Sustainability and independent scholarship

When I spoke to Leslie Howsam on August 25, she urged me to connect with institutions to ensure the sustainability of Price One Penny. I’m sceptical because I haven’t seen institutional backing ensure sustainability.

  • The Victorian Plays Project has moved from the University of Worcester to the National University of Ireland, Galway. However, there’s not redirect, so I’ve had to go through Google to find that it hadn’t completely disappeared.
  • Tragically, the University of East London’s East London Theatre Archive project has completely disappeared from the Internet since King’s Digital Lab archived it.

In contrast, it might be useful to get in touch with Cardiff University to learn about how they’re maintaining British Fiction, 1800–1829: A Database of Production, Circulation, and Reception, created in 2004 and last updated in 2011 (!).

Individuals, not institutions

My current view is that, at the moment in the digital humanities (DH), sustainability rests upon individuals, be they inside or outside institutions. When I spoke to her on September 10, Ashley Reed told me that, even within institutions, it’s the projects for which someone pesters the relevant services that get maintained. Without that dedicated individual that really cares about a project, it is unlikely to be maintained.

As an independent scholar, I therefore believe the key is to rely on a network of individuals more than on an institution. Maybe that could be formalized somehow, with specific plans for what happens if can no longer maintain Price One Penny. The fact that I currently work very closely with Demian Katz and Troy Bassett does make me feel like I am not a lone digital humanist, but someone functioning within a small cottery of English-language digital bibliographers.

I will therefore approach Leslie’s imperative to reach out to others within academia as a means of extending the network on which I can rely for help, keeping in mind the notion of what happens if I suddenly can no longer maintain the website.

Getting more feedback from humans

It was clear to me that I needed to start by talking to my friend Alison Hedley since she’s been involved in DH at both Ryerson in Toronto and McGill in Montréal. She’s Editor of the Yellow Nineties Personography.

I’m talking to her later today and I will ask her:

  • Is she involved in the maintenance of the Yellow Nineties Personography?
    • If so, what does that entail?
    • If not, who is maintaining it?
  • How open are large institutions to using Linked Open Data to improve their own records?
  • In her opinion, would McGill or Ryerson welcome an independent scholar’s project?
    • If so, what sort of support would they provide?
      • hosting?
      • help with code maintenance?
    • If so, what would be required in exchange?

If I could get help with code maintenance, I could consider solutions involving more dependencies. My concern is not so much to lose editorial control over the project but that it requires more work of me to liaise with an institution and that it ends up not providing any support.

What’s going on in Montréal?

Speaking to Leslie, I certainly thought it might be useful to see what local scholarly communities were up to. I’ve invested international organizations like SHARP, RSVP, Médias19, and even the European Society for Periodical Research (ESPRit) because I’ve felt more welcome there than in local groups, which have felt more cliquey when I last checked, which is admittedly a few years back.

I will ask Alison about these, and get probably in touch with Anthony Glinoer to hear more about what’s going on on the French-language side.

Book history

Group Status
Interacting with Print No website updates since 2019
Groupe de recherche sur les médiations littéraires et les institutions (Gremlin) Workshop last spring
Association québécoise pour l’étude de l’imprimé (AQÉI) Workshop planned for this fall

Digital humanities

Group Institution Status
McGill Digital Humanities McGill Tweeting, Facebooking, and organizing a virtual lecture series, “Spectrum of DH”
Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur les humanités numériques (CRIHN) Université de Montréal Tweeting and amplifying the “Spectrum of DH” series

McGill Digital Humanities presents Spectrums of DH: a virtual lecture series 2020-2021 [line-up]

I’ve also discovered in the process a French-language DH association, Humanistica, whose conference will be held in Montréal in 2022 (Covid willing, I suppose).

My experience at DH2017 in Montréal was of two groups, the computer scientists and the humanists, speaking different languages and not really being able to talk to each other. I’ll have to see if Humanistica is any different.


PS: Leslie reminded me of librarians’ role in sustainability (how could I have forgotten?), so I looked up whether national libraries has digital humanities services I could connect with.

It turns out only the British Library (BL) has a Digital Scholarship Department (obviously with its own Twitter account, like all BL departments it seems!). Neither the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec nor Library and Archives Canada appear to have similar structures or outreach into digital scholarship.

We’ll see if that BL Digital Scholarship Department can solve my issue with automating the search of its digital surrogates of penny bloods.


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