, you can let your more tech-savvy colleagues add your editions to their corpus – to query and explore the documents in any way they see fit.

As humanities scholars in the twenty-first century, we often find ourselves asking broad and provocative questions about our disciplines and our work. One particularly captivating question has always been about the nature of what we call “the text.” The digitization of texts has provided this line of questioning renewed energy, and a basic understanding of the encoding process would also arm you with the vocabulary to take part in this conversation.

A final use of TEI and XML would involve you querying documents created by others. There are an enormous number of TEI editions of texts available freely online, and the more comfortable you are with code, the more you can do with them. One deceptively simple way of visualizing your XML code is turning it into a spreadsheet using Microsoft Excel. This is especially useful if you wish to add data from a TEI edition into a database for your thesis or dissertation. To do this in Excel, simply select the “data” tab on the top utility bar and specify “from other sources” before selecting your XML file.

  1. Finally, actually doing TEI and XML.

In this section, I will quickly walk you through the process of creating a simple XML document in accordance with the standards of TEI.

-What you will need

A plain text editing software is the most important tool you are going to need. Atom is a wonderful free software that works well on Macs, as is Sublime Text 2. When saved as an XML file, your tags should appear in color, making the markup process easier, and making it more noticeable when you have forgotten to close a tag. You will also need a plain text copy of the text you are working with.


We have already gone over the basics of tags above. Another key issue here is deciding which tags to use, i.e. which tags are useful for the goals of your project or edition. These tags and their correct formatting can be found online (look for a list of element tags) but a cursory list of common ones can be found below:

<p>; <body> ; <l> ; <name> ; <placeName> ; <abbr> ; <head> ; <quote> ; <date> ; <time>

Once you have tagged all the elements you wish to tag in your text (making sure to close all of your tags!) you have to add a TEI header in order to ensure that your document adheres to the TEI standards. Examples of TEI headers can be found here:

-Get Validated!

A useful resource for checking your code can be found here:

This validator will let you know whether your code follows the TEI standards, and if not, where your mistakes can be found.

  1. Further Reading and Resources

There are lots of online resources for TEI and XML, but here are a few of my personal favorites:

 Alexander Profaci is an outgoing MA student in Medieval Studies at Fordham University. He will be entering the PhD program in History at Johns Hopkins University in the fall. Follow him on Twitter @icaforp.

Digital Humanities and the Lure of Parchment (An After-Action Report of Fordham Medieval Studies’ Oxford Outremer Map Colloquium)

A post by HASTAC Scholar Tobias Hrynick

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On April ninth, I had the opportunity to present during in the Oxford Outremer Map Colloquium (see the previous blog entry for the lovely poster!). The Colloquium was organized around a project by Fordham’s Medieval Studies program to digitize a map drawn in the mid-thirteenth century by the English chronicler, artist, and cartographer, Matthew Paris, depicting the eastern Mediterranean, stretching from Armenia to Egypt. The map demonstrated a number of interesting features which were not typical of maps of this period (north-orientation, relatively close adherence to the physical shape of the region depicted, and the absence of an obvious symbolic program). Several features – such the close integration of pictorial and verbal elements (hard to depict in traditional print editions), the roughness of the writing, and the bleed-through of ink from the opposite side of the sheet – have long served to discourage study of the map, but could be ameliorated with digital photo-editing and annotation, and made the map a good candidate for a digital edition. The project containing this edition can be viewed on the Medieval Studies website.

The colloquium focused around this project was divided into four sections. During the first two, three prominent scholars of medieval mapping – Evelyn Edson, P. D. A. Harvey, and Asa Mittman – discussed the place of the Oxford Map in the scholarship, and numerous issues surrounding its creation: its purpose, its time of composition, its sources, its place in the manuscript tradition, and the best way of understanding the map in the context of the bible with which it came to be bound. In the third section, Asa Mittman delivered a paper discussing the ways in which manuscripts are affected by being placed in digital contexts, with myself and Abigail Sergeant (who both worked on the Oxford Outremer project as Masters students) responding. In the final section, David Pedersen, a Ph. D. candidate in Fordham’s English Department, introduced a discussion of the Oxford Outremer map and website as pedagogical tools.

