We want to see everything

As I mentioned in some earlier posts, I am working on a grant application for an edition project. What we want to edit is Boeckh’s Encyklopädie und Metholodogie der philologischen Wissenschaften. There exist several editions of this book, all of them being a) older and b) based on a cumulative view of the text. What we want to do in our edition is an extensive version. Let me explain why and how and what this is all about.

August Boeckh gave a class on this topic (Encyclopedy of the Philological Sciences) for the first time in 1809 when he was teaching at the Heidelberg University. He wrote down notes for the class in a notebook. In 1811, he moved to the Berlin University, where he gave the class again and again, every other summer term, almost until his death. During the course of time, he enriched his manuscript, added new bits, sometimes on little post-its he pasted into the notebook. All in all, he gave the class 26 times over a period of 56 years (between 1809 and 1865), which incidentally happen to be  the glorious time of German Classical Philology.

The first editor of the text, Ernst Bratuschek, was mostly inspired by the last sessions of the class, because he had attended said class. Several times. And to be precise, his edition of the Encyklopädie does not solely involve the Encyklopädie itself. Between 1862 and 1866, Bratuschek went not only to the Encyklopädie-class, but also to all of Boeckh’s other classes, and to the Philological Seminar, in order to have each and every point explained to him by the Master. The material he based his edition is thus composed of a) the knowledge of Boeckh’s system he had acquired by being taught by Boeckh, b) Boeckh’s own manuscript (in which Bratuschek didn’t hesitate to strike out all the “older” things that he considered were out of fashion),  c) several sets of clean students’ lecture notes, and d) Boeckh’s printed books. Needless to say, this edition is more a medley than anything, conceived as a handbook for the students of 1877.

Now we are not students of 1877, so what do we want from the Encyklopädie?

Because Boeckh was so influential and because Classical Philology was the leading Science by that time, studying the Encyklopädie  is not only a good way to reconstruct Boeckh’s conception of Philology (that would be the most obvious point), but also to put together important pieces of a background knowledge that influenced generations of scholars and school teachers. For my part (the co-authors of the grant application are in charge of other aspects that are just as interesting, but not so digitally interesting) I see two aspects of particular interest:

1) the Bibliography (bibliographical information gathered from the manuscript, about which Bratuschek explicitely writes that he only kept the most recent ones, can help reconstruct the scholarly horizon of Boeckhs and his disciples);

2) the evolution of the manuscript over time. The Archive of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science kindly agreed that I reproduce here one manuscript page:


As you can see, the additions have been done at different periods of time. Ink and paper are different. The manuscript as it presents itself is a sum of information, some overlapping others, some reaching out of the space of the page. I would not say that you don’t see anything, but for sure you don’t see everything.

What can we do to see everything?

The encoding, as fas as I can conceive it, should not be too complicated. Each block of text gets a time attributed: 1809 for the main text part for instance, or time spans for bits that we do not manage to date precisely. Each of these blocks of text is connected to the corresponding part of the scan of the manuscript. Possibly (if it makes sense) we can even attribute ink and paper quality to some layers we can date.

But then? Then, I imagine an interface in which you would see the scan (I always need to see the scan) and a whole range of visualizations: per period of time (for instance all the text layers of this page before 1830), per collation (all the differences between the 1809 and the 1832 version of this page), additionally to the categories we already do have in our digital edition (diplomatic transcription, easy-to-read version, entities, metadata). In a world in which we would all have overdimensioned monitors, I would also add a visualization of the differences with Bratuschek’s edition and a collation with the sets of lecture notes of the class we have from various students.

This way we would see everything! Or would we see nothing, having lost all kind of overview and being – yet again – overwhelmed by data overload?

This visualization question is crucial there, and I feel somewhat short of good ideas. So if you know any projects that have been working with several historical layers – be it of text, of painting, of whatever – and have had good ideas how to represent the dynamics, please let me know!


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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