Bibliography and other metaphysical questions

So the next Digital Edition meeting finally took place today. A nice thing happened in the first 15 minutes: Alex was asked by Sabine and Johanna to explain XSLT and XQuery. I am always amazed not only at how much technique Alex knows, but also at his ability of making us understand how these things work (not in detail of course, but the general idea). Just as I am amazed at the complexity of the debates we can have during these sessions. Thankfully, we are through arguing about Geminationsstriche. We found a nice replacement for this formerly everlasting discussion though: the bibliography.

As it is, primary sources (first editions and other prints we use for comparison purposes) are to be listed in the header and referred to in our editorial notes if need be (depending on the specifics of the corpus). But the question we had today concerned primary and secondary literature. The first suggestion was to have a general bibliography for each corpus, on the corpus’ presentation page. I was against it for several reasons (maybe I am wrong on that, though), the main one being that if you provide a bibliography, you have to do it in an exhaustive way and we would not realistically manage to do so for each corpus (or to do it in a harmonious way for all corpora). The second suggestion was that we have for each document (in the very convenient < additional > element in the header) a bibliography that would contain first the primary, then the secondary sources. Again, this was not very satisfactory, on the one hand because of the obvious repetitions that would occur between the different documents of one corpus, on the other hand, because there are books or papers that are of major importance to conceive the commentary of a document, while some are only locally of some help (for situating an event for instance). Those two types of references should not be given the same importance, but it would take us too far to conceive a hierarchical systematic in the secondary literature (all of this, again, in the improbable < additional > element). I was surprised that this turned out to be an important issue arising with the edition of the letters from Chamisso to de La Foye (the corpus we are editing in our DH class of this summer). For the Beausobre letters as well as for the Tieck letters, I had given in my editor’s notes all the bibliographical information which I considered relevant. In fact, there is some information I did not quote systematically my references on, because I did not see the point in quoting a common encyclopedia or dictionary, the source of a simple Latin translation or, concerning the many commentaries that have to do with Solger, my own publications of the last 10 years. The more I think about it after this afternoon’s work session, the more I am starting to consider that we should, after all, provide for a corpus bibliography of secondary works, but more in the form of “The main works we have been referring to for this corpus are… ” followed by no more than 5 to 10 titles.

This has to do with how serious we want to look. I have been looking up the Alfred Escher letters and the Alexander von Humboldt letters and I cannot help but wonder at the differences with our own edition. While we aim at not overloading the page and I even hesitate to add a 10 title-bibliography for each corpus, these editions are not afraid of delivering long text passages and thorough bibliographies. I have been annoying my whole team for weeks with my obsession for a NOT white background for the text, because I find it too tiresome for the reading eye, but this is what all those sites go for (also Carl Maria von Weber, even the all-time best Van Gogh letters). Are we doing something so different?

We necessarily are, because we are a small group with limited time and money: we will never reach or even intend the thoroughness of a complete edition. We select representative corpora and the job of our edition is to empower them with this representativeness and show it. I am not saying that we are deliberately doing bad scholarly work. I only mean that we take decisions (in the rendering of the transcription, in the tagging, in the layout) that have to do, for instance, with the tools we want to develop (for the search, for the collation) and that these are still only in germination phase. Many decisions were taken on a small corpus with the aim of being implemented on a somewhat larger one and will need correction at some point. This certainly is an uneasy position, but it is what it is: a work in progress that will stay so for a while…

Trust and confidence

In those shaky times, I have been thinking about the value of the memoranda of understanding I have been, literally, building on during the past year.

