CIRCA:Nines

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Contents

Overview

NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship) is a research body of scholars devoted to establishing a connection between the material archive of the nineteenth century and the digital research environment of the twenty-first. They have three primary goals as outlined on the NINES site:

  1. to serve as a peer-reviewing body for digital work in the long 19th-century (1770-1920), British and American;
  2. to support scholars’ priorities and best practices in the creation of digital research materials;
  3. to develop software tools for new and traditional forms of research and critical analysis.

The Long 19th Century is defined by Eric Hobsbawm, a British Marxist historian and author to mean the period that “… begins with the French Revolution, which established a nonmonarchial republic in Europe, and ends with the start of World War I. Upon the conclusion of World War I in 1918, the long-enduring European balance of power of the 19th century proper (1801–1900) was eliminated. These events represented such significant changes in world history as to redefine the era.” A lot of literature, writings and images at that time attempted to capture the disruptive trends in lifestyles and outlook witnessed by those affected by it. For long, scholarship in Digital Humanities research about that era was not taken seriously because of a lack of a qualitative peer-review framework. The whole idea of NINES began with Jerome McGann, one of the first fellows at the University of Virginia’s Institute for the Advancement of Technology in the Humanities, established in 1992, where he designed the Rossetti Archive, which presents online the complete writings and artwork of English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

At the core NINE's research is the development of software tools like Collex (Collection Exhibit), where a search engine service collects material from affiliated federated websites for display at the NINES site.

History

As explained on the NINES site: “Digital humanities projects have long lacked a framework for peer review and thus have often had difficulty establishing their credibility as true scholarship. NINES exist in part to address this situation by instituting a robust system of review by some of the most respected scholars in the field of nineteenth-century studies, British and American.” Evidently, NINES is the only search engine of its kind where its searchable contents undergo extensive peer review. In the dawn of the millennium, McGann had conceived the idea of a widespread online network for 19th-century studies after consultation with other scholars of the Romantic period. After this proposal, came the surprise in 2002 when The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave McGann its unsolicited Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award of $1.5 million, and later extended its funding with an $800,000 grant for a further two years of work, beginning in 2006. That was the real break that brought about the development of NINES; McGann had explained in a University of Virginia news release. This guaranteed funding in turn helped the realization of NINES. Even when the Mellon Foundation grant ends, the University of Virginia is committed to funding the NINES project.

Technologies

After the difficulties of their initial vertically integrated approach, the NINES researchers revamped their strategy with a preference for RDF (Resource Descriptive Framework) and other novel protocols for information sharing. They consulted with groups building related tools to gain a deeper understanding of the use and collection of descriptive metadata. The clear advantages of a federated, collaborative, and non-hierarchical approach to NINES was the eventual path the researchers chose to take, which eventually helped its greater adoption.

NINES has been described as an aggregator of digital resources, bringing together disparate projects into a common arena. This means that NINES does not host the material for any given site, but rather indexes RDF metadata contributed by those sites. The indexed sites are called “Federated Sites” in NINES parlance. There are many other types of structured data, from XML databases to texts encoded according to Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) standards;but RDF allows NINES to bring them all in communication with each other. NINES requires the inclusion of a RDF-based metadata describing the objects within the resource submitted. A complete set of RDF specifications can be found on their wiki. The data submitted has to be encoded in a format in which the NINES metadata gets extracted from the files.(This RDF metadata is largely based on the Dublin Core fields, a format with fields such as author, title, date, and source etc.,It also includes a set of genres relevant to nineteenth-century studies).

Apart from the core search feature of Collex, NINES also has other software tools like Juxta (a cross-platform tool for collating, comparing, and analyzing any kind or number of textual objects. The tool can set any textual witness as the base text and can filter white space and/or punctuation) and Ivanhoe (a shared, online playspace for readers interested in exploring how acts of interpretation are made and in reflecting on what those acts might mean.)

Significance

Apart from the high quality OCR scanning of relevant texts NINES has also redesigned itself as an academic social hub. Associate Professor of English Andrew Stauffer who is a Director at NINES explains how NINES offers several opportunities for social networking, with blogs keeping the community apprised of changes and additions to the software and Web site. Researchers also are able to browse "tag clouds" to see what topics other scholars are interested in or working on. Collex lets them collect and tag objects, and the software records the number and description of the tags. The latest version of Collex has an 'exhibit builder' a tool that allows scholars to remix their NINES collections into annotated bibliographies, course syllabi and illustrated essays and to share them informally with students and colleagues, or ultimately submit them for peer review and formal inclusion in NINES. For example, suppose a student was researching 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson. On the NINES site, the student could find links to several other Web sites, such as the Dickinson Virtual Reference Shelf and The Poetess Archive, and have complete access to relevant, peer-reviewed materials.

Stauffer further explains that the latest version of Collex has an "exhibit builder," a tool that allows scholars to remix their NINES collections into annotated bibliographies, course syllabi and illustrated essays and to share them informally with students and colleagues, or ultimately submit them for peer review and formal inclusion in NINES. Researchers can also browse "tag clouds" to see what topics other scholars are interested in or working on. Collex lets them collect and tag objects, and the software records the number and description of the tags, which is something novel in a pioneering Digital Humanities research effort.

References

http://www.nines.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_19th_century

http://www.nines.org/about/scholarship/peerReview.html

http://www.virginia.edu/uvatoday/newsRelease.php?id=7335

http://www.nines.org/about/scholarship/rdf.html

http://www.tei-c.org/index.xml

http://www.performantsoftware.com/nines_wiki/index.php/Submitting_RDF

http://www.nines.org/about/software/juxta.html

http://www.nines.org/about/software/ivanhoe.html

http://www.virginia.edu/uvatoday/newsRelease.php?id=7335

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