Proudly presenting: August Boeckh’s “Catalogue of my books”

Further reproduction of the facsimile only with authorization of the Historical Collections at the University Library of the Humboldt University in Berlin.

The handwritten catalogue of Boeckh’s books is only since yesterday (here).

Including it in the digital edition is only half satisfactory in the sense that the point of this project does only partially overlap the general idea of the digital edition. A book catalogue can hardly provide information on networks; the history of the text is of limited interest (only one hand is at work) and there is no further version of it, published or unpublished, we might compare it with. What the book catalogue allows to do, though, is to see how books operate as information deliverers and how the chronological constitution of the book collection reflects an evolution in the history of scholarship.

Since Boeckh designed this catalogue to his personal use, the information about the books is more than often pretty allusive. The work steps of this project hence include:

– transcription of the manuscript

– identification of the book; realization of a complete bibliographical dataset;

– connecting this dataset with an exemplary of the book.

This is certainly at this stage the most interesting part of the work process. The Historical Collections at the University Library of the Humboldt University (whom we greatly thank for providing the scans as well as access to some of the least easily findable archiving data such as ex-libris catalogues) did not only inherit the catalogue, but also the books listed in it. Since those were along time incorporated in the University Library’s collection – and since its archiving system changed a couple of times since 1865 -, finding the books is not as easy as one might presume. Some of them are to be found at the Prussian State Library. Some of them have remained by the family (whom we are also grateful to for having given us permission to have those books scanned).

How can we know that these are Boeckh’s personal books? This is where, in a further work step, things should get really fun. Boeckh annotated his books, or at least, some of them. These notes he made on the books – for instance those by classical philologists he might have been in concurrence with – have the potential to be retraced as a first formulation of what may have become, in a further work step, part of a class (for instance his famous “Encyclopeadia of the philological sciences”), an argumentative point in a critique or even a chapter in a book that he wrote. In that sense, this project is not as far of the general idea of our digital edition as it could seem at first, since it also allows to retrace text genesis and reception phenomena, exchange of ideas, and stonemarks in the history of sciences – in this case, in the history of Classical Philology.

For the time being, the webdesign gives access (by mouseclick) to a complete bibliographical dataset as well as to the connected entries (for instance, if you check an edition of Homer’s Ilias, you will be given a list of all versions of Homer’s Ilias mentioned on the list – and there are a few of them…). When a free accessible scan of the corresponding book is available online (not Boeckh’s exemplary, but one that has already been scanned and made available online), a link leads you to it. By the end of the year, we will add links to Boeckh’s personal, annotated volumes that will be by then scanned and hosted by the University Library (this should concern about 35 books).

We are still looking for ideas to improve the design or the general concept – don’t hesitate to leave a comment here!

Add New

Seldom (maybe never) has it felt such a relief to open 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!

What’s new on the web

I have been announcing it for months, it is there at last: our new interface! There are still a few details to be improved (the rollover with names poping up on the authors’ pictures or the new favicon that seems to have been lost in the process for instance), but this is mostly it. The general idea was to improve the aesthetics of the edition as well as the navigation. Here too, a few improvements still need to be done on the genres, topics and repositories main pages in order for their architecture to be made more obvious than the little column to the right allows it for the time being.

Having suppressed the structure in corpora and subcorpora has the inconvenient that it is not as clear as it was in the old interface who is the main editor of said corpora/subcorpora. I only realized it when I saw the final product, so that we are now working on adding a “quotation” button on each page that will let the user know how to quote each single document – and this way, inform said user about the name of the person who has the editorial responsibility of the text he/she wants to quote.

Since I have been tracking little mistakes all week-end long, I can’t feel the magic of the new interface’s novelty anymore. This is a pity, really. I have been waiting for this improvement for a long time and it is bound to remain our “face” for several years.  Instead of enjoying it, I can’t help thinking of the next steps: actualize the Boeckh platform after this model and publish it officially, add more texts, add Boeckh’s books list, add the pdf button, update all headers and notes so they all are in the 3 languages,… since it will take about the 2 years we have left to just publish all the texts we have had in mind in the first place, there is little room for expansion and experimentation now. There is room for more neatness, more information, better access. I guess there is a time and place for everything…

Concerning experimentation, things are moving on a little bit too wildly for my taste in my Wikipedia class, but I enjoy too much the class’ enthusiasm to want to slow it down too early. We have a class blog, on which I post as well as the students, and on which I get comparatively about hundred times as many comments as on this one (which is an unfair comparison considering there are over 130 blog entries on this blog and not even 10 on the other). There are right now at least 3 blog entries on stack awaiting publication on the class blog: it happens to be quite complicated to teach writing blog posts and writing wikipedia entries at the same time. I might need to separate both in the future. But it is a completely new and exciting experience.

And the DH Berlin group is going online as well. The webpage is under construction, but at least it is there! Programm and flyer of the June workshop should be online by the end of the week.

In other words: no time to get bored…

Spring, disillusion and something like zen

The new semester began yesterday and it already feels like it has been months. I spent those two days struggling to get some actual work done – I succeeded for about 3 hours, which is not so bad. I remember not being able to cope with the distribution of my work time between administrative tasks, meetings, applications, teaching (minimal as I only teach one class) and research (research itself being divided again in archive work, reading, encoding, writing, editing) not a year ago. The disillusion as to what I can hope from my work days has at least achieved that I see my time running between my fingers on a regular basis and don’t freak out about it any more. I can’t make time that I don’t have. So let’s enjoy spring being spring, and proceed step by step with the big plans.