I regret that I cannot justify a more detailed discussion of the first, second and forth sessions here – all were productive and engaging. Here, however, given the purpose of this blog, I would like to zero in on several topics which arose in the second section, pertaining particularly to manuscripts in digital contexts, which resonated with other remarks I have heard expressed recently about the possibilities and limitations of digital tools in manuscript studies.

Dr. Mittman, during his talk, emphasized the losses implicit in presenting manuscripts digitally when compared to experiencing them as physical objects. Manuscript digitization, in his view, though useful if the manuscript was unavailable, or in parallel with the manuscript itself, risked disrupting the immediate, visceral connection to the past which real manuscripts offered. This central problem – balancing the benefits of easier access against those of physical contact – was a recurring theme in the subsequent discussion.

This question, in one form or another, is common throughout the digital humanities, and indeed, society’s engagement with text even outside academic contexts: consider the vigor with which some people oppose the very concept of e-book readers. However, such concerns are felt more acutely in certain DH sub-disciplines than in others – though digital humanists pride themselves on their methodology’s ability to foster interdisciplinary approaches, the old disciplinary divisions do still have some force. History has yet to develop a theoretical framework which clearly articulates the role of digital scholarship as against more conventional approaches, as structures like Franco Morretti’s conception of “distant reading,” have done for literary analysis. Though medievalists have, by and large, been relatively welcoming of digital approaches to analysis, attempts to digitize manuscript source materials have been treated much more ambivalently.

Dr. Mittman’s talk was the second talk I have attended in the last two months which focused on the potential losses of approaching manuscripts through digital imagery. During Fordham Medieval Studies’ Manuscript as Medium conference, Dr. Martha Easton delivered the provocatively titled talk “‘If Everyone is Special Then No One Is:’ Manuscripts for the Masses.” Easton, like Mittman, emphasized the experiential and physical aspects of medieval manuscripts, but Easton went still further, including the very action of travelling to archives as an integral part of the experience of text, rendering scholarship into a special kind of pilgrimage (though she too admitted that digitization projects were often useful, when the real thing was unavailable).

Certainly, the experience of the manuscript – the thrill of holding something with a message from a thousand years ago – cannot be entirely replaced by manuscript digitization. This comparison between digital versions and manuscripts, however, is somewhat misleading, and can cause us to be unduly pessimistic about the possibilities. What digitization projects have the potential to replace are not the manuscripts themselves, but print editions and micro-films – it is these tools which represent the traditional recourse of scholars who cannot practically consult all the necessary sources in manuscript. People able to visit manuscripts will continue to do so, but those who cannot will be given much stronger alternatives. The very fact that digital versions are being widely compared to manuscripts, however negative that comparison, is a mark of how strikingly true to life they can be.

Returning to a more optimistic view of manuscript digitization is important not only as a morale boost for those, like myself, who have been involved in this kind of project. It also has important implications for the kinds of digitization projects which take place. Pessimism could too easily lead to extremely conservative digital editions, which do in fact simply try to accomplish the impossible, in replicating the experience of the manuscript, and end up producing merely photographs. As Dr. Mittman pointed out at the colloquium, however, the best digitization projects do not merely post manuscript images (though even this can be extraordinarily valuable) – rather they offer some scholarly intervention, serving either to contextualize a manuscript, or to make it more easily usable to the chosen audience. It is vitally important that we accept manuscript digitization as a way of talking about manuscripts, rather than replacing them, so that we can fully exploit our new tools.

Textual Analysis: The “Text” Part

Another marvelously instructive post from HASTAC scholar Tobias Hrynick, Department of History, Fordham University. Here he outlines some systematic tips and guidelines for creating a digitized version of a text. 

The digital analysis of text constitutes the core of the digital humanities. It is here that Roberto Busa and his team began, and though subsequent scholars have expanded somewhat, exploring the possibilities of digital platforms for applying geographic analysis or presenting scholarship to wider audiences, the humanists’ interest in text has ensured the growth of a healthy trunk directly up from the root, along with the subsequent branches.

