Renaissance Knowledge Network

This phase of the Renaissance Knowledge Network was initiated at the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab as part of a one-year Andrew W. Mellon grant to plan the Renaissance Knowledge Network (ReKN). In its first phase, ReKN provides a public collaborative annotated bibliography and environmental scan of online materials and digital tools for Early Modern scholars. Matt Hiebert was responsible for the conception and development of the site and led metadata design. Daniel Powell undertook the environmental scan and created the foundational list of bibliographical items. Annotations and abstracts were scraped from available sources where possible, with a substantial amount of subsequent work by Lindsey Seatter to revise scraped content and, where necessary, create original annotations. Matthew Hiebert led technical development of both Iter Communities and this resource. More recently (fall 2015) Randa El Khatib has joined the ReKN team to add further items and revise existing content.

Development of the taxonomy for site content was led by ReKN Principal Investigators, Ray Siemens and Bill Bowen. After an initial launch, Daniel Powell administers this public-facing resource, aided greatly by the entire ReKN team. If you would like to be a contributor to the site or offer us feedback, please do send an email to renaissance.knowledge.network [at] gmail.com.

ReKN is situated within Iter, a not-for-profit partnership dedicated to the advancement of learning in the study and teaching of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (400-1700) through the development and distribution of online resources. Integrating three usually discrete activities vital to scholarly work—research, analysis, and production—will allow ReKN to addresses the growing challenge of diverse, isolated, and siloed digital resources, a bewildering variety of tools and platforms devoted to textual analysis, and the increasing number of ways scholarship is produced and disseminated in particular research communities.

As the materials that enable high-quality scholarship focused on the Renaissance are increasingly moved online in archives, databases, and corpuses, scholars working with these materials face a paradox of abundance: the more digital resources become available, the more difficult it is to locate and effectively use those resources to produce and share scholarship.

Federations of aggregated content like the Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Scholarship (NINES), 18th Connect, the Mellon funded Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance (MESA), and the NEH Digital Humanities Startup grant funded Modernist Networks (ModNets), have made significant advances for their research communities by creating standards and infrastructure for peer review of digital projects, facilitating searches across aggregated collections of digital information, and implementing software and tools that are shared by users of the federation and wider digital research communities.

At the same time, efforts such as the Text Analysis Portal for Research (TAPoR) and Voyant have brought algorithmic textual analysis within the domain of everyday research activities for scholars. Voyant, for example, provides a simple text box interface into which text can be pasted and subjected to a variety of analytical techniques; based on Unix command line tools, the Oxford Concordance Program, WordCruncher, Text Analysis Computing Tools (TACT) and a variety of successor tools, Voyant positions itself as a user-friendly, flexible, web-based text analysis environment. Inspired by the same goals as Voyant, the TAPoR centralizes access to and information on a variety of text analysis tools, providing a “one-stop shop” for scholars looking to apply particular methods to specific texts. Although these analytical tools are powerful, they are widely separated from the content whose exploration they are designed to facilitate. For some, this is no barrier; for others, such separation effectively removes cutting edge research methods from scholarly practice.

While these efforts to discover and analyze cultural textual information for literary and cultural criticism were underway, the third major component of ReKN—scholarly production—was witnessing profound shifts. One need only witness the explosion of scholarly blogs, increasingly active Twitter discussions among academics, open access publication, and the publication of digital scholarly editions to envisage the manifold new models of scholarly production currently evolving in the world of academia. Publication platforms such as the Institute for the Future of the Book’s MediaCommons and experiments in open peer review like that of the journal Nature in 2006 or Shakespeare Quarterly in 2010 suggest that the ways scholarship has been produced, vetted, and disseminated are undergoing rapid and meaningful changes.

In this effort, ReKN builds on and extends scholarly work undertaken by the following partners:

  • Electronic Textual Cultures Lab (ETCL, University of Victoria)

  • Iter: Gateway to the Middle Ages & Renaissance (University of Toronto Scarborough)

  • Advanced Research Consortium (ARC, Texas A&M University)

Our plan is to build on and expand an extant partner network for work in the area, drawn from the successful earlier iteration of the ReKN project as well as from among the Iter and ARC c!onstituencies. These include:

  • Implementing New Knowledge Environments (INKE, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Major Collaborative Research Initiative)
  • Early Modern Optical Character Recognition Project (eMOP, Texas A&M University)
  • Early English Books Online and EEBO – Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP)
  • Women Writers Online (Northeastern University)
  • Voyant Tools
  • Juxta /Juxta Commons (University of Virginia)
  • Text Analysis Portal for Research (TAPoR)
  • Pressbooks
  • CommentPress (Institute for the Future of the Book)
  • TEI Boilerplate
  • Folger Shakespeare Library
  • The Renaissance English Text Society
  • Renaissance Society of America
  • Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
  • Shakespeare Association of America
  • Sixteenth Century Society and Conference

This increasingly varied and quickly changing landscape necessitates deliberate intervention, or Renaissance studies risks being left behind by new infrastructure that does not address the needs of this research community. ReKN attempts to address this need by thinking through previous decades of technological change in Renaissance studies as a prelude to building the systems that will ensure vibrant, high quality research over the next. By combining research, analysis, and dissemination in a single scholarly environment, ReKN can address content overload, fold in new analytical methods and tools, and ensure timely publication of new discoveries.

Support for the development of ReKN has been provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Iter: Gateway to the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab.