Bibliography and other metaphysical questions

So the next Digital Edition meeting finally took place today. A nice thing happened in the first 15 minutes: Alex was asked by Sabine and Johanna to explain XSLT and XQuery. I am always amazed not only at how much technique Alex knows, but also at his ability of making us understand how these things work (not in detail of course, but the general idea). Just as I am amazed at the complexity of the debates we can have during these sessions. Thankfully, we are through arguing about Geminationsstriche. We found a nice replacement for this formerly everlasting discussion though: the bibliography.

As it is, primary sources (first editions and other prints we use for comparison purposes) are to be listed in the header and referred to in our editorial notes if need be (depending on the specifics of the corpus). But the question we had today concerned primary and secondary literature. The first suggestion was to have a general bibliography for each corpus, on the corpus’ presentation page. I was against it for several reasons (maybe I am wrong on that, though), the main one being that if you provide a bibliography, you have to do it in an exhaustive way and we would not realistically manage to do so for each corpus (or to do it in a harmonious way for all corpora). The second suggestion was that we have for each document (in the very convenient < additional > element in the header) a bibliography that would contain first the primary, then the secondary sources. Again, this was not very satisfactory, on the one hand because of the obvious repetitions that would occur between the different documents of one corpus, on the other hand, because there are books or papers that are of major importance to conceive the commentary of a document, while some are only locally of some help (for situating an event for instance). Those two types of references should not be given the same importance, but it would take us too far to conceive a hierarchical systematic in the secondary literature (all of this, again, in the improbable < additional > element). I was surprised that this turned out to be an important issue arising with the edition of the letters from Chamisso to de La Foye (the corpus we are editing in our DH class of this summer). For the Beausobre letters as well as for the Tieck letters, I had given in my editor’s notes all the bibliographical information which I considered relevant. In fact, there is some information I did not quote systematically my references on, because I did not see the point in quoting a common encyclopedia or dictionary, the source of a simple Latin translation or, concerning the many commentaries that have to do with Solger, my own publications of the last 10 years. The more I think about it after this afternoon’s work session, the more I am starting to consider that we should, after all, provide for a corpus bibliography of secondary works, but more in the form of “The main works we have been referring to for this corpus are… ” followed by no more than 5 to 10 titles.

This has to do with how serious we want to look. I have been looking up the Alfred Escher letters and the Alexander von Humboldt letters and I cannot help but wonder at the differences with our own edition. While we aim at not overloading the page and I even hesitate to add a 10 title-bibliography for each corpus, these editions are not afraid of delivering long text passages and thorough bibliographies. I have been annoying my whole team for weeks with my obsession for a NOT white background for the text, because I find it too tiresome for the reading eye, but this is what all those sites go for (also Carl Maria von Weber, even the all-time best Van Gogh letters). Are we doing something so different?

We necessarily are, because we are a small group with limited time and money: we will never reach or even intend the thoroughness of a complete edition. We select representative corpora and the job of our edition is to empower them with this representativeness and show it. I am not saying that we are deliberately doing bad scholarly work. I only mean that we take decisions (in the rendering of the transcription, in the tagging, in the layout) that have to do, for instance, with the tools we want to develop (for the search, for the collation) and that these are still only in germination phase. Many decisions were taken on a small corpus with the aim of being implemented on a somewhat larger one and will need correction at some point. This certainly is an uneasy position, but it is what it is: a work in progress that will stay so for a while…

“Lettres et textes. Le Berlin intellectuel des années 1800”: une présentation

L’édition numérique “Lettres et textes. Le Berlin intellectuel des années 1800” est en cours de réalisation et devrait être achevée courant 2015; les premiers corpus ont été mis en ligne en mars 2012. Réalisée par le groupe de recherche junior “Les intellectuels berlinois entre 1800 et 1830”, elle est en fait moins centrée sur le premier tiers du XIXème siècle qu’il n’y paraît.

L’objectif scientifique qui constitue la matrice de l’édition en matière de codage et de mise en page est bien celui du groupe de recherche, mais il est focalisé sur un ensemble de textes et de personnes choisis pour leur représentativité.

L’idée générale consiste à tâcher de mettre en évidence les stratégies de communications mises en oeuvre par les hommes (et femmes) de lettres et de sciences pour se positionner sur la scène publique. Il s’agit ainsi de montrer que les débats littéraires et scientifiques sont toujours aussi des débats politiques, et comment.

Cette question générale s’articule en quatre ligne directrices, qui se retrouvent dans les corpus choisis:

– quel rôle joue l’influence de la culture francaise dans la Prusse intellectuelle? C’est principalement cette question qui a amené à revenir en arrière dans le temps pour intégrer un corpus XVIIIèmiste, sans lequel l’émergence de la nouveauté de la période autour de 1800 serait difficile à mettre en évidence. Deux corpus se répondent ainsi sur cette question: la correspondance (francaise) d’Adolf von Buch et Louis de Beausobre des années 1760-1770, qui montrent de manière exemplaire les structures de circulation – francophone – des savoirs dans la Prusse frédéricienne. De l’autre côté de la ligne de démarcation “1800”, il s’agit des lettres (allemandes, mais entrelacées de francais) entre Adelbert von Chamisso et Louis de La Foye;

– dans quelle mesure la création de l’université à Berlin a-t-elle cristallisé et accentué la présence d’intellectuels sur la scène publique? C’est d’abord l’étude des papiers d’August Boeckh qui ouvre le plus de pistes sur ce point, en particulier dans la mesure où Boeckh est à la fois professeur à l’université et membre de l’Académie des Sciences. La correspondance de la “Société du vendredi”, dont les membres les plus éminents (Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen, Friedrich von Raumer, Karl Solger) étaient eux aussi professeurs à l’université de Berlin, viendra compléter ce corpus au niveau professoral. Il est également intéressant de voir comment la formation universitaire a pu marquer des générations. Les deux séries de notes de cours de F.A. Wolf et de Solger de l’année 1818 ont ainsi pour but de reconstituer l’horizon intellectuel ainsi ouvert. Des documents manuscrits relatifs à Immanuel Hermann Fichte devraient venir s’y ajouter.

– quelle est la marge de manoeuvre des écrivains, hommes et femmes? La question est plus simple à aborder en partant des hommes qu’en partant des femmes, pour des raisons évidentes de conservation des corpus. Il s’agit dans cette partie de mettre en relation nos corpus de lettres et des textes (littéraires ou scientifiques), de manière à mettre en évidence à la fois la genèse et la première réception de ces oeuvres. Nous travaillons ainsi en ce moment à un outil de collation permettant de mettrre en relation manuscrits et premières éditions. Les deux grandes figures qui sont déjà intégrées à l’édition sont d’une part Ludwig Tieck et d’autre part Adelbert von Chamisso. Du côté des femmes, c’est Helmina von Chézy qui devrait prendre place dans l’édition, mais sous une forme qui n’est pas encore clairement définie (lettres, textes?).

– bien que plus marginal, le quatrième aspect émerge transversalement dans quasiment tous les corpus; il s’agit de la réception de l’Antiquité et de son utilisation à des fins politiques. Les cours de F.A. Wolf, le projet de Boeckh à l’Académie des Sciences, les traductions du grec auxquelles se livrent la plupart des auteurs que nous éditons, en sont des exemples parlants.

Sa structure et le travail sur la mise en relation entre les différents éléments avec l’objectif de répondre à ces quatre questions sont à mon sens les points forts de cette édition. Pour l’heure, son contenu est encore trop léger pour qu’on puisse vraiment en tirer des conclusions à grande échelle. Il s’agit donc dans un premier temps d’ajouter des textes, et parallèlement de travailler à préciser nos outils de recherche de manière à pouvoir livrer des réponses concrètes aux questions ci-dessus.

 

Thinking in categories

We are working on an improvement of the looks of our edition. The uncomfortable question of the corporate design came up again (how could it have been otherwise?), but I still don’t have a satisfying answer. What should we fill the visual memory of the user with: an image associated with the edition or an image associated with the research group?

A new item came up for which I dread just as much the implications of a clear cut: the corpora. For the time being, our “Letters and texts” contain eight of them: Franzosen in Berlin, Freitagsgesellschaft, Boeckhiana, Tieckiana, Chamisso-Briefe, Vorlesungsmitschriften, Romantische Schlüsseltexte. It mainly came to that by combining the corpora we could realistically hope to get edited until the end of the project on the one hand, and the repartition of the expertise of the editorial team on the other hand. I am responsible for 3 corpora, share one with Johanna; Anna is responsible for one corpus and shares one with Sabine; Sabine – well, obviously, shares one with Anna and has a whole other one for herself.

