Laura Estill, Diane K. Jakacki, Michael Ullyot

The essays in this volume show the importance of understanding, analyzing, sustaining, and creating digital resources to undertake effective and compelling research in early modern studies. The humanists who digitally manipulate their objects of study demonstrate how digital tools provoke research questions that were unanswerable, even inconceivable, before texts were digitized, data were visualized, realities were augmented, and media were social.

Digital methods and manipulations are not particular to the scholars in this volume, nor even to the wider community of self-described “digital humanists.” Digital resources and databases have become naturalized to our scholarly habits because they empower and extend our thinking. Even traditionally-inclined and classically-trained scholars use search tools to explore digital repositories and surrogates such as online facsimiles and editions.

We use new research tools not as ends in themselves, but as “telescopes for the mind.” Margaret Masterman coined that phrase in 1962 to “suggest computing’s potential to transform our conception of the human world just as in the seventeenth century the optical telescope set in motion a fundamental rethink of our relation to the physical one,” as Willard McCarty writes (2012, 113). Where human eyes see stars, telescopes reveal distant galaxies that were always there, even if they were formerly invisible. Michael Witmore describes this emergent knowledge as “something that is arguably true now about a collection of texts [that] can only be known in the future” (2011). As such, our tools are “a means to illumine ignorance by provoking us to reconsider what we think we know,” as McCarty paraphrases Roberto Busa (2012, 115). The essays in this book show how we can look to these new horizons in early modern intellectual and cultural history to see what was previously unseen.

This book has two goals: to highlight the emerging research methodologies enabled by digital projects, and to induce readers to imagine and pursue future questions. The chapters that follow reveal how different digital methodologies provide new interpretations of diverse primary texts, from early modern drama to social media posts to emblem books to neo-Latin literature. They bring the research methodologies of the digital humanities to bear on the research objects of the early modern period. Within each of these fields, moreover, we are uniting subfields like emblem studies, theatre history, audience reception, literary studies, geohumanities, and network analysis.

These essays feature scholars who have created digital humanities projects, those who use digital tools for analysis, and those who theorize online spaces. Each approach shows how modes of engaging with early modern culture are enlarged by digital capabilities and tools. The projects discussed in this collection show the breadth and depth of the questions we can ask using new methods and resources.

While these projects focus on early modern objects of study, they signal the effects of the digital turn across literary and cultural studies. They showcase how the use of different digital approaches—from geographical information systems (GIS) to large corpus analysis—can shed new light on a historical period and encourage future scholarly inquiry. These projects invite other scholars to use these methods and tools in their own inquiry. They also help us to understand the bounds, methodologies, and goals of digital projects we use (and undertake). In order to enlarge and enrich our inquiry into intellectual and cultural history, we must theorize and problematize our use of these texts and artifacts.

Our new methods can, for instance, inquire into the validity of settled orthodoxies. Consider the text analysis software DocuScope, used in this collection by Jonathan Hope and Witmore and by Mattie Burkert. Its algorithms are “productively indifferent to linear reading and the powerful directionality of human attention,” as Hope and Witmore have written elsewhere (2010, 359). They can reveal dimensions of texts that human readers cannot. For instance, Burkert’s “productive estrangement from familiar materials” demonstrates that “women were blamed for a larger theatrical trend [of reviving heroic tragedy] followed by men and women alike.” Burkert’s close reading of primary sources and DocuScope’s distant-reading algorithms enable this re-evaluation of a common opinion. Using established digital tools to explore an early modern corpus can help us see new patterns of genre, language, and influence. Maciej Eder, for instance, uses linguistic analysis to establish webs of influence between classical writers and neo-Latinists. Corpus analysis can help us see change over time, be it in genre (as Burkert proves) or orthography (as Anupam Basu shows).

As N. Katherine Hayles explains, digital media can facilitate reading from the micro- or close-reading level to the macro- or corpus level. One of the more contested orthodoxies is which texts or artifacts we should use to make a broader argument. Proponents of distant reading or macroanalysis such as Franco Moretti, Matthew Jockers, and Ted Underwood encourage scholars to reorient our arguments from exemplary, canonical texts to the continuum of historical text-corpora—most of which consists of neglected, obscure texts. As Hope and Witmore write in this volume: “If we count the right things, we can recover texts, and relationships between texts, currently lost to literary history.” So Burkert, for one, leads us to reconsider texts like Edward Cooke’s Love’s Triumph, which is often overshadowed by more anthologized Restoration plays such as William Wycherley’s The Country Wife. Moving away from arguments based on a few exemplary texts or artifacts—whether or not they are canonical and familiar—can only be a positive inducement to new arguments. As Stephen Ramsay writes about text-analysis tools, “[t]he evidence we seek is not definitive, but suggestive of grander arguments and schemes” (2011, 10).

