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…


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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