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What is ARC and Why You Should Care: A Grad Student's Perspective


NINES and the First Year PhD Student

My exposure to the Digital Humanities began my first semester of the PhD program. I heard a lot of names (Alan Lui, Jerome McGann), a lot of references to events that DH-types attended (DHSI, THATCamp), and a lot of acronyms that involved DH projects (GIS, TEI). Most of it I filed away as potentially significant or seemed to forget altogether. One of the acronyms that actually stuck was NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship), which I remembered because it had something to do with research on the 19th century and one of my mentors, Amy Earhart, was involved with it. I think I even went so far as to explore the site, but I didn't really understand what it was. At some point I'd also heard the name 18th Connect and understood it to do for 18th century scholarship what NINES does for 19th century scholarship. I still didn't get it. Looking at the “What is NINES?” section now, it makes a lot more sense, but at the time, I was learning a lot about academia and a lot about DH. But my difficulty wrapping my head around NINES as a project may have had just as much to do with my lack of imagination when it came to academia. In that first year, I understood that DH was somehow progressive, but I didn't really understand how DH related to larger academic disciplines or what the end product of DH products might look like. This is where NINES fits. Simply put, NINES facilitates digital research by providing scholars with a links to websites and a repository of digital objects and projects relevant to 19th century scholarship. The most interesting aspect of research using NINES is the use of and improvement of Collex, software developed to enrich the metadata of objects based on objects collected with it and the tags applied to it. In addition to its dynamic search NINES also addresses DH needs as dictated by academia as a whole, by providing a means for vetting (through peer review) and publishing digital projects, to facilitate the leveraging of DH projects as part of a scholar's tenure and promotion.


So where does ARC come in?

Looking at this explanation of NINES, you may wonder about your own research area. Clearly not all digital projects and digital resources are concerned with either the 19th century, so the project grew to include these features for 18th century research (18th Connect). Advanced Research Consortium (ARC) was then created to be the unifying organization, facilitating continued expansion beyond the original two “nodes.” At this point, 18th Connect and NINES are the only two nodes that are live, but the Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance (MESA) is in late-stage development, while two additional nodes the Renaissance English Knowledge Base (REKn) and Modernist Networks (ModNets), are also being developed.


Other Scholarship Tools

Just as Collex relies on user contribution to improve content, ARC nodes have begun to add additional tools that allow users to contribute to aid digital projects to add objects from the project to the collection. Currently, 18th Connect has incorporated TypeWright, a tool that allows users to correct the OCR of a text image to improve the plain text document, providing data for computer analysis. Along these same lines, the Early Modern OCR Project (eMOP), which is funded by a Mellon grant to Texas A&M University, will eventually add an additional tool to ARC nodes that will facilitate the eMOP's overall plan to OCR 45 million page images of documents published before 1800, available from Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO). In addition to the information provided on the websites at the above links, additional information on the eMOP project will be forthcoming in my future posts as a grad student working on eMOP. Or, if you happen to be in the Raleigh, North Carolina area, Saturday afternoon's DH Day @NCSU will include lectures from many ARC board members as the final event of their fall meeting.  



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