Redesigning a Literary Archive for the Modern Web

One of the projects that the DHI has taken on over the summer is a redesign of the Charles Chesnutt Archive, a digital archive maintained by the dean of Eugene Lang College, Dr. Stephanie Browner. It was created by Dr. Browner in 1995 at Berea College and has been an invaluable source of Chesnutt’s work for students and scholars alike. Dr. Browner approached the DHI to help bring Chesnutt’s work up to current digital archival standards.

One of the major overhauls has been transferring the Chesnutt archive to a Content Management System (CMS). A CMS simplifies the creation and management of digital content by adding a user interface to the backend of a website. CMS’s like WordPress and Drupal automate a lot of the time consuming aspects of content creation, and come with a myriad of plugins that simplify the process further. The original Chesnutt archive was made and updated by hand, with no system in place to catalogue and sort through the archive. With a CMS, we’re now able to add metadata to each piece of work and categorize them accordingly. It opens up new possibilities for displaying and archiving the original work.

Another important advance in digital archiving has been the widespread adoption of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). From their website: “The Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) is an international project to develop guidelines for the preparation and interchange of electronic texts for scholarly research.” At it’s core, TEI encoding is a way of systemically breaking down a text into categorizable pieces. Not only does it give the encoder a chance to look at the text in a new way, it allows computers to display and categorize the texts more precisely. Imagine begin able to search a play for scenes that involved two certain characters, or a poem for couplets. All of that and more is possible with TEI encoding. Encoding Chesnutt’s work is a lengthy process that’s still in the early stages of development, but we hope to lay the groundwork to have it available online in the near future.

If you’re a Digital Humanist and interested in how a CMS might be used to help your work, check out Drupal for Humanists.

Note: The redesigned Charles Chesnutt Archive is expected to go live this fall.

About William Enders

A sophomore Design and Technology major at Parsons School for Design, focusing on interactive media and video games.