I knew the day of reckoning was coming. As my son’s math homework became more complex and we had to add columns and rows to the multiplication tables we used for finding mnemonic patterns, long division loomed on the horizon. I’m not arithmophobic. I aced second-year Probability and Statistics, got through Calculus 201 (albeit barely), enjoyed Analytical Chemistry, and researched early modern account books and reckoners for part of my dissertation. Even in my career as an English/DH professor, I happily populate spreadsheets, devise complex formulas for norming and analyzing grades, and crunch through encoding whenever I get the chance. But I missed the unit on manual long division in grade 5, and never did master that dark art. Not until yesterday, that is.

I skipped an entire year of the BC elementary school curriculum. My school’s solution to a bored kid in Grade 5 was to move her abruptly to Grade 6 after Christmas. Whether or not the academic benefits outweighed the dire social consequences remains an open question. But one thing is certain: I was hopelessly confused by this process that all my new peers seemed to have mastered, ignorant of its purpose, and too shy to ask for help. Somehow I compensated—first by working out the answer laboriously in my head and then by resorting to a calculator as soon as we were allowed to bring one to school—and got all the way to my late 40s without needing the skill. But now my 10-year-old son is halfway through the very bit of the curriculum I skipped.

When he asked for help with his math homework on Tuesday, I scanned the page and saw the symbol I’d been dreading: that alarming combination of closing parenthesis with a long bar. (Apparently, ⟌ has no name. No wonder I’ve been filled with nameless dread for nearly forty years! It’s some consolation that Unicode thought to include it. Look up U+27CC if you ever need to insert the glyph into a document.)

Geeky asides aside, I had to confront my fear of long division (a phobia that, like U+27CC, lacks a name). My first move, though, was avoidance: “Hey, honey, how about if I cook supper tonight and you help with homework?” I thought my son would be happy with this arrangement, but it transpired that he prefers my partner’s cooking. So I had to confess my true motives.  With my phobia outed and my culinary skills in question, humility was really the only option.

I listened in on the lesson and heard my own confusion and resistance in my son’s voice. “What is this arrow for? Why can’t I just do it my head? The answer is obvious! What’s the point of all these lines and remainders?” The homework coach patiently explained that the learning outcome was mastery of the process, not production of the right answer. We have to learn the process on simple problems so that we can scale it up to less tractable problems, he said. How many times have I said similar things as a professor? So there was no excuse for not mastering the process of manual long division by remainders, despite the ubiquity of devices that calculate a million times faster than I ever could.

The next night we moved the white board into the kitchen and I became the student. Within three minutes, I was wielding the dry-erase marker myself, reckoning quotients from random numerators and denominators. The cleverness of the method—essentially an algorithm that breaks down long division into a series of shorter divisions—is deeply satisfying.


My first thought after performing two or three divisions in rapid succession was “This is genius! Who invented this technique?” And then of course I had to ask the question in a more formal way in the library today. English mathematician Henry Briggs (1561-1631; see ODNB or Wikipedia) usually gets the credit for teaching the long division algorithm in this particular way.

In 1597, Briggs was appointed the first professor of Geometry at Gresham College in London, endowed by Sir Thomas Gresham who built the Royal Exchange in London. In 1616, Briggs wrote the preface to the English translation of John Napier’s Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio (1614). The printer of A description of the admirable table o[f] logarithmes with a declaration of the most plentiful, easy, and speedy use thereof in both kindes of trigonometrie, as also in all mathematicall calculations (STC 18351) was Nicholas Okes, best known to Shakespeareans as the printer of the Pied Bull Quarto of King Lear but best known to MoEML and much admired by me as the printer of most of the mayoral pageant books. Long division has been hovering, unseen, on the periphery of my research life for a long time.

Inventor of logarithms, Napier recognized the impediment that complex calculation presents to mathematical investigation. “There is nothing,” he wrote, “that is so troublesome to Matheticall practise, nor that doth more molest and hinder Calculators [people performing calculations], then the Multiplications, Divisions, square, and cubical Extractions of great numbers” (STC 18351; Sig. A5r).

Briggs seems to have been a good teacher. At “Gresham house,” he “publickly taught the meaning & use of this [Napier’s] booke.” Given that not everyone could attend his classes, he aimed in his preface to “give some taste of the excellent use” of the book. He wanted to make clear that the techniques described in the book had an application. This particular book wasn’t ultimately about long division, which was merely a technique for performing the calculations necessary to produce logarithmic tables, but the message is pedagogically valuable.

