This project aims to collect, annotate, and mediate newspaper- and periodical-reported ghost stories from 19th-c. Britain, with a location-focus on London. While researching and using available newspaper and periodical databases, I discovered a field largely dominated by large databases (archives), which contain either scans of broadsheets or collected books. A researcher can expect to use finding aids, record and note-taking tools, powerful search and filtering, plus visualization within an archive. But if the finding aids and search cannot index on data that drives the research questions, one can expect to rely only on proxies for their interests. In a perfect world, the research questions could guide the research tools, not the other way around.

The project originated as a research station for an undergraduate thesis Locating Literature in the Ghost Hoax: an exploration of 19th-century print news media by Gabi Keane. Shortly after submission of the thesis, the project became a pedagogical tool for an National Endowment for the Humanities Institute for the Advancement of Digital Humanities grant application “Advanced digital editing”. The version of the application that you're currently using represents the laboratory edition created in support of the grant; it also represents an expression of the research questions the author stated in the original thesis.

The idea of creating a dedicated project space for brief newspaper and periodical articles, collected by a common theme, is somewhat unusual among digital edition projects, as its subject matter tends to be based on manuscripts, like books, short stories, poems, or collected letters. These kinds of digital editions can privilege the [known] authors in a way that simply is not as useful in periodical studies, and thus many low-code publication tools did not account for some of the nuances of the corpus. With this project, we hope to model the way one may go about larger subject-focused periodical collections. We also want to model edition development that starts from a set of research questions and expands a researcher’s understanding of their materials, creating a digital workstation.

Research questions

What is the relationship between non-fiction and fiction ghost stories in 19th-c. British media?

To draw this comparison and tease out the ties between these two ideas, we focus on collecting, digitizing, and annotating source material for non-fiction text. Within archives, the materials are relatively easy to locate, but to begin tracing patterns and ideas that may appear in later fiction, we require significantly more advanced tools.

If we understand writing as a function of physical space (Ong), how can we use mentions of place in this corpus to situate cultural movement away from primary orality, towards a more textual culture?

We must attempt to understand, as closely as possible, how the writing we see today translated to physical space in the past. We can do this by encoding geodata for places mentioned, referencing historic maps and illustrations, and reading other primary sources about or in reference to these places. Digital methods can help us organize this information, and when and if we choose to visualize the geodata we collect, it can expand our understanding of place and the decisions we made about our models.

How do bespoke digital editions support research goals more generally? Can we use this as a sample edition to teach development concepts, technical skills, and editing theory?

Research goals (in pursuit of our research questions)

  • Answer research questions (or perhaps, understand more about our questions and refine them further).
  • Publish a digital edition that serves as a digital workstation for researchers.
  • Publish a digital edition that serves as a laboratory edition for IATDH 2022 “Advanced digital editing” participants.

Edition goals (in pursuit of our research goals)

  • Create a reading view that exposes encoded contextual information.
  • Create a search interface with facets and full-text search.
  • Create data visualizations, including visualizations of geodata.
  • Build iteratively and document decisions.

Edition development team

  • Gabi Keane
  • David J. Birnbaum
  • Emma Schwarz

Technical development

This edition was implemented as an eXist-db application, using XQuery. The development repository is maintained at pr-app in Github.

Selected bibliography

  • Beetham, Margaret. “Towards a Theory of the Periodical as a Publishing Genre.” Investigating Victorian Journalism, edited by Laurel Brake, Aled Jones, and Lionel Madden, Macmillan, 1990.
  • Bode, Katherine. A World of Fiction: Digital Collections and the Future of Literary History. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2018.
  • Curtis, L. Perry. “The Theory and Practice of Victorian Journalism.” Jack the Ripper and the London Press, Yale University Press, 2001. ProQuest Ebook Central.
  • Eggert, Paul. Text-encoding, Theories of the Text, and the “Work- Site”’. Literary and Linguistic Computing 20.4 (2005): 425–435.
  • Ong, Walter J. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Routledge, 1988
  • Shillingsburg, Peter. “Literary documents, texts, and works represented digitally.” Ecdotica 10.1 (2013): 76-94.
  • Shillingsburg, Peter. “Development principles for virtual archives and editions.” The Journal of the European Society for Textual Scholarship. Brill, 2014. 9-28.
  • Zemka, Sue. Time and the Moment in Victorian Literature and Society. Cambridge University Press, 2012.