Postdoc Fellow, Data Curation for Early Modern Studies

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Created: December 16, 2013


The University of Pennsylvania Libraries seek an innovative and energetic CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow in Data Curation for Early Modern Studies to play an integral role in the working life of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at Penn’s Van Pelt Library, including overseeing the transition of the Penn Provenance Project (PPP) and its data to a new platform.

Penn Provenance Project (PPP)
Through its faculty and library resources, the University of Pennsylvania has long been at the forefront of book history and material text research, especially in the early modern era. Building on this strength, the Kislak Center is actively becoming a node for provenance history research. This research is essential for understanding how texts moved through the early modern world, what kinds of books collectors and libraries of the period valued, and the nature of print and manuscript cultural production. The fellow will play a key role in developing this field through his or her research and involvement in working with book historical data at the Kislak Center through the Penn Provenance Project.

Born out of a CLIR hidden collections grant, the PPP was created by the Kislak Center’s cataloging team which has captured more than 12,000 images of provenance markings, bookstamps, and bindings. Dating largely from the early modern period, these invaluable witnesses to the history of book culture and circulation are available to the world through Flickr for viewing, comment, and identification ( The Penn Provenance Project differs from many other provenance initiatives in that it places digital images of markings, stamps, and inscriptions alongside bibliographic information. This visual data allows researchers and the public to compare physical objects all around the world and will eventually enable scholars to survey the landscape of early modern book culture with ease and precision. There have been over one million page views of content from the site and the project has proved useful in identifying a number of previously unknown book owners. The global community for the site includes people from many backgrounds, including experts in paleography from Germany as well as non-academics like Pedro Joaristi who identified one of his father’s books based on our photographs.

The Kislak Center is now poised to develop the Penn Provenance Project well beyond the boundaries of our own collections in order to help identify and curate marks of ownership from book and manuscript holdings worldwide. Currently a wealth of information about early modern book owners and libraries exists within the PPP’s Flickr site but this data is largely unstructured and is not in easy machine-readable conversation with other resources.  The CLIR fellow will be an integral part of the Penn Provenance Project team as it plans and executes the transition from Flickr and will have the responsibility of curating the data generated by the expanded project. In order to bring as many data sources to bear on the project as possible, the fellow will work closely with several partner institutions. For example, the curators of rare books and manuscripts at the Folger Library have agreed to participate in growing the PPP by contributing provenance information from their rich early modern holdings. The fellow will ensure that all data gathered and generated by the PPP and partners is available openly and linked with larger early modern data repositories like the Consortium of European Research Libraries’ (CERL) online provenance database.

Penn Provenance Project Fellow responsibilities:
  • Project management: ensuring the project stays on time and others' tasks are done in a timely manner
  • Data mapping and transformation:  working with colleagues to implement a data model and  managing the movement of data from Flickr to a new repository
  • Bringing in new data: working with colleagues to ingest images and provenance descriptions from both Penn and partner institutions into the PPP.
  • Expanding the range of partner participants: offering guidance and instruction to the faculty, students, and library staff that will be generating new data for the project.
  • Linking data: working with colleagues and partners to ensure that PPP data is linked with other data sources in the field, such as the VIAF and CERL authority files.
  • Promoting use of the PPP: through teaching, independent research, papers, online or live presentations, workshops and/or symposia that help scholars, students, librarians, and the general public understand the significance of provenance data to Early Modern Studies.
  • Strategic development of the PPP: planning and experimenting with innovative ways of displaying and analyzing the project’s data.
At Penn the fellow will report to Will Noel (Director – Kislak Center) and receive mentoring and guidance from experts in the field. These include, Dot Porter (Curator of Digital Research Services), Doug Emery (Digital Content Programmer), Zack Lesser (Associate Professor, Department of English), Peter Stallybrass (Professor, Department of English) as well as thewider Philadelphia history of the book community. The fellow will also be a member of the English Department at Penn and will have access to the resources and faculty of that body. He or she will also have the opportunity to participate in the programs of the Kislak Center and the English Department including organizing seminars on best digital practices, delivering lectures, and curating exhibitions. The fellow will help plan, solicit contributions, and speak at the seventh annual Schoenberg Symposium on Manuscript Studies in the Digital Age in 2015. This will provide the fellow with a platform for presenting new developments in the field of early modern data curation, including those to which he or she has contributed.

The candidate will hold a PhD in an area of early modern studies, with a concentration in the history of the book. Working knowledge of at least one non-English language is preferred. Experience with prior digital projects and some knowledge of programming preferred. Prior work experience in special collections is desirable.

About the Kislak Center
The Kislak Center is the product of a $17 million renovation project and houses an extraordinary collection of rare books and manuscripts. Its mission is to bring its collections together with modern technology and a wide base of patrons in order to provide access to and understanding of our common cultural and intellectual heritage. The fellow will benefit from the combined skills and knowledge of the Kislak Center’s curators, researchers, and technology professionals as well as the faculty of various humanities departments and the wider resources of the University.

The Kislak Center has a deep commitment to provenance research and book history and the fellow will be able to draw upon the resources and expertise already extant here. For instance, the Center already supports the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts (SBDM). The SBDM is the largest repository of manuscript provenance data in the world, currently containing over 200,000 records, with more being added each day, representing the movements of approximately 90,000 manuscripts. The records in the SBDM represent not only a wealth of data on manuscripts produced in the early modern period but also records of countless book transactions and sales from that era.  In addition, the Kislak Center hosts digital facsimiles of more than 3,000 manuscript books from the early modern period in its collections, which might fruitfully be used in the Penn Provenance Project. The Center also has extensive expertise in working with data. The Curator for Digital Research Services, for example, is a co-Director of the Mellon-funded Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance (MESA) project to aggregate data on digitized medieval collections of manuscripts and other objects.

Last updated: Tuesday, February 28, 2017 23:44 UTC