This volume stands alongside the others in the New Technologies in Medieval and Renaissance Studies series (including, notably, Brent Nelson and Melissa Terras’s Digitizing Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture, 2012) as a way to reflect on existing digital humanities practices while also illuminating future trends. Other recent important works in the field include Janelle Jenstad and Jennifer Roberts-Smith’s Shakespeare’s Language and Digital Media: Old Words, New Tools (forthcoming); Christie Carson and Peter Kirwan’s Shakespeare and the Digital World (2014); and the Shakespearean International Yearbook’s 2014 special issue focused on “Digital Shakespeares,” edited by Brett D. Hirsch and Hugh Craig. Our volume goes beyond Shakespeare to show how digital projects can reflect non-canonical texts as well as the international and multilingual realities of the early modern period. It is important that further work is published on digital approaches to early modern studies as the field continues to evolve.

Early Modern Studies after the Digital Turn shows us not only how digital tools can help us to understand the past, but also how to theorize and understand these tools themselves, and how the process of developing and engaging with them is in itself a form of humanistic inquiry. The projects in this book cover the range from nascent to mature, from Fabrizio Nevola’s Hidden Florence project to John Wall’s award-winning Virtual Paul’s Cross. We juxtapose digital projects along this spectrum because there is much insight to be gained by openly discussing research trajectories. As Roberts-Smith, Shawn DeSouza-Coelho, and Paul Stoesser realized in the process of developing SET (the Simulated Environment for Theatre), “the knowledge is in the doing, rather than subsequent to, an outcome of, or an ancillary to the doing; the process is our product and our argument.”

There are also essays in this volume that are not focused on the creation and use of digital tools, but think more holistically about critical methods like text encoding and critical reading itself. As Geoff Way demonstrates, critically reading social media interactions sheds light on twenty-first-century ways of approaching the early modern period. Way’s essay analyzes social media posts rather than (say) network-scatterplot-type analysis in the style of Basu and Eder. Michael Poston and Rebecca Niles argue that encoding is editing is scholarship. Martin Mueller, Phil Burns, and Craig Berry’s argument that we need more accurate digital surrogates for edited texts underscores the data curation that enables our interpretive work. Jenstad and Diane Jakacki, similarly, explore the necessary encoding that underpins scholarly inquiry, and argue that interpretations are embedded in encoding. Furthermore, encoding and digital presentation offer more avenues for display and exploration than print editions, as Jesús Tronch envisions.

Many of the chapters in this book reveal how digital projects can help scholars both access and present early modern international and multilingual culture. Tronch, for instance, considers how digital versioning can offer multi-text editions that move beyond the basic parallel-text codices and awkwardly-formatted editorial conventions. Nevola’s Hidden Florence allows English and Italian speakers to experience layers of history in one of the most storied cities in Europe. Timothy W. Cole, Myung-Ja K. Han, and Mara R. Wade focus on the metadata apparatus surrounding emblem books, those illustrated and multilingual collections of apothegms that were popular both on the continent and in England during the early modern period. Although, today, different languages and literatures can be siloed in separate departments across a university campus, the reality of the early modern period was one of fluid borders, trade, and multilingualism. While some of the projects described in this volume actively work toward understanding this multicultural and polyglot past, others could serve as building blocks for future comparative or international projects.

Increasingly, digital projects illustrate how methods such as geohumanities need to be opened up to support richer and more varied approaches. Wall reflects on how visual and acoustic recreations of place can inform textual analysis. His consideration of spatial acoustics has revealed John Donne’s process in preparing for and presenting his sermons to audiences in Paul’s Churchyard. Jenstad and Jakacki’s interconnected reading of the Map of Early Modern London and the Internet Shakespeare Editions demonstrates how teasing out both explicit and textual references to London spaces problematizes the understanding of locational meaning in plays, both for modern and contemporary audiences. Nevola’s Hidden Florence reveals that the augmented reality embedding history in a contemporary landscape enriches and transforms the experience of Florentine geography. What connects these varied approaches to virtual, augmented, and remediated historical places is how scholars explore ambient sound, storytelling, avatars, and changes in the identity of place over time.

