Another way of looking at it

In the paper I will be giving at the Academy of Sciences on March 15th (the program of the conference can be found here), I will present the three parts of our Boeckh project (as I had done on this blog in a previous post). We now have digital results to show for every part of the project. These are still not public though, and the whole interface will change soon, and with it the way we display the several features we implemented. But here are a few screenshots that should give you a rough idea.

1) Overview of August Boeckh’s papers (we have to settle on a name there – it should be either “Boeckh-Plattform”, which has the advantage of being internationally understandable, or “Boeckh- Nachlassprojekt”, which has the advantage of actually describing the content of the site, e.g. an overview of all manuscripts from Boeckh or to him):

NL_Screenshot1This first screenshot shows the home page. You first option is then to display the list of institutions that have manuscripts and in which repositories these are to be found. This is what it looks like for instance in the case of the documents that can be found at the University Archive of the Humboldt University:

NLScreenshot2Alternatively, you can start a search through those corpora, in which case it looks like that:

NL_Screenshot3As I said, the looks should be improved soon. The important part is: we have over 2000 entries there. 1200 were done by Julia Doborosky manually (looking at the documents, tagging and summarizing them directly in XML/TEI). 800 of them come from the Kalliope database and were exported in some magical way that made these EAD-datasets able to be merged with our XML/TEI datasets. Of course, there is a lot that needs to be improved and the workflow regarding the data exchange with Kalliope has to be refined. But we have a good basis to work with.

2) Boeckh’s library: the aim here is to transcribe Boeckh’s handwritten list of his own books, which he donated (together with almost all of the books themselves) to the University Library, and connect these titles with scans of the books. What I envision there is something that opens up on more than 2 columns. You would start by the catalog, then come from the transcribed catalog line to the enriched entry in the index of works, from there to the scan of the book, and from there to the text version of said scan. It is a long shot. For the time being, we have some kind of short cut of the first three steps, or at least part of these. Having crushed them together is not satisfactory, but it is only temporary. This is what it looks like:



3) Manuscript of Boeckh’s Encyklopaedia of Philological Sciences: I already wrote about the difficulty of displaying all text layers in an earlier post but never actually showed to what preliminary result we have come. This here is how we implemented our experiments with the different text layers, defined as hands to which dates are attributed:


Giving a talk exclusively on the Boeckh part of the project is on the one hand way too easy, on the other hand ungrateful. When you don’t have to demonstrate the value and interest of a big author you are working on, there is some kind of inherent logic to the way you apprehend him, as systematically as possible. This is what I will expose for most of my speech: how such systematicity can be conceived in such a way that the results are made available to research not in 10, but in 1 or 2 years, and then progressively enriched.

It is ungrateful, though, because it is a way of looking at our work that, to my eyes, reduces it to less than it is. I suppose it has to do with the fact that when you work on a single author, you naturally bring your categories and methods down to what fits that author, whereas a wider corpus forces you to ask yourself why some methods are valid in one case and not in another, trying to figure out, through your tagging categories for  instance, what it is you really are looking for. Or at.

Old flirt

Having had to stay at home for a few sick days, I had the unexpected opportunity to spend some time encoding. It was a relief to finally manage to find time. It was a pleasure to see the edition growing again. It was a delight to approach new themes and enrich the index of persons. It was depressing to open a new topic, that will require some intense reading before I can write good comments on the letters.

We are now in the early 1820s. Tieck has moved to Dresden in 1819 when the father of his mistress died, thus freeing her from her duties towards the family. Change of setting, but no real change of characters: Tieck lives in Dresden with said mistress, but also, still, with his wife Amalia and his daughters Dorothea and Agnes.

Change of activities in comparison to his time in Ziebingen, for sure. After having spent years in an isolation that lead to depression and, in order to escape  the isolation as well as the pressure of the life in the castle of his mistress’ father together with his own family, to travels. In Dresden, Tieck re-discovers life. Water parties, meeting with people, writing again. From the Summer 1819 on, he was so absorbed by this resurrection to social life that he forgot to write letters, even to his best friend Solger, who was trying to get him a job at the Berlin University. And died in October. Tieck felt terribly guilty about not answering Solger’s letters on time, I mentioned that already, and this was a motivation to publish Solger’s leftover papers. This, he did together with their common friend Friedrich von Raumer. It is precisely the letters from Tieck to Raumer in the time when they prepare this edition I am talking about now. That part of the correspondence, I can comment on and assess.

Two things are particularly interesting in that respect in the four letters I have encoded this week. First, it appears that Brockhaus, the publisher, contributed greatly to shaping the book. He modified the order of the texts (Tieck writes: “zu meinem Erstaunen stehen die kleineren Aufsätze und die Correspondenz im Ersten Bande” and “da nachher doch immer, wie ich sehe, meine kleinen Zwischensätze eintreten” in the letter from December 10th, 1825). Second, there is the conflict between Solger and his friend Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen. This (sometimes pretty rough) exchange of letters from 1819 deals with the question what philology has to be, what its scholarly meaning should be: a debate that can be read as a way of defining two very different “romantic” approaches to cultural history. It seems that Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen had some reluctance at showing himself under that light after all:  “Aber der lange Brief an Hagen! Er hat damals gesagt, er hätte ihn mir hier gelassen. Das ist aber nicht der Fall. Es scheint, er will ihn nicht drucken lassen.” (Tieck to Raumer, letter from May 14th, 1824). Sure thing is, Tieck found the letter after all, because it is printed in Solgers Nachgelassene Schriften and Briefwechsel, and is frankly polemical. (note to self: check correspondence between Tieck and von der Hagen in that period)(additional note to self: don’t keep hopes too high, since von Raumer and von der Hagen were colleagues at the Berlin University and might have discussed this orally, leaving no trace).

Now to the really new part: the theater. The 50 year-old Tieck seems to have intensified socializing with theater people in Dresden in the early 1820s. The letters deal with young, promising actresses he directs, he teaches, he protects, or sends to his Berlin friends asking them to be nice to them: Rosalie Wagner (sister to Richard), Julie Gley, Auguste Stich. The letters deal with young, promising theater writers Tieck despises when they threaten him (Holtei), supports when they abide by him (Uechtritz). Directing actors the way Tieck did in Dresden seems to have involved a clash of narcissisms – and Tieck was certainly not the one with the smallest ego.

Beyond the gossip, beyond the 50 year-old flirt wanting to experience real life again, there is one passion, though: Shakespeare. Reading through the lines, you realize that it was only Shakespeare Tieck cared about, whether on the stage and in the form of books. I do wonder why, in these letters, he never mentions the real work that was done by then. Because in those 1820s, Dorothea Tieck und Wolf von Baudissin were translating Shakespeare for what would become its most famous translation in German: the Schlegel-Tieck.


Things you cannot see

Let me tell you about some progress and why I miraculously managed to put a new letter online yesterday (all by myself).

While I have not been able to work on the digital edition for a while, Alex has been developing much of the non-visible part of it. He created an internal work interface, which turned out to be a relief to everyone. To him of course, for not having to take care of all the uploading. In general, when you think you are done encoding a letter, you upload/send the file and then you find at least 3 or 4 details that you also want to improve. Hence the typically 4 e-mails to Alex entitled “This version is the right one”, then “This version is *really* the right one”, “This is the final version”, and finally “OK, last time I bug you today, promise”. Then he would have to check for absurdities (ids given twice or wrong ids for instance), and e-mail me back “Can you please change the id on line 155”. I would have to do the change, send the file back again… not one bit economical.

What is more, we have more and more data needing to be stocked, versioned and visualized properly in order to progress: the work on the collation, the work on the pdf version, the students’ assignments, bigger documents like the Schlemihl which will be put online at once in a couple of weeks but has been in the pipes for six months. It had become necessary to have a working space where we could do all that and not (something that had become a bit difficult in my fuzzy and daily growing mailbox) by trying to find the e-mail from December when Alex had sent the sample or the link to this or that. The internal work interface is not particularly cute, but perfectly functional and clear. Alex knows Anna, Sabine and me good enough to know which kind of information we need to use it properly. In the part where we upload new XML-files, he has integrated an automatic check whether it is well-formed or not, thus disabling us to upload a file that would not be fit for visualization.

This really is a new step for the work in the team. It is the recognition of the fact that Sabine, Anna and I are now able to take more active responsibility for uploading “final” versions by ourselves. It is the result of the discussions with the Schleiermacher team from the Academy of Sciences and with Peter Stadler on the solidity, valuability and functionality of an internal work environment. It is also, hopefully, a step towards the change of scale in the corpora I have been wishing for a year now (we just need more corpus!). From April on, the two students working for the project will be paid to do encoding. The work force will then be dispatched differently. Sabine, Anna (who will be on maternity leave for a year soon) and I will be able to upload, but not the students, so that we will have to work on the workflow on that level.

A big change of the webinterface has also been in the pipeline for a few months now and should be finalized soon as well. General wish was to have something cleaner, more traditional. There certainly are some design absurdities in the actual form of the webinterface, and we will very likely end up with a white background (that will tear my heart apart – but hopefully not my eyes). The voice of reason tells me this is the best way to go. I will regret the warm colors though, and an interface that was so original that it had a great visual recognition effect, even if not totally professional in the conception.

It is a great pleasure to see that things have been progressing after all. I know I can see it and you can’t. Don’t worry: I will let you know, with trumpets and tweets, when you can enjoy the new interface, the new texts, and the new August Boeckh manuscripts portal (also close to being published).

Our digital edition moving on without me doing a thing (almost)

Having returned from a week in a continuous snowstorm in a beautiful mountain setting where one might, in other circumstances, have been able to actually ski, I found my self in another kind of storm – one where one might, in other circumstances, be able to actually work. No mountains there though, just flat Brandenburg.

Instead of working on, say, some encoding, or the next volume to be directed, or some new archival material – or even, let me dream some, on the book that has been awaiting to be completed for the last nine months -, instead of all that, I spent the last three days thinking about proposals and tweeting about applications, and began writing said proposals and applications (and taking care of replacements for my people on maternity leave). Half a week has now elapsed, no palpable work has been done, and I am not sure any more why I am doing that. If what I want is to reach a tenured position – preferably an interesting one, too -, how can I imagine that such activity fragmentation can be, if not the shortest, at least the surest way to do so? What is interdisciplinary, inter-institutional, connecting work really worth, career-wise?

These moments where I lack inner guidance make me immensely grateful towards my group. While I fight some kind of windmills, they keep moving on and doing what we have settled on. The organization of the November conference (“Brief um 1800 – Zur Medialität von Generationen” – I realize now that I have no conference page to link to, will take care of it before the week is over) is moving on with interesting answers to our Call for Papers on H-Germanistik – please, send in more of those! We want to get to know original and exciting research projects dealing with the configuration letters + generation + around 1800!

Our digital edition of the Peter Schlemihl should be publishable in 2 or 3 weeks (almost 200 manuscript pages carefully encoded by Anna and revised by Johanna). The Chamisso letters from the de La Foye corpus are being processed – those from the last course being revised by our intern Sophia Zeil, Anna and Sabine, and those from the new course coming in. It will certainly take another 6 to 9 months before the whole corpus is completed, but the bundling of forces helps things progress. Sabine (and I too, two weeks ago) has been working on the index of persons as well as on our new joy of life: the index of groups of persons.

I have refused to introduce such an index for a long time, considering it was not economical enough for our project. I still think it is so when it comes to naming “my kids” or “my nephews”: we are better off with a note in this case. But with Boeckh, everything changed.

Indeed, the one that has done a great deal for the digital edition lately is certainly Alex. First, he put together EAD and XML datasets to create our Boeckh platform – a repository containing short descriptions and localisations of all of Boeckh’s manuscripts (not complete yet, of course, but already fairly large considering we could import the kalliope-datasets). The data from this “platform” (still looking for a better name) are connected to our digital edition through the 3 index of persons,  places and works. Which is why the work on Boeckh’s book collection will, in the end, be a major piece of that puzzle. But let’s not rush ahead. Right now, we are still busy connecting the persons. Sabine and I created about 100 entries in the index of persons (additionally to the about 200 we could gain from kalliope via the GND numbers – long live normdata!): all of Boeckh’s family, closest colleagues, major actors at the University, students from the Philological Seminar. Then, we created groups of those – the deans at the University in the academic year 1811-1812, the students from the Philological Seminar in the academic year 1812-1813, and so forth. That is tedious, but comparatively, a piece of cake. What made me sweat most was the the group “Members of the Philosophical Faculty”. There, too, I divided the group after the academic years, but it is not very satisfactory considering that those professors who die suddenly mostly do so in the middle of the year. The aim of constituting these groups as entities is to be able to work with rich metadata sets coming from the Archive of the University, that contain requests often addressed to “the Professors of the Philosophical Faculty”. This is one of the corpora I would want to edit “next” (after Tieck, Beausobre, the Friday Society, the Classical Philology Lecture Notes… sigh). And of course, it will be of help for Sabine’s edition of the reports from the Philological Seminar (which she, contrarily to me, will actually manage to do this year, since she does not have 8 other things to do, but 2: the Chamisso corpus and her dissertation).

Alex also worked on the collation – in December, and none of us managed to look into it seriously. He collated our transcription of the Sandmann with the DTA’s version. The result shows so many differences that we have to think of a way to bring some hierarchy in the collation. Apart from the technical aspects, it also means that we have to define what our version of record should be and how we can merge XML-files while making the part originating from us and the part originating from the DTA visible.

And he worked on a generic version of our TEI2PDF – one that would not just be conceived for Boeckh’s Encyclopädie, but would fit to all of our corpora. As ever, it is an almost impossible task considering the variety of  layout in the original texts. But the pdf version is a reading version that does not aim at reproducing the manuscript, so that some of the layout specificities of the subcorpora are being ignored. I appreciate this little detour through TeX, it reminds me of my dissertation time (said dissertation in now online on  TEL at long last before the end of the week: you can find it here).

Did I mention already how great my team is? We have a meeting tomorrow afternoon, I am sure they will surprise me again with their enthusiasm and good ideas. Maybe I don’t really need to do some real work myself, after all…

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