Derek Long


Digital Projects

Both my research and my teaching are grounded in digital practice.

Iterative Pragmatics: An Approach to Digital Humanities

My approach to the Digital Humanities emphasizes an iterative pragmatics in the building of digital datasets and applications. Digital tools should be built and used according to critical interpretive frameworks, with the framework being used to plan and improve the tool, but researchers also need to keep the reverse relationship in mind — that is, the practical capabilities of the tool can help to improve, shape, and in some cases dictate the limits of the framework.

An example of just such an approach is Scaled Entity Search (SES), a technical process and interpretive framework I co-created to use with Arclight, a visualization and search tool for the two million pages of digitized trade and fan magazines in the Media History Digital Library. Where Arclight allows users to search for any terms of interest (stars, films, companies) across the history of the Hollywood trade press, Scaled Entity Search provides users a way to interpret the results of their search - and to be critical of those results in the process.

However, SES is not simply a critical end point. Rather, it provides a jumping-off point for subsequent searches, so that users can better contextualize and revise their results (and, in the long run, so that the Arclight tool can be improved based on those results). It is this process of iteration and revision that makes SES such a powerful (and useful) method, especially for media historiography. You can read about the details of SES in published proceedings of the IEEE here.

My digital practice stems from this fundamental approach, and involves not only the creation of digital tools and databases, but also the curation of data and metadata, and analysis that results in published research.

Digital Production: From the Grant to the Tool

In 2013, I co-authored (with Eric Hoyt) a successful $200,000 grant funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to create Arclight. As Arclight’s data manager, I was in charge of ensuring the accurate organization of the 2 million page document corpus within the application’s search functions and online visualization tool. This has given me a macro-level understanding of the process of digital project management, from funding to actualization to publication.

My work on Arclight helped to define my approach to Digital Humanities and gave me the technical skills required to build and curate digital databases, including PHP, SQL, Perl, and working with the Unix command line. However, it also inspired me to create and manage a digital project based in my own research in media industry history. The project aims to curate media history data not only for my own research, but also for others to use, cite, and help improve.


Early Cinema History Online is a filmographic database featuring credits for over 35,000 individual titles released in the United States from 1908-1920. The data, based on Einar Lauritzen and Gunnar Lundquist's American Film-Index and transcribed into digital form over several years by Paul Spehr and Susan Dalton, includes thousands of short films of less than four reels not catalogued by the American Film Institute database. It also allows for scholars to contribute to the data, with the goal of collaborative improvement. This fits into my own research goals of uncovering the marginal and the forgotten in media history.

Finally, my work in digital production has resulted in a number of co-authored publications.