The following transcript and slides were part of a panel at the Association of Jewish Libraries virtual conference in July 2020.
The University of Pennsylvania Libraries has a mission to foster innovative approaches to integrating material and digital research, while advocating for open data (read more aboutour history or Penn Libraries).
Since 2016, the Center for Research Data and Digital Scholarship has formally developed a program of creative research and development related to Jewish Studies. This program, known informally as Judaica DH, and of which I am the project coordinator, encompasses digital humanities, historical and public scholarship to center Jewish history and culture.
Judaica DH incorporates the principles of technology, collaboration, and Jewish diaspora into all facets of our work. You can view a gallery of all current and legacy projects on our project page - these are some of current projects. Our projects have involved text, visual, and spatial analyses; we’ve built digital editions and archives; we work in open data and have created multiple datasets; and we emphasize making projects that can serve as models and first steps towards larger initiatives within the Libraries. Today, I want to give you all an introduction of how these principles structure our program’s research and development.
Our first principle is technology. We use digital technologies to augment and transform the ways in which we advance the field of Jewish Studies. By experimenting with platforms, tools, and methodologies, we deepen and broaden our understanding of Jewish history, texts, and cultures
Our most recent project just launched this week: the Digital Second Edition of Judaica Americana. Based on Robert Singerman’s 1990 bibliography, this project facilitated the creation and creative re-use of bibliographic datasets for documenting monographs and serials related to the research, activity, and culture of American Jewish communities. Visitors can search the database’s 9,600+ bibliographic entries by author, language, holding institution, and various tags, as well as find open-access links to digitized Jewish monographs, serials, and periodicals, when available.
To the principle of technology, our documentation throughout this project has emphasized building a bibliographic tool for students of early American Jewish history and a model for DH scholars. As you can read in a project documentation blog post, this project from its initial vision has been about prioritizing open access to materials. And we do that with every step of our work. The electronic edition of Judaica Americana as well as the derivative datasets are available in our open-access repository. The code for constructing those datasets is publicly available and citable on GitHub with a DOI through Zenodo; and the database links to open-access materials within our libraries and repositories like HathiTrust and Internet Archive among others. We went into the project with a technological vision that would broaden engagement with early American Jewish publishing.
And then we have our second principle, collaboration. Building on Penn’s commitment to integrate knowledge as well as my personal commitment in public engagement, we work with our collaborators to promote a public and participatory humanities. Bringing different disciplines and approaches together to lead scholarship in new directions, we believe Judaica DH at the Penn Libraries should sustain a collaborative network of trust, respect, and transparent communication. This collaborative spirit begins with our foundational partnership between the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts and the Center for Research Data and Digital Scholarship.
In addition to internal collaborations, we’ve also emphasized external collaborations and public humanities partnerships. In our crowdsourcing transcription initiative, Scribes of the Cairo Geniza, we bring together researchers, institutions, and citizen scientists around the globe to create a new, virtual community around historic manuscript fragments, recording their own experiences along the way. We have research partners invested in project planning, development, and outreach; image partners who have contributed their materials; and community presentations to further engage Jewish communities in participating. Collaboration within our program serves as a pedagogical tool for Jewish literacy among virtual and in-person communities, and as a project management tool for investing in our colleagues at Penn and elsewhere.
Which ties into our third principle of Jewish diaspora. Our goal is to ultimately support the study of, access to, and re-use of data and cultural objects documenting the creativity of Jewish civilization. As our projects bring together dispersed communities and materials, we think critically about how best to represent and take into account diverse facets of Jewish diasporic history, culture, and thought online. And digital scholarship allowes us to do that by emphasizing the connection between digital and diasporic. As other cultural digital praxis like Black DH and Latinx DH have noted, describing the interaction of places, times, languages, identities, and narratives that characterize cultures and materials of the Jewish diaspora require a multidimensionality that digital scholarship provides.
I think this is difficult to discuss and provide in just one example because it is fundamental to all the presenters on this panel in our work on digital Jewish projects. So I’ve highlighted three projects from our program both past and present for which DH methods have augmented that relationship.
- In the digital reunification of Geniza materials across collections, Scribes of the Cairo Geniza discusses how this separation occurred and how their eventual digitization has rendered them accessible.
- Mapping the Kaplan Collection was a pilot mapping project to explore the Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of Early American Judaica here and Penn and its documenting of the social and economic development of early Jewish life in the Western Hemisphere.
- By making these writings and correspondence of Sabato Morais digitally available through the Sabato Morais Digital Repository, researchers have access to primary sources that document the development of observant Jewish life in the broad context of Victorian culture on both sides of the Atlantic during the nineteenth century.
These projects highlight the variety of ways that our principles facilitate instruction and content of Jewish Studies on local and international levels while engaging with digital humanities tools, technologies, and methodologies for experimentation. As the program enters its next phase in 2021, with the world’s first endowed position in Judaica digital humanities, we plan to take on a new set of projects at Penn Libraries.
We plan to include modeling digital humanities research and publication best practices through our projects; collaboration and outreach with the rest of Penn Judaica; and community events outside the university to ensure accessibility and usage of our materials. It’s not enough for us to digitize and build these digital projects; we must also work to engage with the academic and public communities that can make use of them. We will additionally improve our professionalization efforts as a program, by maintaining a well-documented Github organization; revamping our website to include project history and documentation; and sharing our scholarship through journal submissions, digital repositories, blogs, conference and workshop presentations. Our work will emphasize collaborative practice, value a public and inclusive humanities, and continue to model the possibilities of digital projects in the #DHJewish community.
This talk, especially in its discussion of the third principle, borrows from Jessica Marie Johnson’s “Diaspora”, Franceso Spagnolo’s Mapping Diasporas: Jewish Culture, Museums, and Digital Humanities”, Dov Winer’s “The role of digital/online resources in the Jewish Diaspora communities”, Michelle Chesner’s “JS/DH: An Introduction to Jewish Studies/Digital Humanities Resources” and the 2008 “Digital Humanities and African American/African Diaspora Studies” Conference at the University of Maryland, College Park.