Emily Johnson '17 Participates in Folger Institute Workshop

August 28, 2017

Emily Johnson graduated cum laude from the University of Maryland in spring 2017 with a double major in English and Linguistics. While on campus, she completed an Honors College citation, was admitted to Sigma Tau Delta, the English Honor Society, and received the Dean's Scholarship. She is currently interning at Her Mind magazine and is in search of a career in editing or publishing. This summer, Johnson gained admission to a Folger Institute workshop on digital archives at the Folger Shakespeare Library. — Editor's Note

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s workshop, “Opening the Digital Anthology: Skills, Tools and Texts,” was a week-long crash course in the digital humanities, in the context of Early Modern English Drama (or EMED for short, as the faculty affectionately referred to it). I and 11 other undergrads from around the country (from California to Texas to New York) met eight leading scholars from a variety of disciplines in the Folger’s ornate boardroom, and we set to work almost immediately, diving deep into many different facets of digital humanities research.

Despite having consumed a wealth of preliminary material before we even stepped into the library, the first couple of days were dedicated to learning en masse—Syd Bauman, coder extraordinaire, gave us a crash course in XML, the preferred language for coding literary materials. Dan Shore, computational linguist and master of idioms, showed us incredible search engines that let us scour a database of early modern plays for specific turns of phrase and parts of speech. Kristen Bennett armed us with many tools of context, including a fascinating interactive map of early modern London (it’s seriously incredible). We went deep into the bowels of the library, got to see and touch rare books (including a Shakespeare first folio!), and were immersed in library life for five blissful days, teatime and all.

The second half of the week was ours for the taking. Given the tools we’d gained and skills we’d learned, we broke off into groups of three and began brainstorming for our very own project. By the end of the week, my group had annotated a scene from Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday, highlighting and explaining myriad puns and wordplay. We coded it in XML so clicking on the word would take a reader to a footnote at the end, explaining the pun. Another group used a part-of-speech tracing program to analyze the language in Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II to track how characters of different classes spoke (nobles, commoners, etc.). In particular, they analyzed whether there was anything “special” about how Gaveston spoke, considering the influence he had over the King. Yet another group began to encode a digital edition of a play that the Folger EMED database had not yet digitized—Shackerley Marmion’s Holland’s Leaguer. Each project was incredibly personal to each group, and several undergrads left the workshop with a basis and plans for a future thesis project.

This workshop was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had, academic or otherwise. All the undergrads lived together in the Folger’s guest houses, and we spent our evenings gallivanting around Capitol Hill, playing Scrabble, reciting Shakespeare, writing fridge magnet poetry, and even sharing creative pieces we’d written. I don’t know if I’ll ever have such a unique opportunity again to meet such lovely people with such a specific set of common interests. I made friendships that I’m certain will last a lifetime, and gained skills that will make my resume appealing to any graduate program.