An early modern woman.

From Warrior Women to Benedictine Nuns: Two New Digital Humanities Projects

In Fall 2019, two English professors ran cutting-edge classes that brought together digital humanities, early modern literature, and gender and sexuality.  The courses resulted in two online publications—one a database named The Warrior Women Project, the other an edition of Gertrude More’s poetry—that show why the digital humanities are so important.  Thanks to the computer, which is one of the most versatile technological advancements of the last century, we can now discover new and old literature while also seeing older texts in new ways. These two Wayne State projects made significant contributions to scholarship on early modern literature even as they provided students with a unique chance to learn more about digital humanities and non-traditional forms of publications.  

The Warrior Women Project—which was worked on by Professor Simone Chess and students in her graduate course—is an online database which gives users access to a pre-existing catalogue of 113 “Warrior Women Ballads” and resources for researching and teaching the ballads. By creating this online database, Professor Chess and her students were able to create an interactive site that expands the user’s ability to learn about the ballads. Aside from making the ballads widely available, they also “were able to use digital tools like links and search functions to make the catalogue more interactive and more practical for student and scholar users,” said Professor Chess. In this way, anyone who visits the site also has a plethora of information provided to them, a perk of digital humanities. 

The same is true for the editing and online publication of Gertrude More’s poetry. This project—led by Professor Jaime Goodrich and created with the help of undergraduate and graduate students—is an online edition dedicated to Gertrude More and her poetry, “making More’s poetry available to scholars and non-specialist readers,” said Professor Goodrich. Since More didn’t write enough poetry to be publishable in book format, this project would not be a good fit for traditional publishing. Professor Goodrich and her students were drawn to the digital humanities because this format allowed them to “present the poetry in its full complexity” and “create two companion editions: one for scholars, and one for non-specialists,” Professor Goodrich went on to say. By being able to create the companion editions of More’s poetry, the editorial team was able to address a wider audience than would be possible in a single book. 

The digital humanities also provide a learning experience for the students that helped produce these projects. Students were able to get acquainted with the digital humanities and even form an appreciation for them that they might not have had before. Erika Carbonara, one of the graduate students that participated in the Warrior Women Project, said that while the digital humanities are her specialty, she has “an even deeper respect for the databases that [she relies] upon to do [her] own work.” By participating in this project, she and the other students who participated in these projects were able to learn about the process of editing and cataloguing. This feeling of gaining hands-on experience by working on the projects was shared by other students involved in these projects. Bailey Meyerhoff—one of the undergraduate students who participated in the editing and online publication of Gertrude More’s poetry—had this to say: “I gained an appreciation for real-world work in higher education” and that “working on the More project felt [...] ‘bigger’ than a school project.” Kelly Plante—a graduate student who worked on both projects—felt that she had similarly benefited from these experiences: “learning and practicing scholarly editing ... will serve me in my dissertation and when I teach, research and create more public archives from an intersectional feminist standpoint.” 

The Warrior Women Project and the digital edition of Gertrude More’s poetry both demonstrate how faculty and students continue to pursue Wayne State’s mission of educational and research excellence.  Through these digital projects, students were able to gain real-life, transferable skills that will help them with their future academic and career goals.  At the same time, these students had an exciting opportunity to learn more about their professors’ research and to join in the process of making new scholarly knowledge that is so essential to research universities like Wayne State.