CMU projects secret Sleuth printers and teaches Shakespeare in virtual reality – News

April 11, 2022

The study of human experience, which is at the heart of social studies education, is being transformed by the emergence of big data, computational thinking and virtual reality. Two Carnegie Mellon University projects that use technology as a tool to uncover lessons about our history and culture have received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Christopher Warren, Associate Professor of English and History and Associate Department Head of English; Max G’Sell, assistant professor of statistics and data science; Samuel Lemley, Curator of Special Collections at CMU Libraries; and Matthew Lincoln, Senior Software Engineer for Text and Data Mining at JSTOR Labs, were awarded a $324,931 Advancing Digital Humanities Grant for their project “Freedom and the Press Before Freedom of the Press”. hurry”. Additionally, Stephen Wittek, assistant professor of English, received a $100,000 prototyping grant for Shakespeare-VR.

“These NEH grants will help educators and scholars enrich our understanding of the past and enable cultural institutions across the country to expand their offerings, resources, and public programming, both in-person and online,” said said NEH Acting President Adam Wolfson.

Freedom and the press before freedom of the press: tools, data and research methods on the secret printing press

For fear of persecution and punishment, 17th and 18th century printers refused to attach their names to controversial books and pamphlets, leaving the origin of many historical texts unidentified. Warren, G’Sell, Lemley, and Lincoln aim to produce tools and data that will enable a better understanding of notable printers in the English-speaking world, particularly around the prehistory of the First Amendment. Knowing what was dangerous to do and circulating those arguments can help to understand why the amendment exists.

“These days most people think of ‘the press’ metaphorically, but we are interested in the actual, literal presses that were used to print politically sensitive pamphlets, often those that questioned the legitimacy of the monarchy. .Printers print books that challenge religious orthodoxy. .They print books and pamphlets that raise uncomfortable questions for particular audiences,” Warren said. “If people think they’re going to be jailed or worse for what they print, they will do whatever they can to conceal their identity. For example, if you don’t want authorities sniffing around your press, one way to confuse them is to make them think the book was printed entirely in another city. »

Certain characteristics make it possible to identify the printers of past documents.

“How do you know if something was printed by a particular person? damaged, similar or divergent paper stocks, or minute variations in printshop practices, observable only on a large scale,” Warren said.

Lemley noted that the labor-intensive work of sifting through printed materials “requires myopia-inducing concentration and entire careers spent traveling to view hundreds of copies of books in libraries around the world. And even then, the judgment of the experts remains subjective.”

“Our methods, which are truly new tools for doing research with rare books, promise to push the field known as analytical bibliography in new and exciting directions. Or do it again, really,” Lemley said. . “We have begun to refer to our work as ‘computational bibliography’ in that we perform orthodox bibliographic analysis but with the speed and scale that computers afford.”

The grant will support research to help identify the distinguishing features of 241 late 17th-century printers by Warren and team, which includes a doctorate in history from CMU. student Kari Thomas, DJ Schuldt, graduate student in information and library science at Simmons University, and longtime collaborators Taylor Berg-Kirkpatrick, assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego; Nikolai Vogler, graduate student at UC San Diego; and Kartik Goyal, research assistant professor at the Toyota Technological Institute in Chicago. The tools the group will develop under the grant include G’Sell’s Distinctive Type Digital Library and Coloring Paper Analysis Tool, which currently exists in prototype form.

According to Warren, the Digital Library of Distinctive Type and the Coloring Book Paper Tool are intended for scholars interested in the history of clandestine printing and hoping to discover who printed a certain text.

“An interesting feature of a lot of underground books is that something may have been slipped out at the last minute or printed on a different press; you could have a book that was printed at two different printing companies,” Warren said. “How would you know that? One way is to look at the paper. The physical characteristics of the paper are going to differ depending on the printer and where it was in a stack.”

“Freedom and the Press Before Freedom of the Press” draws on previous research by Warren and his team. In the past, they have received support from an AW Mellon Digital Humanities Seed Grant, the National Science Foundation, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. In 2019, the group discovers the printers of “Areopagitica”, one of the most significant documents in the history of freedom of the press.

The technology that Warren and his team are building on with the NEH grant has led to important discoveries, including the printer for Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan.”

Noel Malcolm, an expert on English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, has speculated that an edition of “Leviathan” was clandestinely printed much later than the year on its title page. Knowing that CMU Libraries has a copy of one of these versions – the “Ornaments” edition – Warren, Lemley, G’Sell and the old English Ph.D. students Avery Wiscomb and Pierce Williams felt they had the tools to investigate. Testing Malcolm’s theory, they discovered that the version of “Leviathan” had been printed by John Richardson.


Shakespeare-VR, which launched in 2019, uses virtual reality technologies to bring students face-to-face with professional actors performing Shakespeare at venues like the Globe and Blackfriars theatres.

“Shakespeare has this huge imprint on our culture. He’s by far the most famous author in the Western canon and probably in the history of human letters,” Wittek said. “There are statues of Shakespeare in parks all over the world. Whether you realize it or not, you probably hear Shakespeare references and quotes every time you pick up a newspaper or watch television. His works are played in thousands of iterations every year.”

With the grant, Wittek and his team will hire real actors and film their performances of “Hamlet,” “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet.” These filmed performances will become the basis of a 3D reconstruction, not a 2D image, that users will see when entering virtual reality. The VR technologies are designed by Jaehee Cho, a graduate of the Entertainment Technology Center, and Ralph Vituccio, a teaching professor at ETC, and aim to approximate the feeling of existing performance.

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