Skip to main content

“The Yellow Wall-Paper”: a Critical Reflection on an Edition by Students for Students

Published onJan 26, 2024
“The Yellow Wall-Paper”: a Critical Reflection on an Edition by Students for Students

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s1 iconic short story, “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” is taught in high schools and colleges alike. According to the Open Syllabus Project, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is ranked thirty-sixth in the list of the most frequently assigned titles in a corpus of over seven million university-level syllabi between 2014 and 2018. That this short story appears nearly 6,000 times in these compiled syllabi from (most obviously) English literature courses to courses in history, women’s studies, sociology, nursing, and psychology (among others) points to its ubiquity in the classroom. It is no wonder; although Gilman wrote the story in the 1890s, the depiction of a narrator who becomes increasingly fixated on the wallpaper within the room she is confined in for her “health” provides a harsh critique of contemporaneous Western medical advice for women along with an insightful glimpse into the ways patriarchal power structures hindered and harmed women at the time—two topics still relevant in a world that often fails to adequately address women’s health concerns and continues to be beholden to historical norms of ideal feminine behaviour.

This article discusses the creation of a new resource for students and their teachers who are reading and learning about “The Yellow Wall-Paper”: an interactive digital edition of the famous short story. Given the popularity of Gilman’s text in education, this edition provides a much-needed free resource that will help students engage with the text while better understanding the story itself, Gilman’s relationship to it, print history, questions of editing and authorship practices, and the study of textual variants. The website contains contextual materials which describe how to use the edition and provides a still-growing introduction aimed at students as well as a digital version of Gilman’s short 1913 piece titled “Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper.” The edition’s main feature, however, is an interactive digital comparison of the manuscript of the short story Gilman wrote in 1890 and its first publication in the New England Magazine (often referred to as the “periodical” in the edition itself and this article) in 1892. Gilman claimed that she was never paid for the story’s initial publication and there is no proof that she was involved in the edits made, making a comparison of variants particularly interesting.

Figure 1: The website’s comparison view of the manuscript and periodical versions of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” highlights variants in yellow and allows for several filtering options as well as the ability to download the TEI and XSLT files.

The side-by-side comparison highlights the variants between the manuscript and first publication with several filters (modified radio buttons) that allow users to remove several features in the text. These filters can change the display by removing the yellow highlighting that points to variants for an easier reading experience (“Edition Differences”); page and column markers (although these markers are what provide useful links to page images of the digital facsimiles of both the manuscript and periodical); “Stylized Content,” or the instances where a word is underlined in the manuscript and italicized in the periodical with no other kind of variant present; any corrections (such as obvious misspellings) made by the edition editors (“Our Corrections”); places within the manuscript where Gilman deleted words (“Authorial Deletions”); and the Scroll Lock feature that forces the two texts to be scrolled through simultaneously. Users can also download the code behind the comparative edition with links to both the TEI and XSLT available. TEI, which stands for Text Encoding Initiative, is a set of standards for XML (Extensible Markup Language) that the TEI Consortium developed to create a shared practice for marking up specific characteristics of texts—standards that have become the norm in encoding scholarly digital editions.2 XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations) allows for converting TEI into HTML, the primary language for creating web pages and displaying online content. The inclusion of the TEI and XSLT files used in the creation of this edition conforms with the common best practice of providing the TEI in digital editing projects, while trumpeting for a more widespread commitment to including downloadable versions of the XSLT.

Figure 2: Clicking on the page markers in the manuscript transcription will bring up the relevant facsimile hosted on the Schlesinger Library’s Charlotte Perkins Gilman Collection. Both the page and column markers in the periodical transcription similarly allow readers to view the digitized New England Magazine version.

Beyond outlining these features, this article centres on sharing the process behind the project’s creation, particularly as “The Yellow Wall-Paper” edition is largely by students for students. Through a reflection on this project, I look at how building a digital edition with students is both a method for teaching digital skills and giving students first-hand experience in the often-analog components of digital products. From experience, this gives student participants a heightened appreciation for and understanding of the analog and digital labour behind digital humanities (DH) projects and other digital resources. In particular, I worked with an undergraduate (since graduated) at Christopher Newport University (CNU), Rebecca Norton, who is listed as co-editor of the edition. However, as this article lays out, many students collaborated with me in the creation of this edition, from transcribing the manuscript source to encoding a (in many ways, experimental) first round of the texts to providing user feedback on the edition-in-progress to pitching and producing mock-ups of what the edition might grow to look like. Over the course of five semesters, students have been integral to the creation of this edition and involved throughout the process.

