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Research Computing Assists with Work on the William Blake Archive


When the William Blake Archive, one of the pre-eminent digital humanities sites in the world, launches a complete and transformative redesign in the fall, ITS Research Computing will have reason to celebrate as well. Leaders of the William Blake Archive at UNC-Chapel Hill collaborated with Research Computing, ITS Middleware and the UNC Libraries on the project for several years.

The Blake Archive is a hypertext of Blake’s poetry and art based on nearly 7,000 images drawn from Blake’s illuminated books, paintings, drawings, manuscripts and engravings transferred to digital form, with more than 45 of the world’s great research libraries and museums contributing images.

Three professors conceived the archive in 1993, including Joe Viscomi, Co-editor of the William Blake Archive and a UNC-Chapel Hill Professor of English Literature. The trio developed it at the University of Virginia and moved the Archive to Carolina in 2006.

…nearly 7,000 images drawn from Blake’s illuminated books, paintings, drawings, manuscripts and engravings transferred to digital form…

In 2011, Archive leaders began talking with ITS Research Computing about a redesign of the backend of the archive and with Middleware about a new user interface. A Humanities Research Associate from Research Computing helped the Archive plan for a couple years. By 2014, Viscomi and other Archive leaders asked Research Computing on how little or how much they could or should do to the site.

“They were genuinely excited about the project and offered numerous helpful suggestions on how to realize the redesign,” Viscomi said.

ITS also committed resources to help the Archive. That was a “huge moment for us,” Viscomi said. “We were enormously relieved, because it had come down to doing it right and nearly all of it in house, at UNC-Chapel Hill, or resigning ourselves to being frozen in time, using technologies that were becoming obsolete.”

Viscomi added: “We are extremely grateful to Chris Kielt and Research Computing’s Mike Barker for supporting our project, for collaborating with us and the UNC Libraries, knowing from the start that our redesign required a long-term commitment and not quick fixes. Our collaboration has enabled us to develop the Blake Archive from scratch, using tip-of-technology programming languages and aesthetic practices. … the Archive will again set the gold standard for digital humanities projects.”

 

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