Public Humanities, Early American Studies, and the Digital Revolution

Jim Egan and Patrick Rashleigh (Brown University)

Can the digital turn in humanities scholarship produce more fruitful engagements between post-secondary institutions and the many publics that exist outside the academy? To engage this and related questions, this presentation will focus on Mapping Colonial American Publishing (, a collaborative project that uses library catalog data from two of Brown’s rare book libraries to visualize the history of publishing in the Americas before 1800.  Our recent efforts at engaging audiences beyond the academy has produced as many questions as answers.  We’ve wondered, for instance, what topics might draw readers to a subject that often draws more yawns than clicks, and how we might we use the digital to connect with the world outside the academy through partnerships with local historic sites, coordinating with museums and local public humanities groups, for instance, and/or elementary, middle, and/or secondary schools in order to advance the goals of all communities involved?

Jim Egan is a Professor in the English department and Senior Faculty Fellow at the Center for Public Humanities at Brown University.  In addition to a range of essays on colonial British-American writing, he’s published Oriental Shadows:  The Presence of the East in Early American Literature (Ohio State UP, 2011) and Authorizing Experience: Refigurations of the Body Politic in Seventeenth-Century New England Writing (Princeton UP, 1999).  He is currently collaborating on Mapping Colonial Americas Publishing Project (, which uses library catalog data in an effort to visualize New World printing over geographic space and across literary genres from European contact to 1800.

Patrick Rashleigh is a Data Visualization Coordinator within the Center for Digital Scholarship at Brown University Library. He works with faculty, students, and colleagues across Brown on visually-oriented projects and teaches classes on visualization tools and techniques.


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