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Julia Flanders Speaks on the Intricacies of Digitized Text

Julia Flanders, a pioneer in the digitization of text and the creation of online corpora, addressed BYU and University of Utah professors and students regarding her work.

This past Thursday, BYU’s Office of Digital Humanities teamed up with Digital Matters at the University of Utah to extend a guest lecturer invitation to Julia Flanders. Flanders is the director of the Digital Scholarship Group in the Northeastern University Library, the director of the Women Writers Project (WWP), and editor in chief of Digital Humanities Quarterly. With such a robust resume, digital humanities educators and students are hard pressed to work and learn without using the theories and techniques taught by Flanders.

In her lecture, titled “Digital, Archival, Literary: Evolving Models for Digital Scholarship,” Flanders asked participants to consider “our evolving conception of ‘digital text,’ through the lens of the thirty-year history of the Women Writers Project.”

Flanders also addressed the nature of digital texts and how to program easily searchable and effective archives, digital collections, data sets, and networks of linked open data.

“The digital text now rolls off our tongues so easily, like a familiar thing, you know, both an abstraction, whose referential scope we're comfortable with, and also as a kind of phenomenon [about which] we might say, 'you know it when you see it' and we see it all the time,” Flanders said.

Flanders closed her lecture by addressing the issue of representation in digital research corpora (a searchable collection of digitized texts). She noted, “there are efforts to create better, different corpora, whether those are corpora with better metadata about the things that matter to us in terms of representatives, whether those are race or gender or whatever other properties.” But she also acknowledged “our research corpora can never be representative in the strict sense, precisely because they are colonial in nature.”

As for her own work, Flanders commented, "The Women Writers Project has been working since the summer with a group of scholars on an internal planning focused on the representation of racialization in the WWP collection. And those discussions have been incredibly generative.”

—Heather Bergeson (English, ’22)