When my son needs help with long division again, I will try to historicize the method and explain that it is simply a way of breaking down and rendering on paper something he understands quite well in the abstract. There are other algorithms that predate Brigg’s long division, and perhaps my son would find one of them more appealing. I will try to explain that the technique is not an end in itself, even though his math textbook presents a culturally and historically specific method as a universal law. And I will happily draw arrows and divide with him.

Versioning John Stow’s A Survey of London, or, What’s New in 1618 and 1633?

In June, I’ll be attending the conference of the Bibliographical Society of Canada for the first time. It’s here in Victoria, as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, an umbrella under which many learned societies shelter.

As a semi-regular instructor of our graduate-level Textual Studies course (English 500), I’m looking forward to learning about books from a wide range of periods and regions. This panel features a paper on American poet Walt Whitman (given in French) and a paper on Canadian poet bpNichol (yes, that is how the late bp signed his name).

One of the odd facts about English departments is that the medieval and early modern scholars inevitably teach the bibliography courses … to students who are overwhelmingly interested in contemporary poetry. I’m going to this conference with every intention and hope of returning to my office with a new set of bibliographical puzzles for my modern students.

When and Where
Monday, 3 June 2013
10:45 – 12:15 Editions and Revisions
Room: Cornett A-129
Chair: Éric Leroux (l’Université de Montréal)
Janelle Jenstad (University of Victoria), “Versioning John Stow’s A Survey of London, or, What’s New in 1618 and 1633?”
Pierre Hébert (Université de Sherbrooke), “Traduire le poète américain Walt Whitman pour ‘l’âime canadienne’ : ‘comme ce petit saut lui ferait du bien!’”
Katherine Wooler (Dalhousie University), “evolve: Editing the poetry of bpNichol”

Sneak Preview of my Paper

Versioning John Stow’s A Survey of London, or, What’s New in 1618 and 1633?

John Stow’s A Survey of London is best known in its 1598 first edition and its 1603 second edition. John Strype’s 1720 magisterial post-fire revision of A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster is likewise well known as “the standard and invaluable work of reference for historians of the capital.” Much less attention has been given to the intervening editions, notably the 1618 and 1633 editions. These posthumous editions were crucial to the development of the tradition that I call accretive revision, whereby Stow’s perambulation of the city was retained as the core of a text that was “furthered” interstitially with commentary on new developments since Stow had surveyed that part of London. The 1618 edition established the tradition of editorial revision. Anthony Munday “continued, corrected and much enlarged” Stow’s text, but fashioned himself as an editor in his “Epistle Dedicatorie.” This edition also changed the title from A Survey to The Survey, signalling the authority and canonicity of the work. In 1633, The Survey was finally deemed “completely finished.” Published in folio for the first time, the text is marked as an official utterance of the city. The Corporation of London’s coat of arms faces the title page. Stow is credited with having “begunne” The Survey, but the corporate authorship of “A.M. H.D and others” frames Stow’s words. Just as the size of the book is materially increased by publication in folio, the boundaries of London are increased by the addition of a verbal “perambulation foure miles about London,” attesting to the outward growth of London’s urbs (buildings). At the same time, the London livery companies, whose jurisdiction lay mostly within the old walled city, put their stamp on the book with full page woodcuts of their arms (for the 12 great companies) and half-page woodcuts for the lesser companies. At The Map of Early Modern London, we are preparing a versioned edition of the 1598, 1603, 1618, and 1633 texts of A/The Survey. Versioning, a form of electronic collation, allows us to see at a glance that the nature of the revisions to Stow are accretive rather than corrective, added to the edges of Stow’s text rather than replacing it. We are also digitizing my copy of the 1633 Survey so that the many newly added woodcuts are accessible to readers who wish to read the visual dimensions of the work. My paper concludes with a demonstration of our versioned edition and a hands-on exploration of the 1633 book.

Mobilizing Student Scholarship for The Map of Early Modern London

I like the recent trend, particularly noticeable in the DH world, of posting revised versions of conference papers to our websites and blogs.  Too much scholarship goes back into the electronic filing cabinet after a conference, never again to see the light of day.  Yet it does filter into academic discourse via those people who attended the session.  As a conference-goer, I always want something to cite when I share the intellectual bounty with my students and colleagues back home.   But as conference participant, I don’t always want to turn my conference papers into articles.  Sometimes the argument isn’t weighty enough; sometimes triggering dialogue is the main point of the paper.  In any case, my conference “papers” these days consist of speaking notes, or, occasionally, something carefully scripted for oral performance.  (Thank goodness we don’t read our papers aloud to each other as often as we used to!)  The idea has been shared, we had a good discussion, and I have other things to do.

