Carol Hemmingway, James Dell’Alba, Ethan Leavitt
Clayton McCarl | College of Arts and Sciences | Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
In this presentation, student research intern Carol Hemmingway and project participants James Dell’Alba and Ethan Leavitt, will discuss their work on Editing the Eartha M. M. White Collection. The project focuses on the personal correspondence and other documents of Eartha M. M. White (1876–1974), the founder of the Clara White Mission and a leader of Jacksonville’s African American community. Participants create, encode using TEI-XML, and edit transcriptions of the items from the collection, connecting them with White’s personal history and the African American history of Jacksonville. In Spring 2020, the project has taken the form of weekly open textual editing workshops led by Hemmingway. She has worked to diversify the base of project contributors through partnerships with African American organizations on campus and a social media campaign. To improve the accessibility of the project, she has constructed a website using Omeka, which has facilitated the examination of questions of race and power in the editing process and has enabled her to better intentionally create a diverse digital repository of transcriptions. She is working to create exhibits to present positive counter-narratives of black success and happiness to balance the negative implicit narratives of poverty and suffering in the repository. Dell’Alba and Leavitt work as project contributors whose insight has furthered Hemmingway’s research in responses to the textual editing process and the workshop format and whose effort has increased the number of transcription of documents available online.
Hello, I am Carol Hemmingway, student leader of the Editing the Eartha M. M. White Collection project, who is presenting on behalf of myself and project contributors James Dell’Alba and Ethan Leavitt. Today I will discuss “Community Outreach and Crafted Narratives in a Collaborative Textual Editing Project.”
The Editing the Eartha M. M. White Collection project focuses on the personal correspondence and other documents of Eartha M. M. White (1876–1974), the founder of the Clara White Mission and a leader of Jacksonville’s African American community. Participants create, encode using TEI-XML, and edit transcriptions of the items from the collection, connecting them with White’s personal history and the African American history of Jacksonville. Dr. Clayton McCarl, associate professor of Spanish and faculty leader of this project, and Dr. Aisha Johnson-Jones began the project as an experimental internship-class hybrid in the summer of 2016. The project resumed in Spring 2018 under student leader Susan Williams as a series of three workshops on campus. In Spring 2020, the project has taken the form of weekly open textual editing workshops led by Hemmingway. The 2020 workshop series was student-led, entirely digital, and funded by a research grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research.
For the workshops, we first work with the Thomas G. Carpenter Library’s Special Collections to obtain a scan of items that we will transcribe. Participants must then read the texts thoroughly and use context to transcribe them as accurately as possible. Next, they encode the transcription using TEI-XML (the international standard for encoding in the humanities), paying attention to details like text placement and elements like names of people and places. We create two versions of the text using TEI-XML: a faithful transcription and a partially regularized version. Finally, the transcription is published on our website.
Participants must follow the project’s guidelines. They are to preserve integrity of author’s intent by not changing syntax and regularize features that do not change how the text is read aloud, such as capitalization and punctuation. They also avoid regularizing texts written in dialects, identify elements like names, places, and dates, and record the uncertainty of editorial choices.
On the left of this poster, you can see a single document in each of the three main stages of the encoding process. There is its initial scan, its TEI-XML file with the edited transcription, and its final published version on our website.
The target of the 2020 workshop series’ outreach has been the campus community. We have established deeper ties with the Digital Humanities Institute by holding the workshops in their suite. Additionally, we have gained the vital support of African American organizations like the UNF Black Student Union and the African American Faculty Staff Association. Members of the former have been active contributors to the project. The project has also received contributors from many areas of study, diversifying the contributor base further. For example, Humanities majors participate because they find the experience useful for learning skills and CV building. Non-humanities majors enjoy the experience of working with historical documents, which is not available to them in their field of study.
The project’s new website built through Omeka is a distinctive feature in this iteration of the workshop that has enabled deeper research into the nature of this project. For example, Omeka websites are designed for digital repositories, forcing the researcher, that is, myself, to consider the project’s output as a coherent whole and not a collection of individual items. Additionally, the website’s tagging system makes use of identified names of people and places, allowing viewers to search through published documents easily. The tagging system shows the researcher the composition of the digital repository being created and, consequently, highlights recurring themes and narratives. Because the websites are design for repositories, metadata collection is required for publishing items. This facilitates the thorough examination of items and the discovery of relationships between published items. On the bottom of the poster, you can see the homepage of our website. It can be visited at unfdhi.org/earthawhite
When creating a digital repository as is the case in this project, narratives are created, often unintentionally, in the choices of which documents to transcribe and publish. After analyzing the current digital repository of transcriptions, it was determined that the current repository presented a narrative only of misery and poverty in African American life. This was not reflective of both the people whose stories were evidenced in the documents being transcribed and the collection as a whole.
To combat creating problematic narratives and to present a more balanced narrative about African American life in Jacksonville in the early twentieth century, I have taken action. I curated scanned items available to transcribe in order to create a more representative sample of the collection. Instead of only letters of appeal for White’s aid, participants worked to make available other documents, like White’s personal letters, letters related to work in local churches, and letters related to efforts to write an African American history. The intention is to focus on transcribing documents that show black success and happiness. This also guided my curation efforts.
Finally, I created an exhibit on efforts to write a history of African Americans in Florida, illustrating black pride, dignity, and self-worth. This exhibit will be available on our website soon and will feature documents that have been completely transcribed along with interpretive descriptions of each item and its historical context. This exhibit was first announced in my presentation at the Thomas G. Carpenter library’s Special Collection on February 26th.
As for the project’s future, it will continue to address the issue of narratives through creating exhibits on the website. The project will also expand to research responses from participants from Jacksonville more broadly. Before being passed to another student, I plan to continue leading the project in workshops in the community and explore new ways technology can improve the project in 2021.