I’m settling in at APS and enjoying the work and workplace atmosphere. My second week was much like the first, involving lots of digitization and image treatment of the aforementioned Franklin Post Office Book, but this time with the addition of Technical Difficulties- an unavoidable but still odious aspect of doing digital work.


I’d hoped to have the digitization phase of the project finished this week, but my progress was slowed by issues with hard drive storage space, diminishing image resolution quality, and fickle image treatment software. I found myself scanning portions of the book over and over again while troubleshooting and desperately pleading with the computer to function for at least an hour before requiring a reboot. I’m pretty sure it looked something like this:

In a panel at the James A. Barnes Graduate Student Conference this spring entitled “The Importance of Being Digital: How Can Graduate Students Help Build Digital Bridges?,” I advocated for digital humanities work in the undergraduate classroom as a way to acclimating students to ‘failing’ as part of the learning process. It’s extraordinarily rare to succeed on the first try of anything, but digital projects tend to highlight this facet in a sometimes obnoxiously prominent way. This week’s experience was a good reminder for me to be patient, take a deep breath, and try again when things just don’t work the way they “should.” I’m learning! It’s a process! What else can I do!

The other thing I’ve been working toward this week is the bibliographic essay that will be due for the in-class portion of this summer practicum. I’m really rather at a loss as to what topic I want to focus the assignment on. If this will eventually serve as a lit review or be incorporated into my thesis, I think I’ll need to focus on some aspect of digital humanities methodology. My supervisor at APS, Scott Ziegler, has been a lot of help in finding articles and talking this through, and I keep thinking back to the hack vs. yack debate after our discussions. I’m not completely sold on using it as a topic, because I’m not 100% on board with the ideas implicit in the debate to begin with. Do I really want it to figure into my thesis?


In other news, I was inordinately excited when a friend mentioned that she saw I’m listed on the APS website as one of the Digital Humanities Fellows. Huzzah!

I’m heading to Chicago for the Victorian Society in American Summer School, so I won’t be logging any new fellowship updates for a couple of weeks until I get back. I will likely have some reflections on the Summer School here.

I leave you with a lovely view of the Thomas Jefferson Garden at the APS Library, with the APS Museum in the background. I feel so lucky to spend the summer here.
This time from the other side of the fence!

The start of June marked my first work week as the first annual Martin L. Levitt Fellow at the American Philosophical Society Library. The fellowship is a joint venture between the American Philosophical Society Library and the Temple University History Department to honor Dr. Martin Levitt, an alumnus and faculty member of Temple’s graduate history program and longtime APS librarian. I’m honored and excited for the opportunity to work at this esteemed institution for the summer of 2017.

My project will focus primarily around creating open data from one of Ben Franklin’s sensibly named “Post Office Account Books.” Here’s the finding aid entry:
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The first step has been to digitize the book, a surprisingly lovely and tidy volume written in manuscript. I will likely finish this task in the next week. It entails scanning the book in high resolution using an overhead book scanner, then performing light image editing on the resulting scans to make them as legible as possible. The leaves and binding of the ledger are in quite good condition, and Franklin used a non-acidic ink, so the scanning has gone smoothly without the need for conservation work or convoluted repositioning measures to hold the book open. I have done work like this before at the Maryland State Archives, but I hadn’t worked with materials so closely linked to American colonial history before now. It has led to some mildly interesting discoveries, like the doodles shown below.

There are best practices for scanning and editing procedures (image resolution, file formatting, file naming conventions, etc.), but as for now, I haven’t encountered much clash between public history theory and practice, so I don’t know if I can write about that as of yet. This phase of a digitization process almost always happens “in private”- and especially so because the volume in question is a monetarily and historically valuable one. I expect that as the project moves forward I will encounter some situations in which theory and practice interact more directly- perhaps in the transcription and data organizational phase, which is intended to suit the needs of the public that will eventually consume and use this data.

Hours for this week: 13
Total hours: 13