Workflow: MS Word to TEI

For the past couple of years I’ve been refining a workflow to convert MS Word files into publishable TEI. By “publishable” I mean TEI that can be loaded into some existing publication system (something like TEI Publisher, Edition Visualization Technology (EVT), or TEI Boilerplate), or that you could process yourself in some other way.

Why might you want to use such a workflow? In my experience, it’s useful when you have a person or people who are designated as transcribers, but who aren’t comfortable or interested in encoding in XML. Microsoft Word is ubiquitous, so pretty much everyone in academia uses it and has access to it. For people who don’t want to work with pointy brackets but still want to collaborate on a digital editing project, a workflow that converts Microsoft Word to TEI can be very useful. (I have also used this workflow myself, even though I’m capable of hand-encoding XML, just because there are times when I’d rather just to it in Word. YMMV!)

I think the workflow works best when there is one person designated to do all the conversion at the end (steps 4 and 5) and any number of people involved in the first three steps. The workflow could be used in the classroom as a group project (where the students model the TEI, plan the pseudocodes, and do the encoding, and one student or the instructor does the conversion work at the end) although I’ve only used it for non-classroom editing projects.

There are a few things you need in order to be successful with this workflow:

  1. You need a team that knows TEI. This doesn’t mean they need to know XML! (Although yes, you will need someone on your team who knows XML, but that’s not related to TEI) You need to know TEI basics –  what tags and attributes are, how modules and classes work – and you need these because you need to know what TEI tags you want in your final document before you start transcribing.
  2. Microsoft Word (obviously)
  3. OxGarage conversion tools. OxGarage is a service of the Text Encoding Initiative, which provides scripts for converting between a variety of text formats, including MS Word to TEI.
  4. OxygenXML Editor (or an XML editor of your choice). OxygenXML is popular with the TEI community, and it has the find & replace functionality that is required by this workflow. BBEdit is another XML/text editor that I use a lot, and it has a great find & replace functionality, but it doesn’t work as well for this workflow for reasons I’ll describe later in this post.

The steps of the workflow are (briefly):

  1. Model your TEI.
  2. Create pseudocodes to “tag” in MS Word.
  3. Transcribe in MS Word, using the pseudocode “tags” to indicate those things that will eventually be converted into TEI.
  4. Convert the finished MS Word document into TEI using OxGarage.
  5. Use find & replace in OxygenXML to convert the pseudocode tags into TEI tags, resulting in well-formed and complete TEI.

In more detail:

Model your TEI

The very first thing you need to do is to decide what you need your finished TEI to be able to do. If you’re working with an existing system (e.g., if you know you’ll be publishing in EVT at the end) some of your decisions will be made for you, because you will need to have TEI code that the system can use.[1] Are you encoding abbreviations, and if so are you going to tag the entire word or just the abbreviation and expansion? Are you going to normalize spelling, and if so are you going to do it silently or tag it? Are there marginalia you want to include in your TEI code? Do you want to include editorial notes?

Make a list of everything you need in your TEI, which TEI tags you plan to use, and how you plan to use them. You’ll need this to do the next step of the workflow, the creation of pseudocodes.

Create pseudocodes and tag them in MS Word

Pseudocodes are what I call non-TEI formatting elements that are used to set text apart, and are later processed into TEI tags. Pseudocodes can be divided into two main types: native MS Word formatting (italics, underlining, superscript, etc.) and punctuation marks.

Native MS Word Formatting

Native formatting in Word

MS Word formatting is converted by OxGarage into TEI <hi> tags with the relevant values for @rend. For example, Italics converts to <hi rend=“italic”>Italics</hi>, Bold converts to <hi rend=”bold”>Bold</hi rend=”bold”>, Underscore converts to <hi rend=“underline”>Underscore</hi>, Strikethrough converts to <hi rend=“strikethrough”>Strikethrough</hi>, Red text converts to <hi rend=“color(FF0000)”>Red text</hi>, Yellow highlight (not an option in WordPress) converts to <hi rend=“background(yellow)”>Yellow highlight</hi>,Superscript converts to <hi rend=“superscript”>Superscript</hi>, and Subscript converts to<hi rend=“subscript”>Subscript</hi>.

 

This is of course useful if you want these exact tags reflected in your final TEI, but once the TEI comes out of OxGarage, you can use the find and replace function in OxygenXML (or some other text/XML editor) to convert these tags into other tags. More on this below.

Native MS Word formatting works very well and can represent a very large number of TEI tags (using just text color and highlight would give you 75 pseudocodes mapping to 75 TEI tags or tag/abbreviation combinations), but there are definitely cases when you would want to use punctuation marks instead.

Punctuation Marks

You can use punctuation marks to set text apart that might not correspond 1:1 with a TEI tag. These are cases, such as expanded abbreviations or corrected readings, where you need tags nested within tags. Brackets work particularly well for this, especially various combinations of brackets. You do need to be careful about configuring bracket combinations, particularly when you’ll have brackets nested within brackets, and (as will also be mentioned later) the order in which you find & replace brackets later will also be relevant. This isn’t a matter to be taken lightly. You should test your pseudocodes and find & replace expressions on a section of text before encoding a full text.

Here is an example using the first line of Genesis 3, from University of Pennsylvania MS. Codex 236, fol. 31r

Genesis 3:1, UPenn Ms. Codex 236, fol. 31r

 

 

 

The text in this line reads:

sed et serpens erat callidior cūctis aīantib t̄

This includes a number of abbreviations that we could expand silently, or we could encode them in TEI in a few different ways. (For more information see the TEI Guidelines 11.3.1.2, “Abbreviations and Expansion”) Options include:

Noting that a word contains an abbreviation, without expanding it. In this example we put <abbr> tags around the complete word, and <am> tags around the abbreviated letter:

sed et serpens erat callidior <abbr>c<am>ū</am>ctis</abbr> <abbr>a<am>ī</am>anti<am>b</am></abbr> <abbr><am></am></abbr>

In word, you might choose pseudocodes using nested brackets. In this case, [[]] will be converted later into <abbr></abbr>, and [] (nested within [[]]) will be converted to <am></am>:

sed et serpens erat callidior [[c[ū]ctis]] [[a[ī]antib]] [[[t̄]…]]

Alternatively, you might choose to encode both abbreviation and expansion, and enable the system to choose between them. In this example we add <expan> and <ex> tags to the mix alongside <abbr> and <am>, and then include <choice> to make it clear that the abbreviations and expansions come in pairs.:

sed et serpens erat callidior

<choice>

<abbr>c<am>ū</am>ctis</abbr>

<expan>c<ex>un</ex>ctis</expan>

</choice>

<choice>

<abbr>a<am>ī</am>anti<am>b</am></abbr>

<expan>a<ex>nim</ex>antib</expan>

</choice>

<choice>

<abbr><am></am></abbr>

<expan><ex>ter</ex></expan>

</choice>

As above, you can come up with combinations of marks that you can use to indicate the encoding. In this case <abbr> and <am> are encoded as above, || will later be converted to <choice>, {{}} will be converted later into <expan></expan>, and {} (nested within {{}}) will be converted to <ex></ex>:

sed et serpens erat callidior |[[c[ū]ctis]]{{c{un}ctis}}| |[[a[ī]anti[b]]]{{a{nim}anti{bus}}}| |[[[t̄]]]{{{ter}…}}|

I like to group brackets of the same type together (as here, where square brackets are used for abbreviations, curly brackets for expansions, and pipes for choice) but you can also combine them in various ways for more options. For example, here are the bracketing options for a project I’m currently working on:

In all cases you need to be very careful that the punctuation marks you use don’t appear in your text, or only use them in combinations that don’t appear in your text, or else you will accidentally create TEI tags where you don’t want them.

Convert Word to TEI in OxGarage

Once you’ve transcribed and entered pseudocodes in MS Word, it’s time to convert your Word file into TEI. You can do this using OxGarage, a conversion service provided by the TEI. OxGarage has an online interface where you can convert one document at a time, described here, but you can also download the XSLTS from GitHub and run bulk conversion processes (converting multiple files at one time).

The online OxGarage interface is at http://www.tei-c.org/oxgarage/. You need to indicate that you are converting Documents, then select your options from (Microsoft Word doc or docx) and to (TEI P5), then load in your Word document and click “Convert”. Here is my input file (so you can download it and try this yourself), and a screenshot: 
OxGarage will generate a TEI file with a template header (including information gleaned from the Word document) and the textual content of the Word doc converted into very basic TEI (file here; you’ll need to change the file extension to .xml):

You can see here how the Word comment is converted into a <note> nested in <hi>, with a <date> included. I also included some red text (to indicate the tyronian et symbol) which has converted as expected. The punctuation mark pseudocodes are unchanged.

Replace Pseudocodes with TEI Tags

This is where we replace those pseudocodes – the <hi> color tags and the combinations of punctuation marks – into TEI. I like to do this in OxygenXML, because that software has advanced and advanced find & replace that enables you to search using regular expressions, including the ability to save pieces of what is being searched and reusing that in the replace (a bit like setting a variable in the search).[2]

As mentioned above the order in which you replace tags matters. You will always want to replace the outermost pseudotags first, then the interior ones, because the find & replace will always match from the first instance of a character in the regular expression to the last instance. This means that if you have […] (for <am>) nested inside [[…]] (for <abbr>) you need to replace the [[…]] before the […] or else you will end up with <am> around the word, and there will be no match when you then search for [[…]].

For example, to find [[…]] and replace it with <abbr>, using Find/Replace with the “Regular Expression” and “Dot matches all” boxes checked, you would search for:

\[\[([^\s]*)\]\] (this is a regular expression that will find every instance where a string of any character except spaces (\s), enclosed by [[ and ]] . The central part of the expression is enclosed with parentheses because we’re going to reuse that in the replace. The square brackets are preceded by \ to ensure they are considered as characters and not as part of a regular expression)

And replace that with

<abbr>$1</abbr> (This will replace the [[ and ]] with the closing and ending tags, and copy everything else in the middle – $1 refers to the piece of the search that was enclosed in parentheses)

Unfortunately, if you have an abbreviated word that starts on one line and ends on the following line (as we do here – the last word on this line is terre, but the re are on the next line) this regular expression won’t catch it because it ignores all spaces. So I do two sets of finds for each set of pseudocodes: one using the expression above, which ignores spaces, and a second one which includes spaces.

\[\[(.*)\]\] (replace with <abbr>$1</abbr>) as above

You don’t want to include spaces in your first search because if you have multiple sets of the same pseudocode in your document (which you probably do), the regular expression will include all the spaces so will only find the very first and the very last instance of the double brackets and you’ll end up with this:

The regular expression has matched the first [[ (on line 43) and the last]] (on line 46), but there are many in between that are missed because spaces are included.