But it is not a very satisfactory structure. Some corpora are named after people, some after the literary genre they contain, some after a theme they deal with. By looking into it more closely, I had to admit those categories reflect mostly the process of the constitution of the edition. First, there were the letters I had been working on for 10-15 years and the letters I had discovered in the last five years. Then there were the things I had discovered in Chicago in 2007/2008 – mainly lecture notes that reactivated my passion for classical philology. Sabine has the material she wants to base her dissertation on; Anna has material she actually based her dissertation on. And then the categories also witness the literary turn we took a year or so ago. At some point, I got scared that letters would take us too far away from the philological approach of texts (we are not historians!). The encoding and the web interface that were initially developped for letters were extended to different kinds of texts. And are still going to evolve as the work on the lecture notes should become more important in a year or so.

Should we keep these categories or change them? Should we have clearer categories (letters, texts, lecture notes would be an option for instance)?

These questions have to do with the way we want to confront the canon. It is easier to hide behind Tieck, Chamisso and Boeckh than to define oneself through an unknown Prussian Ambassador or through some literary society nobody ever heard of (or if it is the case, then it is in reference to another one that carried the same name…). Should the image we brand ourselves with be the persons or should it be the networks? How do you make the networks visible? How can it be made structurally clear that it does not matter in which categories the corpora are distributed, since they are all connected together and the whole point is to retrace, for instance, how Rousseau’s Nouvelle Heloise appears in the first letters in the 1760s and is still present in the last letters in 1848, but changed in the way it is referred to…

So it all comes down to the networks – again. I knew the networks were a tricky concept and that is why I left them out of my project title. In fact, I still do not know how it is possible to assert oneself as a good philologist while operating with networks. Only three more years to find out…

 

That’s what I call Digital Intellectuals!

The Berlin Academy of Sciences just launched a digital edition of the minutes of the work sessions that were held there between 1746 and 1786. You can consult it here: it is awesome. Not just because it looks awesome (great design, intuitive orientation, no information overload), but also because it is an actually well conceived resource – and a totally helpful one for my further work too.

The originals are in French (French became the official language at the Academy under Frederick 2nd and remained it until 1810), but you can find a selection of German translations. You can search either through the minutes (“Protokolle”, chronologically ordered) or through the papers presented at the Academy (“Akademie-Schriften”) or by looking for occurrences of a person (“Personen”). I was thrilled to see that my guy Beausobre (see this post on Beausobre) appears 912 times and am looking forward to cross-reference the occurrences with the periods for which I have letters waiting to be read. I so  like it when you find out that the official version of an information is presented in a radically different way in private writings.

The only thing that I think could significantly improve the edition would be a more precise work on the biographies. At the time being, they are pretty scarce. Hopefully those good people writing minutes and attending sessions at the Academy will at some point be integrated in the database of the Personendatenrepositorium. This is also a project of the Academy of Sciences and it aims at bringing together the biographical data emanating from the different Academy projects. One could argue that the PDR has a focus on 19th century and already a lot to do with just one century. But 1760 is really almost the 19th century, if you consider the major turn Berlin took with Frederick 2nd as the beginning of an intellectual era in Berlin (like I do).

It somehow confirms a kind of aporia I have been discussing with Claudia Sedlarz of the Berliner Klassik last Monday:  even if your aim is to seize network effects or connections, it all comes up in the end to the way in which you will be able to connect biographies. You always need a few “lighthouse” persons in your research horizon, like orientation marks, in order to be able to shed any light at all. And with that, you are either stuck in the canon or constituting your own canon. Either way, as soon as you are moving in the field of biographies, a block of normativity falls on your shoulders. But you can’t properly operate without it. Sound like Sisyphus to me…

November, 30th 1763 from Comedy Central in Berlin

(this post is a follow-up to this one and that one.)

I spent the whole day on Letter 16 from von Buch to Beausobre. There were several long interruptions, but still. I am not done. And I should be working on it right now, instead of which I am trying to convince myself (by blogging) that the day was not worth nothing. That even if “people” are likely to criticize the edition in the end, I will have given the best I could to make it meet my standards – somehow.

