Meet Our Team: Veronica Litt, Digital Scholarship Coordinator

Meet Our Team: Veronica Litt, Digital Scholarship Coordinator

Veronica Litt is the Sherman Centre’s Digital Scholarship Coordinator. Since joining SCDS in fall of 2021, she has coordinated 50+ events, hosted workshops on podcasting, and spearheaded communications initiatives including this interview series and the Sherman Centre’s monthly newsletter, “The SCDS Snapshot.” Learn more about our friendly DS Coordinator in this quick Q&A.  

Note: Usually Veronica conducts these interviews. Because interviewing herself would be too weird, SCDS Co-Directors Jay Brodeur and Andrea Zeffiro helped out and curated the following questions. Thank you, Jay and Andrea!

SCDS: How did you first become interested in digital scholarship? Tell us more about your experiences supporting and doing digital scholarship prior to joining the Sherman Centre. 
I started using digital tools to bring academic research to a wider audience back in my undergraduate degree when I hosted a YouTube channel on feminist criticism and canonical novels. When I pursued a PhD in English and Book History, I shifted to more ~professional~ public-facing work including “Cosmopolitanism in the Archive” (an interview-based blog for the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies) and a digital exhibit on popular eighteenth-century novels and the publishing industry. When I transitioned out of academia, I really enjoyed making lighter podcast projects on history and film

Throughout these projects, I used digital tools to try to bridge the divide between the “Ivory Tower” and the general public. I strongly believe that academic research can be a force for social good, but if we’re only publishing in paywalled journals and using impenetrable jargon, well, no one’s going to care about what we’re saying, if they can even access it in the first place. If we want research to matter, we have to communicate clearly and place our work where people can find it, whether that means discussing research on a podcast, creating a data visualization that synthesizes our key findings, or building a user-friendly website. Digital tools are a boon to researchers and thinkers who want their work to move into the public sphere.

Tile image for Yesterday's News podcast. Shows a painting of Judith decapitating Holofernes with Yesterday's News overlaid in a bright yellow font
Yesterday’s News ran for two seasons and explored queens and historical true crime.

SCDS: Take us through a day in the life of the Sherman Centre’s digital scholarship coordinator. 
When people ask what I do day to day, I usually joke that I just send emails. And I really do send a lot of emails (so many emails)—but that work is always in service of larger goals: supporting communications initiatives, coordinating events and workshops, providing resources for students, staying up-to-date with Digital Humanities tools, and engaging in longer-term visioning for the Sherman Centre.  
To give you a sense of the variety of forms my work can take, I’ll tweak the question and talk about some of my activities this week: I learned to use Twine (a delightful platform for creating digital choose-your-own-adventure stories), organized visits for students who are viewing VHS tapes in the Centre for a project on Hamilton’s Queer Archives, attended Andy Roddick’s excellent DMDS workshop on note management software, drafted the next issue of our newsletter, liaised with colleagues at Lyons New Media Centre, met with my student assistant, scheduled various meetings, put details in place for an exciting upcoming guest speaker series, and created web versions of several workshops we ran this semester.  
I really like that every day at the Sherman Centre is different and that I have lots of opportunities to learn new skills and connect with lovely, clever, funny people.  

A screencap of a Twine game passage. Text reads 'literally how? But I guess this is a novel about mushing together body parts and bringing the dead to life so logic doesn't exactly apply. BUT if logic has no place here---' then includes three choices for the reader 1)The sled dogs in the background are excited to meet each other at this big showdown. Let's leave Victor to grieve or w/e and go pet some dogs. 2) The Creature briefly dies then comes back to life and kills Victor. 3) Our class magically appears in the Arctic and gives Victor a stern talking to.
A screen capture from a Twine game I’m making for 2DH3. It’s a silly riff on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

SCDS: Just for fun, what’s a dream project you’d take on at work if you had endless time and resources? 
I think podcasts are a fantastic and fun way for scholars to communicate their research to the public. I would love to create a limited series based on my dissertation, which examined sexual politics in popular eighteenth-century novels about women, or a podcast that applied literary criticism and thoughtful analysis to popular culture.

Actually, come to think of it, I’m currently creating an assignment that will let me do a version of that second idea! I’m teaching the undergraduate course HUM2DH3: Creative, Collaborative, Critical: Approaches to Digital Scholarship. One of the course’s two major assignments will see the class create a podcast about cyber-cinema. I’m very excited to hear what the students think about the way we use movies to explore our feelings about technology.

A split image of Thandiwe Newton in Westworld and Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina.
Two pieces of cyber-cinema: Westworld and Ex Machina.

SCDS: Please tell us more about your project to create a digital edition of Eloisa: Or, a Series of Original Letters by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. What has it been like to transition this work from the analog to the digital? How have you enjoyed working with students and collaborating with colleagues in the Library?  

