“this edition” off to closure

One of the first categories I introduced on this blog was “this edition”, because the blog was originally conceived to “accompany” the realization of Letters and Texts. Over the last months, I have written a lot about blogging per se, about Academia in general, about the second book I am writing(/trying to write). These points don’t relate to Letters and Texts at first sight. But when you consider what is at stake with the realization of an edition like this one, all of the named aspects turn out to be parts of one ecosystem – not random bits disconnected from one another.

With less than one year of funding to go, the question of the final shape of this ecosystem is becoming more and more important to me. You will read a whole series of posts on that topic in the weeks ahead, since I will talk and write about it in three big papers to come in July: a written contribution to a special issue of literaturkritik.de dedicated to digital romanticism and directed by Jochen Strobel, a paper at the Trier Colloquium “Wie Digital Humanities gestalten?” and the opening lecture at the DH Summer School in Leipzig.

Apart from the unavoidable debates about aesthetics and feasibility of a series of features for Letters and Texts (including, again, the magnifier), we discussed mainly 2 points in our last big digital edition meeting. One was the form of quotation, a complicated situation encountered by all crowdsourced projects. Some corpora of our edition are easy to attribute: those for which one single person has been taking care of the whole editorial process (Tieck’s Roxane edited by Johanna Preusse, Boeckh’s book catalogue edited by Julia Doborosky, Adelheid Reinbold’s literary address to Tieck edited by Janin Afken, Helmina von Chézy’s “Bettinen gehört dieses Buch” edited by Selma Jahnke for instance). For most of the letter corpora though, as well as for a series of other text corpora, the workflow was divided in a series of work steps which involved different persons. This was reflected in the responsibility Statement within the header in a way that turns to be unsatisfactory for two reasons: first, it attributes a task (transcription, encoding, commentary, corrections) without making the actual contribution measurable in terms of time and energy.

Part of a respStmt in the header of a letter from Chamisso to de La Foye
Part of a respStmt in the header of a letter from Chamisso to de La Foye

And second, these categories do not allow to extract a coherent quotation form. We will now have to reshape all of our responsibility Statements (sigh) in order to reach a quotation format corresponding to one of the following schemata that correspond to traditional categories of editorial involvement:

1) Text [URL], edited by Person X, in: Letters and Texts, edited by Anne Baillot, Berlin [Date].

2) Text [URL], prepared by Person X, in: Text (or Corpus), edited by Other Person, in:  Letters and Texts, edited by Anne Baillot, Berlin [Date].

3) Text [URL], edited by Person Y in collaboration with Other Person, in:  Letters and Texts, edited by Anne Baillot, Berlin [Date].

Prepared by” (in German: “bearbeitet von”) includes non-final contributions to transcription, encoding, commenting, as they were for instance delivered by students in a way that needed to be drastically improved in order to be publishable.

Edited by” states the person(s) responsible for all editorial decisions specific to one text or corpus.

In collaboration with” (in German: “unter Mitwirkung von”, here as an attribute of “edited by”)  includes major contributions especially of Sophia Zeil and Johanna Preusse who have spent hours working on corpora for which they are not the editors/did not take the final editorial decisions.

This quotation solution lacks one major definition: that of what makes a corpus or a text. This is the second topic we discussed at length.

When we decided to offer not only one, but a series of entry points (mainly authors, genres, topics) to the texts a year or so ago, I envisioned that the overlaps would regulate naturally: the person who is in charge of Boeckh’s letters is logically involved in the general topic “Berlin University”, and so forth. It turns out that, added to our quotation/naming-all-those-involved policy, we in fact “naturally” come back to an author-centered data architecture: some are editing Tieck, others are editing Chamisso, yet others are editing Boeckh (with double functions, Sabine Seifert edits Chamisso and Boeckh for instance).

This puts one big problem into the light. An author-centered edition is precisely what this edition is not. But what is it really? What defines the text corpus? Is it only a random selection of cool manuscripts? Where is the difference with an author-centered edition? It has become necessary to rethink and reshape the home page of Letters and Texts in order to state more clearly what kind of edition it is. I will dedicate what will be left of July (when the 3 papers are written) to this.

I only have one advantage now compared to other earlier turning points in the life of our digital edition: until now, we have always speculated on the possibility to add this, or that, kind of corpus. This made us think in a maximal integrative direction. Now I know what is realistically to be achieved with the time and money we have left. We are on our way to closure. This is sad, in a way, but it also helps answer some questions.


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