Since it is intended as an instructional tool for high schoolers and undergraduates, student work and feedback is a foundational component of this edition’s creation. In the sections below, I tell the story of how this edition came to be and offer a reflection on the experience of working with students over various classes and semesters on the creation of a digital resource specifically aimed at other students. Moreover, I provide key takeaways about what I learned working with students on this edition: the problems with transcription work now that few students are trained to read or produce cursive writing; the regret of not trusting students beyond the most basic encoding for editions (and so, an argument for being more ambitious with students regarding code); the need for showing students visuals of the imagined project early on; the ways project management skills impact teaching a public project; and the importance of inviting undergraduate students into the creation of resources built for their population. Thus, this article is in the spirit of Miriam Posner’s popular blog post “How Did They Make That?” and the previous work of the Journal of Digital Humanities (an open access publication active in the early 2010s). What follows is a foray behind the scenes of a DH project that heavily involves students. The process I have described below is not perfect, but that is part of the point of this piece: to reflect on how and why we might involve students more substantially in the creation of digital editions (and arguably other digital projects). To do this, I describe my approach with students in several digital humanities–based courses and the practical lessons I learned along the way.

Project Background

I first taught Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” in 2017 as a graduate student at Texas A&M University. Inspired by Katherine D. Harris’s “Digital Dickens & Reading by Candlelight” assignment, I wanted students to read the 1892 New England Magazine version of Gilman’s short story by candlelight (or a close approximation). I printed out copies of the digitized New England Magazine version for each student to read and paired this assignment with a trip to Cushing Memorial Library and Archives at the university where we looked at various materials from the collections, including other periodicals from the nineteenth century. Afterward, I asked students to reflect on the experience, discussing topics from the setting they created for reading, the ways dim light affected their reading experience (especially for such a chilling story), how the illustrations (that many editions do not reprint) impacted (or did not impact) their reading experience, and what it was like reading a facsimile periodical from the late nineteenth century. It was a wonderful learning experience for me and my students as we thought about the text as an object that can change depending on how and where and in what format you read it.

When I started teaching an Introduction to Digital Humanities course at Christopher Newport University in 2020, I similarly wanted students to think about texts as mutable objects, especially as we interacted with them online and (in the case of one class) in virtual spaces. Moreover, I felt as if being trapped in a yellow wallpapered room had particular resonance during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. When I could not discover a scholarly digital edition of “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” I determined that this would play a part in all of my courses that academic year: we would start to create one.

When I found that the manuscript images of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” had been digitized by the Schlesinger Library’s Charlotte Perkins Gilman Digital Collection at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, I was particularly excited about having students create a digital edition of the manuscript. I also discovered Shawn St. Jean’s 2006 print edition (and several other articles by St. Jean) that argues for a comparison between the manuscript and periodical versions of Gilman’s short story. I realized that a more intuitive online version that compares the two texts would be particularly suitable for those new to textual editing and textual study. St. Jean’s edition is admirable and irreplaceable. Still, it is difficult to access (it is priced at over $40) and read, particularly the EPUB version, which does not allow for a side-by-side comparison of the manuscript and periodical as intended. In contrast, I envisioned an open access digital edition that would highlight the variants between the two sources, bringing visual attention to them rather than depending on intensive close reading or a list of variants. As St. Jean imagined in the introduction to his own edition, “Can variant texts, enabled by the convenience of electronic storage and access, be far behind?” (xx). We were not (very) far behind: “The Yellow Wall-Paper” digital edition went live in March 2022, the year of the 130th anniversary of the story’s first printing.