The King of Poland just died and von Buch is disappointed because he just arrived in Dresden, where the King came from, and everyone there is depressed. No one is going out, no one is giving cool receptions. Plus, as much as he had hoped for Saxony to be a good place to purchase interesting things to read, it turns out this might be true for Leipzig, but not for Dresden, where there are only few decent booksellers, who sell almost nothing interesting – and if they do, then it is at an impossible price. Von Buch is terribly bored – so he is telling Beausobre about books he read, asking for more books on the fly. Which is just why these letters are interesting. And endless to encode.

First, the history section. “La continuation de l’histoire du bas-Empire par Le Beau” was the first candidate. The book, like almost all the other ones he quotes, just came out of press – that I concluded after painfully trying to figure out what that book was and deciding he must have meant vols 5 and 6 of this voluminous work. Took me forever to get anything on Le Beau, whom some people consider is called Claude and others Charles, while he himself signs his books with “Monsieur le Beau”, en toute simplicité. Then came “L’histoire de la maison de Tudor de Hume”. As I had no idea David Hume had written history books, I seriously considered his homonym David Hume, a historian who seems to have lived a century or so before him, to be the author. And at that point, I started to get worried about PND and homonyms. So the book was indeed by Mister Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding – in a brand new French translation by “Madame B***” who turned out to be Octavie Bélot (a very interesting translator, hope to get to cross her road more in the future). Hume was also the author of the “histoire de la maison de Stuart” – but I could not find anything as to whether Octavie Bélot had translated that one too. Come on girls, put your names on your work!!

What comes next is an interesting mixture of gossip and actual knowledgeableness. Von Buch states that he is disappointed to have been able to acquire “que la traduction allemande des lettres de Lady Montagu”. I had no idea who Lady Montagu was and would definitely like to get more into this (just as into the Bélot thing – somehow it gets much more interesting when women are involved!). Of course, Lady Montagu’s Turkish Letters were probably a great homage to her knowledge of fare-away-countries and civilization, Persian Letters-style I suppose. But what seems to interest von Buch is her life (he tells about information he has from a Milady Stormont – still no idea who this one is btw – or what she might have been doing in Dresden in 1763) and the way it influenced the constitution of her authorship. She had an illegitimate child, was sent to Venice by the husband after the child’s birth, discovered inoculation, which she brought back to England when she got back – only after the husband’s death – and was then, according to Milady Stormont, not at all a sweet old lady, but a cranky one, not at all worldly and nice. And now it is getting Foucault-esque (inbetween the encoding…). Von Buch writes:

Elle est <supplied
reason=”border of page; bound too tight”>morte</supplied>
<lb/>il y a peu de tems et a laissé 9 Volumes de Manuscrits, parmi lesquels il y
avoit un Traité sur le bonh<supplied reason=”border of page; bound too tight”
>heur</supplied>
<lb/>de l’amour conjugal: <persName ref=”#p0066″>Milady Bute</persName>, sa
fille a eu soin de retirer tous ces manuscrits des mains des librai<supplied
reason=”border of page; bound too tight”>res</supplied>
<lb/>à grands fraix, parce qu’elle ne jugea pas, qu’ils contribueroient à
l’honneur de sa mere, s’ils devenoient <pb n=”3″ facs=”00000340.jpg”/>publics;
ce n’est, que malgré elle, que les <rs ref=”#w00023″>lettres</rs> ont paru.

That would make me want to stop everything and try to reconstruct what actually happened to these manuscripts. Just hoping somebody has done that before and I will be able to find the right book at some point. Alas,  just as for the repeated use of Horace-quotations, I don’t have the time to get into it now (but would it not be a good idea to look closer into the way Horace was quoted in the 18th century, on a larger scale?)

And now for the finale, guess who is my guest tonight? Well, I saw “Moise” again. But Moise was someone with a PND number, for sure, this time. Just “Moise” is in fact Moses Mendelssohn, whose essay of 1763 on the obviousness of metaphysical sciences (first prize of Berlin Academy of Science in the year 1763, even before Kant!) von Buch is trying to purchase as soon as they finished printing it. I spare you the last book he is trying to purchase – Rousseau again, which was a happy occasion to see that the PND number I could get through wikipedia was different from the one I would get through the PND-search of the Geman National Library (DNB)(and no, it was not Jean-Baptiste Rousseau I compared with Jean-Jacques). So today’s lesson will be: Beware of homonyms! – I will tell you about the booksellers later, and get back to the end of my letter now…