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News about the Digital Humanities Innovation Lab

Meet Our Team - Kandice

Kandice Sharren
Published by Rebecca Dowson

In addition to being one of the new digital fellows at DHIL, I am a PhD Candidate in the Department of English. My interest in digital humanities has been fairly recent, and the result of my work on the Women’s Print History Project, 1750–1836 (WPHP), a relational database that seeks to account for women’s involvement in print by recording bibliographical data about the texts they were involved in producing. Over the last three years, I have been delighted to see how the kind of large-scale bibliographical analysis this project offered could produce a concrete and comprehensive understanding of publishing trends, while still providing detailed information about individual texts.

Before I began work on the database in January 2015, I was somewhat reluctant to incorporate digital methodologies into my work. My dissertation explores how imagining a community of female novel readers with a shared frame of reference allowed authors of the early nineteenth century to demand active participation from their audience, both as intelligent interpreters of texts and as commercial and political actors in the world; it was conceived of as a fairly conventional English dissertation, and relies on close analysis of a handful of texts, supplemented by bibliographical research.

My embrace of digital humanities methodologies has been gradual; I did not so much approach the digital humanities, as the digital humanities sidled up to me and infiltrated my life. When I began work on the WPHP, the project lead Michelle Levy did her best to win me over by assigning me the task of entering all of the novels published between 1750 and 1829—a task that intersected with my research interest in fiction of the period. It worked; a little more than a year later, when I found myself taking on the role of project manager for the database, I had to admit to myself that things had changed.

The largest barrier to engaging with DH had always been a vague feeling that the kinds of research questions that I had and the kind of research questions that digital humanities could answer were, in some fundamental way, incompatible. However, as I became more involved with the WPHP, I realised that the flexibility of digital methodologies meant that it was possible to shape digital scholarship around questions, rather than developing questions around the available tools. As someone accustomed to using technology in relatively passive ways, I was amazed to learn that, instead of developing elaborate workarounds within the database as it existed, we could simply tweak the website to include features that we hadn’t initially realized we wanted.

Witnessing first-hand the flexibility of the tools available for digital projects has encouraged me to incorporate digital scholarship into my own projects. During the course of my dissertation research, I have amassed images of hundreds of title pages; I was recently awarded a scholarship as part of the KEY Big Data initiative to develop this collection into a database. While this project will be relatively contained, my hope is to develop a resource able to track changes in visual strategies between 1790 and 1820, which will further my claims about how different publishers used the limited design features available to them to position their texts within the literary marketplace at the end of the hand-press period.

 

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