OPEN – Contribution to the AGATE Workshop January 16th, 2017

This is the text of my contribution to the Workshop “Open – Connective – Sustainable”

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear President Hatt, Dear Academy Representatives & Guests,

I am honored and happy to have this opportunity to respond to Ulrike Wuttke and by doing so to proceed with the opening session of this workshop. There is nothing more adequate to open such a day than to start thinking about the very concept of openness. In my response, I will first take a short historical glimpse back in the history of the institution hosting today’s event. Then I will take a more systematic take on Ulrike Wuttke’s presentation.

Let us turn back to the year 1813. At this point, a young professor of philology initiated what would become the first German Academy long-time project in SSH ever. Continue reading “OPEN – Contribution to the AGATE Workshop January 16th, 2017”

Why I still hate MS Word 18 years later

During the #dhd2016 conference as well as in the course of our study on research practices in the humanities, I could do nothing but note that MS Word remains one, if not the most important digital tool for today’s humanists (I mentioned it in this blogpost in French and in this one in German). Humanists use MS Word to draw schemas and tables, to bibliography, basically for every major research activity.

Hearing this, I was confident that things had changed since my dissertation time. By then, I wrote the whole opus in plain TeX (and will never thank enough my then-boyfriend for developing the macros), because it was clear from the onset that it would become so huge MS Word would not manage it properly. By two volumes of 500 pages each and complex cross-referencing paragraphs along the work, it definitely made sense not to stick to MS Word. Continue reading “Why I still hate MS Word 18 years later”

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.


Herr Sommer und Frau Sonne (macrons forever)

After initiating what turned out to be an animated debate on the TEI-list, we had still not settled on anything yet concerning the Geminationsstriche on the m and the n, which still appear in the form m[m] and n[n] in the edition as it is.

There were all in all two valid options:

– encoding it as a macron in the form: Som& # 772;er (I had to add a few spaces for html to not transform it into an actual macron…) for Sommer and Son& # 772;e for Sonne;

– encoding it as a glyph in the form: So<g ref=”#mgem”/>er for Sommer and So<g ref=”#ngem”/> for Sonne

The first option is not fully satisfactory as we would have had to encode the diplomatical version and the reading version differently, which means that it would have come up to something like:

So<choice><abbr>m& # 772;</abbr><expan>mm</expan></choice> (or maybe use a <sic>/<corr> combination within the choice element, but it does not make much difference). This would make encoding Geminationsstriche somewhat tedious.

In the second option, it would be possible to define the “mgem”/”ngem” in such a way that we could spare us the use of the choice element while encoding. But this option is not really satisfactory either considering the Geminationsstrich is not a glyph but a macron. And if anyone was to reuse our XML  file for whatever use, we would have to add this definition in the header and it would just add a layer of work and complexity, increase the error potential, etc.

So Alexander Meyer came up with the idea that we encode in the “light” form Som& # 772;er for Sommer and Son& # 772;e for Sonne and he writes a script (for internal use only), that makes all the necessary transformation to get the different versions. The XML-file is encoded properly, we have our two versions and the encoding is not massively more complex.

I can imagine that you could object this and that, but honestly, considering how our project works, this seems the best optimization we can get to me in terms of scholarly reliability, work economy and sustainability.

Famous Last Encodings

There are these things in the preparation of the edition that I have been postponing for a year and have to deal with now because all of the other questions are answered. I am really not the postponing type (I think I may even be the *annoyingly* not postponing type of person). I guess I was vaguely confident that with time, some answers would come naturally. It turned out to be a reasonable instinct.

One thing I did not solve by myself was the “Geminationsstrich”.

But before I get to that, another point, not so unimportant. Isn’t it annoying that my posts are full of German technical terms? That is one thing that has been bothering me for a while. Since we encode in English, all the editorial explanations (attributes such as @reason, @extent, or describing the hands, well, somehow all the editorially pertinent phenomena we encode) are given in English. In bad English, in fact. We lack the specific language of English-speaking editors. This is not a detail. It has to do with the adventurous character of this edition. Editing is not our daily bread. We are researchers. Editing is part of the game, but this is not what we are professionals in. It is only one of many ways to proceed with our research: by gaining new insight for ourselves, and  by granting access to it for a wider public. The aim is (mine at least will always be) to show what manuscripts really are, to give a sense of it, to people who might have no idea about it. Who will those be? German speakers, French speakers? Should I just assume that everyone can communicate in Global English and drop all of the other languages? I have had a rough time encoding all the information concerning the von Buch letters both in French and German (xml:lang is my friend!) and could not bring myself to writing my notes in not two, but three languages just for the sake of having it all in English too.

My inner logic ran as follows: The people who read this page understand the language of this page (hence the necessity of writing the notes in French for French corpora). But we are a German project, so the common language of the whole project should be German. On the other hand, I have had such a hard time on pages I wanted to get inspiration from and could not really see through because they were written in, say, Dutch – which is why,  for the opposite reason, the Van Gogh Letters were so inspirational – that it seems necessary to me to have some structural information given in English: presentation of the corpora, concept of the edition, editorial guidelines…

Now to the Geminationsstriche (if you know the French or the English word for it, please let me know!!). Here’s an example:

This little bar on the “n” of the word “Soliman” means it should actually read “Solimann”. There were interesting debates on the linguistic nature of this bar following the posting of the question how to encode and how to visualize it on the TEI list. I was very surprised that no clear definition of that glyph emerged from the discussion. I am still stuck in the illusion that linguistics is an exact science… but once again, we will have to find some kind of patch corresponding to “what we want to say with it” instead of applying some ready-made recipe. By the time, I should have known it would come down to that!

What do we want to say, to show, to give to read. That is the question I had to answer while writing our editorial guidelines yesterday. There, I was surprised how easily my argumentation found its own way. We have our research question. The corpora are presented in such a way that they answer this question (for scholars) and in such a way that they offer new texts to read (for a wider audience). That is it, really.