Blog—Stories from the Newberry Center for Renaissance Studies

A Firm Foundation

Caitlin Branum Thrash, PhD Candidate, Department of English, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Caitlin Branum Thrash University of Tennessee Knoxville

A Firm Foundation

I participated in the Newberry Library’s virtual graduate seminar, Digital Humanities and Premodern Studies: An Introduction, which took place from January 4 to March 15, 2021. Dr. Christopher Fletcher led the course, developing a thorough introduction to digital methodology geared specifically toward premodern studies. I was thrilled to participate in the seminar. Though I’ve been interested in digital humanities for years, I never felt like I had the knowledge to develop my own project. I hoped that the seminar would help me cultivate ideas related to my own research. It did all that and more!

Each week, Dr. Fletcher introduced a new digital tool, project, or methodology, sometimes with the help of an expert guest speaker. The class discussed the uses, audiences, and approaches to each week’s theme. These discussions contextualized how DH projects are developed by the choices the project leads make. My favorite feature of the course was spending time each week doing a hands-on activity. While each exercise was just a dip of the toes into the proverbial DH ocean, it calmed my fear of the enormity of a DH project. DH tools take time and effort to learn just like any other skill that premodernists develop, but these short activities showed me that I could figure them out.

At the end of the seminar, I put all my new knowledge to work and developed a pilot project with input from my husband, a bioinformatician. I used an algorithm for DNA sequence alignment to perform an analysis of a short unpublished Middle English text, then made a digital edition from my results. The seminar gave me a space to explore my options and try out a new project idea, and I look forward to seeing where my research will take me.

Caitlin Branum Thrash
PhD Candidate, Department of English
University of Tennessee, Knoxville