A nail in the wall

I know only too well of all the corpora and features that we have still not fully realized (or even not yet begun to work on) for the edition, although they were initially conceived as primary goals. I can foresee, for instance, that we will probably not have enough project time to encode the correspondence of the Friday Society, an exchange of letters between five protagonists, sometimes one-to-one letters, sometime group-to-one or one-to-group. I have been wanting to edit this correspondence for ten years now. For seven years, I was blocked by the difficulty of choosing between presenting it in a chronological or in a person-defined order. Then came the digital edition and with it the unequaled opportunity not to choose, but to offer it all. A dream come true, really. Except that it is another dream that is coming true in the end.

For two years now, we have been more and more working on author-based corpora, which was precisely what I wanted to avoid. My idea was (and still is) that you don’t get to embrace the reality of relationships and networks through an approach based on personality cult. So as we began to focus on authors (Tieck, Boeckh, Chamisso, to name the bigger ones), I thought I had to accept the grieving over never being able to seize networks. I consoled myself thinking that I would not have been able to define said networks in a way that would have impacted my scholarly environment anyway. I said that we did not have enough entries to visualize anything. Crappy arguments, really.

I am not saying that defining relationships is an easy thing. But at the very least, it is something that does not as much resist formalization as I first dreaded. We implemented something of that sort. At first it was something fairly intuitionally conceived and consisted only in capturing  family relationships – what we later brought a theoretical step further with the concept of genealogy (meaning by that not only the family, but also the intellectual generations). We encode, so far as they are known and both persons appear in our edition, parent-child, spouse, lover, sibling relationships – the example of August Boeckh shows how long the list can be for one single person. This example also lists in which function Boeckh took an active part in major institutions. This other list is realized on the basis of  a tedious work on what we call the group index, for which we need precise entries, e.g. to know exactly, for instance, which professors were in a faculty or another in a given academic year, who directed the seminar for scholarly schools in which year, etc. In order to retrace intellectual genealogies, we want to add student-teacher relationships on the same model as we have parent-children relationships. When this will be done, August Boeckh will appear as “student of Friedrich August Wolf” and all of the students from the philological seminar listed in our database – there are a few of them – will be listed after a phrase like “Teacher of:  Immanuel Hermann Fichte, etc.”. In the end, all the things that it takes me pages to explain in my papers – that I.H. Fichte was the son of J.G. Fichte, attended his father’s classes, but was also greatly influenced by Boeckh – would be contained in two lines of a simple biographical entry.

But understanding this information supposes a great deal of background knowledge. It all comes down to being able to “read” the entries, e.g. to know what, in this very short information, matters – and what matters less. And so, after admitting that, to be honest, we have by far reached the critical mass of information needed to approach the corpus not just qualitatively, but also quantitatively, I also have to admit that defining a visualization strategy for this relationship information might, after all, actually help structuring, hierarchising, filtering it – being able to do something with it. Of course, a simple query already allows me to state that everyone seemed to have read Rousseau’s Nouvelle Hélöise between 1761 and 1860. But confirming well known hypotheses is one thing. Finding new ones is another. After running after intellectual networks for ten years, it seems to be time to nail them down properly.


Add New

Seldom (maybe never) has it felt such a relief to open hypotheses.org as it is tonight. Weeks of forced blogging abstinence, rushing ahead without looking left and right, with the edition seemingly stuck in its rachitic state. But victory, victory at last! We are moving on! What a relief –

I have been obsessed by the single aim to get more text online for months and trying to move mountains to reach that goal – with little success at first. It seems that the fruits of those efforts will finally be harvestable in the days ahead:

– the transcriptions of all letters from Tieck to Raumer already online have been reviewed by Henrike Both; Johanna is now feeding them in the XML files, adding missing xml:ids and enriching the comments (the following letters awaiting her then – she is so good at reading and commenting Tieck and in encoding in general that I think, with the two of us, we will wrap up the corpus before the end of the year) – link to the corpus here!

– Sabine has been actively encoding Boeckh’s reports on the philological seminar and we received yesterday the authorization to publish (online and in print) the scans of the original documents from the University Archive – a first ever. The link to the corpus is here (the scans should be online on Monday)! The director of the Historical Collections of the Grimm-Zentrum is to be thanked greatly for scanning the documents and making this publication possible.