Starting with the first search followed immediately with the second gives you:

Similarly, tag abbreviations by replacing |…| with <choice></choice> and {{..}} with <expan></expan>  – all the outer nesting has been replaced with TEI tags:

When you have multiple codes that may be nested in a single tag (as the multiple [] and {} now within <abbr> and <expan>) you need to modify the regular expression again, so it catches every matching pair of brackets.

\{([^\s\}]*)\} (Note the \} now within the square brackets. This will keep the expression from moving past the first closing bracket)

The result is a complete set of TEI tags encoding abbreviations and expansions (result file here, change the file extension to .txt).

 

You can also use OxygenXML’s find & replace function to replace the pseudocode TEI tags, or you can be fancy and write an XSLT to do that work. In this example, I want to replace the <hi rend=”color(FF0000)”> with <g ref=”#t_et”> (I’ll add a corresponding <glyph> tag to the <charDecl> section of the header as described in 5.5.2 of the TEI Guidelines). This is fairly straightforward, since I know the content of the tag will always be “et” I can do a find & replace for the whole thing. If the content of the tag varies, I can use a regular expression as I did above to copy content from find to replace.

And that’s the workflow. It’s still a lot of work, you need a strong handle on the TEI and you need to plan everything in advance. But if you are working with a large number of people transcribing and advanced TEI training isn’t possible or desirable. 

[1] EVT for example has specific requirements for tags it can process and how those tags need to be formatted, and if your TEI doesn’t meet those requirements it won’t work out of the box – you’ll need to modify the EVT code to suit your TEI.

[2] For more information and tutorials on Regular Expressions, visit https://regexone.com/.

Using VisColl to Visualize Parker on the Web: Reports on an experiment

This is the full text of a talk I presented at the Parker on the Web 2.0 Symposium in Cambridge on March 16, 2018 (Please note addendum at the end which addresses an issue that came up in discussion later in the day.)

I want to begin my presentation by talking about interface.

DATA OVER INTERFACE

A couple of years ago I presented a keynote at a digital humanities conference on digital editing in which I made the argument that data for a project should take precedence over the interfaces used to present that data. (I stole this idea from my colleague Doug Emery, and I liked it so much, I had it put on a teeshirt).  In my talk today I want to investigate how data and interface work together, how existing interfaces can influence both the data we gather and the development of new interfaces, and some ways that we can think around existing interfaces to develop new ones (and what this in turn means for our data).

 

This is MS 433, a Miscellany copied in a number of hands from the 13th into the late 15th century. If you want to see this manuscript, you have a few different options, which you can access through the menu in the top right.

The options are: Image View, Book View, Scroll View, and Gallery View. You probably know exactly what you’ll get when you make a selection here: Image View will present you with a single image, Book View will show the book openings, also known as facing pages (as Dr Anne McLaughlin said in her introduction at the Symposium, Book View presents the images “as a book, so when I turn the pages, it looks like a book”), Scroll View will show all the page images in a continuous row that you can scroll through back and forth, and Gallery View will show all page images as thumbnails in a single page.

Each of these views serves a different purpose: Image View, Book View, and Scrolling view present the images in a size large enough to read, with slightly different methods for moving through the book, while gallery view is more like a finding tool that also gives you the ability to get the “sense” of the aesthetic contents of a book: the relative size of script and written area, distribution of illuminations or miniatures, that kind of thing (as Anne said in her introduction, in this view you can “look at the whole thing – look for initials, for something pretty to look at”). You wouldn’t read a text in the Gallery view, you would select an image from that view and then interact with that larger image (clicking on a thumbnail in the Gallery view on Parker takes you to the Image View).

I want to consider for a moment why we present digital manuscript images in these ways. Let’s start by looking at some examples of non-digital manuscript facsimiles.

The Exeter book of Old English poetry . London, Printed and Pub. for the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral by P. Lund, Humphries & Co., ltd., 1933. Limited to twelve copies, unnumbered and not for sale and two hundred and fifty copies numbered and for sale of which this is no. 182 PR 1490 .A1 1933 Special Coll Oversize (University of Arizona)

For example, here’s an opening from the 1933 Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile facsimile of the Exeter Book. The pages face each other in the manuscript (this is 65b and 66a), but they’ve been decontextualized, presented in frames and with labels underneath.

Bestiario di Peterborough. Rome: Salerno Editrice, 2004

Compare this with the Salerno Editrice edition of the Peterborough Bestiary, published in 2004, which looks very much like what I imagine the manuscript looks like (I haven’t seen it so I can’t say for sure, but it definitely looks like a manuscript, unlike the Exeter Book facsimile, which looks like pictures of pages reproduced in a modern book).

Microfilm reader and microfilm,
https://blogs.acu.edu/csart/2017/02/08/from-microfilm-to-mass-media-biblical-manuscripts-in-the-digital-age/

And here’s something that is probably familiar to many of us: Microfilm, which presents images on a long ribbon of film, which you scroll through a special machine to find whichever page you want.

 

Microfiche Reader, linked example from https://www.abc-clio.com/ODLIS/odlis_m.aspx#microfiche

Finally, there’s Microfiche, which consists of rectangles of film onto which small images of pages are presented in a grid.

I expect you can see where I’m going with this, because I’m not exactly being subtle. The options for viewing manuscripts in Parker on the Web are basically the same as they have always been. The difference is that instead of having to go to a library to check out a book or access a reader (or order a book through interlibrary loan, if your library doesn’t own it), that you can access them in your office, or at your house, at all times of day (as long as your Internet is working, and the system isn’t down).

It’s not just the Mirador Viewer (the interface that provides image access in Parker on the Web) that has these options, every online environment for viewing medieval manuscripts will have some similar setup with at least a page-turning interface and frequently a selection of the other three. E-codices is the only interface I know of that has another option: to view the front and back of a leaf at the same time, which is pretty cool (The Scroll View also shows the front and back of leaves side by side, but in e-codices you can purposefully select this view. If you know of any other interface with unique views I would be very happy to know about them).

A System: Data + Processes

Why is it the case that all manuscript libraries have basically the same interfaces? One reason is probably because, as we can see from the non-digital examples above, that’s the way we’ve always done it. We are used to seeing manuscripts as single pages, and facing pages, and scrolling pages, and galleries of pages, so that’s how we present them digitally. But it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is how we view manuscripts, so we create systems that allow us to look at manuscripts in this way. If we want to look at manuscripts in a different way, we need to build new systems. Keep in mind that in a computer system you have two things that need to work together: You need data (information presented in a format that the computer can work with), and you need processes (software or scripts that take that data and do something with it). (This is a really simplified view, of course, but I think it works pretty well)

Parker on the Web: A IIIF System

Parker on the Web, for example, is a IIIF system, so in order to function it needs IIIF Manifests, which provide metadata in a specific format in addition to links to images served in a specific way, and it needs the IIIF server to serve the images, and the IIIF APIs (or more properly, software built to work with the APIs). If any piece of this system doesn’t meet specification – if the manifest is formatted incorrectly, or the image links don’t point to a IIIIF image server, or the software doesn’t reference the APIs correctly – the system won’t work. Without both data and processes – data and processes designed to work together – you won’t have a working system.

I’m interested in creating new ways to present digitized manuscripts, and the frame I’m using is that of the manuscripts collation. Rather than displaying a digitized manuscript only as a series of images of pages arranged from beginning to end, I want to create displays that take into account pages as leaves connected to each other through the pattern of the quiring: the collation.

M. R. James, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Manuscripts in the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge University Press, 1895)

Collation isn’t a new way to think about manuscripts. In his 1895 Catalog of the Fitzwilliam Museum, M. R. James wrote a description of how to collate a manuscript, and also included collation formulas in most of the manuscript descriptions (a few random examples are in the figure below).

Examples of collation formulas from M. R. James’ Fitzwilliam catalogue

The Parker on the Web also includes collation formulas.

Building a system that considers a manuscript’s quiring in the display should be possible. We have the information (in the form of collation formulas), so we should be able to build processes to act on that. But of course it’s not that simple, because although a collation formula contains the information a person might need to construct a diagram of the codex, it isn’t formatted in a way that is able to be processed by a computer. It’s not an effective piece of data for a system of the type I describe above. The collation formula isn’t data, it’s a visualization of data, just one way to express the physical collation of a manuscript among many possibilities, and which visualization you choose will depend on what you want to do with it. For example, formulas work well in library manuscript descriptions or catalog records because they are compact and textual, while diagrams might be better suited for a scholarly essay or book because they can be annotated. There are other views one could take of the same information; I’m quite fond of this synoptic chart that shows how different texts and image cycles are dispersed through this miscellany.

However it takes work (both time and effort) to write formulas and draw diagrams and build charts. This is labor that doesn’t have to be repeated! What we need isn’t a formula, but a specially formatted, data-oriented description that can be turned into many different versions for different purposes.

VisColl as a system

This is where VisColl comes in. Briefly, VisColl is a system that consists of a data model, which is basically a set of rules, that you can use as a guide to build collation models of manuscripts, and then scripts that you can use to process the collation model to generate different views of that model. We currently have three working scripts: one that generates diagrams, one that generates a presentation of leaves as conjoins (which we call the bifolia view – this view requires digitized page images) and one that generates collation formulas. 

We are currently at an in-between stage with VisColl. We had a first version of our data model, and we have developed a second version but that one doesn’t have good visualizations yet, so today I’m going to talk about our first model, but I’m happy to answer questions about the second data model later.

The prototype of VisColl took collation formulas from The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore’s Digital Walters collection and generated diagrams directly from them. It was this prototype work that convinced me that generating data out of existing formulas was a terrible idea and would never work at scale. Nevertheless, I decided that the first step in my experiment would be to attempt to parse the collation formulas in Parker on the Web and convert them into XML files following the rules for our collation models. I wrote scripts to pull the formulas out of the Parker records and got to work figuring out rules that would describe the conversion from formula to XML. As I spent a few hours on this, I was reminded of why we decided to move from processing formulas to creating new models in the first place.

The collation formulas in Parker on the Web are inconsistent (this is not a criticism of Parker on the Web – the formulas come from different catalogues created over time by many different people, with no shared guidelines. The same thing would happen in any project that combines existing catalogs). Unlike with printed books, there is no standard for manuscript collation formulas, and the formulas in Parker on the Web have a lot of variance among them, notably that some use Arabic numerals, some Roman numerals, and some letters, while some describe flyleaves as quires and some do not. Because of the inconsistency, it was very difficult to get a handle on every single thing that would need to be caught by a process in order to convert every detail of a formula into an XML model. The use of letters, Arabic numerals, and Roman numerals is one example. In order to identify quires I would need a script that would be able to interpret each of these, to recognize when a quire identified by a letter was a set of flyleaves and when not, and to be able to generate multiple quires when presented with a span of numbers or letters.

Penn Collation Modeler

It is possible that this is something that could be done, given enough time and expertise, but given my constraints I was clearly not going to be able to do it myself for this talk. So instead, I turned to the Collation Modeler, which is the tool that we use at Penn to build models from scratch. (Another implementation of VisColl is being developed as part of the Digital Tools for Manuscript Study project by the Old Books New Science Lab at the University of Toronto)

If you have a collection formula to work from its actually pretty easy to build a model for it in the Collation modeler.

MS 433 in the Penn Collation Modeler

Here is MS 433 again, in the context of the collation modeler. Here in the main manuscript page, I’ve listed out all the quires in the manuscript and you can see the number of leaves in each. Using the collation modeler I can generate multiple regular quires all at once and then modify them, or create quires one-at-a-time. Folio numbers are generated automatically, but if the manuscript is paginated I need to change the folio numbers to page numbers (formatted as two numbers separated by a dash); to make this easier I wrote a script to fix the numbering in the finished collation model rather than doing it in the modeler (pagination will be built into the system for the new data model).

MS 433 Quire 3 in the Penn Collation Modeler

Taking a look at Quire 3, we can see the list of leaves, the folio numbering (which again I can change – we can also renumber completely from any point in the manuscript, if for example the numbering skips a leaf or numbers repeat). We can also note the “mode” of a leaf – is it original to the manuscript, added, a replacement, or missing? Once the model is built in the collation modeler, I output the collation model, which is an XML file.

MS 433 output: diagrams, bifolia view, and collation formula

And then I processed this model using the existing scripts and got diagrams, bifolia view, and a collation formula (the script actually generates a set of formulas – we can generate as many different flavors of formula as we need). You will note that the formula isn’t exactly like the formula from the record.

MS 433 collation formula: comparing the James formula and the VisColl-generated formula

That’s because the first data model is very simple and doesn’t indicate advanced things like gaps or quire groupings (indicated by “gap” and || dividers in this formula). This is actually something that can be done in the second data model, so hopefully by the end of the summer we’ll be able to output something that looks more like the record formula, and also include that information with the diagrams and bifolia view.

Once I decided to forego processing the formulas, work progressed more quickly. I was able to get 21 formulas into the collation modeler within a few hours spread out over two days. In addition to referencing the formula I would also reference the folio or page numbering in the manuscript description (which describes when page numbers are missing, repeated, or otherwise inconsistent), and at times I would reference the image files too (although I did that to double-check numbering, not to seek out physical clues to collation).

Work slowed down again when I discovered while entering the data that in several cases the foliation or pagination given in the record didn’t agree with the numbering required by the given collation formula. In the Collation Modeler you specify which folio or page aligns with which leaf in a quire – there should be a 1:1 correspondence between foliated leaves or pairs of paginated pages and leaves listed in the collation model. The first time I noticed this, a manuscript with several regular quires of 8 ended up with 8 more leaves required by the formula than were accounted for in the manuscript description. I figure that the person who made the formula got caught up in the regular quires and just added an extra one to the count, so I was comfortable removing one quire of 8 from the model. It’s not always this clear, however.

A few examples of instances where foliation and collation don’t add up

I have a list of manuscripts that I was unable to make models for because of slight variations between numbers of leaves needed by the model and the number of pages or folios listed in the description. Somebody would need to sit down with the manuscripts to see if the problem is with the formula or the foliation or pagination. (This shows one of the positive side effects of the collation modeling approach that I didn’t consider when we started, it can be used as a tool in the catalogers toolkit to double-check both the collation and numbering to ensure they align).

I’ve created a website that links brief records to the Parker on the Web and the diagram/bifolia collation views, just for fun (and I’m afraid it’s not very pretty). But if you’d like to see that you can visit parkercollations.omeka.net.

Although the combined diagram/bifolia view is interesting on its own, I’m most interested in how it might be combined with the more traditional facing-page view to provide an alternative access/navigation to digitized manuscripts. I’m currently co-PI on  Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis (BiblioPhilly), a collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania, the Free Library of Philadelphia, Lehigh University, and the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) and funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources. BiblioPhilly serves to digitize all the medieval manuscripts in Philadelphia written in Europe before 1600 (476 of them, not including several hundred already digitized at Penn). We have incorporated collation modeling into our cataloging workflow, and we are working with a software developer to build an interface that will make the collation information an integral part of the experience.

Here are some mock-ups that I made to pass along to the software developers so they can see what I’m thinking about, but there will be a certain amount of back and forth with them, and others in the project are involved in this, so I’m not really sure what we’ll come up with but I’m excited to see it. And the reason we can do this is because we have the data. Now we can build the processes.

There’s no reason not to incorporate collation views of some kind into the navigation options of the Parker on the Web and other IIIF collections. There would need to be a standard way to model the collation within IIIF manifests, and then add a plug-in to the IIIF image viewers that takes advantage of that new data in new and interesting ways.

I hope that our experience with integrating VisColl into BiblioPhilly from the beginning, and my experiments building models from the Parker formulas for this talk, will encourage Parker on the Web and other libraries to develop more experimental interfaces for their digitized manuscripts.

Addendum

During his presentation “The Durham Library Recreated project,” Dr. Richard Higgins from Durham University Library suggested using the Bodleian Library’s Manifest Editor, one tool in their Digital Manuscripts Toolkit, to rearrange images so they present as bifolia in the facing-page view. Here is a screenshot of the manifest for MS 433 with the first quire rearranged as bifolia:

This works on one level: if you paged through this in an interface using a Book View, you would be presented with the conjoin leaves as sheets. But it’s really just another flat list of images, presented one after the other, just in a different order than they are in the book (Edit on 3/20/2018: It’s come to my attention that this is the general approach used by the Electronic Beowulf 4.0, in that edition’s collation navigation, so if you want to try paging through manuscript images organized by bifolia you can do it there. Instructions are here; be sure to select manuscript for both sides or else it’s not possible to click the collation option). This approach doesn’t really express the structural, three-dimensional aspect of the manuscript’s collation, so it can’t be used to generate alternative views (like diagrams or formulas). I think that a manifest like this could, however, be another kind of output from a collation model, but I think for IIIF it would make more sense to make the model part of the manifest, or something standard that IIIF APIs combine with manifests, to create any number of collation-aware views. 

Ceci n’est pas un manuscrit: Summary of Mellon Seminar, February 19th 2018

This post is a summary of a Mellon Seminar I presented at the Price Lab for Digital Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania on February 19th, 2018. I will be presenting an expanded version of this talk at the Rare Book School in Philadelphia, PA, on June 12th, 2018

In my talk for the Mellon Seminar I presented on three of my current projects, talked about what we gain and lose through digitization, and made a valiant attempt to relate my talk to the theme of the seminars for this semester, which is music and sound. (The page for the Mellon Seminars is here, although it only shows upcoming seminars.) I’m not sure how well that went, but I tried!

I started my talk by pointing out that medieval manuscripts are physical objects – sometimes very large objects! They have weight and size and heft, and unlike static objects like sculptures, manuscripts move. They need to move in order for us to read them. But digitized manuscripts – the ones you find for example in Penn in Hand, the page-turning interface for Penn’s digitized manuscript collection – don’t really move. Sure, we have an interface that gives the impression of turning the pages of the book, but those images are flat, static files that are just the latest version in a long history of facsimile copies of manuscripts. A page-turning interface for medieval manuscripts is the equivalent of taking a book, cutting the pages out, and then pasting those pages into a photo album. You can read the pages but you lose the sense of the book as a physical object.

It sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m really not. I like that digital photographs of manuscripts are readily available and relatively standard, but I do think it’s vitally important that people using them are aware of how they’re different from the “real” manuscript. So in my talk I spent some time deconstructing a screenshot from a manuscript in Penn in Hand (see above). It presents itself as a manuscript opening (that is, two facing pages), but it should be immediately apparent that this is a fake. This isn’t the opening in the book, it’s two photos placed side-by-side to give the impression of the opening of the book. There is a dark line down the center of the window which clearly delineates the photo on the left and the one on the right. You can see two gutters – the book only has one, of course, but each photo includes it – and you can also see a bit of the text on the facing page in each photo. From the way the text is angled you can tell that this book was not laid flat when it was photographed – it was held at or near a 90 degree angle (and here’s another lie – the impression that the page-turning interface gives us is that of a book laid flat. Very few manuscripts lay flat. So many lies!).

We can see in the left-hand photo the line of the edge of the glass, to the right of the gutter and just to the left of the black line. In our digitization lab we use a table with a spring-loaded top and a glass plate that lays down on the page to hold it flat. (You can see a two-part demo of the table on Facebook, Part One and Part Two) This means the photographer will always know where to focus the camera (that is, at the level of the glass plate), and as each page of the book is turned the pages are the same distance from the camera (hence the spring under the table top). I think it’s also important to know that when you’re looking at an opening in a digital manuscript, the two photos in that composite view were not taken one after the other; they were possibly taken hours apart. In SCETI, the digitization lab in the Penn Libraries, all the rectos (that is, the front of the page) are taken at one time, and then the versos (the back of the page) are taken, and then the system interleaves them. (For an excellent description of digital photography of books and issues around it please see Dr. Sarah Werner’s Pforzheimer Lecture at the Harry Ransom Center on Early Digital Facsimiles)

I moved from talking about how digital images served through page-turning interfaces provide one kind of mediated (~fake~) view of manuscripts to one of my ongoing projects that provides another kind of mediated (also fake?) view of manuscripts: video. I could talk and write for a long time about manuscript videos, and I am trying to summarize my talk and not present it in full, so I’ll just say that one advantage that videos have over digitized images is that they do give an impression of the “real” manuscript: the size of them, the way they move (Is it stiff? How far can it open? Is the binding loose or tight?), and – relevant to the Seminar theme! – how they sound. I didn’t really think about it when I started making the videos four years ago, but if you listen carefully in any of the videos you can hear the pages (and in some cases the bindings), and if you listen to several of them you can really tell the difference between how different types of parchment and paper sound. Our complete YouTube playlist of video orientations is here, but I’ll embed one of my favorites here. This is LJS 280, a 13th century copy of Decretales Gregorii IX in a 15th century chain binding that makes a lot of noise.

I don’t want to imply that videos are better than digital images – they just tell us something that digital images can’t. And digital images are useful in ways that videos aren’t. For one thing, if you’re watching a video you can see the way the book moves, but I’m the one moving it. It’s still a mediated experience, it’s just mediated in a different way. You can see how it moved at a specific time, in a specific situation, with a specific person. If you want to see folio 45v, you’re out of luck, because I didn’t turn to that page (and even if I had, the video resolution might not be high enough for you to read it; the video isn’t for reading – that’s why we have the digital images).

There’s another problem with videos.

In four years of the video orientation program, we have 74 videos online. We could have more if we made it a higher priority (and arguably we should), but each one takes time: for research, to set up and take down equipment, for the recording (sometimes multiple takes), and then for the processing. The videos are also part of the official record of the manuscript (we load them into the library’s institutional repository and link them to records in the library’s catalog) and doing that means additional work.

At this point I left videos behind and went back to digital images, but a specific project: Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis, which we call BiblioPhilly. BiblioPhilly is a major collaborative project to digitize medieval manuscripts from institutions across Philadelphia, organized by the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) and funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). We’re just entering year three of a three-year grant, and when we’re done we’ll have 476 manuscripts online (we have around 130 online now). If you’re interested in checking out the manuscripts that are online, and to see what’s coming, you can visit our search and browse site here.

The relevance of BiblioPhilly in my talk is that we’re being experimental with the kind of data we’re creating in the cataloging work, and with how we use that data to provide new and different manuscript views.

Manuscript catalogers traditionally examine and describe the physical structure of the codex. Codex manuscripts start as sheets of parchment or paper, which are stacked and folded to create booklets called quires. Quires are then gathered together and sewn together to make a text block, then that is bound to make the codex. So describing the physical structure means answering a few questions: How many quires? How many leaves in each quire? Are there leaves that are missing? Are there leaves that are singletons (i.e., were never part of a sheet)? When a cataloger has answered these questions they traditionally describe the structure using a collation formula. The formula will list the quires, number of leaves in a quire, and any variations. For example, a manuscript with 10 quires, all of which have eight leaves except for quire six which has four, and there are some missing leaves, might have a formula like this:

1-4(8), 5(8, -4,5), 6(4), 7-10(8)

(Quires 1 through 4 have eight leaves, quire 5 had eight leaves but four and five are now missing, quire 6 has four leaves, and quires 7-10 have eight leaves)

The formula is standardized for printed books, but not for manuscripts.

Using tools developed through the research project VisColl, which is designing a data model and system for describing and visualizing the physical construction of manuscripts, we’re building models for the manuscripts as part of the BiblioPhilly cataloging process, and then using those models to generate the formulas that go into our records. This itself is good, but once we have models we can use them to visualize the manuscripts in other ways too. So if you go to the BiblioPhilly search and browse site and peek into the records, you’ll find that some of them include links to a “Collation View”

Following that link will take you to a page where you can see diagrams showing each quire, and image files organized to show how the leaves are physically connected through the quire (that is, the sheets that were originally bound together to form the quire).

Like the page-turning interface, this is giving us a false impression of what it would be like to deconstruct the manuscript and view it in a different way, but like the video is it also giving us a view of the manuscript that is based in some way on its physicality.

And this is where my talk ended. We had a really excellent question and answer session, which included a question about why I don’t wear gloves in the videos (my favorite question, which I answer here with a link to this blog post at the British Library) but also a lot of great discussion about why we digitize, and how, and why it matters, and how we can do it best.

Thanks so much to Glenda Goodman and Stewart Varner for inviting me, and to everyone who showed up.

 

Dot’s Twitter Bots

I made some Twitter bots! It was mostly very easy.

The bots I made use Zach Whalen’s SSBot, documented in “How to Make A Twitter Bot with Google Spreadsheets version 0.4” which includes all the information you need about how to link your Twitter account to the spreadsheet and start the bot tweeting. The only thing I’ll note is that the Spreadsheet’s “Project Key” (asked for in Step 4) is depreciated; you’ll need to use the Script ID instead (it’s located directly under the Project Key in the Spreadsheet’s Project Properties).

Once you link the Twitter account to the SSBot, you enter data in the spreadsheet and that data is what gets tweeted.

Here’s a list of bots I made:

For all but WhyBeBot I generated a list of 140 line strings and pasted it into column one of the “Select from Columns” tab in the SSBot spreadsheet. This was really the most difficult and interesting part, because in each case I had to figure out how to download and process the texts. For example, for CollationBot I had to figure out how to pull out just the collation formulas from the records, while for the full-text bots I had to download the texts, find the sentences, and ideally find sentences that were less than 140 characters (if you pay attention you can see that these bots were created over time, and I got much better later on about including only complete sentences). Clearly most of these bots were made before Twitter increased to 280 characters; I may go back and lengthen the strings someday.

WhyBeBot is a bit different. It takes advantage of SSBot’s ability to mix content among columns. Instead of just one column, WhyBeBot has four columns. The first contains only “Why be ” while the third contains only “when you can be “, and the second and fourth both have a randomly-generated list of a few hundred adjectives.

There are many other ways to make Twitter bots (I know that a lot of people have had good luck with Cheap Bots Done Quick – I’ve never tried it, maybe someday). I would like to do more bots, the setup is pretty simple and getting the content situated is a fun challenge.

Slides from OPenn Demo at the American Historical Association Meeting

This week I participated in a workshop organized by the Collections as Data project at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Washington, DC. The session was organized by Stewart Varner and Laurie Allen, who introduced the session, and the other participants were Clifford Anderson and Alex Galarza.

The stated aim of the session was “to spark conversations about using emerging digital approaches to study cultural heritage collections,” (I’ll copy the full workshop description at the end of this post) but all of our presentations ended up focusing on the labor involved in developing our projects. This was not planned, but it was good, and also interesting that all of us independently came to this conclusion.

Clifford’s presentation was about work being done by the Scholarly Communications team at Vanderbilt University Libraries as they convert data from legacy projects (which have tended to be purpose built, siloed, and bespoke) into more tractable, reusable open data, and Alex told us about the GAM Digital Archive Project, which is digitizing materials related to human rights violations in Guatemala. Both Clifford and Alex stressed the amount of time and effort it takes to do the work behind their projects. The audience was mainly history faculty and maybe a few graduate students, and I expect they, like me, wanted to make sure the audience understood that the issue of where data comes from is arguably more important than the existence of the data itself.

My own talk was about the University of Pennsylvania’s OPenn (Primary Digital Resources for Everyone), which if you know me you probably already know about. OPenn is the website in which the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts publishes its digitized collections in the public domain, as well as hosting collections for many other institutions. This includes several libraries and archives around Philadelphia who are partners on the CLIR-funded Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project (a collaboration with Lehigh University, the Free Library of Philadelphia, Penn, and the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries), which I always mention in talks these days (I’m a co-PI and much of the work of the project is being done at Penn). I also focused my talk on the labor of OPenn, mentioning the people involved and including slides on where the data in OPenn comes from, which I haven’t mentioned in a public talk before.

Ironically I ended up spending so much time talking about what OPenn is and how it works that I didn’t have time to show much of the data, or what you can do with it. But that ended up fitting the (unplanned) theme of the workshop, and the attendees seemed to appreciate it, so I consider it a success.

Here are my slides:

Workshop abstract (from this page):

The purpose of this workshop is to spark conversations about using emerging digital approaches to study cultural heritage collections. It will include a few demonstrations of history projects that make use of collection materials from galleries, libraries, archives, or museums (GLAM) in computational ways, or that address those materials as data. The group will also discuss a range of ways that historical collections can be transformed and creatively re-imagined as data. The workshop will include conversations about the ethical aspects of these kinds of transformations, as well as the potential avenues of exploration that are opened by historical materials treated as data. Part of an IMLS-funded National Digital Forum grant, this workshop will ultimately inform the development of recommendations that aim to support cultural heritage community efforts to make collections collections more readily amenable to computational use.

Reaction, a Mémoire

For the #madememedieval hashtag currently going around Twitter, here’s the story of how I became a medievalist (although I didn’t realize it until much later). This is part of the Preface to Reactions Medieval/Modern, the catalog for the exhibit I curated at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries in Fall 2016.

When I was eleven years old, my parents brought my brother (who would have been thirteen at that time) and me to England for two weeks during the summer. They rented a house in the southwest corner of the country, not far from Bath, and borrowed a car. We went all over the place; I remember Salisbury and Stonehenge, Wells Cathedral and Bath Abbey. I also remember riding in the back seat down a particularly narrow road surrounded by trees and fields and pointing out the funny stones the cows were grazing around, at which point my father remarked that we were probably getting close to Avebury. But one memory of that trip stands out above all the rest: The Castle. Over the years, The Castle in my mind has grown to almost mythical proportions as I’ve come to realize (even more so over the past couple of years as I have been preparing for this exhibition) that it marks the point at which I was destined to become a medievalist. My reaction to The Castle was an epiphany, my path set in childhood—and I didn’t realize it until almost thirty years later.

In my memory, we visited The Castle toward the end of the afternoon. I was probably tired and grouchy, although I don’t remember that. (I spent much of this trip tired and grouchy.) I do remember a small town, walking through a residential area with lots of houses, turning the corner, and all of a sudden there it was. It was very different from Warwick Castle, which we’d visited earlier in our trip and which I’d found dull and crowded and ugly. This one was small. I remember a tower, and a demolished wall; it was a ruin. There was no one else around, so my brother and I climbed on the broken walls and ran around and basically acted like kids.

At some point, I noticed that the interior of the tower, which was several meters tall, had regular sets of holes around the perimeter, several feet apart horizontally and several more running vertically all the way to the top. I asked about the holes, and someone told me that wooden beams would have gone through those holes, serving as supports for floors. And I remember being struck very suddenly that people had lived here. I was standing in this ruined tower, we were using it essentially as a playground, and yet hundreds of years ago people had made this place their home.

That experience was the first time I can remember having a visceral reaction to a physical object, a reminder that this object was not just the thing we have today, but a thing that has existed over time and been touched by so many hands and lives before it came to us, and will continue touching people long after we are gone.

As my personal experience attests, reactions are both immediate and ongoing, with potentially long-term effects (on both people and objects). Not all premodern book owners wrote in their books, and not all modern artists look to medieval manuscripts for inspiration, but by looking at the various ways that medieval and modern people have reacted to manuscripts, we may come to appreciate these objects as more than simply bearers of information, or beautiful things for us to enjoy. They bear the marks of their own history, and they still have the potential to make history today and in the future.

The Castle: Nunney Castle in Southwest England, not far from Bath. Photograph by Hugh Llewelyn, licensed CC:BY:SA.

Hosting the Digital Rāmamālā Library at Penn, or, thinking about open licenses for non-Western digitized manuscripts

This talk was presented as part of a panel at the Global Digital Humanities Symposium at Michigan State University, March 16-17 2017: ARC Panel: Access, Data, and Collaboration in the Global Digital Humanities

My story begins in 2012, when Dr. Benjamin Fleming, Visiting Scholar in Religious Studies and Cataloger of Indic Manuscripts for the Kislak Center for Special Collections at the University of Pennsylvania, proposed and was awarded an Endangered Archives grant from the British Library. The main purpose of the grant was to write a catalog for the Ramamala Library, which is one of the oldest still-active traditional libraries in Bangladesh. A secondary part of this grant was to digitize around 150 of the most fragile manuscripts from the Ramamala Library, and an agreement was made that the University of Pennsylvania Libraries would be responsible for hosting these digital images. At this time, someone from the Penn libraries recommended to Dr. Fleming that they get a Creative Commons license, and the non-commercial license was given as an example. The proposal went forward with a CC-NC license, which both the Penn Libraries and the Ramamala Library agreed to, and everything was fine.

So a bit of historical logistics might be helpful here. 2012, the year this proposal was agreed to, was one year before the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies (SIMS) was founded at Penn. One of the very first things that SIMS was tasked with doing – one of the things it was designed to do – was to create some kind of open access portal to enable the resue of digital images of our medieval manuscripts. Penn has been digitizing our manuscripts and posting them online since the late 1990s, and in 2013 all of them were online in a system called Penn in Hand. Penn in Hand is a kind of black box – you can see the manuscripts in there, search for them, navigate them, but if you want to publish an image in a book or use them in a project, you have to do some work to figure out what’s allowed in terms of licensing, and then figure out how to get access to high-resolution images that are going to be usable for your needs.

It took us a couple of years, but on May 1, 2015, we launched OPenn: Primary Digital Resources Available for Everyone, as a platform not for viewing images, but explicitly for downloading and reusing images and metadata. OPenn includes high-resolution master TIFF images and smaller JPEG derivatives, as well as robust metadata in TEI/XML using the Manuscript Description element. We started hosting our own data, but today we host manuscript data for 17 institutions in the Philadelphia area with others in the US and Europe (including Hebrew manuscripts from the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester) to come online in the next year. One the things we wanted was for users of OPenn to always be certain about what they could do with the data, so we decided that anything that goes into OPenn must follow those licenses that Creative Commons has approved for Free Cultural Works:

  • the CC Public Domain mark
  • CC0 (“CC-zero”), the Public Domain dedication for copyrighted works
  • CC-BY, the Creative Commons Attribution license
  • CC-BY-SA, the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license

Note that licenses with a non-commercial clause are not approved for Free Cultural Works, and thus OPenn, by policy, is not able to host them.

You see where this is going.

So in March 2016, a year after OPenn was launched, and well after the Ramamala Library manuscripts had been photographed, Dr. Fleming asked about adding the Ramamala Library material to OPenn, in addition to having it in Penn in Hand (where it was already going online). It wasn’t until he asked this question that we realized, under current policy, we couldn’t include that material in OPenn because of the license. Over the next few weeks we (we being representatives of OPenn, and Dr. Fleming) had several conversations during which we floated some various ideas:

  1. We could loosen the “Free Cultural Works” requirement and allow inclusion of the Ramamala data with the noncommercial license.
  2. We could build a parallel OPenn to contain data with a noncommercial license.
  3. We could use OPenn as a kind of carrot, to encourage the Ramamala library administration to loosen the noncommercial clause on the license and release the data as Free Cultural Works.

The third option was struck down almost as soon as it was suggested. There were, it turns out, highly sensitive discussions that had been happening at the Ramamala Library during the course of the project that would have made such a request difficult to say the least. As Dr. Fleming said in an email to me as we were talking about this talk, “It would be highly inappropriate and complex to try and revisit the copyright agreement as, even as it was, the act of a Western organization making digital copies of a small set of mss unraveled a dense set of internal issues related to private property and government control over cultural property (digital or otherwise).”

Before I return to our other two options I want to take a quick detour to talk a bit about how this conversation changed my thinking about Open Access in general, and about open access of non-Western material specifically.

I am by all accounts an evangelist for open access to medieval manuscript material. I like to complain: about institutions that keep their images under strict licenses, that make their images difficult or impossible to download, that charge hefty fees for manuscripts that have been digitized for years. OPenn is a reaction against that kind of thinking. We say: Here are our manuscript images! Here is our metadata! Here’s how you can download them. Do whatever you like with them. We own the books, but we acknowledge that they are our shared cultural heritage and in fact they belong to all of us. So the very least we can do is give you digital copies.

Until Ramamala, I would have told you that it was necessary that digital images of every manuscript in every culture that was written before modern times should be in the public domain and available for everyone. The people who wrote them are dead, and they wouldn’t have had the same conception of copyright ownership in any case, so why not? But suddenly I wasn’t so sure. I was forced to move beyond thinking in very black and white terms about “old vs. new” to thinking in a more nuanced way about “old vs. new”, sure, but also about “what is yours vs. what is ours” – and what ownership of the physical means for ownership of the digital. Again, until Ramamala I would have told you that physical owners owe it to the rest of us to allow the digital to sit in the public domain. But what does this mean for countries who have suffered under colonialism, and who have been forced for the past however many hundred years or more to share their cultural heritage with the west? In my somewhat unstructured thoughts, I keep coming back to the Elgin Marbles, which is just one example of cultural vandalism by the west (in this case, with the assistance of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Greece at the time the marbles were taken) but is a particularly egregious one. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Elgin Marbles, which used to decorate buildings in the Arcopolis, including the Parthenon, before they were removed to Britain between 1801 and 1812, later purchased by the British Museum where they can be seen today, although the current government of Greece has urged their return for many years.

Now the situation of the manuscripts in the Ramamala Library isn’t the same as that of the Elgin Marbles – we aren’t suggesting to move the physical collection to Penn – but I can’t help but believe there is a parallel here, and particularly a case to be made for respecting the ownership of cultural heritage by the cultures that created the heritage. But what does that mean? Dr. Fleming’s comment above implies the complexities around this question. Does “the culture that created the heritage” mean the current government? Or the cultural institutions? Or the citizens of the countries, or the citizens of the culture in those countries, no matter where they live now? And once we figure out the who, how do we ensure they have power to make decisions about their heritage objects? But I have taken my tangent far enough and I want to get back to talking about our ideas for making the Ramamala Library data available in OPenn.

When we left off, we had two other ideas:

  1. We could loosen the “Free Cultural Works” requirement and allow inclusion of the Ramamala data with the noncommercial license.
  2. We could build a parallel OPenn to contain data with a noncommercial license.

We considered the first suggestion but decided very quickly that we didn’t want to open that can of worms. Our concern was that if we started allowing one collection with a noncommercial license, no matter what the circumstances, other institutions that would want to include such a clause could point to it and say “Well them, why not us”? We have in fact used our “Free Cultural Works” only policy as a carrot for other institutions we host data for, including several museums and libraries in Philadelphia, and it works remarkably well (free hosting in exchange for an open license is apparently an attractive prospect). We don’t want to lose that leverage – particularly when it comes to institutions that own materials from former colonial countries, we have the ability and thus the responsibility to make that data available again, and it’s not a responsibility we take lightly.

The second idea, building a parallel OPenn to allow noncommercially licenced data, was more attractive but, we decided, just too much work at this time, with only one collection. However it did seem like something that would be a good community project: an open access portal, similar to OPenn in design, but with policies designed for the concerns surrounding access and reuse for cultural heritage data from former colonial countries. If something like this is currently being designed I would love to hear about it, and I expect we would be very happy to put our Ramamala data into such a platform.

So what did we do? We decided to take the path of least resistance and not do anything. The Ramamala manuscripts are available on Penn in Hand, and, since the license information was entered into the MARC record notes field, the license is obvious (unlike most other materials in Penn in Hand). The images are still not easily downloadable, although we are working on a new page for the project through which people can request free access to the high-resolution TIFF files. However, they aren’t available on OPenn. And I’m not sorry about that. I’m not sorry that OPenn’s policy is strictly for “Free Cultural Works,” because I think within our community, serving mainly institutions in Philadelphia and other US and Western European cities, the policy helps us leverage collections into Open Access that might otherwise be under more strict licenses. But I do think it’s important for us to keep talking and thinking about how we can serve other communities with respect.

Edit: after posting this talk, I was contacted by Caroline Schroeder who pointed me to an article she wrote about similar issues with Coptic manuscripts. I share a link to that article here: Caroline T. Schroeder, “Shenoute in Code: Digitizing Coptic Cultural Heritage For Collaborative Online Research and Study” Coptica 14 (2015), 21-36.

The Historiography of Medieval Manuscripts in England (and the USA)

The text of a lightning talk originally presented at The Futures of Medieval Historiography, a conference at the University of Pennsylvania organized by Jackie Burek and Emily Steiner. Keep in mind that this was very lightly researched; please be kind.

Rather than the originally proposed topic, the historiography of medieval manuscript descriptions, I will instead be talking about the historiography of medieval manuscripts specifically in England and the USA, as perceived through the lens of manuscript descriptions.

We’ll start in the late 12th into the 15th century, when monastic houses cataloged the books in their care using little more than a shelf-list. Such a list would be practical in nature: the community needs to be able to know what books they own, so as books are borrowed internally or loaned to other houses (or perhaps sold) they have a way to keep track of them. Entries on the list would be very simple: a brief statement of contents, and perhaps a note on the number of volumes. There is, of course, an entire field of study around reconstructing medieval libraries using these lists, and as the descriptions are quite simple it is not an easy task.

c. 1190-1200. Cambridge, Jesus College MS 34, fol. 1r. First catalogue of the library of Rievaulx. (Plate 3 from The Libraries of the Cistercians, etc. Vol. 3 in Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, 1992)
Late 13th c. Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Rawlinson B. 336, page 187. Catalogue of the library of St Radegund’s abbey at Bradsole. (Plate 5 from The Libraries of the Cistercians, etc. Vol. 3 in Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, 1992)
1400. London, BL MS Additional 70507, fol. 2r. Description of the library at Titchfield (Plate 6 from The Libraries of the Cistercians, etc. Vol. 3 in Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, 1992)

In the 15th and 16th centuries there were two major historical events that I expect played a major role both in a change in the reception of manuscripts, and in the development of manuscript descriptions moving forward: those are the invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century, and the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid-16th century. The first made it possible to relatively easily print multiple copies of the same book, and also began the long process that rendered manuscripts obsolete. The second led to the transfer of monastic books from institutional into private hands, and the development of private collections with singular owners. When it came to describing their books, these collectors seemed to be interested in describing for themselves and other collectors, and not only for the practical purpose of keeping track of them. Here is a 1697 reprint of a catalog published in 1600 of Matthew Parker’s private collection (bequeathed to Corpus Christi College Cambridge in 1574). You can see that the descriptions themselves are not much different from those in the manuscript lists, but the technology for sharing the catalog – and thus the audience for the catalog – is different.

1600. Ecloga Oxonio–Cantabrigiensis, tributa in libros duos, quorum prior continet catalogum confusum librorum manuscriptorum in illustrissimis bibliothecis, duarum florentissimarum Acdemiarum, Oxoniae et Catabrigiae (London, 1600; reprinted in 1697)

In the later 16th and into the 17th century these private manuscript collections began to be donated back to institutions (educational and governmental), leading to descriptions for yet other audiences and for a new purpose: for institutions to inform scholars of what they have available for their use. The next three examples, from three catalogs of the Cotton Collection (now at the British Library) reflect this movement. The first is from a catalogue published in 1696, the content description is perhaps a bit longer than the earlier examples, and barely visible in the margin is a bit of a physical description: this is a codex with 155 folios. Notably this is the first description we’ve looked at that mentions the size of the book at all, so we are moving beyond a focus only on content. This next example, from 1777, is notable because it completely forefronts the contents. This catalog as a whole is organized by theme, not by manuscript (you can see below the contents listed out for Cotton Nero A. i), so we might describe it as a catalog of the collection, rather than a catalog of the manuscripts comprising the collection.

1696. Catalogue of the manuscripts in the Cottonian Library, 1696 (facsimile 1984)
1777. A catalogue of the manuscripts in Cottonian library: to which are added many emendations and additions. With an appendix containing an account of the damage sustained by the fire in 1731; and also a catalogue of the charters preserved in the same library. British Museum Dept. of Manuscripts, 1777

The third example is from the 1802 catalog, and although it’s still in Latin we can see that there is more physical description as well as more detail about the contents and appearance of the manuscript. There is also a citation to a book in which the preface on the manuscript has been published – the manuscript description is beginning to look a bit scholarly.

1802. A catalogue of the manuscripts in the Cottonian library deposited in the British museum : printed by command of His Majesty King George III. &c. &c. &c. in pursuance of an address of the House of Commons of Great Britain. British Museum Dept. of Manuscripts, 1802

We’ll jump ahead 150 years, and we can see in that time that concern with manuscripts has spread out from the institution to include the realm of the scholar. This example is from N.R. Ker’s Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon, rather than focusing on the books in a particular collection it is focused on a class of manuscripts, regardless of where they are physically located. The description is in the vernacular, and has more detail in every regard. The text is divided into sections as well: General description; codicological description; discussion of the hands; and provenance.

1957. N. R. Ker, Catalogue of Manuscripts Containing Anglo-Saxon. Oxford, 1957.

And now we arrive at today, and to the next major change to come to manuscript descriptions, again due to new technology. Libraries around the world, including here at Penn, are writing our manuscript descriptions using code instead of on paper, and publishing them online along with digital images of the manuscript pages, so people can not only read about our manuscripts, but also see images of them and use our data to create new things. We use the data ourselves, for example in OPenn (Primary digital resources available to everyone!) we build websites from our manuscript descriptions to make them available to the widest possible audience.

I want to close by giving a shout-out to the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts, directed by Lynn Ransom, which is pushing the definition of manuscript descriptions in new scholarly directions. In the SDBM, a manuscript is described temporally, through entries that describe where a book was at particular moments in time (either in published catalogs, or through personal observation). As scholarly needs continue to change, and technology makes new things possible, the description of manuscripts will likewise continue to change around these, even as they have already over the last 800 years.

“Freely available online”: What I really want to know about your new digital manuscript collection

So you’ve just digitized medieval manuscripts from your collection and you’re putting them online. Congratulations! That’s great. Online access to manuscripts is so important, for scholars and students and lots of other people, too (I know a tattoo artist who depends on digital images for design ideas). As the number of collections available online has grown in recent years (DMMAP lists 545 institutions offering at least one digitized manuscript), the use of digital manuscripts by medievalists has grown right along with supply.[1] If you’re a medievalist and you study manuscripts, I’m confident that you regularly use digital images of manuscripts. So every new manuscript online is a celebration. But now, you who are making digitized medieval manuscripts available online, tell us more. How, exactly, are you making your manuscripts available? And please don’t say you’re making them freely available online.

I hate this phrase. It makes my teeth clench and my heart beat faster. It makes me feel this way because it doesn’t actually tell me anything at all. I know you are publishing your images online, because where else would you publish them (the age of CDRom for these things is long gone) and I know they are going to be free, because otherwise you’d be making a very different kind of announcement and I would be making a very different kind of complaint (I’m looking at you, Codices Vossiani Latini Online). What else can you tell me?

Here are the questions I want answered when I read about an online manuscript collection.

  1. How are your images licensed? This is going to be my first question, and for me it’s the most important because it defines what I can do with your images. Are you placing them in the public domain, licensing them CC0? This is what we do at my institution, and it’s what I like to see, since, you know, medieval manuscripts are not in copyright, at least not in the USA (I understand things are more complicated in Europe). If not CC0, then what restrictions are you placing on them? Creative Commons has a tool where you can select the restrictions you want and then gives you license options. Consider using it as part of your decision-making process. A clear license is a good license.
  2. How can I find your manuscripts? Is there a search and browse function on your site, or do I have to know what I’m looking for when I come in?
  3. Will your images be served through the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF)? IIIF has become very popular recently, and for good reason – it enables users to pull manuscripts from any IIIF-compliant repository into a single interface, for example comparing manuscripts from different institutions in a single browser window. A user will need access to the IIIF manifests to make this work – the manifest is essentially a file containing metadata about the manuscript and a list of links to image files. So, if you are using IIIF, will the manifests be easily accessible so I can use them for my own purposes? (For reference, e-codices links IIIF manifests to each manuscript record, and it couldn’t be easier to find them.)
  4. What kind of interface will you have? I usually assume that a page-turning interface will be provided, but if there is some other interface (like, for example, Yale University, which links individual images from a thumbnail strip on the manuscript record) I’d like to know that. Will users be able to build collections or make annotations on page images, or contribute transcriptions? I’d like to know that, too.
  5. How can I get your images? I know you’re proud of your interface, but I might want to do something else with your images, either download them to my own machine or point to them from an interface I’ve built myself or borrowed from someone else (maybe using IIIF, but maybe not). If you provide IIIF manifests I have a list of URLs I can use to point to or download your image files (more or less, depending on how your server works), but if you’re not using IIIF, is there some other way I can easily get a list of image URLs for a manuscript? For example, OPenn and The Digital Walters publish TEI documents with facsimile lists. If you can’t provide a list, can you at least share how your urls are constructed? If I know how they’re made I can probably figure out how to build them myself.

Those are the big five questions I like to have answered when I read about a new digital manuscript collection, and they very rarely are. Please, please, please, next time you announce a new collection, try to go beyond freely available online and tell us all more about how your collection will be made available, and what users will be able and allowed to do with it.