Necessary for all such projects at the outset, however, is the creation of a machine-readable text, on which digital analytical tools can be brought to bear. This process is generally more tedious than difficult, but it is nevertheless fundamental to digital scholarship, and a degree of nuance can be applied to it. What follows is intended as a basic introduction to some of the appropriate techniques, intended to highlight useful tools, including some (such as Antconc and Juxta) which also have powerful and user-friendly analytic functionality.

Acquiring Text

The appropriate way of acquiring a machine-readable text file (generally a .txt file, or some format which can be easily converted to .txt), and the difficulty involved in doing so, varies according to several factors. Often, digital versions of the text will already exist, so long as the text is old enough that the copyright has expired, or new enough that it was published digitally. Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and all maintain substantial databases of free digital material. These texts, however, are all prone to errors – Google Books and texts are generally created with a process of scanning and automated processing that is likely to produce just as many errors as performing this process yourself.

Such automated processing is called Optical Character Recognition (OCR). It requires a great deal of labor intensive scanning if you are working from a print book – though a purpose-built book scanner with a v-shaped cradle will speed the work considerably, and a pair of headphones will do a great deal to make the process more bearable.

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Once you have .pdf or other image files of all the relevant text pages, these files can be processed by one of a number of OCR software packages. Unfortunately, while freeware OCR software does exist, most of the best software is paid. Adobe Acrobat (not to be confused with the freely available Adobe Reader) is the most common, but another program, ABBYY Finereader deserves special mention for additional flexibility, particularly for more complicated page layouts, and a free trial version.

As a quick glance through the .html version of any book will confirm, the outcome of an OCRing process is far from a clean copy. If a clean copy is required, you will need to expend considerable effort editing the text.

Toby 2nd photo

The other option is to simply re-type a given text in print or image format into a text editor – both Apple and Windows machines come with native text-editors, but if you are typing at length into such an editor, you might prefer a product like Atom or Notepad++. Neither of these platforms provides any crucial additional functionality, but both offer tabbed displays, which can be useful for editing multiple files in parallel; line numbers, which are helpful for quickly referencing sections of text; and a range of display options, which can make looking at the screen for long periods of time more pleasant. Alternately, you can choose to type out text in a word processor and then copy and paste it into a plain-text editor.

Assuming there is no satisfactory digital version of your text already available, the choice between scanning and OCRing, and manually retyping should be made keeping the following factors in mind:

  1. How long is your text?

This is important for two reasons. First, the longer a text is, the more the time advantage of OCR comes into play. Second, the longer a text is, the more individual errors within it become acceptable, which can sometimes make the time-consuming process of editing OCRed text by hand less critical. Digital textual analysis is best at making the king of broad arguments about a text in which a large sample size can insulate against the effects of particular errors.

The problem of this argument in favor of OCR is that it assumes the errors produced will be essentially random. OCR systems, however, when they make mistakes are likely to make that same mistake over and over again – particularly common are errors between the letters i, n, m, and r, and various combinations thereof – such errors are likely to cascade across the whole text file. A human typist might make more errors over the course of a text, especially a long text in a clear type-face, but the human is likely to make more random errors, which a large sample size can more easily render irrelevant.

That said, OCR should still generally be favored for longer texts. While automated errors can skew your results more severely than human ones, they are also more amenable to automated correction, as will be discussed in the next section.

  1. What is the quality of your print or image version?

Several features of a text which might cause a human reader to stumble only momentarily will cripple an OCR systems ability to render good text. Some such problems include:

  • A heavily worn type-face.
  • An unusual type-face (such as Fractur).
  • Thin pages, with ink showing through from the opposite side.

If your text or image has any of these features, you can always try OCRing to check the extent of the problem, but it is wise to prepare yourself for disappointment and typing.

  1. How do you want to analyze the text?

Different kinds of study demand different textual qualities. Would you like to know how many times the definite article occurs relative to the indefinite article in the works of different writers? Probably, you don’t need a terribly high quality file to make such a study feasible. Do you want to create a topic model (a study of which words tend to occur together)? Accuracy is important, but a fair number of mistakes might be acceptable if you have a longer text. Do you intend to make a digital critical edition highlighting differences between successive printings of nineteenth century novels? You will require scrupulous accuracy. None of these possibilities totally preclude OCRing, especially for longer texts, but if you choose to OCR, expect a great deal of post-processing, and if the text is relatively short, you might be better served to simply retype it.