From the beginning, I wanted this to be an edition by students for students, but I also wanted to teach students the often-analog labour that goes into creating a digital product. That is why I had students in my fall 2020 Introduction to Digital Humanities course collaborate on their own transcription of the manuscript while I transcribed the periodical. Students in five Writing for Digital Humanities courses over the course of the 2020–2021 academic year did the first round of TEI markup on the (edited) periodical and manuscript transcriptions before a student, Rebecca Norton, who is listed as co-editor, worked alongside me during the summer of 2021 to compile and edit the TEI, co-write the introduction, and encode “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper.” In spring 2022, I took the compiled code and combined the manuscript and periodical files into one TEI document, finished the introduction, and wrote the “About the Site” page based on feedback from the Writing for Digital Humanities students that semester. The edition went through peer review in the summer of 2022 via The Recovery Hub for American Women Writers. I have made some of the suggested edits but not all, since throughout this project students have been an integral part of its coming to fruition. Thus far, eight classes have worked on this project in some capacity, with another two suggesting and drafting substantial updates and additions to the project in fall 2022, largely based on addressing the peer review feedback in ways that most interests them. This article, then, is both a process piece and a reflection on my own experiences creating a digital edition of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” with students: what I did, what I would do differently, and what I plan to do with students going forward.

First Steps


Before I had students start transcribing the digitized manuscript of “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” I created an assignment based on N. Katherine Hayles’ 2010 essay “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine.” Students first read the periodical version of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and performed a traditional close reading. Next, they reflected on their experience reading the hypertext version of the story from the Hypertext Library and, finally, they input the story into Voyant Tools.3 Students wrote multimedia essays about their different reading experiences and how the modality changed their interpretations. As a trained literature scholar, I wanted students to read the text closely through more traditional practices but also think about how technology can impact and supplement their reading.

Having read “The Yellow Wall-Paper” in periodical form, we read St. Jean’s introduction to his dual-text edition of the manuscript and periodical versions of Gilman’s iconic work. We also read portions of A Guide to Documentary Editing by Mary-Jo Kline and Susan Holbrook Perdue so that students could be introduced to best practices for transcribing documents. Each student was assigned three pages of Gilman’s manuscript to transcribe. They were responsible for producing a diplomatic transcription and a clear transcription that removed all of Gilman’s corrections (such as deleted words). Although my original plan was to use Juxta Commons to compare the course’s clear transcriptions with the periodical transcriptions I produced, Juxta had recently been phased out and so we used DiffChecker, a less than ideal option,4 to compare the two documents instead.

Throughout the process, I encouraged students to see transcription––and textual editing more broadly––as an interpretive act by combining their transcription activity with an essay that asked them to think critically about their experience transcribing “The Yellow Wall-Paper” and, more specifically, how the variants between the manuscript and periodical might change their interpretation of the short story. In one assignment, they had to think about the decisions they made in determining, for instance, if Gilman meant for there to be a paragraph break or not (itself an interpretive act as there are several instances in the manuscript where this is not entirely clear) and what the changes made by the staff at the New England Magazine regarding paragraph breaks more broadly mean to the ways we read “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” After all, as St. Jean points out, “Where [the manuscript] presents a coherent-looking, well-paragraphed narrative that becomes more and more fragmented as the narrator grows agitated, [the periodical] presents an entirely fragmented, rambling account in which, from the first, the narrator appears unable to hold her thoughts together” (St. Jean 272).

Students wrote nuanced readings of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” by comparing the variants, from the addition of paragraph breaks to alterations in punctuation and phrasing. One student, for instance, commented on how added paragraph breaks in the periodical often resulted in one-sentence paragraphs, making these lines more pronounced and, in so doing, become “bold declarations.” Several students pointed to the addition of exclamation marks in the periodical (in places where Gilman originally placed periods or question marks) which, when taken together, appear to give the narrative a more frenzied feel that echoes St. Jean’s discussion of the paragraph structure quoted above. The alterations in phrasing also garnered some student attention. As one mentioned, the periodical changes the ending of the line “John was asleep and I hated to waken him, so I kept still and watched the moonlight on that undulating wall-paper till it made me creepy” from the manuscript to “till I felt creepy” (italics my own). This observation made me think about how the alterations to language here minimize the ways the narrator’s “madness” is caused by outside forces (“it made me” versus “I felt”). As just one more example of my own, I often look at the last two lines when describing how variants can alter meaning. The last paragraph of the periodical reads: “Now why should that man have fainted? But he did, and right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!” (656). The manuscript, in contrast, splits these lines into two paragraphs and does not contain the final words “every time,” ending instead with “him!” (58). In many ways, the periodical is “creepier” because the addition of “every time” implies that the narrator continues to repeatedly “creep” over John’s prostrate body. However, we also might think about how the word “John” is the most frequent word used in “The Yellow Wall-Paper” (excepting, of course, extremely common words—often called “stop words”—such as “the”), and Gilman’s choice to end on “him!” might have further meaning. I tend to think that by ending the entire story on “him!”, Gilman emphasizes John’s role in the narrator’s decline.5