[1] In 2002 33% of survey respondents reported manuscript facsimiles “print mostly, electronic sometimes” and 47% reported using “print only”. In 2011, 44% reported using them “electronic mostly, print sometimes” and 17% reported using “electronic only”. This is an enormous shift. From Dot Porter, “Medievalists and the Scholarly Digital Edition,” Scholarly Editing: The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing Volume 34, 2013. http://www.scholarlyediting.org/2013/essays/essay.porter.html

“What is an edition anyway?” My Keynote for the Digital Scholarly Editions as Interfaces conference, University of Graz

This week I presented this talk as the opening keynote for the Digital Scholarly Editions as Interfaces conference at the University of Graz. The conference is hosted by the Centre for Information Modelling, Graz University, the programme chair is Georg Vogeler, Professor of Digital Humanities and the program is endorsed by Dixit – Scholarly Editions Initial Training Network. Thanks so much to Georg for inviting me! And thanks to the audience for the discussion after. I can’t wait for the rest of the conference.

What is an edition anyway?

Thank you to Georg Voegler for inviting me to present the keynote at the symposium, thank you Dixit for making this conference possible, and danke to welcoming speakers for welcoming us so warmly. I’m excited to be here and looking forward to hear what the speakers have to say about digital scholarly editions as interfaces. Georg invited me here to talk about my work on medievalists use of digital editions. But first, I have a question.

What is an edition? I think we all know what an edition is, but it’s still fun, I find, to investigate the different ways that people define edition, or think about editions, so despite the title of this talk, most of what I’m going to be talking about is various ways that people think about editions and why that matters to those of us in the room who spend our time building editions, and at the end I’m going to share my thoughts on directions I’d like to see medieval editions in particular take in the future.

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I’ll admit that when I need a quick answer to a question, often the first place I turn to is Google. Preparing for this talk was no different. So, I asked Google to define edition for me, and this is what I got. No big surprise. Two definitions, the first “a particular form or version of a published text,” and the second “the total number of copies of a book, newspaper, or other published material issued at one time.” The first definition here is one that’s close to the way I would answer this question myself. I think I’d generally say that an edition is a particular version of a text. It might be a version compiled together from other versions, like in a scholarly critical edition, but need not be. I’m a medievalist, so this got me thinking about texts written over time, and what might make a text rise to the level of being an “edition”, or not.

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Bankes Papyrus, British Museum Papyrus 114.

So here is some text from the Illiad, written on a papyrus scroll I the 2nd century BC. The scroll is owned by the British Museum, Papyrus 114 also known as the Bankes Papyrus. The Illiad, you probably know, is an ancient Greek epic poem set during the Trojan war, which focuses on a series of battles between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles. If you are a Classicist, I apologize in advance for simplifying a complex textual situation. If you aren’t a Classicist, if you’ve read the Illiad you probably read it in a translation from Greek into your native language, and this text most likely would have been presented to you as “The Text of The Illiad” – that is, a single text. That text, however, is built from many small material fragments that were written over a thousand years, and which represent written form of text that was composed through oral performance. The Bankes Papyrus is actually one of the most complete examples of the Illiad in papyrus form – most surviving examples are much more fragmentary than this.

Venetus A, aka Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 [=822] (ca. 950), fol. 12r
Venetus A, aka Marcianus Graecus Z. 454 [=822] (ca. 950), fol. 12r
As far as we know the text of the Illiad was only compiled into a single version in the 10th century, in what is known as the Venetus A manuscript, now at the Marciana Library in Venice. I have an image of the first page of the first book of the Illiad here. You can see that this presents much more than the text, which is the largest writing in the center-left of the page. This compiled text is surrounded by layers of glossing, which includes commentary as well as textual variants.

UPenn Ms Codex 1058, fol. 12r.
UPenn Ms Codex 1058, fol. 12r.

The Venetus A is just one example of a medieval glossed manuscript. Another more common genre of glossed manuscripts are Glossed Psalters, that is, texts of the Psalter written with glosses, quotes from the Church Fathers, included to comment on specific lines. Here is an example of a Glossed Psalter from the University of Pennsylvania’s collection. This is a somewhat early example, dated to around 1100, which is before the Glossa Ordinara was compiled (the Glossa Ordinaria was the standard commentary on the scriptures into the 14th century). Although this isn’t as complex as the Venetus A, you can still see at least two levels of glossing, both in the text and around the margins.

UPenn Ms. Codex 1640, fol. 114r.
UPenn Ms. Codex 1640, fol. 114r.

One more example, a manipulus florum text from another University of Pennsylvania manuscript. Thomas of Ireland’s Manipulus florum (“Handful of flowers”), compiled in the early 14th century, belongs to the genre of medieval texts known as florilegia, collections of authoritative quotations that are the forerunners of modern reference works such as Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. This particular florilegium contains approximately 6000 Latin proverbs and textual excerpts attributed to a variety of classical, patristic and medieval authors. The flora are organized under alphabetically-ordered topics; here we see magister, or teacher. The red text is citation information, and the brown text is the quotes.

marsden

Now let’s take a look at a modern edition, Richard Marsden’s 2008 edition of The Old English Heptateuch published with the Early English Text Society. A glance at the table of contents reveals an introduction with various sections describing the history of editions of the text, the methodology behind this edition, and a description of the manuscripts and the relationships among them. This is followed by the edited texts themselves, which are presented in the traditional manner: with “the text” at the top of the page, and variant readings and other notes – the apparatus – at the bottom. In this way you can both read the text the editor has decided is “the text”, but also check to see how individual manuscripts differ in their readings. It is, I’ll point out, very similar to the presentation of the Illiad text in the Venetus A.

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Electronic and digital editions have traditionally (as far as we can talk about there being a tradition of these types of editions) presented the same type of information as print editions, although the expansiveness of hypertext has allowed us to present this information interactively, selecting only what we want to see at any given moment and enabling us to follow trails of information via links and pop-ups. For example I have here Prue Shaw’s edition of Dante’s Commedia, published by the Scholarly Digital Editions. Here we have a basic table of contents, which informs us of the sections included in the edition.

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Here we have the edited text from one manuscript, with the page image displayed alongside (this of course being one of the main differences between digital and print editions), with variant readings and other notes available at the click of the mouse.

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A more extensive content list is also available via dropdown, and with another click I can be anywhere in the edition I wish to be.

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Here I am at the same point in the text, except the base text is now this early printed edition, and again the page image is here displayed so I can double-check the editor’s choices should I wish to.

With the possible exception of the Bankes Papyrus, all of these examples are editions. They reflect the purpose of the editor, someone who is not writing original text but is compiling existing text to suit some present desire or need. The only difference being the material through which the edition is presented – handwritten parchment or papyrus, usually considered “primary material”, vs. a printed book or digital media, or “secondary material”. And I could even make an argument that the papyrus is an edition as well, if I posit that the individual who wrote the text on the papyrus was compiling it from some other written source or even from the oral tradition.


I want to take a step back now from the question of what is an edition and talk a bit about why, although the answer to this may not matter to me personally, it does matter very much when you start asking people their opinions about editions. (I am not generally a fan of labels and prefer to let things be whatever they are without worrying too much about what I should call them. I’m no fun at parties.)

I’ve been studying the attitudes of medievalists towards digital resources, including editions, since I was a library science graduate student back in 2002. In May 2001 I graduated with an MA from the Medieval Institute at Western Michigan University, with a focus on Anglo-Saxon language, literature, and religious culture. I had taken a traditional course of work, including courses in paleography and codicology, Old English, Middle English, and Latin language and literature, and several courses on the reading of religious texts, primarily hagiographical texts. I was keenly aware of the importance of primary source materials to the study of the middle ages, and I was also aware that there were CD-ROMs available that made primary materials, and scholarly editions of them, available at the fingertips. There were even at this time the first online collections of medieval manuscripts (notably the Early Medieval Manuscript Collection at the Bodleian Library at Oxford). But I was curious about how much these new electronic editions (and electronic journals and databases, too) were actually being used by scholars. I conducted a survey of medievalists, asking them about their attitudes toward, and use of, electronic resources. I wrote my findings in a research paper, “Medievalists’ Use of Electronic Resources: The Results of a National Survey of Faculty Members in Medieval Studies,” which is still available if you want to read it, in the IU Bloomington institutional repository.

I conducted a second survey in 2011, and compared findings from the two surveys in an article published in 2013 in Scholarly Editing, “Medievalists and the Scholarly Digital Edition.” The methodologies for these surveys were quite different (the first was mailed to a preselected group of respondents, while the second was sent to a group but also advertised on listservs and social media), and I’m hesitant to call either of them scientific, but with these caveats they do show a general trend of usage in the 9 years between, and this trend reflects what I have seen anecdotally.

2002

In this chart from 2002, we see that 7% of respondents reported using electronic and print editions the same, 44% print mostly, and 48% print only.

2009

Nine years later, while still no-one reports using only electronic editions, 7% report using electronic mostly, 12% electronic and print the same, 58% print mostly, and 22% print only. The largest shift is from “print only” to “print mostly”, and it’s most clearly seen on this chart.

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Now this is all well and good, and you’d be forgiven for looking at this chart and coming to the conclusion that all these folks had finally “seen the light” and were hopping online and on CD Rom to check out the latest high-tech digital editions in their field. But the written comments show that this is clearly not the case, at least not for all respondents, and that any issues with the survey data come from a disconnect between how I conceive of a “digital edition” and how the respondents conceive of the same.

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Exhibit A: Comments from four different respondents explaining when they use digital editions and how they find them useful. I won’t read these to you, but I will point out that the phrase Google Books has been bolded in three of them, and while the other one doesn’t mention Google Books by name, the description strongly implies it.

I have thought about this specific disconnect a lot in the past five years, because I think that it does reflect a general disconnect between how we who create digital editions think about editing and editions, and how more traditional scholars and those who consume editions think about them. Out of curiosity, as I was working on this lecture I asked on Facebook for my “friends” to give me their own favorite definition of edition (not digital edition, just edition), and here are two that reflected the general consensus. The first is very material, a bibliographic description that would be favored by early modernists (as a medievalist I was actually a bit shocked by this definition, although I know what an edition is, bibliographically speaking, I wasn’t thinking in that direction at that point, I was really thinking of a “textual edition”), while the second focuses not so much on how the text was edited but on the apparatus that comes along with it. Thus, an edited text by itself isn’t properly an edition, it requires material explaining the text to be a “real” edition. Interestingly, this second definition arguably includes the Venetus A manuscript we looked at earlier.