Although somewhat disillusioned, I still have concrete ambitions until the summer. First, our new layout has to go online soon. We have been tiptoeing and arguing about one single feature for the last three weeks, but we need to have a solution by next week and we will have it. We have to get online before the end of the month, this has taken too much time already. After upgrading the layout of the digital edition, we will do so for the Boeckh archive repository (/Boeckh platform / Boeckh papers overview: note to self, settle on a name once a for all!), get said repository officially online and find a clever way to link digital edition and Boeckh repository.

Second: more corpus! Sabine will begin encoding the reports from the Philological Seminar, I will move on on the von Buch/Beausobre letters with the texts I already have in transcription, Julia will publish the first pages of Boeckh’s books catalogue in a beta version. I keep my hopes down concerning the other corpora, but it would be a nice surprise to see them increase in mass too.

Third: better encoding! The already published letters will be reviewed, corrected regarding transcription and enriched in markup and commentary. This is the case for the 23 Tieck letters as well as for the encoding of the Chamisso letters to de La Foye done by the students of our first class.

These three aspects have such a high priority level that I realize while writing this that I have not even thought about what other tasks I could consider on the encoding’s side for the 4 months ahead. Improving the workflow, getting us used to working with SVN, presenting the books catalog nicely, working on the data exchange with the State Library and the PDR – things that feel old already, but need still a great deal of attention – will not leave Alex much time to impulse fresh air and ideas in the collationing or the TEI2PDF.

For the first time, I consider neither short (3 weeks) nor long (1 year) periods to make plans, but more a middle-termed one (4 months). I have a realistic check-list and I even have completely blacked out what will come after that period. In all rationality, I don’t think that this change of perspective will modify the group’s real production but marginally. What it can do, though, is change my perception of it. Not flipping out because I am not able to match goals that were from the beginning irrealistic might turn out to be – not so bad after all.

This feeling of general gravity has to do with my other activities in the mean time. Two of the volumes that I have to direct and have been dragging for years now are still far from being finished, and I think that my brain prepares itself for the final rush (one in May, the other in June-July), prophylactically saving some inner energy for this. Plus, I am teaching, giving talks and organizing conferences again, after a long pause in these activities. Keeping it somewhat down right now is probably the only way to survive, come to think about it. Plus, “after” (after July) will be the time when I have to concentrate on writing my book. I am looking forward to it, but I know already that it will not all be just fun either – and dispersion will not be an option then. At all.

Workflow intricacy

Anna is now on parental leave, but I had the amazing opportunity to have her replacement  financed for one year by the German Research Foundation (that is family-friendliness!). It is Julia Doborosky who will help the digital edition move on in Anna’s absence.

Julia belongs to the Boeckh team. She is the one who has gone through all the archival material at the University Archive, at the Academy of Sciences Archive and at the Geheimes Staatsarchiv (don’t know the correct English name for it) and thus generated 1200 entries in our Boeckh platform (which I presented in this earlier post). I also had the possibility to finance her a few months last year to begin the work on Boeckh’s list of his own books. Reconstructing Boeckh’s library is what interests her most, so this will be her primary task during her time in my group.

I find it exciting to be able to implement the change of scale I have been waiting for (by the way: things are moving on on the letters’ side as well!) also on the level of the reconstruction of Boeckh’s book collection. We will soon be able to work on linking our data with that of the Grimm-Zentrum (digitized and OCRed books that used to belong to Boeckh). To this day, Julia has transcribed 700 titles and has been bibliographically informing them. For each entry, she looks for the corresponding book in the library’s stock and if she finds Boeckh’s exemplar (recognizable by its ex-libris) and sees handwritten remarks by Boeckh in the book, she mentions it (we have an extra XML-category for that) and it is set on the digitization list. It is exciting precisely because this is not completely digital edition, not completely repository, but at the junction of both.

Less exciting is the trouble this puts us in in terms of workflow. Things were fairly clear in the last six months. When you encode, make sure no one else is working on the index. Seldom did Anna, Sabine and I had so much time to spend encoding that this would be a problem. But from now on and until the fall at last. Sabine will be preparing her edition of the documents from the philological seminar, while Julia will be working on the Boeckh book cataloge. And if by chance I actually manage to do some encoding, that makes way too many people encoding at the same time. We will definitely have to re-think our workflow. One of the major problems, namely the risk that IDs are being given two or three times, might be solved by attributing to each editor a specific letter or number to begin their IDs with (for instance I would encode my new persons with p1…, Sabine with p2… and Julia with p3…). I wonder what are the chances that we encounter the same person in parallel and then give not 1 ID to 2 persons but 2 IDs to the same person.

Sadly, my brain is not wired properly to deal with that kind of information intricacy: on the very second I suggest an adaptation of the workflow, I imagine a worst-case scenario and immediately see what kind of problems could arise from it. I hope that Alex will come up with a rational solution to this. It will in any way require really good versioning, that is for sure…