This introductory DH course’s assignment structure asked students to engage in literary analysis of both nondigital and digital versions of a text for a multimodal essay, participate in transcribing digitized images of a handwritten historical document, and write a more traditional essay analyzing the variants between two historical documents through a digital tool. I wanted to help students discover how more traditional humanities skills still apply in the digital realm while also showing them how modern technology can provide new (or easier) approaches to the humanities. Analog objects are often reimagined in digital spaces, and digital spaces often require analog skills and components. Whether students are learning in a specifically DH class or not, thinking about both the analog and the digital in conjunction helps students make connections between what they are learning for this particular assignment and its usefulness in other contexts.


TEI, as discussed, is a standard set of tags for using XML to mark up the descriptive features of a text and has become the standard for encoding scholarly digital editions (SDEs). I had been trained in TEI through several Programming 4 Humanists courses offered through the Center of Digital Humanities Research (CoDHR) at Texas A&M University when I was a graduate student. Nigel Lepianka and I also co-edited an SDE of H. G. Wells’ Little Wars for Scholarly Editing in 2017. While Lepianka had done the majority of the TEI for that project as I wrote a major part of the Introduction and notes, I had still worked with TEI before beginning “The Yellow Wall-Paper” project. However, I wanted to build my own knowledge in this area and share my passion for digital editing with students by involving them in the creation of an SDE that would have broad appeal to other students.

I should note here that Writing for Digital Humanities, the course in which I taught TEI, is a Writing Intensive (WI) course at CNU, meaning many students take the course to satisfy the WI requirement at my university with no incoming knowledge of (and sometimes little to no interest in) DH. Other students who take this class take it as an elective for the Digital Humanities minor program. However, even these students have not typically taken Introduction to Digital Humanities before the WI course,6 and so similarly they come into the class with very little knowledge of DH. That said, since the DH minor at CNU requires two computer science courses, some of my students did have experience with some sort of coding. None of the students I worked with, however, were familiar with the TEI standards, and very few had heard of XML before the class. Before beginning to work on “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” we had begun learning about the digital humanities field, and we spent the weeks before we started the TEI project looking at and evaluating other DH projects, including other digital editions.7

With all this in mind, I wanted to give my undergraduate students in my Writing for Digital Humanities courses a gentle introduction to TEI—one even gentler than the TEI’s “A Gentle Introduction to XML” or even “A Very Gentle Introduction to the TEI Markup Language,” which both target more advanced students (the latter even specifically mentions doctoral students as its audience). I tried to make my initial introduction to the assignment fun, starting the class with the question “So WTF is XML?” and providing a brief presentation on why we were learning XML/TEI and how Lepianka and I had used it to create the Little Wars edition before the class began thinking (and reading) about the coming assignment. In this presentation, I also provided examples of how variants between texts might be visualized8 so that students could start to imagine what the end product would look like, giving them more of an impetus to buy into the assignment and its purpose. By seeing how variants have been visualized, students could begin to imagine their own important role in this edition’s creation.

After I had given students a brief introduction to the assignment, I wanted to ease them into coding, especially since my students (who primarily come from the communications department and some humanities fields, although a number of students come from fields ranging from social work to business) were very clear that they were nervous about anything that involved code. So, once they had read the periodical version of “The Yellow Wall-Paper,” I provided students with individual Google Docs in each course’s shared Google Drive. There, I provided the portion of the text they would be responsible for and asked them to use the comment feature to highlight the elements we would encode. Students used Google Docs to mark page beginnings, column beginnings, where paragraphs began and ended, any em-dashes, quotes, italics (in the periodical) or underlined words (in the manuscript), and misspelled words. When working on the periodical, I also asked students to create alt text for any illustrations in their assigned passages.9 Students commented that this process helped them immensely because it eased their fears about what was expected of them before they had even opened up a TEI editor. In fact, it built on skills most of them already had as regular users of Google products.

