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Breckinridge Correspondence and Digital Texts Project

Project Director
Trey Conatser
Associate Director of the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching
University of Kentucky

Campus Partners
University of Kentucky Libraries
University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center
Lewis Honors College

Project Description

The Breckinridge Correspondence and Digital Texts Project is both a scholarly and a pedagogical digital humanities project at the University of Kentucky, focusing on archives, digitization, text encoding, and scholarly editing. The intellectual goals of the project are threefold:

  1. the scholarly task of digitizing, curating, researching, and designing an interface for a large collection of correspondence and other documents of critical importance to women’s history and the history of nursing and midwifery in Appalachia;
  2. the pedagogical task of engaging undergraduates from all disciplinary backgrounds as scholars, collaborators, and key decision makers at all stages of a major research and editorial project;
  3. the infrastructural task of creating, updating, and sustaining an open-access, digitized, and encoded textual corpus of primary sources and scholarly commentary for use, reuse, and adaptation by other research and teaching interests.

The archival materials for the project are housed in the UK Libraries Special Collections Research Center’s Frontier Nursing Service records, 1789-1985. Founder of the Frontier Nursing Service, Frontier Nursing University, and pioneer of nurse-midwifery in the United States, Mary Breckinridge — the biographical focal point for the project — made a significant impact on public health and social justice in Appalachia. This project immerses students first in the archival environment of the documents themselves, which the students digitize and encode in TEI-compliant XML using the <oXygen/> platform. Attending to both transcriptional and contextual markup (as well as the critical differences and relationships between encoding and presentation), students work as a team to make key decisions on how to model the documents and the data that they contain in a digital environment. In addition to researching and providing historical context for the documents, students contribute to the design for a public interface (i.e., a web-based publication) that allows both academic and lay readers to learn from and appreciate the documents as they shed light on a key figure and key historical developments in public health and social justice in Kentucky and the larger Appalachian region.

The project began with students in Honors 301-004, the junior proseminar in the Lewis Honors College, during the spring 2018 semester. The course was designed as an essay in project-based, team-based, and experiential learning in alignment with the high-impact practice of involving students as decision-making stakeholders in ongoing, professional research projects with public-facing components and a clear value-added for specific audiences. Student-editors in this course curated and digitized documents from the archives, encoded them for transcription and context, and designed a proof-of-concept digital interface for publishing the edition. The project continued with students in Honors 301-004 during the spring 2019 semester. These student-editors continued the work of the previous group and expanded on the interface design and media components of the project.

As a way of entering the otherwise prohibitively large archival collection, the project director (and instructor of Honors 301-004) chose a moment of particular historical and biographical interest — the wake of the first World War — as a manageable scope in which these student teams would operate for their contributions to the nascent project. After the conclusion of the spring 2019 course, the students' work will enter a phase of post-production and revision to prepare the edition for public release and submission to post-publication peer review for digital scholarly editions. The tentative title of the publication, which will represent the efforts of at least 9 student editors as well as additional staff members and faculty at UK, is Letters from Devastation: Mary Breckinridge in the Aisne, 1919.

Designed as a "learning lab" of sorts, the Breckinridge Correspondence and Digital Texts Project has the capacity for students to engage in the archival collection and text encoding process for many purposes across many disciplines (at various levels of investment and commitment), as well as for new student teams to publish scholarly editions of different parts of the collection, which spans six decades. If you would like to be an affiliated member of the project or integrate it into your teaching efforts, please contact the project director.