As part of the invitation to apply new research methodologies to increase our understanding of the early modern world, this volume offers a digital component that shares tools and corpora online. On you will find materials that support the findings in this volume, such as Eder’s interactive graphs tracing the influence in Latin literature and video demonstrations from the Simulated Environment for Theatre (SET). You will also find links to ongoing research explorations such as Martin Mueller’s blog, Scalable Reading, which documents his continuing work with AnnoLex and MorphAdorner; and Witmore and Hope’s blog, Wine Dark Sea, which reflects on quantifying aspects of early modern drama.

The web page for Early Modern Studies after the Digital Turn also serves as a way to find the online projects discussed in these pages, including Folger Digital Texts, Emblematica Online, the Map of Early Modern London, Hidden Florence, and Virtual Paul’s Cross. Most importantly, when possible, we link to the tools used here. You can, for instance, download the Simulated Environment for Theatre (SET) and use your computer to map out blocking for a stage play. You can explore the texts and corpora (notably, EEBO-TCP, the Early English Books Online-Text Creation Partnership) that were mined, transformed, and analyzed to offer the results presented here. The online apparatus for this book invites readers to participate in furthering our knowledge about the early modern period by adopting or changing these digital approaches in order to build on the questions raised in these essays.

We introduce new projects and overlooked texts, as well as highlighting ongoing developments in early modern studies and digital humanities. Following Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s model, we present these publications not as an archive of thoughts, but rather prompts and invitations that will lead to new uses for these tools. Our volume and its online resource enable digital research on the early modern period to serve as records, models, and prompts for future work. With new projects emerging, with the constant upgrading of existing projects, and with the ability to apply new tools to new objects (textual or otherwise), it is imperative for humanists to share their ongoing research.

Each chapter in this volume offers potential avenues for future research. Their provocations, methodologies, and questions invite us to reimagine what it means to study the early modern period in the digital age. This book, then, is a call for increased digital access, new research projects, and continued improvements to existing projects. For scholars to draw the most accurate conclusions, more material needs to be added to our datasets. But as Mueller, Burns, and Berry argue, the problem is equally one of quality as of quantity. Our text corpora must be regularized and curated until they are as reliable as print editions—and as Niles and Poston argue, those texts must also must be rigorously edited.

Software can be developed in perpetual beta, where changes are made gradually, over time, without definitive releases. Scholarship on digital humanities (and, indeed, scholarship writ large) is also in perpetual beta: it is not an undertaking that can ever be finished. As we apply new critical lenses to texts, corpora, databases, and other objects, we gain different insights that build on, refine, and redirect earlier questions. The “new technologies in Renaissance studies” from 1990 were not new in 2000, and those from 2016 will not be new in 2026: but future research will be richer if it accounts for its predecessors. The multifaceted research featured in this book assesses where we are today, and envisions the many pathways we can take as we extend our research.

These essays address the digital humanities’ core tensions: fast and slow; surficial and nuanced; quantitative and qualitative. Scholars design algorithms and projects to process, aggregate, encode, and regularize historical texts and artifacts in order to position them for new and further interpretations. Every essay in this book is concerned with the human-machine dynamic, as it bears on early modern research objects and methods. The interpretive work in these pages and in the online projects discussed orients us toward the extensible future of early modern scholarship after the digital turn.


Carson, Christie, and Peter Kirwan, eds. 2014. Shakespeare and the Digital World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. 2011. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. New York: New York University Press.

Hayles, N. Katherine. 2012. How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hirsch, Brett D., and Hugh Craig, eds. 2014.  The Shakespearean International Yearbook: Volume 14: Special section, Digital Shakespeares.  Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Hope, Jonathan, and Michael Witmore. 2010. “The Hundredth Psalm to the Tune of ‘Green Sleeves’: Digital Approaches to Shakespeare’s Language of Genre.” Shakespeare Quarterly 61 (3): 357–90.

Jenstad, Janelle, and Jennifer Roberts-Smith, eds. Forthcoming. Shakespeare’s Language and Digital Media: Old Words, New Tools. New York: Routledge.

Jockers, Matthew. 2013. Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

McCarty, Willard. 2012. “A Telescope for the Mind?” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K. Gold, 113–23. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Moretti, Franco. 2013. Distant Reading. London: Verso.

Nelson, Brent, and Melissa Terras, eds. 2012. Digitizing Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture. Toronto: Iter; Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Ramsay, Stephen. 2011. Reading Machines: Toward an Algorithmic Criticism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Underwood, Ted. 2013. Why Literary Periods Mattered: Historical Contrast and the Prestige of English Studies. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Witmore, Michael. 2011. “The Ancestral Text.” Wine Dark Sea. 9 May.

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