The assigned passages for each student were rather short so that students would not be working on the same passage. However, I repeated the assignment in two sections in fall 2020 with nineteen students each and three sections in spring 2021 with fourteen students each.10 The fall 2020 sections worked on the periodical over the course of three weeks, and the spring 2021 sections worked on the manuscript over the course of two weeks. I allowed students to participate in the assignment but opt out of having their work included in the edition. Because of this, having two or more students across my courses encode the same passage helped to make sure we had a complete draft of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” available to Rebecca Norton11 and I when we compiled the (anonymized) code.

After working in the Google Docs, students learned the TEI tags for all of the elements of the text they had identified. We worked in the Oxygen XML Editor (Oxygen) to encode the documents, and while students were nervous at first about Oxygen’s interface and terrified about having to code, this assignment ended up being many students’ favourite part of the class, as several of them expressed in both their blog post on the coding process and their final reflection blog post. With its validation feature that highlights errors in the code, Oxygen made coding accessible and helped students feel more confident. As one student explained in their reflection on the project: “Despite the few questions I had here and there and my lack of technological expertise, I found Oxygen surprisingly easy to navigate. [My] experience with Oxygen has taught me to be less afraid of the coding/technology world, and to have more confidence when it comes to my own technological abilities.” The TEI reflections as a whole are full of similar experiences with the assignment. In fact, another student explained: “Every time I code I feel like that cool guy on the computer in the [Matrix], and because of that this has been my favorite project thus far.” It is an exciting assignment for many students once they get over the initial fear response to the word “code.” And, perhaps most importantly, as another student noted: “Working with TEI […] gave me a deeper appreciation and understanding of the text overall.”

The Edition

Norton and I worked together throughout the summer of 2021 to make plans for the edition itself. In addition to her work on the TEI for the manuscript and periodical and “Why I Wrote the Yellow Wallpaper,” Norton and I began co-writing the introduction based on research Norton completed on Gilman and her short story. The current contents of the introduction are largely based on feedback from courses in spring 2021, where I asked students what kinds of contextual information they would like to see when reading “The Yellow Wall-Paper.” Based on this conversation with the class, Norton focused her attention on two sections: “Publication Information” (I later renamed this “Publication Information and Contemporary Responses” when I added in some contemporary reviews of “The Yellow Wall-Paper”) and “The ‘Rest Cure’ and ‘Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper.’” I focused my attention on the section “Stetson, Women, and John,” something students were also interested in reading more about.

Norton also hand drew an initial wireframe of the website based on our discussions and research she had done on best practices for digital editions. I took these designs and created a more detailed mockup using Adobe products (particularly Illustrator). At that time, I began working with Jason Fairfield, the developer who wrote the XSLT that makes the visualization of our TEI possible and developed the HTML and JavaScript for the website as a whole. Fairfield used the designs which Norton and I created as the basis of his code. This was an iterative process that we came back to again and again, even once the website was live; we will also return to the website design in the future, as I discuss in the next section.

Part of this iterative process involved students in my spring 2022 Writing for the Digital Humanities courses. I tested “The Yellow Wall-Paper” beta edition with them first. Based on their written and verbal feedback about what confused them as they explored the website, I wrote the “About the Site” page, which now provides a guide for how to use the edition. They also helped me rethink some features in the edition itself, including, for instance, adding the ability to turn off the scroll lock, a feature that (when on) makes it so that when users scroll through “The Yellow Wall-Paper” transcriptions, the versions of the story remain in sync. Importantly, even when users turn off this feature in the edition viewer, if they click on any of the yellow highlighting that indicates a variant, the interface will adjust so that the two transcriptions align, making sure users do not have to find the corresponding passage themselves.

