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.

 

Frisches Brötchen für die Dame

Eigentlich hatte ich gehofft, dass der Boeckh-Antrag heute längst fertig ist (ich sitze ja schon so lange daran!) und dass ich diese Woche an meiner Dorothea Tieck-Biographie für die NDB sitzen würde. Leider ist dem nicht so, und ich verbringe noch einen erheblichen Anteil meiner Arbeitszeit am Überarbeiten der Kodierung und am Antragschreiben.

Einen Blicklicht habe ich immerhin in Form der virtuellen Aussenwelt. Es war sowohl in Mainz als auch in Paris viel los, einmal auf dem Historikertag, einmal auf dem THATCamp Paris. Mit Twitter ist es, als ob ich dabei wäre! Bei aller Virtualität bin ich sogar angesichts der getwitterten Fotos enttäuscht gewesen, dass das THATCamp einfach so aussieht wie eine Konferenz. Dabei hatte ich mir irgendwie vorgestellt, ein “Camp” dürfte nur in Militärzelten auf Matschboden stattfinden. So lässt man sich von der Begrifflichkeit zu irgendwelchen Fantasien verführen…

Immerhin war mir der ablenkende Tweet von Mareike König  herzlich willkommen, der heute Nachmittag ihr Interview mit dem Titel “Zum Frühstück lese ich die Posts meiner Kollegen” ankündigte. Der hiesige Post wird ihr sicherlich nicht das Croissant ersetzen, aber ich hoffe, dass die Tatsache, dass ich ausnahmsweise auf Deutsch blogge, irgendwie frühstückshonigsmäßig wirkt…

Ich schreibe heute um so lieber auf Deutsch, als ich über eine Baustelle berichten möchte, die für mich ganz neu ist, und ziemlich stark an die deutsche Literaturgeschichte gebunden, nämlich das Verfassen der Biographie von Dorothea Tieck. Ich verweise hier gerne auf den Artikel der deutschen Wikipedia zu Dorothea Tieck, denn er bringt die Biographie wirklich gut auf den Punkt, wie ich es in Wuppertal auf der Biographie-Konferenz erwähnt hatte. Ich hatte auch anfangs befürchtet, es nicht treffender fassen zu können als der Wikipedia-Artikel. Das war bevor ich verstanden hatte, wie viel strukturierter die NDB-Artikel sind, wie immens viel höher die Ansprüche in Sachen Quellen/Literatur als bei Wikipedia sind, wie schwierig es ist, eine “kritische Würdigung” (so die Richtlinien) zu verfassen, und nicht zuletzt – wie wenig Zeichen mir für den Text zur Verfügung stehen (nämlich ca. 2275).

Die Folge davon war, dass innerhalb weniger Stunden für den Artikel gleich ein  Text vor mir lag – als wäre er fertig gewesen, bevor ich überhaupt angefangen hätte, daran zu schreiben. Innerhalb von dreißig Sekunden war die halbe Seite durchgelesen – eine Operation, die ich ein paar Mal wiederholte. Immer wieder mit dem Gefühl, dass alle Informationen da sind, dass der Text aber völlig leblos ist, und dass er es – im Gegensatz zur Wikipedia-Seite (Neid) – gar nicht auf den Punkt bringt.

Erst dann habe ich angefangen, die Sekundärliteratur ordentlich zu lesen. Und ich konnte es nicht fassen. Sei es vor 50 Jahren oder heute, die Rezeption bleibt in zwei Fronten verteilt. Männer gehen tendenziell davon aus, dass Dorothea eigentlich so viel nicht geleistet hat. Frauen gehen grundsätzlich davon aus, dass Dorotheas Leistung völlig unterschätzt ist. Bei Übersetzungen ist es leider nur zu leicht, ein Urteil in der Form, sie übersetze “very good indeed” (Paulin) oder sie übersetze “mit mehr Fleiß und Beharrlichkeit als dichterischem Schwung” (Winter) zu fällen, hängen doch die Einschätzungskriterien von einer Menge subjektiver und historisch bedingter Faktoren ab.

