Take Home Exam

Due: 24 January 2017 to bdms.staff@gmail.com

This Take Home Exam consists of four questions, for which a total of ten points may be awarded (allotment of points is specified per question). Each question should be answered in a mini-essay of specified length; please write in full sentences, cite references properly, and format one document in Docx according to the BDMS Style Sheet.


Question 1 – 500 words, 2 points

The Walt Whitman Archive is an online project, hosted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which offers access primary and secondary sources about the American poet, essayist and writer Walt Whitman (1819-1892). The archive demonstrates applications of  the technologies you have been taught about during DMT, as well as others you may not be familiar with. Explore the project, and answer the following questions in a running text.

  • Which of the functionalities that you see on the website have (likely) been implemented using which technologies that have been discussed during DMT? Can you think of additional functionalities that could be implemented with these technologies?
  • Which of the project’s functionalities go beyond the affordances of the technologies featured in DMT?
  • Which features of the project do you find particularly striking? Why?
  • Also analyse the rationale for creating the Walt Whitman Archive. Which new possibilities for research or access to source materials does it open up? For whom is the site intended?


Question 2 – 600 w., 3 p.

At the Book & Digital Media Studies Department, we like to keep track of our alumni and their careers, to inspire current and future students and maintain our embedding in the book-world. In the records we keep, we could combine generic personal data of each alumnus (such as date of birth, nationality, prior education etc.) with the data generated during the MA programme (choice of specializations, thesis supervisor, etc.). We also receive information on their career progress, which we of course want to store (job titles, companies, etc.).

  1. Please design a database model the department could use for this purpose; create a full ERD that shows entities, properties and relations, and explain the choices you made in a brief paragraph. Please include all properties you deem relevant, but avoid redundancy and keep in mind this is a data collection for professional, not personal, use. (max. 300 w., 2 p.)
  2. How would you present the data online – provided there would be excellent site security that would safely allow displaying any data? What functionalities could you offer current students who would want to explore the alumni data? (max. 300 words, 1p.)


Question 3 – 600 w., 3 p.

This question mainly tests your ability to translate an open research question to concrete SQL queries; if you were presented with a research question, which methods would you apply to address it? The exact results which are returned by the database are, in this case, of less importance. The research question is as follows:

“Does The Guardian’s bestsellers database (that you have worked with!)  provide support for the hypothesis that the ‘winner’ increasingly ‘takes it all’ on the market for trade publishing? In other words, can we claim that book buyers focus increasingly on a small number of titles in a limited number of genres which they buy in large quantities, instead of acquiring a wider range of different titles sold in smaller numbers?”

  1. Explain how you would go about answering this research question. Formulate the type of information you would look for, and then create queries with which you could obtain that information from the database (its structure can be deduced from the SQL statements, found here). Also explain what the result of your queries would look like. Note that you would usually need a succession of queries for different approaches to the research question. (300 w., 2 p.)
  2. As was explained, the bestsellers database was obtained from the website of The Guardian. The article that was written about this data set highlights a number of interesting aspects of this data set. It also encourages readers to carry out further experiments with the database. Which interesting findings can you add to the facts which are discussed in the article? (300 w., 1 p.)


Question 4 – 500 w., 2 p.

Please read the following three texts:

  • Fabio Ciotti & Francesca Tomasi, ‘Formal Ontologies, Linked Data, and TEI Semantics’, Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative 9 (2016), online, n.pag. DOI: 10.400/jtei.1480; URL: http://jtei.revues.org/1480.
  • Lou Burnard, ‘On the hermeneutic implications of text encoding’, in: Domenico Fiormonte & Jonathan Usher (eds.) New Media and the Humanities: Research and Applications (Oxford: Humanities Computing Unit, 2001), pp. 31-38. URL: http://users.ox.ac.uk/~lou/wip/herman.htm.
  • Allen Renear, David Durand & Elli Mylonas, ‘Refining Our Notion of What Text Really Is: The Problem of Overlapping Hierarchies’, in: Nancy Ide & Susan Hockey (eds.), Research in Humanities Computing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996); URL: http://cds.library.brown.edu/resources/stg/monographs/ohco.html

According to you, which two aspects of the TEI standard can most seriously complicate its use within humanities research concentrating on texts? Motivate your answer and refer to this literature and/or other relevant materials from the course syllabus.