So, in the spirit of sharing my ideas freely (the Sample Reality principle), here’s a slightly revised version of the five-minute paper I gave at “Building Digital Humanities in the Undergraduate Classroom” at MLA 2012 in Seattle.  Brian Croxall (co-organizer with Kathi Inman Berens) created a website for the “Hands-On Show-and-Tell” session, where you can read the session proposal (which responds to Stephen Ramsay), panelist bio-bibliographical notes, project abstracts, and assignments created by panelists for their courses.   The session was well attended (over 100 conferees, I believe); I hope the MLA will offer more sessions of this nature.  Thanks to Brian and Kathi for organizing and presiding over a wonderfully stimulating exchange of ideas and projects.


Mobilizing Student Scholarship for The Map of Early Modern London

I tell two stories about the building of The Map of Early Modern London.  One is the grant-application version in which I frame the project as a contribution to the new discipline of spatial humanities or geohumanities.   I explain that our project builds an understanding of the literature of London by mapping its references to streets and sites.   I talk about Franco Moretti, distant readings, and space as a signifier.  This is a “why” story in which I explain why we need to map texts.

The second story is the messier history of the project.  Three students needed something to BUILD because they were in a course on building websites, way back in 1999.  This is the “how” story of how the project came to be.  Some of the chapters in that story are the painful chapters of turning HTML into XML, pages into databases, WYSIWYG into TEI tags, and formatting into stylesheets.  These chapters constitute the fits-and-starts growth curve of many first-generation digital projects.

The “what” has changed over the years; in fact, we still struggle with the “what” question.  What IS this project?  Originally, it was a digital atlas of a historical map of 1560s London, drawn at a time when the genre of civic maps was being developed.  Our work was to annotate the map in this new and cool digital way.  Increasingly, the map became more of a platform – the background rather than the foreground.  These days, many parts of the site function without needing the map at all.  We’ve built geotags into every file in the database, so we could, in theory, attach our work to any georeferenced map of London.  

Along the way, I have learned just as much from my students as they have learned from me (and perhaps more).  It’s been profoundly humbling and exciting, and I like to think that this is pedagogy at its best, not least because well over half of the students who have been part of the project now work in the fields of literary studies, digital humanities, or IT.

Kathi and Brian challenged us to describe how we build DH projects in the undergraduate classroom.  I would like to think more deeply about what building entails, and what it is that we ask our students to build.  “Build” is a verb.  I therefore offer a set of verbs that describe what students DO when they BUILD the SITE, the CONTENT, and the PAGES.  Then I’d like to reframe the question and ask what we as teachers do to BUILD the student.  Finally, I’d like to offer a refinement on the noun, “student.”  When we have our students build projects, and when we invest in building their skillsets, we offer opportunities for students to inhabit professional roles.

What do students do when they build the SITE?  They…

plan (the steps)

digitize (a printed map in this case)

scan (the textual artefact)

design (the menus and TOCs)

choose (the keywords and terms)

identify (each place)

regularize (each name)

assign (XML:ids)

structure (the database)

encode (the articles)

activate (the links)

What do students do when they build the CONTENT?  They…

prioritize (the places to be described)

flag (places of literary significance)

determine (the “thickness” of the description)

research (the history of)

        • people, events, buildings
        • street name etymology

research (the literature by)

        • place of printing and dissemination
        • construction of place within literature

differentiate (present from past and future)

find (other web resources and open-source articles)

What do students do when they build the descriptive or argumentative PAGES?  They…

integrate (the historical, geographical, and literary)

write (the encyclopedia-style entry)

respond (to feedback)

revise (their writing, their ideas, their presentation thereof)

co-edit (with the general editor)

identify (each site by its XML:id)

justify (site identifications)

cross-referee (all linking pages)

respond (to future cross-referees)

What do teachers do when we build the STUDENTS?  We…

provide (a high-impact opportunity) [MoEML receives over 400,000 page requests per month, with over 20% of visitors requesting more than ten pages]

invite (them to contribute)

teach (skills)

share (tools, resources)

expect (high standards)

coach (through co-editing sessions)

appreciate (their contributions)

learn (from them)

include (their work alongside that of senior scholars)

follow (their careers)

What do students BECOME by doing these things?


Information architect





Test user




Transcription checker






Project manager

No doubt, each of us here today could add other verbs to refine what it means “to build DH,” and other nouns to describe our students’ roles.  Let’s build a capacious definition of building, large enough to house the many things we do with DH in the undergraduate classroom.