To get professional outside feedback on the project, Norton and I also submitted the project for peer review through The Recovery Hub for American Women Writers in March 2022. I had already been thinking about ways our project might undergo peer review when I was made aware of The Recovery Hub. Since I started teaching at CNU, I have had students model their own reviews of digital projects on those published in Reviews in Digital Humanities, an important professional resource with which The Recovery Hub formed a partnership (Guiliano and Risam). I was already interested in pursuing some sort of peer review for the edition when The Recovery Hub call came out, both for my own tenure and promotion case and as a pedagogical opportunity for future students to see how peer review, which undergraduates are not often privy to, informs scholarship and project development. Because of this, The Recovery Hub’s call for projects (which I was notified of through the Digital Humanities Summer Institute listserv) came at an opportune time, especially given the hub’s interest in projects at any stage of development. The call explained: “The Hub’s peer review process is grounded in feminist practice; reviewers use an open model that emphasizes one-on-one mentorship and encourages project directors to build upon and cite the work of other feminists. The Hub also values the iterative nature of digital projects by offering in-process peer review even at a project’s earliest stages.” I was particularly excited about the ways “The Yellow Wall-Paper” Edition aligned with the goals of the Hub in recognizing digital projects that focused on “recovered/recovering texts by American women writers.” Moreover, with the potential for our project to receive helpful insight from experts before the edition was finalized, gain more credibility, and be showcased on the Hub’s website (thus giving the project the chance for more exposure), Norton and I excitedly applied.

Our project ended up being accepted for peer review, and I am grateful for the support from the project team and feedback from the reviewers during the peer review process. The reviewers provided generous, thoughtful, and largely positive feedback on our project. I have already addressed some reviewer concerns. However, since this is a pedagogical project at its heart, I decided I would work with students in two fall 2022 Introduction to Digital Humanities courses to make plans for coming adjustments and updates to the edition based on the reviewer feedback, student interests, and my goals of making the website more visually appealing and accessible.12

Next Steps

Going forward, students in Introduction to Digital Humanities courses will read the peer review comments I received for “The Yellow Wall-Paper” edition and develop their own assignment prompt for updating the edition based on this feedback. I am also interested in hearing any additional ideas they may come up with as members of the edition’s intended audience: students. I have committed a little over four weeks to this portion of the class where we will complete readings on digital editions and plan/create content for updates to the edition, after which I will implement any additions to the website (planned for 2023). I expect one of the suggestions from students will be to make the edition viewer mobile friendly, which is a complex problem in terms of design (particularly in how the textual comparison should be displayed on a smaller screen) that I hope to enlist their help in tackling. I also hope to add a more complex search feature to the website. But, perhaps most importantly, this assignment will ask students to see the behind-the-scenes of scholarly research by reading through the comments from The Recovery Hub’s peer review process and making their own plans for addressing them.

The peer reviewers, for instance, rightly suggested some ways I should expand the introduction, most notably in discussing Gilman’s involvement in dangerous rhetoric surrounding race and eugenics in much of her oeuvre. While “The Yellow Wall-Paper” itself does not overtly engage in these topics, Susan S. Lanser troubled readings of the text that leave out race back in 1989. I agree that it is important to add a section that addresses the ways in which Gilman used and championed incredibly problematic views of the time, often for the benefit of white women. By connecting the story’s early feminist themes with the damage done to people of colour and immigrants by Gilman and her contemporaries, the revised introduction will aim to address how racism and ethnicity have shaped US thought even in progressive circles and illustrate the often complicated, problematic legacies of historical figures. Writing and researching this section is a priority for me, but the peer reviewers also pointed to other topics and features I am eager to address with students such as improving web accessibility and cognitive load issues (particularly the problems with teaching users how to navigate the website).

The overall assignment meant to begin addressing these and other needed edits to the website is based on what I call a “Choose Your Own Adventure” version of labour-based grading, which I hope to publish on in the future. The basic idea requires students to choose certain paths to achieve their desired grade, but not only will we create the elements that make up this path together as a class (again, largely based on The Recovery Hub peer review), students will also have a choice among several options to achieve a particular grade. For instance, if students are interested in expanding the introduction, one student may choose to do so by focusing on Gilman’s racism, while another may discuss another suggestion from the peer reviewers: the Jane/Jennie naming issue that many scholars, including Daniel Bristow, have speculated about. Still other students may decide not to work on the introduction at all, and instead start developing a way to improve the “About the Site” page, which currently lacks any visuals, or begin a more extensive overhaul of the website aesthetics. This is all purely speculative, however, as students will devise the assignment prompt based on their ideas and interests and what they deem most essential from the feedback the peer reviewers provided. My hope is that, as a whole, we can begin to address all of the peer reviewer comments, and substantially add to and improve the current edition in a way that addresses other areas of student concern.