Cleaning Text

Once you have produced a digital text, either manually or automatically, there are several steps you can take to help reduce any errors you may have inadvertently introduced. Ultimately, there is no substitute for reading, slowly and out loud, by an experienced proof-reader. A few automated approaches, however, can help to limit the labor for this proof-reader or, if the required text quality is not high, eliminate the necessity altogether.

  1. Quick and Dirty: Quickly correcting the most prominent mistakes in an OCRed text file.

One good way of correcting some of the most blatant errors which may have been introduced, particularly the recurring errors which are common in the OCRing process, is with the use of concordancing software – software which generates a list of all the words which occur in a text. One such program is Antconc, which is available for free download, and contains a package of useful visualization tools as well.

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Once you have produced a text file, you can load it using AntConc, and click on the tab labeled Word List. This will produce a list of all the words occurring in the text, listed in order of frequency. Read through this list, noting down any non-words, or words whose presence in the text would be particularly surprising. Once you have noted down all the obvious and likely mistakes, you can correct them using the Find and Find and Replace tools on your preferred text editor.

This method of correction is far from fool-proof. Some subtle substitutions of one plausible word for another will likely remain. This is, however, a good way of quickly eliminating the most glaring errors from your text file.

A similar effect can be achieved using the spell-check and grammar check functions on a word processor, but there are several reasons the concordance method is generally preferable. First, reading through the list of words present in the text will tend to draw your attention to words which are real, but unlikely to be accurate readings in the context of the text, which would be over-looked by spelling and grammar-check functions. Second, a concordancer will present all the variants of a given word which occur in the text – through alternate spelling, use of synonyms, or varying grammatical forms (singular vs. plural, past vs. future) – which might be significant for your analysis.

  1. Slow and Clean: Cross-Collating multiple Text Files

A more extreme way of correcting digitized text is to produce multiple versions and to collate them together. Because of the frequency of similar errors being repeated across OCR versions, comparing two OCR versions is of limited use (although if you have access to more than one version of OCR software, it might be worth trying). It is of greater potential use if you compare two hand-typed versions, or a hand-typed version and an OCRed version, which are much less likely to contain identical errors.

Cross-comparison of two documents can be accomplished even using the merge document tools on Microsoft Word. A somewhat more sophisticated tool which can accomplish the same task is Juxta. This is an online platform (available also as a downloadable application), which is designed primarily to help produce editions from multiple varying manuscripts or editions, but which is just as effective as a way of highlighting errors which were introduced in the process of digitization.

Toby 4th photo

This process is a relatively thorough way of identifying errors in digitized text, which can even identify variations that might escape the attention of human proofreaders. The major weakness of the technique, however, is that it requires you to go through the effort of producing multiple different versions, ideally including one human-typed version. If you need a scrupulously corrected digital text, however, it is a powerful tool in your belt, and in the event that multiple digital versions of your text have already produced, it is an excellent way of using them in concert with one another – another strength of the Juxta platform is that you can collate together many different versions of the same text at once.


Once you have a digitized and cleaned version of the text in which you are interested, a world of possibilities opens up. At a minimum, you should be able to use computer search functions to quickly locate relevant sections within the text, while at maximum you might choose to perform complex statistical analysis, using a coding language like R or Python.

A good way to start exploring some of the possibilities of digital textual analysis is to go back and consider some of the tools associated with Antconc other than its ability to concordance a text. Antconc can be used to visualize occurrences of a word or phrase throughout a text, and to identify words which frequently occur together. Another useful tool for beginners interested in text analysis is Voyant, which creates topic models – visualizations of words which frequently occur together in the text, which can help to highlight key topics.

Celebrating the Success of NYCDH Week

Something amazing happened in New York City last week. No, I’m not talking about this or this or this. Well…a lot of things happened in the city last week. I digress.

Last week marked the inaugural NYCDH Week.

