Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 601.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Sat, 05 Apr 2003 07:17:42 +0100
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Francois Lachance)
Subject: New Tech Ren Studies Rpt
Thanks to the judicious cross-posting of an open invitation to attend
Special Sessions at the 2003 Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America
I was able to observe a group of researchers and pedagogues "document
innovative ways in which computing technology is being incorporated into
the scholarly activity of our community." I add that the invitation, "We
invite you to join us", with rhetorical finesse reached out across the
boundaries of community to the curious -- or so I interpreted the text of
Bowen and Siemens, the organisers of the sessions gathered under the
rubric New Technologies and Renaissance Studies, and document it here for
future processing. Those of that community who participate by both posting
and lurking in this Humanist community might gloss and enhance what is
If there is a single theme that I can abstract from the two days of
sessions it is that scholarly activity is in certain quarters presently
centred on navigation and segmentation. Many of the presentations dealt
with the preparation or the appropriate chunking of a an object of study
in order to trace the interpretations of that object of study. Interface
was a marked concern. Segmentation of the source to provide "good"
navigation of a representation or model was a recurrent theme whether the
object of study was a single artefact or sets of metadata.
- Ian Lancashire (U Toronto): Encoding Renaissance Electronic Texts.
Reminds us that the purpose of a project guides the granularity of the
encoding. He reminds us of the importance of taking personal
responsibility for the tag sets one employs. Reminds us of the
difficulties of picking up tag sets and instruction manuals geared to
capturing content when features of the rendition are the important aspects
for the researcher to investigate. The problem of characters sets and
encoding challenges scholars wanting to make transcriptions shareable
across platforms. And it is not a problem for the letter forms,
brevigraphs and typographic signs of Renaissance book
production -- witness diacriticals for euro-languages other than English.
Even if the appropriate character sets were available to every terminal of
every potential user, Ian reminds us tvocabulary counts. A tag name is not
just an empty reference. It says something about the interpretation of the
text element. When in the history of lexicography is a lemma not a lemma
but a name, a rubric, a headword? When in the history of lexicography is
an entry not a definition but an explanation, an illustration, a
translation? Cautious about inadvertant connotations of the element names
used to encode, Ian takes are not betrathe evidence of a shift
fromworld-centred to word-centred orientations, the shift from wordbooks
full of thing-centred denotative entries used to explore the world towards
dictionaries designed to make language use more precise. Attention to
detail and context marks the seasoned humanities computeris It is
sensivity to the consequences of saying "x is y" even contingently thatI
can just imagine the reverberation in conversations about paratactic and
hypotactic composition, taxonomic or topical organization of knowledge
representation, the parallels between lexicography and, for example,
botanical illustration. Conversationsall enabled by careful steps in _not_
encoding one phenenomena as an example of another. It is not hesitancy as
a virtue. It is respect for one's responsibilities. In my emblem book the
blazon for Ian has the motto adopt and adapt and remind".
- Richard S. Bear (U Oregon): Nexus: Reflections on the First Eight
Years of Renascence Editions.
In my emblem book Richard's insignia is accompanied by a dizain devoted to
craft and commitment". As one of the distinguished scholar's in the
audience remRichard's Renascence Editions is a tremendous resource that
serves public readership and the profession. From the outset mindful of
the goal of facilitating the performing of an action at a distance,
Richard keeps alive the vision of a public domain by judiciously juggling
copyright with availibility, suitability and link rot. Some of the
copytexts arefreely available 19th century editions are keyed in,
marked-up and made accessible with the appropriate caveats. Other texts
make their way into the collection when a site is threatened with
Renascence Editions is geared to works of literature being found by
readers. Renascence Editionsleveragesthe advantage of serving up static
files marked up in HTML -- the advantage of not being in deep Web. WWW
search engines can index and point users to the material. Links from
instructor-authored class WWW resources remain stable.
The careful distinction between work and text provides that chance for
readers to find each other. And again I invoke the trope of negative
space: what is not done to encode a text. No page numbers forces
researchers wishing to report on their findings to reference scholarly
editions. The secret totext maintenance for readership attraction sites
is to leave readers with something to do. And indeed one of the
sophisticated researchers in attendence at the session provided the
feedback on the welcome ability to access versions of the texts allowed
for some preliminary testing of hypothesizes or in the language of the
Renascence Editions disclaimer "for casual text searches to aid in the
work [...]" and was apparently pleased to have this experience orient the
reading of other the editions. For further interesting and fine examples
of the genre of the learned caveat see
- Richard Cunningham (Acadia U): Coincidental Technologies: Moving Parts
in Early Modern Books and in Early Hypertext.
If there is no thaumaturgy without ergatocracy in the nitty gritty world
of electronic preparation and delivery, there are those magical moments
where the appropriate challenge finds its team. Richard Cunningham's
fascination wit volvelles in early modern printed books is contagious.
Volvelles are moving parts to be cut out and assembled into working
navigation instruments or serve as patterns for the construction of such
instruments. Richard was drawn into this work via experiments in active
reading: assembling the instruments as a way of reading the instructions.
In bringing such experiences online, acsimile does not suffice. The
digital gears have to spin.
Practicalities of drawing upon the combined expertise of two different
students, one well-versed in graphic programs to produce vector-based
graphics using Macromedia Fireworks and the other with scripting
experience to animate the the layered images using Macromedia Flash. I
signal the use of a software suite and the smooth division of labour it
permits. What the production also revealed was that very little
automation is possible since each volvelle presents its own pecularities
and arrangements. Few of the components can be reutilized from
digitalization to digitalization.
This situation presents many an administrative challenge in order to
garner the necessary resources to produce a significant set of examples
when having to produce source code for each exemplar. However from a
humanities computing perspective, this work begins to permit some very
interesting opportunities. One can imagine using such a regular
representation to generate metadata: which of the volvelles have
perforations, which have pointer bars, which have multiple disks. Indeed
embedding comments in the source code help such cataloguing efforts.
However the wo sets of representations of the artefact (the layering of
the graphic and the animation scripting) also offer the chance to compute
some interesting ratios of information density of these digital
reproductions of artefacts which are themselves interfaces to a stored
knowledge of calculation procedures pre-Babbage and pre-Napier. Way cool
and a challenge to any humanities computerists who have learnt or will
learn languages such as SVG and SMIL to build upon such work in
visualizing pre-video monitor interfaces.
- Stephanie Thomas (Sheffield Hallam U): The Exploration and Development
of Tools for Active Reading.
One of the joys of interactive animation is that an author can
periodically take control away from the click-and-point user through the
clever updating of the screen after a given time out or a given count of
clicks. That is not the type of interface game that Stephanie Thomas
demonstrated. However what she did present invites us to consider some of
assumptions of that animate the design of the display of textual variants:
especially that of the single reader with all witness before their
eyes.Actual readers explore a set of variants in different ways:
systematic comparision of two witnesses, cycling through the variants at
one locus, ignoring variants while reading through a witness. I was lucky
during one of the breaks to hear Stephanie elaborate on the details from a
test of the interface with a group of student users and provide some
wonderful anecdotes. Working in pairs the students explored the material
to collect evidence for answers to some guiding questions. One pair
exported (using the by now traditional copy-and-paste method) two versions
into a wordprocessing program from where they continued to conduct their
reading and analysis. I report the anecdote here to stretch the received
notion of interface (from intra-application to intra-system to
cross-platform) and to consider the constructivist possibilities of having
one group of students work from one versions and another group from an
other version and watch them discuss whose variant is a variant of whose.
What's a variant for but to feed text analysis tools?
In all seriousness in Stephanie's presentation we found once again the
theme of reaching readers, cultivating audiences. At theme found from
start to finish in the workings of creating these resources, from
designing guided discovery to exportable results, invention finds eloque
testimonies for a reading of places to serve a taking place of dialogue
and interchange. The fortuitious is well-prepared.
- James H Forse (Bowling Green U): Spread Your Bibliography.
The wise ask questions. Wanting to trace the evidence of the assertions of
critiques and literary historians of a rise in anti-Spanish prejudice in
the Elizabethan and Jacobean period, James Forse undertook he tedious task
of data entry himself. The use of spreadsheet software allowed him to
conduct a historical analysis of re-issues and the formats. In the
discussion period following the presentation of his results and showing
the impressive breadth of information captured in simple sortable column
and row layout, he reported seeking advice about database versus
spreadsheet performance issues.During his introductory remarks he offered
us a calculation of how many coordinated index cards it would take to
reproduce such a manipulable data set. I failed to note the numbers. What
I did not fail to note was determination to use a tool that was accessible
and the choice not to jump to learning the intricacies of database
software in a sense also keeps the data more accessible.
Wanting to find out more, I located a reference to Forse's "Playwrights in
Print, 1560-1642: A Case-Study in Using Spreadsheets for Bibliographic
Analysis and Speculation." SRASP, 24 (2001). Unfortunately it appears the
electronic version of the SRASP (Shakespeare and Renaissance Association
[of West Virginia]: Selected Papers) has not appeared since 1999. Perish
the thought that Professor Forse's data set be lost for lack of a proper
- Deborah S. Lacoste (U Western Ontario): Computer-Aided Repertory
Studies: Online Access to Chant Sources.
How lovely of the organisers to have placed in the same session another
presentation that addressed the breadth-depth polarity of temptation: more
records versus more fields in each record. Deborah Lacoste outlined some
of the choices and modifications made to the indices of chants collected
in the Cantus database. As well, she described the process for creating
and contributing quality-controlled indices. It is not solely an in-house
operation. Researchers world-wide participate in the growth of the
- Shawn Martin (UMI/ProQuest): Early English Books Online
Offered a refreshing reminder that practicalities and technicalities are
separate aspects of project management.
