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!)

Patching Part One: This Edition

While migrating my blog to, I seem to have lost some of my original posts  in the meanders of the world wide web. Here are two of them explaining the big idea of this edition:

#1: What’s in there for you?

Dated Oct. 5th, 2011

I intended to present each corpus of the edition in detail, but I have decided to start with an overview.

The digital edition reflects only partly the four big orientations of the project itself. Those four questions are:

1) To what extent did the creation of the University contribute to the representation and understanding the teachers and professors developed of themselves as Intellectuals?

2) To what extent did this self-consciousness of Prussian intellectuals construct itself as a reaction to the French presence in Prussia? (what is meant by that is of course not only the military presence of Napoleonian troops, but also the scholarly and literary domination of Berlin by the French since Frederick II.)

3) Which strategies were developed to establish oneself as a writer? (trying to differentiate here between male and female strategies)

4) How can you gain a political statement from a scholarly or literary work?

I conceived those four focus points before I even hired my team. They brought their own interests and research history: Anna Busch has already written her dissertation on the publisher Julius Eduard Hitzig (see her blog), Selma Jahnke is working on a dissertation on Helmina von Chézy (yes, this is a wikipedia link – in German though) and Sabine Seifert is also working on a dissertation on August Boeckh (and here I am very sorry to have to put the English wikipedia link since it is not accurate: his name is NOT Philipp August, but just August – Sabine will explain that at some point) and Friedrich von Raumer. And there are other people on the team, working on smaller subcorpora for their Bachelor or Master thesis…

Then the digital edition came along, not as a small byproduct, but as our common project. We have divided it in the following subcorpora (which I will present in more detail in further posts):

1) The French in Berlin: this corpus is destined to contain several subcorpora that will (hopefully) shed light on the different aspects of this presence. The first one (planned for the first deliverables) will be an important part of the passive correspondance of Louis de Beausobre which I found at the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-PK (since I can’t seem to find a wikipedia link on Louis de Beausobre, I will post on him soon, promise).

2) Science and politics: this is Sabine’s corpus, dealing with the way University professors and Academy members took part in politics on an Academical level.

3) Romantic texts: this is Anna’s corpus, mainly work manuscripts she found at the Stiftung Stadtmuseum Berlin in the Hitzig papers. At least one of the texts will be published in March 2012.

4) Friday Society: this corpus contains the correspondence of this literary and scholarly society that met in Berlin between 1802 and 1849.

5) Tieckiana: this subproject contains various works and letters by the Romantic writer Ludwig Tieck that were not published so far or published only in a shortened/censored version. We will publish the youth drama Roxane and the correspondence with his friend Friedrich von Raumer in March 2012, both coming from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-PK.

New corpora are intended to be added in a later step: Classics Lecture Notes (lectures given by F.A. Wolf and Solger in the summer 1818 will come first) and unpublished texts and letters by the Romantic writer Adelbert von Chamisso are the ones that should be added next.

You can learn more about those corpora and about the way we connect them to our teaching if you come by our poster (I will be there together with my TEI expert Sabine) at the TEI MM and annual conference in Würzburg next week!


#2: Digital Edition “Das intellektuelle Berlin um 1800”

Dated Sept. 23rd, 2011

The Digital Edition of the junior research group is a work in progress. It is probably bound to stay a work in progress for a long time, but we hope to go online with a first set of texts by the beginning of 2012.

This edition has two main aims. The first one is to make texts available that have not been published so far or have only been partially published. The second aim is to use the newly published corpus to develop methods that can help describe the intellectual networks in Berlin at the beginning of the 19th century in a more accurate way.

The picture on this page shows a screenshot of what the front-end of the edition should roughly look like: the darker orange upper border lists the different corpora; the lighter orange one allows different types of access to the queries. The main window is composed of a digitization of the manuscript on the left side and its transcription on the right side. The transcription can be visualized either in a form that is totally adequate to the manuscript (“diplomatisch”) or in a commented form (“kritisch”) or in the form of the originary XML-file.

I will be posting our specific encoding guidelines soon. They reflect our restless efforts to respect the TEI-Guidelines without getting lost in details…

Adios, Würzburg

So here goes, heading beack home (and already dreading the trip with the Deutsche Bahn)!

What I will remember of my first TEI conference:

1) Big projects and small projects do not really have the same workflow problems but in the end, we all end up trying to figure out a way to use the TEI-P5 guidelines without increasing their volume too much by adding this and that proposal for a complement because what we actually need is not described there yet. Which leads me back to the questions of what standards are actually there for. I can’t think of a definite answer to that. Do we need a communication basis or a completely unified system? The irritating part is of course that the guidelines will give you 3 ways to encode one thing and none to encode another and you have to make the best ot of that situation for your project.

2) Long time archiving is a problem for everybody. I suspected that before and I think that considering it is a general problem, it should not be the job of the project managers to find their own little solution, but a problem for larger infrastructures like DARIAH in Europe to take care of.

3) There are so many cool problems connected to encoding. As a project manager, I am very busy keeping everything working at all and do not really have time to think profoundly about the hermeneutical implications of each and every decision we make but somehow it still has to do with what the early 20th century scholars did when setting standards for critical editions. We are in the process of redefining philology – the problem is, we are so in it that it is difficult to reflect it. But if anything, that would be the one theoretical question that would interest me right now.

4) The <note> element is really a problem, not just for us. I will post on that later and I promise to do so on the Special Interest Group Manuscript list as well.

5) Posters are a cool way to get to present your project in a way that the person you are talking to gets the information he/she really wants. We should have more of those non-authoritative kind of scholarly communication in the traditional humanities. But it still is a challenge to stand next to James Cummings!

6) Würzburg reminds me too much of the city I grew up and got endlessly bored in as a teenager. I want to get back to Berlin!