– Julia has almost reached entry 2 000 of Boeckh’s book catalogue (which counts a little less than  6 000 on the whole). This is still not online since the visualization involves a direct link to the work index which requires some tuning, but Alex and I settled on a reasonable solution this morning, and it should be online before the end of the month. I will certainly let you know about it!

– Sophia is almost done preparing the Voß-Solger letters (a print version) and especially the commentary. As soon as this is done (only a few more days), she will get back to unifying some 15 Chamisso letters that are on our internal platform, waiting to be polished. Those should be published in the course of summer.

– Selma has encoded her reference text by Helmina von Chézy (an open letter / fictional text addressed to Bettina von Arnim). This should be online in a month or so.

– Alex and I agreed today on activating the pdf button of the edition by Mid-September. The pdf conversions already works pretty well for letters as it is, but need some re-working to be reasonably clean when applied to the other types of manuscripts we have. Roxane, being the only drama (and the only manuscript with comparatively short lines), always requires specific attention. And will get it for the pdf function as well.

Which means that we will be able to work on the collation from the fall on (sooo looking forward to developing something new!!!), with 2 out of the 3 due volumes in print (one is Voss, in German, and the other one is the “figures of the intellectual”, in French – I had rather not think about who is going to take care of the Solger volume right now, but I see it coming that I will have to pay someone to do the copy editing and translating in order to preserve the time I want to dedicate mainly to writing, e.g. August-October and December-February).

You can count on me to tell you more on the workshop DH Kompetenzzentren and on the Manifesto for young researchers in DH soon, since I spent most of June preparing both. See you soon!

Being a team again (a 1000-piece-puzzle)

Not only summer has replaced winter within 24 hours, but we are operational again, we as a team. The last position (contract for a student as a studentische Hilfskraft) that was vacant since Maike changed universities is now filled with Sophia Zeil. Which makes us – still – a bunch of girls, but with an amazing encoding task force. Sabine and Julia are taking care of the Boeckh project. Sophia is helping Sabine and Anna out with the Chamisso corpus as well. Besides being our drama encoding specialist, Johanna is getting better every day at commenting Tieck’s letters and will transcribe and encode those that are still missing together with me. Even Selma is beginning – as I write this – to encode her Helmina von Chézy text. Corpus! Corpus! If I were not held up by my daily business and the 2 volumes I have to finish until July, I would be encoding much more actively myself as well. But an end to those 2 books (at least to one of them) is in sight.

Of course, I was worried that the group would turn from a genuinely literary project with a slight historical touch to a sheer editorial enterprise, albeit a digital one. During the first two years of the project, we have been developing the different focuses and embracing with them new scholarly domains, history of science and gender literary studies mainly. We discovered new methodological tools and concepts. I learned and learned and as I came to the point that I could add a new piece to the puzzle, the puzzle itself had turned from a 100-piece to a 200-piece one, and so forth. Now I have this huge 1000 piece-puzzle in front of me: in some spots, a shape is recognizable. In others, it is more a big whole.

The conferences we are organizing are here to fill some of these gaps or to precise some elements that are in key positions.

– The first conference will take place in November 2013 and deals with letters as a medium for generation discourses around 1800.

– The second conference – partly more of a workshop, really – will take place in May 2014 and deal with digital editions of letters. I will write more about it soon as I intend to wrap up the call for proposal and send most of the invitations by the end of this week. The title so far: “Digitale Briefeditionen und ihre interpretatorische Leistung. Ontologien, Textgenetik und Visualisierungsstrategien”. A poem in itself, isn’t it?

– But before all of those, and on a completely different register, I am preparing the workshop on DH competence centers in Germany (taking place on June 28th) together with the whole DH-Berlin gang. We are meeting on Friday to define the precise questions we want to address. You can also expect a follow-up on that…

Somehow, now that we are a team again, I only see the fun in all the things I will be able to learn from those conferences/workshops. I almost forget all the organizing pain, thinking only of the puzzle corners that will get filled.

Nikolaus, right on time

December is a good month to be a French living in Germany. First, we had a beautiful snowfall all morning, and I granted myself the pleasure of walking through Tiergarten instead of taking public transportation between 8:30 an 9:00 (bike is not an option any more, for a few weeks at least). Crisp air, still a few birds trying to convince themselves that  it is not that cold, fresh snow under the feet – nothing to do with the cold rain of Paris. What do I want from this day, I asked myself. I want to get some real, good, solid work done, something palpable.

My expectations were met and even outreached. I had an application sent out, and joyfully sent out, with as low hopes as possible concerning its chances of being successful (I am really taking a weird turn with this application mania). Then, after getting pressured for a paper due a few days ago and for which I thought I would still have 10 days, I miraculously managed to write almost half of it in 3 hours. And in between those, I was delivered a huge box, so big I would in no way have been able to carry it myself. It contained, two weeks ahead of schedule, 54 copies of volume 2 of my collection.

(Even the dinosaur is interested, see!)

This book contains mainly, but not only, the papers from the German-French doctoral Workshop I had organized with Iwan d’Aprile in June 2011. It  considers today’s operability of French-German cultural transfers, based on case studies. Which branches of research operate with that concept today, which fields are still open to that kind of approach? We had onboard German Literature Studies, French Literature Studies, Comparative Literature Studies, History, History of Art. The scholarly horizon is very diverse, and yet such big figures as Alexander von Humboldt or Adelbert von Chamisso are to be encountered in several papers.

Preparing the book took over a year and showed once again the extreme difficulty of bringing together different disciplines – and the difficulty of bringing together the German and the French way of writing papers. The papers are all in German, but preceded by an abstract in French. The three directors of publications have also mastered the challenge of writing a good introduction to a book that lives from the variety of the aspects it deals with. Correcting the last, and the next last, and this time it is the last, and the last of the last sets of  proofs drove me and Anna to the edge of blindness and dullness a month or so ago. But obviously, it was worth it, because when I received volume 1 from the press a year ago, I immediately spotted a few typos and have been reluctant to re-open it ever since, while I still haven’t found a single one in volume 2 yet.

December is a good month because of all these gifts coming from everywhere, advent, Nikolaus (that was today). I am really looking forward to see what my Christmas treat will be after all that…(and yes, I know, I have not been very digital lately, but I promise that will improve after tomorrow’s Stammtisch)

Genetics and pdf

I have been reluctant to practice genetic editing so far. Not that I disregard the importance and/or meaning of such editions, but I did not think that we were fit for that. My main worry was that it would take too much time working with elaborate genetic tools like critical apparatus, that it would slow down our publication rhythm for a meager benefit. I had decided to solve the tension between content tagging and genetic tagging in favor of the first, which made it necessary to encode a pretty big text quantity to be able to make something out of it. Time-consuming genetic encoding was made superfluous by the necessity of delivering text masses.

When we started approaching canonical authors, it became clear that my solution was not necessarily the best one. At first, I thought it had to do with the difference between letters and texts: we cannot do as much content tagging on the literary works as we do on the letters, considering people, works, places don’t play such a great role there. So the tagging of the “Romantic Key Texts” mostly concentrates on rendering the materiality of the manuscript. I realized during the work on the Chamisso letters that the imperative of genetic encoding had to do with the necessity of an authorial enunciation (e.g. to provide for an ultimate text and not for any text) in the case of authors that cannot tolerate to be treated like we don’t care what the word it is that has just been stroked through.

In the end, we developed a complex tagging system that tries to deal with both identifying content entities and rendering manuscript materiality. It has taken a great deal of time to conceive said system, it still takes plenty of time to implement it (we haven’t encoding half of the third of the fourth of what I had hoped for this fall). What is more, I find it less and less satisfactory. One of the reasons why it is so is that it addresses the genetic issue not as a research question, but as a problem to get rid off.

The preparation of the grant application for the August Boeckh Encyklopädie achieved to make a shift in the conception necessary. This only became clear to me when I changed the title of the project  last week. From a “historisch-kritisch”, I switched to “genetic”, because this is what the project was describing.

Now that the grant application is out (or will be in one hour or two), I can finally show you what the pdf test page looks like! – Looking forward to hearing your commentaries on it, because I intend to improve the method for our other documents.