- Eileen Gardiner (Italica Press) and Ronald G. Musto (Italica Press):
New E-Books from the ACLS History E-Book Project.
The question period generated a consideration of the administrative
dimension of subscriptions. Subscriptions that are site-specific force
institutions to administer proxy-servers for off-site access by their
members. I predict that user-based subscription will quickly become a
desideratum. Some keeper of the academic economy will want to see the
access statistics are analysed and perhaps force the hand of the
e-publishers offer differential rates for access outside of peak times is
cheaper. Data-mining by robots like set a video recorder. E-publishers
will perhaps also be led to broker arrangements whereby 24/7 access is
capitalized in a global context with institutions in sufficiently
separated time zones sharing access on 12 on 12 off basis. If the premium
on shelf space led in part to the support of annual subscriptions to
electronic publishing services, I am willing to wager that the pressure
will be on to realize true savings: it just might be more cost-effective
for institutions to purchase electronic editions outright for use on local
servers especially if those the rights permit scholars to excerpt segments
for quotation which many a locked-down e-book in a subscription service
does not currently allow. E-books might just be too uncitable and
therefore not be enticing for the circulation of ideas (or for assessing
impact for merit purposes).
Oh why not be polemical! Whether money exchanges hands or not, an e-book
is a product distributed on stony ground, an electronic edition is a
service to a community.
- William R. Bowen (U Toronto): Iter: Building Gateways from Catalogue
From Willam Bowen's presentation I gathered that, in a sense, Iter is a
portal topublishers, communities, markets. Its gateway function
categorizes it for me in the space of the Internet accessed by HTTP that
is not indexed by the robots of search engines that scout the WWW (it is
space aka as deep web). I think its orientation to service versus product
is in part a function of a guild model at work. I was clear in the answer
to a question (who does the work) that a practical outlook geared to
sustainability guided the development of the partnerships and
infrasctructure: graduate student apprentices learn their craft through
association with Iter.
- Melinda Spencer Kingsbury (U Kentucky): Katherine Philips' Friendship
Poems: An Approach to Building Image-based Electronic Editions of Early
Absent and no paper read in absentia. Maybe a URL will follow.
- Raymond G. Siemens (Malaspina U-C), Barbara Bond (U Victoria),
Terra Dickson (U British Columbia), and Karin Armstrong (Malaspina
Prototyping an Electronic Edition of the Devonshire MS.>
A project by a research group focussed on a group of writers. Lots and
lots of work, careful thinking, reading and listening with a view to
create a "quickly, easily, intuitively, navigable" electronic edition.
Barbara Bond's invocation of the metaphor of house construction is apt and
it is one won from experience. Would that house builders follow her as
well in the principles of consistency and documentation.
The technology has assisted in the reading of the manuscript for
transcription purposes and now the group is keen I believe to spread an
enthusiasm for direct interaction with the digital image, initiate others
to the reading of handwriting and widen the conversation about the genesis
and signification of such a multi-authored record.
- Peter Lukehart (Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National
Gallery of Art): Virtual Knowledge and Early Modern Visual Culture.
It was one of those enjoyable segues to turn from manuscripts to an
exhibit about the illustration of hanwww.writingonhands.org Peter
Lukehart provided some new vocabulary from the realm of museumology. He
situated that the addition of "interactives" to static online catalogues
in a conceptual space between the walking tour of manuscripts, books and
prints in case and the hands-on programs to work with "manipulatives" (as
much a fun educational experience for adults as for children). Due to
funding considerations on of the "deliverables" a CD-ROM fell by the
wayside. It is not clear to me if the interactive multimedia would
accompany the exhibition catalogue on the proposed CD-ROM. I suspect that
the catalogue was not issued in a burnt to CD format -- it is out of
print. And the creator-shepherds have moved on to other institutions and
own no rights in the product. Some university press just might have a
chance to hooked up with galleries and museums to create a back list
service for out of print catalogues available somewhere somehow in digital
- David Bearman (Art Museum Image Consortium): Building Educational
Partnerships on the Web: Museum Digital Documentation in Education.
A very interesting presentation where the role of the distributor is key
in not only selling access to the database but also in providing the
interface for users to query the database. Also continuing discussion of
the license structure [site (where you are) versus user (who you are)]
Also a report on the success of the strategy to use social (versus
technical) policing of the respect for intellectual property rights.
- Sally-Beth Maclean (U Toronto) and Alan Somerset (U Western Ontario):
Performers on the Road: Tracking their Tours with the REED Patrons and
- Julia Flanders (Brown U): Renaissance Women Online.
Unfortunately I could not attent the last session. Perhaps some one can
contribute a report to Humanist.
A final word of thanks to the organisers for a very stimulating two days
of show and tell. It is a genre I have grown to appreciate anew.
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