Digitizing the Social Network of Books in the 17th Century: A Digital Humanities Project

students in library




Assistant Professor of English

Project Summary

This summer, I had the wonderful experience of working with Dr. Whitney Trettien on a digital humanities project. Digital humanities is the intersection of technology and humanist studies that serves to preserve the past as well as implement new and collaborative strategies for moving forward in the current age of technology. I worked on a variety of projects with Dr. Trettien, including transcriptions, Excel work, and extensive database research. Overall, we were interested in digitizing the social networks of books in England in the 17th century.

I quickly learned that viewing a book as an object — rather than simply a vessel for its content — reveals an entire community of people, such as authors, publishers, and printers. Technology can then be implemented in order to organize this complex apparatus into an accessible tool that promotes scholarly collaboration. Our largest undertaking of the summer focused on a publisher named Humphrey Moseley, who is credited by other researchers of the field as the inventor of English literature. He was active in the mid-1600s in his London bookshop. Using the Early English Books Online database, we compiled a list of more than 330 books that mentioned Moseley. I then identified the different individuals involved in each work, including those named in preliminary verses, initials carved in the engravings that preceded the text, and publishing information. I gathered more than 1800 entries in Excel as well as created short research profiles of the most prominent individuals. Dr. Trettien and I were then able to produce a website that featured all of our work in a simplified, easy-to-use ring network that illustrated the interesting connections between the different people involved in the book trade.

I plan to pursue a future career in publishing, so it was important for me to learn about a historical example of the book production business. I also was able to experience firsthand the intersection between literature and technology, a disciplinary partnership that is becoming increasingly prevalent in modern literature and journalism. I was also given the opportunity to travel to the Morgan Library in New York City to write a full transcription of a book in their rare book library. This was a part of another project that we worked on, which focused on the women authors of the English Little Gidding community in the mid-17th century. I was exposed to the inner-workings of a rare book library, how to properly handle a book from 1635, and how to write scholarly transcriptions.

Near the end of my mentorship, I accompanied Dr. Trettien to the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference at Penn State University. Dr. Trettien was the keynote speaker and in her presentation, she talked about the research we worked on together. This event was the perfect culmination of the work I had been doing, and the experience allowed me to position myself and my research in the broader context of digital humanities and the projects that are ongoing in the wider community.