Issue 28 11.20.13

Issue 28
Metadata and Digital Pedagogy: Surfacing Romantic…

by Kirstyn Leuner

Metadata and Digital Pedagogy: Surfacing Romantic-era Book Histories with Captions

(Excerpted from a presentation to be delivered at HASTAC V, U Michigan, Dec. 1-3, 2012, on a panel dedicated to investigating experimental ways to communicate 18th– and 19th-century book history metadata in TEI, pedagogy, and new textual digitization tools.)

Due to their proliferation at a time when experiments with book form and content exploded, and machine-produced books began to flood the market for the first time, romantic-era texts (roughly 1770-1840), in particular, require digital editors to clearly communicate their uniquely “bookish” book histories to contemporary readers and scholars. Late-18th- and early 19th-century books provide a perfect lesson in avoiding the pitfall of allowing one HTML copy of the text to stand in for the thousands of physical copies of this work that bespeak its abundant, heterogeneous circulation, and the way that readers used and left their traces in a sea of unique print editions.

To think about communicating book history metadata in new ways, I collaborated with James Ascher, Rare Book Cataloguer at CU-Boulder’s Norlin Library, to curate an exhibit in Special Collections for my students to come and interact directly with early editions of British books and other objects, like maps. We also designed a caption-writing lesson that became the platform for students to create their own collaborative digital exhibit of the objects they worked with in Special Collections.

I decided to use captions as a way to communicate romantic-era book history because I theorize them as narrative and pedagogical expressions of bibliographical metadata—the kind of data you would normally find in a teiHeader that describes an electronic text, its source, and its encoding methodology and history. While MARC records and conventional TEI metadata publish crucial information about a book’s form and contents, they do a poor job of being interesting, and of teaching. The caption—a miniature “essay” that fuses of the genres of the abstract, bibliographical description, and “thought captions” in comics theory—is ideally rich in content delivered with humanism and pathos, rhetorical qualities that are essential for communicating lots of information in a small space, and in meaningful and exciting ways.

For the full text of this presentation, see: