June 14, 2012 by Amanda Visconti

What’s Up with Digital Editing Tools? (Summer Conference Edition)

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind ten days of DH conferences. If I only paid attention to my mode of residence during the trip, I’d call this post “DH via Dorm Rooms”, but what I really got out of the experience (besides some serious college deja vu!) was a useful overview of what’s going on in the world of digital editing tools.

Omeka for Textual Scholars. The first stop was the Society for Textual Scholarship (STS) conference in Austin, Texas, which while not purely a digital conference necessarily gravitated toward discussions of digital tools. I began the conference by teaching a workshop, “Zero to Archive in Sixty Seconds: An Omeka Workshop for Textual Scholars” (teaching tools from the workshop are available here). Omeka is a powerful platform for creating digital museums--and if you’re interested in a non-traditional sort of digital literary edition, one that situates a text or texts in a rich discourse field of media related to its creation and reception, Omeka helps you realize a narrative out of an archive of interlinked media. There’s also growing work on plugins specific to creating a more traditional type of edition within Omeka, such as Scripto (transcription crowdsourcing), TEIDisplay plus SolrSearch (displays TEI files and makes them phrase-searchable), and the TEI Boilerplate (another method of TEI display), all of which we explored during the workshop.

Teaching “Thinking Like an Editor”. Later at STS, I led a panel of editors from varied disciplinary backgrounds (theater performance, education, religion, Arabic language and translation, and digital edition design) in talking about ways to expose more people to “think like an editor”. Starting from Gary Taylor’s suggestion that the function of the editor is to help people get near texts and thereby love these cultural artifacts, we had a lively discussion about practical classroom assignments and digital tools for making our editions more participatory. One example of editing pedagogy we explored was MITH’s recent mentoring of graduate students in Neil Fraistat’s Technoromanticism course; by conceiving the Shelley-Godwin Archive as a teaching site, MITH was both able to bring students closer to a text they’d already come to care about (each student marked up ten pages of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein manuscript with TEI) as well as teach some practical digital skills and workflows (captured in this documentation). In addition to introducing students to “thinking like an editor” around texts to which they already have some emotional connection, we discussed tactics for bringing historical textual artifacts alive such as exploring marginalia for evidence of a writer’s habits and thinking, exposing students to the materiality of old texts, and using performance to teach making editing decisions.

An Evolving Digital Editions Platform. After STS, the next stop was the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) in Victoria, British Columbia, where I took the Digital Editions course taught by Matt Huculak. This course explored the evolving Editing Modernism in Canada project platform Modernist Commons, a tool that offered an interesting counterpoint to the edition options available with Omeka. Modernist Commons is being developed on Islandora, a hybrid of the Drupal CMS and the Fedora Commons repository system; to put it simply, it’s a WYSIWYG tool for creating complete digital editions. The platform includes an ingest and OCR transcription process, areas for both TEI and RDF markup, rectangular and polygonal image annotation, and a shared collection of entity information (i.e. so that naming and events marked in different editions point to the same idea). The tool supports a number of front-end layouts such as the Internet Archive viewer, which allows a book-like appearance with pages that flip as you read, and also allows for the inclusion of born-digital content such as editorial methodologies. EMiC Project Director Dean Irvine described the goals for Modernist Commons as offering both a platform for enriching text meaningfully without necessarily requiring knowledge of TEI (e.g. using simple RDF relationship fields and image annotation) as well as, for more advanced users, a platform that is modular and allows for customization and mass production of a variety of editions. It was fascinating to play around with a tool that was still in development and discuss the choices actively shaping it with its developers.

DHSI and DH. Beyond the Digital Editions course, DHSI was a powerful demonstration of just how many fascinating areas of knowledge the umbrella “Digital Humanities” covers. With seventeen courses covering everything from physical computing (e.g. 3d printers) to digital pedagogy to the pre-digital book, a common theme among attendees was how difficult it had been to decide on just one of those classes to take (in fact, many attendees come back year after year from across the country to take more of DHSI’s course offerings). I was also impressed with how much the Digital Humanities community benefits socially from its allegiance to new technologies. Since everyone is always a novice when working with evolving tools, there’s extra impetus to help one another learn and generally geek and rejoice in the sharing of new knowledge and skills.

STS and DHSI provided a lovely ten days of sharing knowledge about the future of digital editing, and I’m looking forward to repeating the DHSI experience at MITH in January, when we host the first Digital Humanities Winter Institute.