Alle Autoren, die sich mit Dorothea beschäftigen, gehen wiederholt und unsubtile darauf ein, wie schlimm der langjährige Ménage à Trois zwischen ihrem Vater, ihrer Mutter und der Geliebten ihres Vaters für sie war.  Diese Information wollte ich grundsätzlich auslassen, denn sie schien mir eben nicht im Sinne der “kritischen Würdigung” zu sein. Zum Einen, weil es uns doch egal ist, wie ihre Einstellung dazu ist (so viel ich weiss, spiegelt sich diese nicht unmittelbar in ihren Übersetzungen wider). Dann stellt sich zum Anderen eine methodische Frage: Alle Informationen, die ich bislang in meiner Biographie aufgenommen habe, sind insofern gut belegt, als sie entweder objektive Fakten (Veröffentlichungsdaten etwa) oder mehrseitig belegte Fakten (die Tatsache, dass bereits zu ihren Lebzeiten bekannt war, dass sie übersetzt, und gut übersetzt hat z.B.) sind. Demgegenüber scheint mir die Aufwertung ihrer Empfindsamkeit gegenüber der Gräfin von Finckenstein, die sie als Rivalin ihrer Mutter angesehen hätte, nach wie vor Interpretationsfrage zu sein. Die Textzeugen, über die wir verfügen, und die darauf eingehen, sind entweder flüchtige Bemerkungen in einigermassen vernünftig edierten Briefen oder Auszüge aus dem Band, der die Briefe an Uechtritz enthält und bei dem man mit Sicherheit davon ausgehen kann, dass er stark redigiert wurde. Was ist eine zuverlässige Quelle? Die Frage stellt sich nicht nur für Wikipedia-Artikel.

Vielleicht würde es mir an dieser Stelle leichter fallen, wenn ich als Historikerin mit Briefen als Informationszulieferern umgehen könnte. Briefe sind aber literarische Selbstinszenierungen (dies ist die epistemologische Prämisse, auf der Grundlage derer mir mein Gehalt bezahlt wird) und insofern grundsätzlich verdächtig. Die Kommunikationsstrategien von Frauen um 1800 können so komplex sein, dass ich mir am ehesten jeder Interpretation verweigern will, für die ich nicht über 3 oder 4 konvergierende Quellen verfüge (denn oft wird die Tarnung getarnt, um nicht wie Tarnung auszusehen, so dass man nicht sicher sein kann, ob man es mit authentischer Anpassung oder mit Subversion zu tun hat!).

Wo ließe sich noch etwas Neues finden, wo so gut wie alles von Dorotheas Schwester als Nachlassverwalterin verbrannt wurde? Was ich habe, ist eher eine Intuition, die auf äußerst wenig Material beruht. Es scheint sich niemand gefragt zu haben, wie Dorothea und Baudissin zu einander gestanden haben. Dabei haben sie jahrelang, stundenlang, tagelang zusammen übersetzt, ja in der möglichst intensivsten Arbeitsatmosphäre gelebt, die es unter Frauen und Männern geben kann. Wenn man hierzu mehr finden könnte, als das eine (allerdings schon suggestive) Billetchen, was ich damals auftreiben konnte: Das wäre wohl was. Ich bin der festen Überzeugung, dass das Band zwischen den beiden ganz außergewöhnlich gewesen sein muss. Aber das kann ich nicht double-checken. Und es wird auch sicherlich nicht in der Biographie stehen. Es ist nur für Mareike als frisch-knackiges Brötchen angedacht.

 

The wikipedia paper, the good questions and the aching legs

The aching legs are easy to explain. After spending 7 hours at the conference sitting on chairs that inevitably eventually do turn uncomfortable, Anna and I spent 2 hours walking through the streets of Wuppertal. Neither Berlin nor Hamburg are cities with declivities worth mentioning and we had to admit that we were not trained for the whole going up and up thing. Not to talk about the fact that we got badly car-sick (or maybe sea-sick would be more appropriate) in the Schwebebahn. Anyway, none of these experiences did our legs any good.


(View from inside the Schwebebahn)

The few more ideas were gained at the conference on the legitimation mechanisms of biography. The first thing that struck me there was how little research on biography has to do with texts. We were presented several papers on films, there was one on music as well. Yesterday evening, it was the author of biographical comic books who presented his work process.  The philological fraction was everything but dominant, which disturbed somewhat my orientation. One thing that did not surprise me, on the other hand, was the inevitable confrontation of historical and literary standards. It became particularly obvious in the discussion on Anna’s paper. The expectations you have towards biographies are different if you consider them as a literary product or if you consider them as a historical testimony. Most of the biographies do evolve in some in-between zone. Interestingly too, and as was remarked during the discussion of my and Christof’s paper, the difficulties, although they change with the media, mostly all come up to the same elements: neutrality vs. interpretation, choice of the sources and the way they are referred to, assessability of the sources (should you check or not the 50 references in the footnotes to see if really the information is proven?), definition of biographical truth. As tortuous as the theoretical ways I heard of today could seem, none of them seemed to be able to sort all of this out.