Key Takeaways

To conclude this reflective piece, which provides not only the story behind the creation of “The Yellow Wall-Paper” Edition but also some lessons I learned along the way, I hope to offer some takeaways for those interested in completing a digital edition or similar project with their own students:

  1. Provide students with more detailed transcription training. Many students have never read primary source documents, even by the time they are juniors and seniors as the majority of students in my Introduction to Digital Humanities course were. Because of this, teachers interested in having students read primary sources (particularly those in cursive) should likely spend time training students in transcription methods. Luckily, in this particular case, my students had the periodical with which to compare hard-to-decipher words. Still, many students struggled with transcribing as a whole because, as many people (particularly of older generations) have lamented,13 training in writing and reading cursive has all but ceased. Gilman’s hand in the manuscript is relatively easy to read, so students were able to figure out the basics, but this points to the need for those interested in working with historical documents to receive training in reading cursive.

  2. Trust students with the TEI. The term “digital native” has many, many complications associated with it and many of my students openly admit that they feel lost when it comes to technology despite growing up with it. And yet, I wish that I had trusted them with learning the more complicated processes in TEI. Students, once they got the hang of using TEI, often called the coding “easy”—and it is rather intuitive with some guidance. After all, XML is a human- and machine-readable language. I do not think I trusted my students enough regarding the TEI, and I certainly did not trust myself enough as someone who had never taught it before. In many ways, I am glad that I started simple, but if I could go back knowing what I know now, I would have asked students to combine the manuscript and periodical witnesses into one TEI document. This would have helped illustrate the detail-oriented work required to encode a digital edition, especially one that looks at variants between texts. Because even Norton compiled and edited the code for the manuscript and periodical separately, this put much of the more involved TEI labour on me. That said, I am proud of what my students contributed, and it was a particularly important learning experience for me as a teacher.

  3. Provide visual aids early. Later sections of my students had the benefit of better understanding what it was they were actually making, either through visual mock-ups of the website or through drafts of the website itself. While all students looked at other digital editions in some sort of context, if I did this project over again, I would provide a wireframe and/or visual mockup of exactly what I imagined “The Yellow Wall-Paper” edition would look like from the first, noting that changes would be made as the project developed. This would not only help students better understand the assignment through visualizing the end product but also increase buy-in when students saw how their small part would eventually yield a much larger whole. It is important that students see the process of design as well. In more recent sections, I have shown students how the mockups have evolved over the course of this project, illustrating how design is an iterative process that requires its own set of skills and considerations. Although I would not (yet) champion the edition as visually stunning, design also goes beyond the aesthetics to think about functionality and user experience. These elements on the website will see some usability changes as well, but students should see how designing projects takes time, critical thinking, and revision. In short, giving students visuals of the end goals of your project will promote more student investment from the beginning and provide an example of the importance of iterative design.

  4. Think of yourself as a project manager. While I had previously served as a project manager at a DH centre, I wish I had utilized the skills I learned in that position more as I worked with students on this edition, particularly when working with my Summer Scholar. For instance, I would have added more progress meetings to my Summer Scholar schedule and provided more structure including smaller, more concrete deadlines. Regarding the project as a whole, better articulating project goals earlier in the process would have been helpful. The Yale DH Lab’s Lean Canvas worksheet, for instance, asks researches to identify the driving question of a project, the top three problems the intended project might solve and how it would do so, alternatives to the project that already exist and how the new project is distinct from them, the intended audiences for the resulting project, and the necessary materials for the project’s creation. Of course, a project manager must also be ready to pivot or update any plans, particularly when working with several courses across sections and semesters that may impact the project’s needs and direction. Having a planning document to look back on will help instructors, who must at once be a teacher to a particular student or class while also acting as the project manager of a larger collaborative undertaking.

