Digital News: The Woman’s Exponent Project

By January 9, 2020

Hello JI readers! Please join us in welcoming The Woman’s Exponent Project, a digital history exhibit from Digital Matters at the University of Utah and the Office of Digital Humanities and Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University. We at JI are excited to see the project come to fruition.

The Woman’s Exponent Project is a collaborative digital humanities and public history project between the University of Utah and BYU that explores the content of the Woman’s Exponent (1872-1914) that captures the fascinating, complex, and even contradictory history of suffrage in Utah. The Woman’s Exponent Project aligns with a unique moment in time, as Utahns prepare to celebrate the 150th anniversary of a Utah woman casting the first female ballot in the nation in 1870, a full 50 years before the 19th Amendment guaranteed universal women’s suffrage in America.

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Historians, celebrate! The project comes with a newly scanned and OCR’d (ocular-character-recognized) corpus for the newspaper, which can be found here at Utah Digital Newspapers. There are future ambitions to use natural language processing and machine learning to extract entities such as people, locations, and subjects from the Exponent. Part of this impetus is to make the corpus more usable and analyzable for historians and readers. Creating an XML-encoded version of the Exponent would allow users to parse the data at a more granular level to enable projects like author analysis. Encoding the corpus and using tools such as social network graphs would help expose and visualize the complex and closely knit relationships between the women of the Exponent. In short, the future goals of encoding the corpus would help further recover the voices and identities of the authors and readers of the Exponent

In the meantime, The Woman’s Exponent Project team, comprised of librarians and faculty at U of U and BYU, created an online exhibit that uses digital tools to create a variety of “experiments” on the text including: preliminary topic models on the corpus, GIS heat maps, and analyzing the 4,000 advertisements in the 42-year history of the Exponent. The Woman’s Exponent Project allows users to dig into select primary source documents for close reading or search the entire corpus through a Voyant plug-in on the Scholarship section of the site. The public history side of the site in Omeka S highlights notable themes of the Exponent. For example, the Household Hints section allows readers to imagine what daily life was like for a Latter-Day Saint woman of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century while the Suffrage and Anti-Polygamy pages highlight the challenges and discrimination endured by Mormon women in this era, while the Women and Medicine page follows some Mormon women who practiced and advertised their services in the paper.

All-in-all, it looks like a great start to a fascinating project. We’re happy to host discussion of it below in the comments. Let us know what you think!

Article filed under Book History Cultural History Digital Humanities Gender Material Culture Methodology, Academic Issues Miscellaneous Politics Polygamy Public History Research Tools Textual Studies Women's History


  1. I read the first 4 years of the paper and it was fascinating – pioneer women had a much different view of religion than modern Morman women in the LDS church. The articles were my favorite part, followed by the recipies (there’s one for strawberry wine). Some articles used pseudonyms like blog handles, and my favorite author was Lucinda Lee Dalton from Beaver Utah who was a great writer and certainly had a lot to say!

    It’s about time this collection of documents was given the professional attention it deserves! I hope they make the database searchable by women’s names!

    Comment by Liz Hammind — January 10, 2020 @ 11:10 pm

  2. Such a great source. And the scans are beautiful. Any attempt being made to identify all the authors? I’m particularly interested in A.P. today. ; )

    Comment by JJohnson — January 14, 2020 @ 1:00 pm

  3. Thanks Liz and JJohnson! I know that there are efforts to capture data from individual articles, although that might be a while down the pipeline. If that’s the case, then there might be a way to do some authorship analysis with digital tools. Hopefully it pans out! I remember there being an old authorship document somewhere, but I don’t remember if anything came of it

    Comment by Jeff T — January 15, 2020 @ 3:01 pm


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