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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors

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Reviewing Digital Resources: The Database of Early English Playbooks (DEEP) - Introduction

The Database of Early English Playbooks (DEEP) is a freely accessible digital resource which "allows scholars and students to investigate the publishing, printing, and marketing of English Renaissance drama in ways not possible using any other print or electronic resource." Much like the comprehensive English Short Title Catalogue and the Early English Books project, DEEP is a project whose aim is to systematically allow access to bibliographic information for all early modern printed materials in England, Scotland, and Ireland; unlike those much broader projects, DEEP confines itself to "original playbooks, their title-pages, paratextual matter, advertising features, bibliographic details, and theatrical backgrounds." The project is perhaps best understood as a highly usable bibliographic database allowing users to find and explore bibliographic information relating to any particular text, author, printer, publisher, company, illustration, paratextual material, etc. While many of these search fields fall outside the realm of traditional bibliographic capture, all are drawn from the original texts themselves. DEEP helps you know what to look for when entering more comprehensive collections like university special collections or Early English Books Online (EEBO)

The project is quite usable. The landing page features several links to various items, including a Basic Search, Advanced Search, a How to Use DEEP guide, and so on. The "How to Use DEEP" document is impressively thorough, and includes not only a bare-bones guide to using the search functions, but goes further and details the uses of and logic behind all search fields used by the project. One interesting feature is the balance of blank search fields and listed search terms. If one is undertaking a basic search, for instance, and selects "Title" as a search field, a text box appears into which a term is typed. If "Author" is selected, a second box appears. This box includes all authors in the DEEP, from which users are expected to choose. 

As is made clear in the "History behind DEEP" section of the site, the project is the result of collaboration between Drs. Alan B. Farmer (currently an Associate Professor at The Ohio State University) and Zachary Lesser (currently an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania). Begun in 1999 as a locally-hosted database for the private use of Farmer and Lesser while doctoral students at Columbia University, the project was transformed into a web resource in 2005. Funded by the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign Campus Research Board, the University of Pennsylvania's School of Arts and Sciences and the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image (SCETI), the online version of DEEP "went 'live' in November, 2007." It is to the pair's credit that they take pains to ensure those who worked to develop the site are acknowledged on the History page, including various programmers, visual designers, graphic designers, database consultants, and the director of the SCETI.

Author: Daniel Powell
Word Count: 467
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Discussion of "Reviewing Digital Resources: The Database of Early English Playbooks (DEEP) - Introduction"

Possibilities in Reviewing Digital Resources

As Jentery Sayers notes in the prompt for this exercise, formal reviews of digital projects and tools are rare. This being the case, undertaking such a review was a useful exercise in professional and theoretical development. It was useful professionally because, along with Jentery, I believe that such a genre will become more prevalent and necessary as digital scholarly objects proliferate. Theoretically, the exercise highlighted the difficulty inherent in effectively and formally reviewing such tools in a near vacuum. By this I mean that there seem to be very few established procedures or metrics for undertaking such an evaluation. This begs the question of what position digital tools such as the Database of Early English Playbooks (DEEP) occupy in academe; after all, they are often not a critical intervention in the same way as a peer-reviewed article or scholarly monograph. Much like all other digital scholarly efforts in the academy, how to evaluate and disseminate digital tools and projects is in a state of flux.

This being the case, my review of DEEP was centred on trying to ascertain the "usefulness" of the database in early modern scholarship. This proved easier than I anticipated, especially since the visibility of any particular resource is of course tied to its prevalence in search rankings, research aid listings on better-known sites, course syllabi, and the blogosophere.

In the same way that book reviews in peer-reviewed journals can aid scholars in efficiently and productively locating and using new research, reviews of digital scholarly objects will play an increasingly prevalent role in the evaluation of scholarly work in the digital realm.

Author: Daniel Powell
Word Count: 266

Posted on 9 July 2013, 11:34 am by Daniel Powell  |  Permalink

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