Can you keep a secret?

OK, I still haven’t posted the link to the edition. Actually, I intend to polish the Tieck letters (and wrap up the few missing ones) tomorrow. The postponing only extends to tomorrow evening. The fact that the University is empty and nobody seems to be around (ever heard about Easter break in Germany? fairly comparable to Christmas break…) has not been a great incentive to hurry up. Anyway.

If you have been following this blog carefully, you will have noticed that there is a corpus I never ever posted on. I mentioned in my last post the difficulties raised by the “canonical” work manuscripts and it seems to be time to introduce the big work manuscripts of the edition now.

It is in many ways a grateful job to dig out in archives papers nobody really knows about. You are being given, as the person who found the jewel, to expose it for the first time, showing what matters most to you, be it its shape, its seize, its reflections, its harmony…  This jeweler job is the encoding. While encoding, you emphasize one aspect or another: the work process, the connection to other works, the connection to other persons, etc. As the first editor, you get to pick the kind of light that has to be shed on the corpus. Everybody can interpret it in their way in a second step, for sure. But the first encoding is a first interpretation: this right you have as an editor is, in today’s world, still something you can take for granted when it comes to secondary authors. When you edit a writer nobody knows, you are expected to explain what its interest lays in.

Things are different when it comes to big authors who have already been interpreted for ages. You can’t edit Goethe in any other way than by scrutinizing each ink mark: not only might it mean something, but it has to be something meaningful. These are corpora with which it is not really possible to experiment around. It is some kind of unspoken rule that you cannot just do whatever you want with Goethe. Especially since there are armies of specialists working on it, big projects it is easy to learn about with the minimal effort of basic googling.

How to situate the pretty-big-but-not-so-great-that-they-have-been-edited-through-and-through authors in the big picture? The difficulty is not just to know what you should feel yourself authorized to do with it, but how to know who else might be working on the corpora and with which research interest. It should not be the job of the archivists to deal with that, but on the other hand, they are the ones that are likely to be confronted with the visits of several researchers wanting to work on the same or on similar corpora. The only thing you can expect from them is to let the different researchers know about each other.

From this point on, the researchers should be able to constitute work groups, to create dynamical and collaborative work environments, where all those who work on a corpus can contribute and share information. Why this only happens in the rarest cases is a mystery to me, and something that makes me at times way too angry.

In that sense, let it be a mystery to nobody that we will edit E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Sandmann (already online), Chamisso’s Peter Schlemihl (this summer) and Fouque’s Undine (over winter) following the manuscripts that can be found in the Hitzig papers at the Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin. And that we hope for collaborations.

Cite this blog post
Anne Baillot (2012, April 3). Can you keep a secret? Digital Intellectuals. Retrieved February 28, 2024, from

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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