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Melville’s Marginalia Online Project Awarded Grant

Melville’s Marginalia Online, a scholarly project devoted to the library of American author Herman Melville and coordinated from Boise State University since its inception in 2006, has been awarded a grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation. Steven Olsen-Smith, a professor of English and general editor of Melville’s Marginalia Online, will serve as principal investigator for the grant, which will support data visualization at the project’s website,

Combined with institutional support from the Department of English, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Division of Research and Economic Development, along with private donations, the Delmas grant-funded activities will add innovative data science resources to Melville’s Marginalia Online. This support comes as the site’s editors are expanding data analysis of site content and sharing outcomes at academic conferences and in published papers. With Christopher Ohge, a Boise State ’08 graduate in English and now a lecturer in digital approaches to literature at the University of London’s Institute for English Studies, Olsen-Smith participated in a panel on digital approaches to Melville’s writings at the 12th International Melville Conference at New York University in June. There, he presented a well-received paper on the projected technical upgrades: “Data Visualization at Melville’s Marginalia Online.”

This is the second grant awarded to Melville’s Marginalia Online by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, of New York. The first, in 2013, supported the site’s adoption of extensible markup language (XML) and optical character recognition, technology coordinated by electrical computing and engineering professor Elisa Barney Smith. Web development for the present grant objectives will be carried out by Performant Software Solutions, LLC, based in Charlottesville. The Delmas grant-funded development will enable users at the site to generate word clouds, frequency trends and information tables that expand access to and assist analysis of Melville’s marginalia in works such as Thomas Beale’s The Natural History of the Sperm Whale, Shakespeare’s plays, the poetical works of Homer, Dante, Spenser and Milton, and writings by the nineteenth-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, whom Melville was studying at the time of his death in 1891.

Melville’s Marginalia Online benefits from multi-institutional support and cooperation, including image services from Harvard University, the New York Public Library, Yale and Princeton universities, Villanova University’s Digital Library and the Berkshire Athenaeum, as well as from participation by private owners of Melville’s surviving books. Boise State student interns assist in the production of site content and faculty from numerous institutions have contributed to the project’s publications and activities, including the technical recovery of erased annotations in Melville’s hand and scholarly research on the context for Melville’s reading in his life as a writer. With ongoing institutional and external support, the interdisciplinary work of the website will continue to bolster digital humanities at its home institution while developing and providing data, data analysis, models and software applications for use by other projects in the discipline.