Monthly Archives: December 2016

Creating A Digital Edition: Looking For Ideas

It is the waning days of this semester and I’ve been planning my class for the spring. One of the centerpiece texts we will be reading in the spring is A Narrative of the Sufferings of Massy Harbison. Harbison is somewhat of a local celebrity in these parts of western Pennsylvania. I am hopeful that reading this text resonates with students as they see places mentioned from their neck of the woods. I wasn’t familiar with Harbison’s Narrative until I visited the Fort Pitt Museum’s Captured by Indians exhibit, which recently closed after an extension of several months.

One of the difficulties I had in planning to use Harbison’s Narrative had been finding a suitable edition for the class. By suitable I mean finding an inexpensive text that students could actually read and mark up. A local organization created a reset version of Harbison’s Narrative. However, the text is tiny, the font is small, and the book was expensive. A publisher specializing in Christian subjects had a text that was a reprinting of a digitized version.

And there is the original digital version that the Christian publisher uses. The PDF version of Harbison’s Narrative was digitized by the University of Pittsburgh’s Library System. However, the version online requires users to page through pages of the Narrative one screen at a time; I knew that would potentially be a burden for students. I sent some emails and was fortunate to receive a full PDF that I could use in class.

The difficulties of finding a version of Harbison’s Narrative got me thinking about creating an online edition of the text. The main project we will be working on in class will be the creation of a digital edition of Harbison’s Narrative from 1825. I’ll have around 88 students in the spring. I envision each student being responsible for transcribing one page of the Narrative. There are around 66 pages in the 1825 Narrative. I also plan to incorporate selections from a later version of the Narrative published in 1836 that includes additional materials supplied by an editor. In short, each student will be responsible for transcribing one page of text. My plan is then to have students create annotations for the text either individually or collaboratively. I’d also like students to work collaboratively on a mapping project using Google Maps that highlights locations mentioned in the Narrative. I am also hopeful that students can create mini-essays on certain facets of Harbison’s Narrative.

Things are still in the planning stage, but I am committed to at least having the students create a transcribed version of the Narrative that includes brief annotations. Ideally we get the annotations online this semester. However, I am not sure what I site I should use to make this project happen. A straight-up transcription of the text would be easy to put up on a WordPress site. Omeka, though not ideal of large bodies of text, could also be a potential way to get this text online. I’ve not used it before, but I know Scalar could be an option. [Just poking around with Scalar and that does seem like an option that could work!]

I’m calling on the hivemind to offer suggestions that will allow for easy annotations of the text. I’m not sure what to use or how to go about doing it. I’d like something that allows for the easy showcasing of annotations for users. Ideally it would be something that would be appropriate for first year students to master. I’m happy with something that relies on hyperlinked pieces of text or as bubbles that users could hover their cursor over as they read the text.

I’ll be working with the Heinz History Center on this project. I know that easily accessible online version of the Harbison Narrative is something the folks at the Fort Pitt Museum have been interested in seeing happen. I’m excited about this opportunity. I’ll have a few repeat students from the fall term and I hope they look forward to our continuing work with the Heinz History Center.


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