  5. Involve (undergraduate) students in the process. I incorporated undergraduate students at every stage of this project and plan on giving students even more agency in updating the edition going forward. I hope this is testament to the fact that students have valuable intellectual contributions to make and that in fact they should be involved in the creation of editions meant for K–12 and higher education courses given that they are part of the intended audience themselves. Moreover, I found students were excited to be involved in a public-facing project, particularly as the project advanced. Of course, steps to avoid putting undue labour on students should be taken. I was lucky enough to get funding from my university for the undergraduate who worked most closely with me, but I recommend allowing students to opt out of the public portions of assignments while still completing any associated work for the class.14

As this last takeaway emphasizes, “The Yellow Wall-Paper” edition is largely an edition by students for students. My hope is that more scholarly digital editions will think about student audiences and involve them in the process of their creation. As Norton ended her reflection for a conference presentation about the edition:

Since this was an edition for students and by students, I was able to give a lot of opinions and influence what features and functions were vital to implement […]. As someone who relied heavily on free and online sources, being able to create a resource like this was very important to me. Accessible and informative sources are vital to student and teacher success, and Dr. Stover and I worked hard to ensure our edition was exactly that. I am so excited to see this project be put out into the world and to see how it will impact students and teachers alike, and so grateful for the chance to be a part of it.

I am equally grateful to Norton and all of my students for their work, ideas, and excitement for this project. Texts are mutable things; I hope our edition highlights how fascinating the study of variants can be and provides students with an opportunity to engage further with Gilman’s famous short story.

Works Cited

Bristow, Daniel. “The Yellow Metonym: ‘You and Jane’ in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper.ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, vol. 34, no. 4, 2021, pp. 319–321,

Faust, Drew Gilpin. “Gen Z Never Learned to Read Cursive: How will they Interpret the Past?” The Atlantic, 16 Sep. 2022,

“A Gentle Introduction to XML.” Text Encoding Initiative, 4 Apr. 2023,

Guiliano, Jennifer, and Roopika Risam, editors. Reviews in Digital Humanities,

Harris, Katherine D. “Digital Dickens & Reading by Candlelight.” TriProfTri,

Hayles, N. Katherine. “How We Read: Close, Hyper, Machine.” ADE Bulletin, no. 150, 2010, pp. 62–79,

Kline, Mary-Jo, and Susan Holbrook Perdue. “Transcribing the Source Text.” A Guide to Documentary Editing, 3rd ed., 2008, pp. 112–140,

Lanser, Susan S. “Feminist Criticism, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,’ and the Politics of Color in America.” Feminist Studies, vol. 15, no. 3, 1989, pp. 415–441,

“Lean Canvas.” Yale DH Lab, Yale University Library Digital Scholarship Services,

Mann, Rachel. “Paid to Do but Not to Think: Reevaluating the Role of Graduate Student Collaborators.” Debates in the Digital Humanities 2019, edited by Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein, U of Minnesota P, 2019,

Posner, Miriam. “How Did they Make That?” Miriam Posner’s Blog, 29 Aug. 2013,

The Recovery Hub for American Women Writers.

Rhody, Lisa M., et al., eds. Journal of Digital Humanities.

Schlesinger Library. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman Collection.” Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University,

Sinclair, Stéfan, and Geoffrey Rockwell. Voyant Tools. 2016,

St. Jean, Shawn, editor. “The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Dual-Text Edition. U of Ohio P, 2006.

St. Jean, Shawn. “Gilman’s Manuscript of ‘The Yellow Wall-Paper’: Toward a Critical Edition.” Studies in Bibliography, vol. 51, 1998, pp. 259–273,

Stover, Deanna, and Nigel Lepianka, editors. Little Wars. By H. G. Wells. Scholarly Editing, vol. 38, 2017,

Stover, Deanna, and Rebecca Norton, editors. Charlotte Perkins Stetson’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper.”

“A Very Gentle Introduction to the TEI Markup Language.” Text Encoding Initiative,

“The Yellow Wallpaper.” Hypertext Library, 2016,

“The Yellow Wallpaper.” Open Syllabus Project,

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?