This spring, in preparation for this lecture, I created a new survey, based on the earlier surveys (which were more or less identical) but taking as a starting place Patrick Sahle’s definition of a Digital Scholarly Edition:

Digital scholarly editions are not just scholarly editions in digital media. I distinguish between digital and digitized. A digitized print edition is not a “digital edition” in the strict sense used here. A digital edition can not be printed without a loss of information and/or functionality. The digital edition is guided by a different paradigm. If the paradigm of an edition is limited to the two-dimensional space of the “page” and to typographic means of information representation, than it’s not a digital edition.

In this definition Sahle differentiates between a digital edition, which essentially isn’t limited by typography and thus can’t be printed, and a digitized edition, which is and which can. In practice most digitized editions will be photographic copies of print editions, although of course they could just be very simple text rendered fully in HTML pages with no links or pop-ups. While the results of these lines of questioning aren’t directly comparable with the 2002 and 2011 results, I think it’s possible to see a general continuing trend towards a use of digitized editions, if not towards digital editions following Sahle’s definition.

First, a word about methodology. This year’s respondents were entirely self-selecting, and the announcement of the survey, which was online, went out through social media and listservs. I didn’t have a separate selected group. There were 337 total respondents although not every respondent answered every question.

digital

This year, I asked respondents about their use of editions – digital, digitized, and print – over the past year, focusing on the general number of times they had used the editions. Over 90% of respondents report using digital editions at all, although only just over 40% report using them “more times than I can count”.

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When asked about digitized editions, however, over 75% report using them “more times than I can count”, and only 2 respondents – .6% – report using them not at all.

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Print edition usage is similar to digitized edition usage, with about 78% reporting they use them “more times than I can count” and no respondents reporting they use them not at all. A chart comparing the three types of editions side-by-side shows clearly how similar numbers are for digitized and print editions vs. digital editions.

Comparing usage of Digital Editions, Digitized Editions, and Print Editions.
Comparing usage of Digital Editions, Digitized Editions, and Print Editions.

What can we make of this? Questions that come immediately to my mind include: are we building the editions that scholars need? That they will find useful? Are there editions that people want that aren’t getting made? But also: Does it matter? If we are creating our editions as a scholarly exercise, for our own purposes, does it matter if other people use them or not? It might hurt to think that someone is downloading a 19th century edition from Google Books instead of using my new one, but is it okay? And if it’s not, what can we do about that? (I’m not going to try to answer that, but maybe we can think about it this week)


I want to change gears and come back now to this question, what is an edition. I’ve talked a bit about how I conceive of editions, and how others do, and how if I’m going to have a productive conversation about editions with someone (or ask people questions on a survey) it’s important to make sure we’re on the same page – or at least in the same book – regarding what we mean when we say “edition”. But now I want to take a step back – way back – and think about what an edition is at the most basic level. On the Platonic level. If an edition is a shadow on the wall, what is casting that shadow? Some people will say “the urtext” which I think of (not unkindly, I assure you) as the floating text, the text in the sky. The text that never existed until some editor got her hands on it and brought it to life as Viktor Frankenstein brought to life that poor, wretched monster in the pages of Mary Shelley’s classic horror story. I say, we know texts because someone cared enough to write them down, and some of that survives, so what we have now is a written record that is intimately connected to material objects: text doesn’t float, text is ink on skin and ink on paper and notches in stone, paint on stone, and whatever else borne on whatever material was handy. So perhaps we can posit editions that are cast from manuscripts and the other physical objects on which text is borne, not simply being displayed alongside text, or pointed to from text, or described in a section “about the manuscript”, but flipping the model and organizing the edition according to the physical object.

I didn’t come up with this idea, I am sad to say. In 2015, Christoph Flüeler presented a talk at the International Congress on Medieval Studies titled “Digital Manuscripts as Critical Edition,” later posted to the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies blog. In this essay Flüeler asks: “… how [does] a digital manuscript [stand] in relation to a critical edition of a text. Can the publication of a digital manuscript on the internet be understood as an edition? Further: could such an edition even be regarded as a critical edition?” – His answer being, of course, yes. I won’t go into his arguments, instead I’m going to use them as a jumping-off point, but I encourage you to read his essay.

This concept is very appealing to me. I suppose I should admit now, almost at the end of my keynote, that I am not presently doing any textual editing, and I haven’t in a few years. My current position is “Curator, Digital Research Services” in the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries in Philadelphia. This position is a great deal of fun and encompasses many different responsibilities. I am involved in the digitization efforts of the unit and I’m currently co-PI of Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis, a grant funded project that will digitize all the medieval manuscripts in Philadelphia, which I can only mention now but I’ll be glad to talk about more later to anyone interested in hearing about it. All our digital images are released in the public domain, and published openly on our website, OPenn, along with human readable HTML descriptions, links to download the images, and robust TEI manuscript descriptions available for download and reuse.

I also do a fair amount of what I think of as experimental work, including new ways to make manuscripts available to scholars and the public. I’ve created electronic facsimiles in the epub format, a project currently being expanded by the Penn Libraries metadata group, which are published in our institutional repository, and I also make short video orientations to our manuscripts which are posted on YouTube and also made available through the repository. In the spring I presented on OPenn for a mixed group of librarians and faculty at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, after which an art historian said to me, “this open data thing is great and all, but why can’t we just have the manuscripts as PDFs?” So I held my nose and generated PDF files for all our manuscripts, then I did it for the Walters Art Museum as well for good measure. I posted them all to Google Docs, along with spreadsheets as a very basic search facility.

Collation visualization via VisColl
Collation visualization via VisColl

I’ve also been working for the past few years on developing a system for modeling and visualizing the physical collation of medieval manuscripts (this is distinct from textual collation which involves comparing versions of texts). With a bit of funding from the Mellon Foundation and the collaboration of Alexandra Gillespie and her team at the University of Toronto I am very excited for the next version of that system, which we call VisColl (it is on GitHub if like to check it out – you can see the code and there are instructions for creating your own models and visualizations). The next version will include facilities for connecting tags, and perhaps transcriptions, to the deconstructed manuscript. I hadn’t thought of the thing that this system generates as an edition, but perhaps it is. But instead of being an edition of a text, you might think of it as an edition of a manuscript that happens to have text on it (or sometimes, perhaps, won’t).

I am aware that I’m reaching the end of my time, so I just want to take a few minutes to mention something that I see playing an enormous role in the future of digital-manuscripts-as-editions, and that’s the International Image Interoperability Framework, or IIIF. I think Jeffrey Witt may mention IIIF in his presentation tomorrow, and perhaps others will as well although I don’t see any IIIF-specific papers in the schedule. At the risk of simplifying it, IIIF is a set of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) – sets of routines, protocols, and tools – to enable the interoperability of image repositories. This means you can use images from different repositories in the same browser or other tool. Here, quickly, is an example of how that can work.

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e-codices publishes links to IIIF manifests for each of their manuscripts. A manifest is a json file that contains descriptive and structural metadata for a manuscript, including links to images that are served through a IIIF server. You can look at it. It is human readable, kind of, but it’s a mess.

Two e-codices manuscripts (and others) in Mirador.
Two e-codices manuscripts (and others) in Mirador.

However, if you copy that link and paste it into a IIIF-conformant tool such as Mirador (a simple IIIF browser which I have installed on my laptop) you can create your own collection and then view and manipulate the images side-by-side. Here I’ve pulled in two manuscripts from e-codices, both copies of the Roman de la Rose.

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And here I can view them side by side, I can compare the images, compare the text, and I can make annotations on them too. Here is tool for creating editions of manuscripts.

(A quick side note: of course there are other tools that offer image tagging ability, including the DM project at SIMS, but what IIIF offers is not a single tool but a system for building and viewing editions, and all sorts of other unnamable things, using manuscripts in different institutions without having the move the images around. I cannot stress how radical this is for medieval manuscript studies.)

However as fond as I am of IIIF, and as promising I think it is for my future vision, my support for it comes with some caveats. If you don’t know, I am a huge proponent of open data, particularly open manuscript data. The Director of the Schoenberg Institute is Will Noel, an open data pioneer in his own right who has been named a White House Champion of Change, and I take him as my example. I believe that in most cases, when institutions digitize their manuscript collections they are obligated to release those images into the public domain, or at the very least under a creative commons: by license (to be clear, a license that would allow commercial use) and that manuscript metadata should be licensed for reuse. My issue with IIIF is that is presents the illusion of openness without actual openness. That is, if images are published under a closed license, if you have the IIIF manifest you can use them to do whatever you want, as long as you’re doing it through IIIF-compliant software. You can’t download them and use them outside of the system (to, say, generate PDF or epub facsimiles, or collation visualizations). I love IIIF for what it makes possible but I also think it’s vital to keep data open so people can use it outside of any given system.

DATA OVER INTERFACE
DATA OVER INTERFACE

We have a saying around the Schoenberg Institute, Data Over Interface. It was introduced to us by Doug Emery, our data programmer who was also responsible for the curation of the data of the Archimedes Palimpsest Project and the Walters Art Museum manuscripts. We like it so much we had it put on teeshirts (You can order your own here!). I like it, not because I necessarily agree that the data is always more important than the interface, but because it makes me think about whether or not the data is always more important than the interface. Excellent, robust data with no interface isn’t easily usable (although a creative person will always find a way), but an excellent interface with terrible data or no data at all is useless as anything other than a show piece. And then inevitably my mind turns to manuscripts, and I begin to wonder, in the case of a manuscript, what is the data and what is the interface? Is a manuscript simply an interface for the text and whatever else it bears, or is the physical object data of its own that begs for an interface to present it, to pull it apart and put it back together in some way to help us make sense of it or the time it was created? Is it both? Is it neither?

I am so excited to be here and to hear about what everyone in this room is thinking about editions, and interfaces, and what editions are, and what interfaces are and are for. Thank you so much for your time, and enjoy the conference.

Presented September 23, 2016.