When I first started working on manuscripts, I learned that if you want to publish a transcription or a reproduction of a manuscript, you need the archive’s authorization, and that they usually give it to you if the publication has a scientific purpose. It is only later, in the contact to great archivists, that I sensed that a fruitful work relationship with an archive could work differently and gain a much deeper significance. Even if the paper, the ink, the hidden signs tell you a lot when you are a good manuscript scholar, a great part of the knowledge and understanding of a manuscript comes from its archival history and from the way it took its place in an wider order of things. You have to listen to the archivists tell you how the cannon of their collection constituted itself in order to understand the place each manuscript takes. You have to hear about what is lost and gone as much as about what is still alive. Nothing should, in fact, be taken for granted, because every piece of archive has a peculiar history. It is an interesting reflex of self-preservation that archives necessarily create an archiving of their own memory in order for all this information not to get lost. As much as you could criticize this in a perspective like Foucault’s, in which social codes are at the core of the argument, I think archives can and should be made fruitful in their inner history – and that this is true philology.

In that sense, our memoranda of understanding, and especially those that involve archives, seem to me to be an actualization of philology as a process of acknowledging and transmitting the memory of texts. By memory of texts, I mean on the one hand the way a text made its way through literary history, being maybe ignored in one period of time and worshiped in another. And on the other hand, I also mean the way a text evolved in itself: the ink that faded away, the pieces that are missing because they got lost or because they never were there. You get the first clues to these riddles in the discussion with the archivists. What could matter more, then, than the connection of this knowledge with what I learned as a scholar, and its transmission to a wider audience? This is the logical consequence of accepting to contribute to archival work.

This is the way I interpret our memoranda of understanding, too. They mean to me that archives and scholars do not pursue different aims, but a common one. They mean that we trust one another with a very specific knowledge, knowing that it can bring not just archives and/or scholars a step further, but also a much wider circle of persons. Although the legal value of memoranda of understanding is still a little blurry to me, I consider them a great symbolical bound, a paper trace, an archive if you want, of mutual trust and confidence: an ark.

Speaking out of tongues

With my father in a coma since last week, my continuous state of panic has had an unexpected side effect: I seem to have lost all ability to speak one language at a time or, for that matter, any language correctly. German and French mix up in my head and I am not able to speak or write either German or French. My boarding pass is not a boarding ticket (as the French would have it), but a board card, after the German expression. The right word came to me half an hour after the moment I would have needed it (thankfully, I still managed to get on board using the wrong word…). The words from one language crash the other language’s syntax.  I suppose this will pass, at some point. I figured that it might help me to write in English, a neutral language in which my stylistic ambitions and the unconscious associations are in no way comparable with those I have in French or German, to get back on track.

Since I left suddenly for France last week, we did not have the planned meeting of the the digital edition group. Still, I have had time to sum up for myself which aspects we need to get settled until our official launching in July:

– try and see if we can modify the color of the manuscript background so that it would harmonize with the rest of the page; we should in any way keep the manuscript background as it gives a clear connection to the material itself;

– improve the visualization of the metadata: select important elements that do not appear now; give German and English formulations for some important elements we have as plain text and normalize them;

– manage to track down all the missing line breaks (!);

– enrich the index of persons so that we can provide more information on each and every known person;

– add notes to precise the content of the Beausobre letters; refine the tagging concerning the material aspects of the manuscripts in the Tieck letters;

– make sure the work manuscripts (“Roxane”, “Sandmann”) are similarly presented so that the coherence of the tagging, etc., appears clearly;

– add a “Search” and an “Impressum” button at the bottom of each page;

– have the whole thing run through the legal department of the University.

After that, we will be able to think more precisely about the form in which we will present the Boeckh corpus (a mix of metadata and transcribed documents); the improvement of the search engine; the development of a collation systematic that could fit all the types of documents we have. Step by step…


Analog Intellectuals

I seem to have lost touch with the digital world lately. Have not encoded in weeks, have not made any inner progress concerning the structure of the corpora, have not moved on one bit in my reflexions concerning the search engine and am not really sure what to do concerning the new looks (check it here: one the one hand I like it a lot, the new background makes me totally happy, on the other hand, it looks like two ideas patched together – which it is – and does not satisfy me). It sounds like I would need to dive into encoding for  a little while, for sure. This is not going to happen though, since I have to finish a book till June 11th. I don’t even want to know how many (how few would be more accurate) days I have to do all that has still to be done.

