Paul Dingman started at the Folger Shakespeare Library in late May of this year as the Project Manager for EMMO (Early Modern Manuscripts Online). Before that, he served as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Alfred University where he taught classes in history and literature of the medieval/early modern periods. Paul earned his Ph.D. in History from the University of Rochester in 2013; he also has an M.A. in Theatre from the SUNY University Center at Albany. Most of his research focuses on the cultural history of pre-modern Europe, especially the ways in which imaginative literature often reveals submerged ideas or attitudes; he wrote his dissertation on the expression of noble friendship in popular epic poems, romances, and drama as well as in contemporary letters, treatises, and chronicles. In between (and sometimes during) his scholarly pursuits, Paul worked many years in the field of Information Technology on projects ranging from providing software instruction to designing databases to managing networks, software upgrades, IT budgets, and websites. These dual career paths have complemented each other well and helped lead to Paul’s keen interest in the digital humanities along with more traditional humanistic studies. While attending a panel this past April on data visualizations of historical documents at the Society for French Historical Studies (SFHS) Conference in Montreal, he heard the word “centaur” used (positively) to describe individuals who feel at ease in both the academic and computing worlds and has since adopted that label with a smile.
What’s the latest news on EMMO’s progress?
A lot is going on with the EMMO project! Several interns have been working with us to start transcribing and encoding the Folger’s immense pre-1701 English manuscript collection, and I would like to thank Sarah Powell, Anne Leishman, Kim Cantrell, and Liz Tobey for all of their help so far. Also, through research, analysis, transcribing, and discussions with members of the EMMO team, we have developed a functional tag set for encoding transcriptions as well as general requirements and a conceptual plan for the project as a whole. Preparations are underway for a “transcribathon” event at the University of Pennsylvania in conjunction with the Kislak Center this November and a week-long advanced paleography workshop at the Library in conjunction with the Folger Institute this December. Our online tools, Dromio (designed in part to facilitate transcriptions) and EMMOgen (designed to manage EMMO transcriptions) continue to develop, and we are in discussion with potential partners about taking our transcription efforts to the next level—a global level—with robust crowdsourcing software.
What’s been the biggest challenge so far in shaping EMMO?
EMMO is a new type of cross-departmental project at the Folger, and anything new presents some challenges. Most of the staff involved with EMMO have many other responsibilities to attend to, so balancing priorities and resources can be complicated at times, but support for the project has been generally strong. I would say the most challenging part of EMMO to date has been getting a handle on the variety, complexity, and sheer number of manuscripts here at the Folger. However, the response to that situation—not problem—has been a necessary, yet fun exploration of the collection from many angles to figure out how to prepare it for a massive, multi-faceted transcribing process. The investigation into so much primary material has definitely been interesting and exciting for me.
Had you spent time working with early modern manuscripts before this project?
Not on this large a scale, of course, but yes. I was fortunate enough to receive grant funds to travel to the British Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Huntington Library back in 2009–10 when I was gathering information for my dissertation. Poring over unpublished manuscripts and other rare literary materials at archives was part of my daily routine for several months. I enjoyed then—and enjoy now—figuring out what these centuries-old documents say, how they say it, and what purpose they served in their time but also contemplating what they may signify about the wider culture that produced them.
Any favorite Folger discoveries so far?
I must admit to a certain fascination with the randomness of the miscellanies in the manuscript collection and the wondrous accompanying artwork in some of them, e.g., in the Trevelyon Miscellany. Also, working as a contributor on an edition of Henry Oxinden’s Miscellany (available soon!) as part of the 2014 Summer Institute in Paleography was an enlightening experience!