My own paper (written together with Christof Schöch) dealt with legitimation mechanisms in wikipedia-biographies. I was somewhat apprehensive of the discussion, since it was clear that everyone in the room would have used wikipedia and was likely to have their opinion on it. I was also somewhat afraid of being asked questions on Christof’s part of the paper that I would not be able to answer properly. Both things turned out to be true. I was asked how the inner circle of the decision takers in wikipedia does constitute itself, which I could not answer properly. I am not sure it matters so much, but my lack of a proper answer made it impossible to me to re-interrogate that question (that was asked to me about 3 times over the day, in the paper’s discussion and afterwards). Because the interesting thing is that this question itself is symptomatical of a refusal of the new authority forms developed by wikipedia: it supposes that there must be somewhere someone who can be held accountable. There was one professor who was unhappy about the wikipedia page someone had written about him: I suggest him to post a comment in the version history of the article, but he did not seem convinced.

There were two very interesting questions which I really need to discuss with Christof. One was the question of the quotability. If a student quotes a version of a WP-article that has been erased since it was consulted, it turns out to be very time-consuming for the teacher who read their paper to counter-check the quotation. I really had zero idea on this question of the quotability of volatile information. The other aspect I found interesting was the question whether there is – within WP – room for discussions and reflexions of the epistemological principles like the neutral point of view and the no-theory-finding-imperative. I was unable to say at what level and in what form this kind of discussion takes place within the Wikipedia community, which was not so good considering that the whole paper tended to show that such a reflexion is absolutely necessary (since there is no such thing as absolute interpretation and giving information without interpreting it). This question of the epistemological relfexion on the principles is the one that interests me most about wikipedia for the time being.

Meta-blogging

I left Leipzig (no internet connection in the hotel, glorious and indefectible wifi at the conference) and headed to Wuppertal (no network at the conference, good but expensive wifi in the hotel, well, what the heck, it’s worth its 5 euros), where I will not be able to tweet frantically like I did today (check out #frt2012 !). This is not the only reason why I will regret Leipzig. I enjoyed this one day at the Frankoromanistentag because I could spend time with people I wish I could work with more closely like Christof Schöch, because I could see and hear again Gudrun Gersmann, but also because I met with people who already knew me – through my blog.

This came as a bit of a surprise. In fact, feedback on my blog never comes in a form that I had anticipated. The colleagues across the street read my blog, the colleagues on the floor above my office read my blog – without posting commentaries. In her paper presenting recensio.net this morning, Lilian Landes talked about the silence on the commentaries’ side of the web, enouncing the so-called 90-9-1 rule: 90 % read articles on the web, 9 % write some, 1% comment on it. Obviously, the reluctance to comment is a widely spread disease, and it does not necessarily mean that people don’t read or care about blog posts. Over these past months, Brazil has been the top visiting country of my blog and I have been speculating about these Brazilian readers: why should they be interested in what I write? Even when I emphasize the Prussian roots of what I talk about, this does not seem to discourage them. Hmm…

Being asked to explain what I post in my blog, I stated what seemed to me to be the obvious: my blog is an archive of the progress of our digital edition, and a way of clarify my own ideas along the process, and a way of adressing technical issues, and a way to present the texts we work on, and a way of communicating all that to my team and work partners, and I do it in English to reach a wider audience as well (or maybe it is just because I really could not choose between German and French?). Of course, for each of those functions, I could probably use other tools, but the blog is a plastic form that allows to do all that in just one format. What use is it that all the reflexions on the progress of the edition are published, I was asked. Could I not as well consignate it for myself in some kind of personal work diary? Inspite of the fact that I get so little direct feedback on my posts, I don’t think I could do all of this writing if it were just to create a personal archive that nobody would read – or would read immediately. The discipline of the weekly post I have somehow set to myself forces me to make the effort of looking back weekly at what I have done. Sometimes it is interesting, sometimes not. Some posts are more constitent than others, but writing about it always helps me move forward.