The book contains the papers from the conference “Les figures de l’intellectuel entre révolution et restauration – France/Allemagne” I organized with Ayse Yuva and Christian Bonnet in Paris in November 2011. You can find the programme here and the conference report here (all in French). We don’t usually have such tight schedules for publication. In fact, it is almost science-fiction to say you want to get the publication ready only six months after the conference, but we have a nice opportunity to do so in optimal conditions (e.g. if everything works well, without having to pay for the print and all). Luckily, most of the authors proved very cooperative. I had to throw all my other planned – e.g. urgent – publication projects off track for a while just to get that book done. The book of the conference on Solger of December 2009, the book of the conference on Voss of July 2010, to name the two hottest irons. Boy, are those two hot, and have they been hot for long already! Of course, we should stop the whole theater of systematically publishing conference papers as books. But the temptation is always so big – the money for the print is there, and it would be so sad not to have something in your hand in the end, something that would be more palpable than the remembrance of how you have been sweating for your own paper, more concrete than the feeling of bliss while hearing the other papers, more constructive than the enjoyment of pleasant scholarly conversations at the conference dinner. What else than a book could provide for that?

It is one thing to participate to one such book with a paper and to be the person who edits it. As much as I am happy that some of my very super-specific topics managed to find a little spot in some of such books, I am sorry  for not having published more in papers these past years. It does not make much difference now, but it is certainly true that the first 3 papers I published were crucial for the rest of my career, because I was lucky enough to have them accepted in major journals. But that was it, because after that, I landed in the vicious circle of always having one conference book after the other. And I am far from being able to take a fresh start, as you see (I suppose the Solger book will only be ready in the winter).

When you are the person who edits it, and it is the second, third, fourth, etc. book you are doing, you really have to ask yourself about the relevance of the thing. Why does it make sense? In fact, I end up thinking that the main interest of doing those books is to write the introduction. This really forces you to bring things together you usually either sprinkle or dilute. The first one (*I realized after having published this post that it was in fact the second already by then, sigh…) of such introductions I did was pretty crappy, but I learned a lot (having re-written it about 4 times from scratch, which took me a year and a half). This is when I realized how much you must know to be able to write that kind of texts. If you really want to read it, it is the introduction to the book “Les formes de la philosophie” – it was 7-8 years ago. About a year ago, I wrote (much faster and with a much more satisfying result), alone again, the introduction to the book “Netzwerke des Wissens”. It really helped that the papers were much more solid than in the first one, I must say. I managed for the first time to give a clear profile to the concept of “intellectuals” I have been working on for 12 years now. It was interesting to see that this concept that I held on to against my PhD advisor, this concept that caused me to defend a thesis in my dissertation he didn’t agree with, this very concept I had feared was only a juvenile strategy to assert myself, turned out to be a scholarly powerful tool I could still work on shaping even ten years after the whole dissertation drama.

It is a pleasure to pursue these reflexions – this time, not in German, but in French – for the new book. Since we write it four-handedly (Ayse Yuva is doing this with me), I am confronted with the blind spots I had been only too happy to ignore for so long. I have to expose clearly what the German research says and what the French research says and why one is so and the other one is so. And what makes it legitimate, so or so, to use the category “intellectual” to describe early nineteenth-century scholars in France and Germany. It gives me doubts, too. Is it really so legitimate to cling on to the concept of intellectual? Is it not as much as staring at one’s own belly button? And  is it not desperately French?

Thankfully, I have the work on the papers – harmonizing the bibliographies, adding the missing dots and comas, checking first names of referenced authors, etc. – that keeps me so busy that I don’t have time to lose myself  in metaphysical considerations on the scholar’s destination.

“Lettres et textes. Le Berlin intellectuel des années 1800”: une présentation

L’édition numérique “Lettres et textes. Le Berlin intellectuel des années 1800” est en cours de réalisation et devrait être achevée courant 2015; les premiers corpus ont été mis en ligne en mars 2012. Réalisée par le groupe de recherche junior “Les intellectuels berlinois entre 1800 et 1830”, elle est en fait moins centrée sur le premier tiers du XIXème siècle qu’il n’y paraît.