If you live outside of the city (or in the city and under a rock), here’s what happened: NYCDH Week brought together cross-institutional scholars who engage in digital research, pedagogy, and publication to share their projects and learn and teach digital tools. Over 150 academics and members of the GLAM community shared their expertise and enthusiasm for digital scholarship. The week kicked off with an afternoon of lightning talks from graduate students, professors, archivists, and librarians. This experience was incredible. I still tell friends about Ellen Hoobler’s Digital Zapotec. And I’m eager to track Caroline Catchpole and her team’s Culture in Transit on Twitter. I was grateful to share my own project, The U.S. Goes Postal, (and receive invaluable feedback and support). My friend and colleague, Boyda Johnstone, gave a presentation on the importance of online communities and academic blogging:

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Each of the presentations showed how digital tools can animate humanistic study. Seeing such an array of good work was encouraging, inspiring, and energizing for all involved. Following the lightning talks were panel and roundtable conversations about the past, present, and future of the digital humanities in NYC with Matt Gold, Jennifer Vinopal, Micki McGee, and many others. Of course, we rounded out the day with a happy hour. Here, Margaret Galvan, Eilleen Clancy, and I (three of this year’s NYCDH Graduate Student Award Winners) compare notes over the din of DH networking at the Digi-bar:

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Following the Kick-off Event was a week-long series of workshops hosted at campuses, museums, and libraries across NYC. You could visit NYPL for a Digital Maps Primer, Fordham hosted a Typography workshop, and there were a couple Git workshops at Columbia. The full range of the program was enough to fill your digital toolbox for years to come.

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I’m not recounting NYCDH Week purely out of nostalgia or to incite FOMO (although, sheesh, you really should have been there!). I am sharing the success of last week’s event because it can be a model for what organizer Alex Gil calls a “low effort, high impact” event. NYCDH Week was successfully implemented with next to no budget. The event was a success because a large group of people pooled their academic and intellectual resources and donated their time to lead workshops and coordinate the events.

The nitty-gritty: when the steering committee (a group of volunteers) put out the call for workshops, the presenter had to arrange for their own space (although assistance was given to presenters from outside NYC). Then, presto! All the committee needed to do was confirm with the presenters, loosely arrange the schedule, put it all online (on the site Jesse Merandy built), and advertise the event through any channels at their disposal.

To call NYCDH Week a success would be an understatement. Over the course of a week, I made new connections and reunited with friends, planned future projects, expanded my digital repertoire, and even gave my own tidbits of advice here and there. NYCDH Week fostered the best kind of academic community–one built on mutual respect, generosity, and intellectual inquiry. If you want to learn more about the event, check out the website or #NYCDHWeek on Twitter.


Join us for the first annual NYCDH Week from February 8-12th for a celebration of all things DH in New York City! Digital humanists from Fordham, Columbia, NYU, NYPL, and other area academic and cultural institutions will come together to learn from one another and collaborate across our institutional divides. The program includes networking sessions, social events, and open workshops offered across the city. The first NYCDH Week promises to be full of great experiences for novices and experts alike.

What’s happening at Fordham?

  • The central event of NYCDH Week is an afternoon of networking, lightning talks, and panels held at our very own Fordham Lincoln Center campus. This meeting will take place on Tuesday, February 9th beginning at 12:30 and will be followed by a social outing at a nearby bar.
  • Tobias Hrynick (Fordham Medieval History) is leading an “Introduction to Omeka” workshop on Thursday from 9:30-11:30 at Lincoln Center. This session is intended to equip beginners with sufficient knowledge of Omeka to assess whether it is appropriate for their particular projects, and to describe some resources which they might use to unravel any problems they encounter with the system in the future. (See the NYCDH Week schedule for a full description of Toby’s workshop.)
  • Amy Papaelias (SUNY New Paltz) will shed light on “Typography for [Digital] Humanists” at Fordham Lincoln Center at 10am on Friday. This workshop will provide an overview of basic typographic principles and will focus specifically on issues related to typography for [digital] humanists, such as typeface selection for digital projects, web typography tools and typography for UI/ UX design.


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