It is also like having some kind of date with an invisible readership whom I suppose is entertained by (or interested in) the episodes of this research adventure that is still in development. I am not really sure whether non-scholars consider my blog of any interest;  as for scholars, I figure that the struggle my research group and I fight to find our place in the academic landscape feels familiar to them and  that this can make some kind of incentive to follow it.

In her paper, Gudrun Gersmann weighed advantages and inconvenients of blogging, especially for young researchers. You probably can objectivate some of them, but blogging remains a fairly subjective decision that involves one’s relationship to writing in general. I suppose blogging can be of help to persons who are having difficulties writing in the first place, as a first and more informal contact with scholarly writing directing towards “real” academical writing. On the other end of the spectrum, I like blogging because I like writing in general and non-scholarly writing in particular (I like scholarly writing too, but I have enough ways to express that liking without needing blogging!) . And I like blogging because leading a group of 6 persons through such a perillous adventure as a digital edition in a scientific community that often has trouble accepting the “digital” part of it requires me to take the time for a weekly look back. When I don’t post, I have the feeling that I don’t hold firmly to all of the strings the other 6 members of the team have trusted me with.

Multilingual improvements (j’ai la #frt!)

If you are, my beloved reader, paying just as much attention as I expect you to, you will have noticed that we have been improving the French interface of the edition over the past 10 days – with a variable success, some of the fields now appearing in all three languages at a time in all the versions. In preparation for the Frankoromanistentag (aka #frt2012), where I will present technical issues connected to the integration of francophone texts to a German edition, I have worked on all the small details of the interface that you only notice when you really do not understand them: the tags for the 6 different views of the document, the presentation texts for the corpora, the search page, the metadata view. You will certainly have noticed that the English equivalent is still missing, ahem. I spent hours improving the French part and will certainly try to move on with the English one as well soon, although this is far more painstaking, since translating German or French into English takes me considerably more time than translating German into French. But I promise I will have my English translations copyedited (for once, you will be able to read *real* English, not just my English).

We have also been working on the multilingual version of the metadata. To make those as accessible to data mining as humanly possible, we encode them in German, French and English. But is it necessary to translate all fields of the metadata? Everything that contains adresses, norms like dates or the size of the page in cm clearly does not need translation and is self-explainable in all three languages. While asking myself what really does deserve to appear in three languages, I found the translating process so boring and useless that I have quickly been dividing the fields concerned by the translation in two categories: those that need to be translated by a human being on the one hand (typically, full-text zones describing the overall looks and preservation of the manuscript) and on the other hand, those that should be translated by a computer. Countries names for instance. There are also fields that need not be translated at all because the XSLT-Stylesheet does it for me, such as the expression “Transcription by” or “Annotation by”. This lead me to some thinking about the level at which such translations are useful. Obviously, when it comes to reading the texts or searching marked-up elements of our digital edition, the translation through the XSLT-stylesheet suffices. But when it comes to reusing our XML file? I will have to look more precisely into that.

There was some hesitation as to the technical implementation as well. Just like for the first letter from Tieck to Raumer, on which I had done a series of fairly unsucessful multilingual experimentations, it turns out to be quite tricky to have three different variations of the same field that will only show in the one view corresponding to the language. For the notes  for instance, I should not add after one another < note resp=”#anne.baillot” xml:lang=”de”>Bla bla.< /note> and < note resp=”#anne.baillot” xml:lang=”fr”>Bla bla.< /note> and < note resp=”#anne.baillot” xml:lang=”en”>Blah blah.< /note>, but have only one < note> divided into three < seg>, each one of those being garnished with the capital xml:lang-information. It turns out to work the exact same way for most of the metadata fields. Except, said Alex, for title and titleStatement. What the heck! One way or another, I will probably begin using xml:lang while speaking very soon, considering how frantically I have been using while encodig lately.

This is almost what I will talk about in my paper tomorrow. Almost, because what I wrote today is more a further developpement of the ideas of my paper, and of the editorial praxis that I have tried to make fit to the paper’s ideas. The main argument of my paper is that it really does not matter in which language the text is that you want to edit. What matters is the language in which you edit it.

Which is why my paper is in French, the congress is taking place in Germany and I will be tweeting in English!