Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Virtual Paul's Cross Project on the Early Modern Online Bibliography

Eleanor Shevlin, on the Early Modern Online Bibliography blog, has been thinking about the priorities of the National Endowment for the Humanities in its awarding of Digital Humanities Start-up Grants.

In the process, she has had some very kind and generous comments about the Virtual Paul's Cross Project.

Here is what she says in her essay:

"Adapting the “‘high risk/’high reward’” model often employed in funding the sciences, NEH Digital Humanities Startup Grants reward originality. To be considered, the proposal must entail an “innovative approach, method, tool, or idea that has not been used before in the humanities” (Digital Humanities Startup Grants Guidelines, p. 2).

"These Startup Grants fund two levels of projects. As expected, the Level I award supports projects at the embryonic stage of development, while the Level II award funds projects that are more advanced and nearing the implantation stage. The Grant Guidelines provide full details.

"In late March the NEH Office of Digital Humanities announced the most recent projects to be awarded a NEH DH Startup Grant. As in the past the projects receiving funding were diverse and promising: a workshop to assist university presses in publishing digitally-born, scholarly monographs; tools to convert text to braille for the visually impaired; improvements to OCR correction technology; software adapted to enable better identification and cataloguing of various features within illustrations in the English Broadside Ballad Archive, a prototype application to promote analysis of visual features such as typeface, margins, indentations of printed books, to name a few.

"While these grant-winning projects all carry brief descriptions, they are still in their gestation or early implementation phase. A better sense of what this funding yields can be gleaned from the NEH “Videos of 2011 Digital Humanities Start-Up Grantees” as well as the other online material that has emerged in connection with these projects. The following showcases a few of the 2011 DH Startup grantees most likely to interest EMOB readers.

"As the project’s title “New Methods of Documenting the Past: Recreating Public Preaching at Paul’s Cross, London, in the Post-Reformation Period” suggests, this project seeks to reproduce the seventeenth-century experience of hearing a sermon in Paul’s Cross. To do so, it employs architectural modeling software and acoustic simulation software to re-create conditions that will mimic those of a time in which unamplified public speaking competed with the sounds of urban life. One of the questions this simulation aims to answer is whether the printing of many Paul’s Cross sermon points to their popularity among those who gathered to hear them or, instead, to the need to distribute printed versions because their original oral delivery was inaudible save for a few. English professor and Project Director John Wall’s The Virtual Paul’s Cross website details the project’s objectives and its progress. The site also contains a blog that offers occasional updates."

Then, in her response to a comment by a reader of her blog, she elaborates:

"[T]his sampling of grantees reminds us how far technology is enabling the pursuit of projects just not possible before. Wall’s Paul’s Cross project, for example, goes beyond merely imagining how a 17th-century Londoner might have heard these outdoor public sermons preached often to crowds numbering in the thousands. Instead it aims to re-create the actual aural experience of hearing (or not hearing!) these public performances–that is, to enable a twenty-first century person to experience an aspect of the oral past through a simulated rendering of it.

"As for technical expertise, these projects are a clear testament to collaboration. Most have computer scientists or graduate students in the field on their teams. In the case of Wall’s project, his production team consists of an acoustic engineer, an archaeologist, a professor of architecture, a linguist, and graduate research assistant. While there’s no computer scientist on his team, the group nonetheless collectively possesses the advanced expertise needed for what the project seeks to accomplish. The 3D modeling is being handled by a graduate research assistant who is using Google’s (well, now no longer Google but instead Trimble) SketchUp. Google, in fact, has been hosting an official SketchUp channel that provides tutorials and other ideas for using this free 3D-modeling software. In other words, it’s a tool that potentially anyone could learn to use."

Thank you, Eleanor, for your kind comments!

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