L’objectif scientifique qui constitue la matrice de l’édition en matière de codage et de mise en page est bien celui du groupe de recherche, mais il est focalisé sur un ensemble de textes et de personnes choisis pour leur représentativité.

L’idée générale consiste à tâcher de mettre en évidence les stratégies de communications mises en oeuvre par les hommes (et femmes) de lettres et de sciences pour se positionner sur la scène publique. Il s’agit ainsi de montrer que les débats littéraires et scientifiques sont toujours aussi des débats politiques, et comment.

Cette question générale s’articule en quatre ligne directrices, qui se retrouvent dans les corpus choisis:

– quel rôle joue l’influence de la culture francaise dans la Prusse intellectuelle? C’est principalement cette question qui a amené à revenir en arrière dans le temps pour intégrer un corpus XVIIIèmiste, sans lequel l’émergence de la nouveauté de la période autour de 1800 serait difficile à mettre en évidence. Deux corpus se répondent ainsi sur cette question: la correspondance (francaise) d’Adolf von Buch et Louis de Beausobre des années 1760-1770, qui montrent de manière exemplaire les structures de circulation – francophone – des savoirs dans la Prusse frédéricienne. De l’autre côté de la ligne de démarcation “1800”, il s’agit des lettres (allemandes, mais entrelacées de francais) entre Adelbert von Chamisso et Louis de La Foye;

– dans quelle mesure la création de l’université à Berlin a-t-elle cristallisé et accentué la présence d’intellectuels sur la scène publique? C’est d’abord l’étude des papiers d’August Boeckh qui ouvre le plus de pistes sur ce point, en particulier dans la mesure où Boeckh est à la fois professeur à l’université et membre de l’Académie des Sciences. La correspondance de la “Société du vendredi”, dont les membres les plus éminents (Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen, Friedrich von Raumer, Karl Solger) étaient eux aussi professeurs à l’université de Berlin, viendra compléter ce corpus au niveau professoral. Il est également intéressant de voir comment la formation universitaire a pu marquer des générations. Les deux séries de notes de cours de F.A. Wolf et de Solger de l’année 1818 ont ainsi pour but de reconstituer l’horizon intellectuel ainsi ouvert. Des documents manuscrits relatifs à Immanuel Hermann Fichte devraient venir s’y ajouter.

– quelle est la marge de manoeuvre des écrivains, hommes et femmes? La question est plus simple à aborder en partant des hommes qu’en partant des femmes, pour des raisons évidentes de conservation des corpus. Il s’agit dans cette partie de mettre en relation nos corpus de lettres et des textes (littéraires ou scientifiques), de manière à mettre en évidence à la fois la genèse et la première réception de ces oeuvres. Nous travaillons ainsi en ce moment à un outil de collation permettant de mettrre en relation manuscrits et premières éditions. Les deux grandes figures qui sont déjà intégrées à l’édition sont d’une part Ludwig Tieck et d’autre part Adelbert von Chamisso. Du côté des femmes, c’est Helmina von Chézy qui devrait prendre place dans l’édition, mais sous une forme qui n’est pas encore clairement définie (lettres, textes?).

– bien que plus marginal, le quatrième aspect émerge transversalement dans quasiment tous les corpus; il s’agit de la réception de l’Antiquité et de son utilisation à des fins politiques. Les cours de F.A. Wolf, le projet de Boeckh à l’Académie des Sciences, les traductions du grec auxquelles se livrent la plupart des auteurs que nous éditons, en sont des exemples parlants.

Sa structure et le travail sur la mise en relation entre les différents éléments avec l’objectif de répondre à ces quatre questions sont à mon sens les points forts de cette édition. Pour l’heure, son contenu est encore trop léger pour qu’on puisse vraiment en tirer des conclusions à grande échelle. Il s’agit donc dans un premier temps d’ajouter des textes, et parallèlement de travailler à préciser nos outils de recherche de manière à pouvoir livrer des réponses concrètes aux questions ci-dessus.