Be intuitive! (or not?)

As the complexity of the phenomena we want to edit grows (something that seems to me hard to avoid as new corpora get incorporated), we are confronted with new problems regarding the way we present them on our web interface. We initially aimed at developing a fully intuitive interface and to offer an edition that would be readable and understandable without having to first get acquainted with the specifics through an editorial notice. This dream of editorial intuitiveness seems less and less realistic. The closer we want to get to the materiality of the text – e.g. the closer to critical editing we are coming -, the harder it is to keep the interface intuitive. Anna was certainly right when she said last week that we would have to re-think  the web interface concerning the way it renders aspects of the texts’ materiality. I had started to think in that direction too. But how should that go?

I still think that it is the vocation of our edition to be not only a scholarly one, but also one that should make people who usually do not  have much to do with scholarly editing interested in 18th-19th century-texts and, most of all, in manuscripts and the way the relate to us. So if we want to really work towards a more critical editorial work, I can only think of one solution for the time being, and it is still a fairly abstract one. The only way I can imagine these two aspirations cohabiting in the same edition would be to separate more radically the diplomatic transcript (the transcription true to the letter) and the reading version, especially in the visualization we offer of both of them.

Even with that option in mind, I am still worried about the turn towards critical edition that the latest contributions to the edition have been taking. I have already written it, I don’t think I have enough money to support that kind of detailed work. And I am not sure that this is what digital edition should be about. It is one thing to provide for a clean text. It is another one to want to be able to show on the web interface something that would be similar to a historical-critical print. These concerns have  to do especially with the parts of text that are not to be found in the text body or in line. If you take the different positions of the text elements in the line, we only work with left (which is the default version), center and right. Concerning the text bits we find in the margin, we have only been working with horizontal and vertical sofar and just introduced a “diagonal” category. This is the most extreme I can get, anything that goes beyond that would mean starting measuring angles, as Alex said very rightly on Friday. Beyond the encoding itself, we still have no solution as how to visualize either vertical or diagonal – because contrarily to a book, you can’t really turn around a monitor. And because it is – again – not what a digital edition like ours is there for.

I have been considering trying to see what help could TextGrid be with that issue. When we started the digital edition, we wanted to use TextGrid’s tools in order to connect image and text on a more precise level than just a page. It has turned out not to be so crucial after all, so I had left it at that. But when it comes to connecting text parts that are disseminated at different places of the page with the corresponding transcription, it might come in handy.

Maybe part of the solution I am looking for  is actually to look more closely into the existing tools, hoping not to get lost there. Anna, Sabine and Alex will certainly get some inspiration in Hamburg where they will present our edition at the DHD. I am looking forward to hearing them tell me about it (maybe I can convince at least one of them to start tweeting until then…).


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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