Think big

Today Gudrun Gersmann, director of the German Historical Institute in Paris (IHA in French, DHI in German) came to us to present what I originally thought was an edition project but turned out to be more archive sorting, digitizing and setting up metadata.

The project deals with an awesome archival fund that was made in local archives in Toulon (France) (Btw there is a a French description of the project and here a German one): 7500 letters by a successful French woman writer named Constance de Salm, documenting the literary and political activity in Paris in the Revolutionary and Napoleonian era, but also retracing the singular path of a French woman who married a German nobleman and spent half of her life in France and half of her life in Germany.

Now here’s the beauty of the project: when they found the letters, they decided not to invest their money in transcribing and commenting what would have been something like a fifth of them. Their aim is to have in the end – if possible – all those letters registered properly. Each of them is being informed with sender, addressee, date, place as well as a couple of keywords (concepts, names, publications). These metadata are then fed in a repository that is in the end supposed to be merged with the kalliope database.  The information sets that will be thus constituted will be linked to the PND and to the digitization of the letters (which are based on a server at the DHI).

One could say, well, then, by the end of the project, nothing is done. No text, no commentary, no context.

But you, my beloved reader, know better than that, I am sure. Once this is done, a lot is done. First, you can have an overview of the most important correspondence partners, of the amount of letters depending on the periods of her life, etc., and thus choose to work on a part of the corpus that is actually defined by precise scholarly questions – and not as “the first bunch in box one”. Second, once you have the metadata and the information related to the persons and the publications evoked in the letter, you can gain a valid overview of the intellectual networks. You can follow the discussion of a precise publication throughout the several parts of the correspondence. You can retrace which persons are evoked in which context. So really, a lot is done.This is the kind of work the whole scholarly community should be endlessly thankful for. (I so wish we would be able to reach something similar with the Boeckh papers in Berlin in the year ahead)!

And finally, if these things are done well – in this case with the help of the FuD in Trier – we should be able, at some point, to put the information gained by the Salm project together with those of our project and those of similar projects and be able to search them all.

And this, my friend, is thinking big.
Only I am not sure which institution will be able to support something that big.


Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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