Digital Humanities Hands-On

Study Guide: Hitchhiker’s Guide to Digital Methods for Book History

Book history is a rich area for experimenting with digital methods. From digitisation to digital editions, there is inspiration aplenty for your own research projects. In this video, I discuss three examples of digital methods in action: the Voltaire Library Project; a digital edition of the Janua linguarum reserata from the Taylorian Library; and the #ShowUsYourJanua campaign I undertook for my final project in the History of the Book course. In each example, I will take you through the process of making physical objects into digital artifacts that you can use to study your materials in innovative ways.

The goal of this lecture is to help you transform your chosen materials from ‘analogue’ objects to digital artefacts. This transformation can enable a whole range of new possibilities for exploring and better understanding your research.


(1) A book, manuscript, image, or other object you can handle: this can be the books Professor Lähnemann distributed in class

(2) A ruler: you can find one the back of the course introductory materials

(3) The book’s shelfmark: this is absolutely essential– for sharing your digital artifact with others and making sure you know where to find it! You will need to include this on a slip of paper in the photographs you are taking.

(4) Snakes and pillows: a combination only book historians could find comfortable! Use these to prop open your book for taking pictures. Make sure not to bend the spine or force open the object. Use more pillows if needed.

(5) Device for taking photos: tablet, phone, or digital camera will suffice

(6) Good lighting! Try and find a room with appropriate lighting or a lamp, but don’t rely too much on your phone’s flash– too much light exposure can damage fragile objects. (If you’re interested in special collections and conservation, check out this text shared by Andrew Dunning, R.W. Hunt Curator of Medieval Manuscripts at the Bodleian).

Throughout the video, I will pose questions for you to think critically about the role of digital methods in book history. There will also be activities for you to do with your chosen object.

Learning Aims

(1) Identify meaningful information about the book, or ‘metadata’

(2) Generate questions to ask about the metadata

(3) Take pictures of your object to use later

(4) Understand different kinds of methods you can use for your research

(5) Brainstorm possible ways in which digital methods could aid or enhance your research


(1) The Voltaire Library Project

(2) Digital edition of the Janua linguarum reserata from the Taylorian

(3) #ShowUsYour Janua Twitter thread and blog post


If you have questions or comments about the video, or would like to know more about these projects discussed or the digital humanities generally, please feel free to contact me:

Email and Teams:

Twitter: @LZLock89

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