Foucault, Jesus and St. Paul

I am proceeding with my encoding of the letters from Adolph von Buch to Louis de Beausobre (you can find a general presentation of that corpus here and an analysis of my first difficulties here and here). The first letters dealt with war events, the next ones consist in Adolph von Buch trying to develop a theological argument on the credibility of the Bible towards his “professor” Beausobre.

As I mentioned here, I still haven’t settled on a precise edition of the Bible. Things became more complicated as Paul turned up. Here’s the extract (I give you the encoded text):

Il n’y a donc, que deux mo<lb break=”no”
/>yens, qui puissent faire connoitre aux hommes des nouvelles verités au dessus
de leur raison. 1/ quand Dieu leur fait naitre de nouvelles sensations. Cela ne
serviroit, comme Vous le remarqués tres bien, qu’à cet homme seul, <lb/>puisque
dans ce cas il acquereroit des forces au-delà des humaines et ne pourroit point
se faire entendre des <lb/>autres hommes. C’est pourquoi <persName ref=”#p0042″
>St. Paul</persName> ne put jamais communiquer aux autres les idées, qu’il
avoit acquis <lb/>lors de son enlevement au troisieme Ciel.

I am still not sure if I have to register Saint Paul in the index of persons. The St. Paul mentioned here is the biblical figure, but do I have to consider that this person is identical with Saul of Tarsus or at least, that von Buch thinks of the historical person too, when he writes this? In which case, I would have to link Paul to the Bible as an author of a part of it, maybe with a @cert=”medium” (would that be theologically satisfying?).

I had had a similar problem with Jesus little before (do I have to consider the biblical figure or the historical person?), as well as with Moses, like I mentioned here. In the end, I have settled for an < occupation >=Messiah. The question is more whether I take the PND (which is a guarantee for a “real” person) or not.

So, with my dear friend Foucault, I might be tempted to not only consider an author as a function (I found a scanned version of the text in an English translation online), but basically any kind of person. What I still don’t know is how I can technically implement that in my index of persons-

Encoding, indexing, encoding, indexing – blogging

Although I have not even reached the end of Letter 7 (out of 57 for the first corpus and 55 for the other one, and I am still dreaming of having put together something decent in two months…) or, for that matter, actually completed the encoding of the first six ones, I feel like my brain is now seeing items, persons or books as xml:ids I relate to – either in the real world or in the one I spend some irreal time in, the one of my encoding.

The index part, as I expected, is the nerve of it all – so far, almost only hurting for being so incomplete that it feels (to me) like nothing is working – in spite of the fact that Alexander Meyer is doing a great job organizing and re-organizing and adding new wishes along the way and keeping all relaxed and amazingly efficient.

We have four indices that are more or less connected to one another. The aim of the edition being to, at some point, be able to reconstruct who read this or that book where and when, I start by scrupulously tagging dates in the ISO-standard. The places – well, I mentioned them before – lie idle for the time being as I am hoping to gain an expert on Seven Years’ War to sort it all out. Then there is the index of the people and institutions involved in the project, probably the easiest one to manage as we don’t have so many surprises as to who we are and what we do.

Then there are the index of persons and the index of works, which obviously have to be connected to one another, the persons we are interested in being mostly authors. For the persons, finding out names, life dates (not always very accurate, but precise enough for us), and relevant relatives or important relationships (which consists in connecting together two entries of the index of persons) is only marginally problematic. Getting the unique identification number for each person is not as easy as I thought. I did for instant not manage to get a PND number (the German standard) for Ocellus Lucanus. This Pythagorean philosopher might all in all not be very well known, he still was translated by Marquis d’Argens and his translation dedicated to Frederick the Great. In that sense, you can say that he definitely played a role in intellectual exchanges in Prussia in the early 1760s.

Then there is the occupation. I knew this would be rough. Defining someone’s occupation really depends on what you intend to do with the data. Does it matter that Boeckh is a Classics specialist or that he is a Professor at the University or that he is a Member of the Academy of Sciences? I see this category as the one most likely to have little unity depending on who did the encoding. In order to prevent these coherence gaps, I said the occupation has to be defined in 4 words top. But there are some people it actually makes sense to give more information about, especially if PND, DBN, wikipedia and co know less than we do. On the other hand, I was at a loss when I had to add Moses to my index this afternoon. What was his occupation?

And then there is the index of the works. The rule I suggested was that in case we find no reference to a specific edition, we take the first one. Now that is driving me into the devil’s kitchen, as the Germans say. In his letters to Beausobre, von Buch is developing a theological argument and quoting the Bible. Super, now I have to be a historian of theology to know which edition of the Bible a Prussian gentleman is most likely to use around 1760. Then, I have what I thought would be the advantage that von Buch is reading mostly books that were just published and got public attention. I was delighted to see he is reading the Nouvelle Héloise in the year it was published. But could not retrace where the book was published first. Same thing for Frederick’s Military instructions to his Generals (obviously a hit, a second edition was published not even a year later…). It really is a moral problem for me to redirect these books he quotes in 1762 to information on an edition of 1764. And I still have not found a single trace of “les propos de table de sanssouci en traduction allemande” he talks about several times. Cannot believe it: there is so much about Frederick the Great going on in Berlin, considering he turned 300 a week ago. And still no idea what that book might be.

I clearly will need to touch base with reality soon and decided to go to the Weblogs conference in Munich in March!

Places not to be

The first letters I encoded in the past few days are not really representative of the rest of the corpora, but they forced me to deal with interesting problems concerning the architecture of our index of places. Here’s a sample:

Après la rupture de l’<placeName ref=”#l0004″>Espagne</placeName> et de
l’<placeName ref=”#l0005″>Angleterre</placeName> la guerre paroit se
perpetuer et je n’en vois plus la fin, sur tout, si <lb/>la prediction de Mr.
<persName ref=”#p0008″>Litt</persName> qui a deviné si juste dans les
affaires de la nation, se verifie, que la guerre avoit commencé en Amerique
<lb/>et ne pourroit aussi finir, que là. Le General <persName ref=”#p0009″>Platen</persName> a occupé <placeName ref=”#l0008″>Naumbourg</placeName> et
<placeName ref=”l0009″>Zeitz</placeName>. Sil parvient à chasser les ennemis
de <lb/>l’<unclear reason=”german script, not so good legible, could mean Erzgebirge”>Erthgebürge</unclear><!– wie kann ich das besser machen? –><!– ausserdem schriftwechsel in die dt schrift!!! –>, il reparera en quelque
façon les fautes en <placeName>Pomeranie</placeName>. On dit, qu’en <placeName ref=”#”>Silesie</placeName> tout est en mouvement et on pretend <lb/>même
que le Roi pourroit bien marcher vers la <placeName ref=”#l0010″>Pomeranie

A work in progress, as you can see…

My coworker Alexander Meyer, who is, among many things, in charge of helping us putting up decent TEI and data architecture, first wanted to proceed with an index of places structured in countries>regions>cities>streets as Solenne Coutagne had first suggested (only reversing it so it would be a tree).

The first difficulty I encountered was “Germany”. Germany today, Germany in 1760, Germany in 1840 are different geographical entities. So we have to give up referring to one geographical entity, we have to consider more like the word “Germany”, and let the people using the search engine figure out themselves which Germany is meant in the texts of 1760, 1784, 1806, etc.

The next obvious thing is that we will have to tag those place names both in French and in German to make them searchable. I am now wondering if it would be worth putting the English variant of the place names too.

In those letters written during the Silesia war, as you see, Beausobre’s correspondent gives him information concerning troop movements, and some of the places named there do not really exist any more (they may have been inhabited in the 18th century and are only very small places now, not even villages), or they carry names like “Neustadt”, “Breitenfelde”. There are at least 10, if not 20 places called like that in Germany. Probably historians would know immediately which Neustadt is meant, but I have trouble spotting it. And my problem is, I really don’t care where this or that Neustadt is, and I don’t want to spend all of my encoding time looking for it when I know that there are letters dealing with publications I will be much more eager to retrace. I am looking for a way to isolate all the “unspotted” places and mark them as elements on which I would require feedback from my historically knowledgeable readers, or something like that.

In the end, this WILL be crowdsourcing, I guess… (and about that, see this paper by Hubertus Kohle!)