Working through the digitization process has been extremely interesting. Before I began this work, I did not appreciate how much human labour goes into digitization. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology can give you an early version of a digital text, but as my student assistant Subyeta Haque and I learned this year, that file is riddled with errors and needs a tremendous amount of human intervention before it’s anything like an e-book someone could actually read. To learn more about this work, I highly recommend Subyeta’s blog post where she discusses the movement from 18th century scan to OCR text file to cleaned up Word file.

frontispiece from Eloisa showing two women and a man in a garden
In this frontispiece from Eloisa, the hero has an animated discussion with Eloisa and her friend Clara,

Now that we’re about 75% through the novel, we’re going to experiment a little with our method. So far, Subyeta has preferred to correct the OCR file herself. I’m going to take some time in December, when things get a little quieter, to draw on Devon Mordell’s tutorials on “Pre-processing Digitized Texts” and use Python to correct common OCR errors, then see if that minimizes the time needed to manually correct the document. I’m really interested to see if the fluency Subyeta has developed with the OCR errors wins out over the Python-corrected version of the text, in terms of how long it takes to correct inevitable errors. I’m planning to write a blog post on this little experiment, so stay tuned for that.

In terms of collaborating with colleagues and students, it’s been a real pleasure. Subyeta has done a fantastic job with this edition; her attention to detail is stellar and exactly the skillset needed for this kind of work. Earlier in the process, we also had a lovely tour of some rare 18th century holdings, including two editions of Eloisa, at Archives and Research Collections. Myron Groover showed us some of the collection and gave Subyeta a miniature lesson on 18th-century book design. It was a wonderful day.

SCDS: Over your time at McMaster, does any particular collaboration or project stand out as especially meaningful or impactful? Please tell us about it. 
I’d like to highlight two projects. First, the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion’s Community Online Hate Reporting Platform. HCCI is creating this platform so that community members can report hate incidents and be connected to local supports without having to interact with the police. I played a tiny role in this work–just connecting people, coordinating meetings, and assisting with paperwork–but I think about the project often. I’d love to do more work that leverages academic research to address social inequities.

Second, the Podcasting workshops that I co-facilitate with Elaine Westenhoefer, a Digital Media Specialist at Lyons New Media Centre. Elaine and I first began this work with an hour-long presentation at a CSMA class, then scaled it up for a workshop for the MacPherson Institute’s week of Teaching & Learning programming, then scaled up again to a full-day boot camp for the Do More with Digital Scholarship workshop series. Continuing to refine and enhance this material has been a great way to flex my pedagogical muscles–plus, working with Elaine is a complete pleasure and, as above, I love podcasts and want more academics to consider making them!

Poster for Podcasting session

SCDS: What’s one thing everyone should know about the Sherman Centre and the people in it?  

Well, one thing more people should know is that our Co-Directors Jay Brodeur and Andrea Zeffiro are wonderful, smart, funny people. So far, they’ve avoided this interview series by saying that the spotlight should be on the staff, but I think this series just isn’t complete without them. Please join me in nagging them to submit to an interview 🙂
SCDS: Tell us more about yourself and what you like to do outside of work—your favorite TV show, a little-known hobby, a great recipe, whatever you like. 

When I’m not at work, I’m usually bothering my cats Crumbs and Hodge, lecturing my long-suffering partner on Taylor Swift’s latest album, or reading a book. Some recent reads I’ve enjoyed are In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, the Slow Horses series by Mick Herron, No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, and Louisa Luna’s Alice Vega series.

And I’ll lightning round your three other questions! My favourite TV show is Arrested Development. My little-known hobby is letterpress printing (I have a tabletop press at home). And my go-to recipe recommendation is Alison Roman’s anchovy pasta. It’s quick, delicious, and almost entirely shelf stable.

I can’t find an online version, so I’ll just put a condensed version of the recipe here. Bring some spaghetti to a boil, then turn the heat to medium so it’s bubbling away while you do the following steps. Thinly slice a yellow onion and fry it over medium heat until it’s softened (5ish minutes); add a tablespoon of tomato paste and a pinch of red pepper, mix with onion until everything turns brick red. Then add a full tin of anchovies (yes you can!). Let everything mingle for a minute or two then add a can of diced tomatoes and let things simmer. When the pasta is al dente drain it and add it to the tomato-y anchovy sauce. Serve and top with manchego, king of cheeses.

Covers for In the Dream House, Slow Horses, The Janes, and No One is Talking About This.
I highly recommend In the Dream House if you want to see a creative memoirist working at the height of her powers, Slow Horses if you like John LeCarre but wish he had a vulgar sense of humour, Louisa Luna’s Alice Vega series if you like thriller procedurals with tough lady detectives and sweet sad dad sidekicks, and No One is Talking About This if you want to ugly cry at 3 in the morning.

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