How do scholars interface with digital editions of literature, and how can we improve the appearance and behavior of digital edition interfaces to not only better support current scholarly use, but predict and create new ways of reading, teaching, and learning about texts? With my literature doctoral dissertation, titled “How Can You Love a Text, If You Don’t Know It?” (As you might know if you read this blog, just my favorite pro-editing quotation: "How can you love a work, if you don't know it? How can you know it, if you can't get near it? How can you get near it, without editors?" - Gary Taylor, "The Renaissance and the End of Editing", in Palimpsest: Textual Theory and the Humanities, ed. George Bornstein and Ralph G. Williams (1993), 121-50.) : Critical Code and Design toward Participatory Digital Editions, I'm coding and designing scholarly tools, interfaces, and games that value:
Digital editions are texts presented according to some critical ideal in digital space. We need to know more about how this scholarly form is used so that we can build sites that fully communicate and preserve literary texts, from the written word on the page to the iconic codes and materiality of the whole book, and so that we can in turn use digital editions as better platforms for inquiry into the nature of complex textual objects. I propose to build textual forms to understand them, creating three digital edition interfaces that separately explore the textual behaviors of reading, teaching, and research. One project will explore the social experience of critical reading, exploring whether a difficult Modernist text (Ulysses) becomes “normalized” or “diminished” by moving to the center of a public annotation, interpretation, and conversation, and how we might curate the information overload of a vibrantly active digital edition reader/commentator base. Another project treats teaching as knowing, using a gamic digital framework for the teaching of editing as a tool for tracing the development of textual scholarship theory and opinion. A third project assesses the whole use a scholar in a physical archive might make of a codex and imagines how we might use digital affordances, such as linkable metadata and 3D models, to bring a less partial simulation of the whole book to remote researchers. All three of these interface projects will be built around specific exemplar texts that push the boundaries of modeling via digital edition, texts that challenge both scholar and reader with a multiplicity of meanings (e.g. James Joyce’s notoriously multilayered Ulysses) or that manifestly cannot be fully communicated by current digital edition formats (e.g. the rich design of a presciently-hypertextual Victorian edition of Hamlet). By building digital edition interfaces that employ and extend current textual theory, this dissertation will advance our understanding of how a key scholarly form creates knowledge around texts.
Textual studies concerns itself with the study of the history, forms, and whole content (from the linguistic to the material) of texts; digital textual scholarship, as a narrower discipline, focuses specifically on the preparation of such texts for scholarly use via a digital space. To push the current research, reading, and teaching abilities of the digital edition further, we need to not just theorize on paper what needs to be changed about editions—it is necessary that we make these theorized changes to digital editions through web design and code work, then critically assess what our interventions teach us about the texts of these digital editions, the form of digital editions in general, and about literary research and teaching in digital spaces. This dissertation proposes to take a step back from the specific literary texts prepared by textual scholars—and a step forward from the purely-written theorizing of other textual studies researchers—to create tools that explore the critical efficacy and possibilities of that increasingly quintessential meta-textual form, the digital edition.
Blake textual scholar Morris Eaves conceives of editions not just as vessels for textual content, but as “problem-solving mechanisms”; within my broader exploration of the future of digital edition interfaces, I will focus on several specific problems in the form of three digital coding projects, best expressed by my tweets from earlier today:
Digital editions= a key humanities scholarly form. We theorize/build them, but need more empirical info about how they teach, are read, used— Amanda Visconti (@Literature_Geek) April 9, 2013
"Infinite Ulysses": Code interface to experiment w/modeling complex texts as sites of participatory knowledge. Test built theory w/userstudy— Amanda Visconti (@Literature_Geek) April 9, 2013
What if you build an edition & everyone shows up? Speculative design dealing w/noise:signal, quantity, quality in public editions— Amanda Visconti (@Literature_Geek) April 9, 2013
Choose Your Own Edition: What might a gamic framework for teaching editing teach scholars about growth of our own methodologies/biases?— Amanda Visconti (@Literature_Geek) April 9, 2013
A more public textual studies = smarter public AND scholars. Learn from modeling teaching editing via curation, games, graphesis. #publicDH— Amanda Visconti (@Literature_Geek) April 9, 2013
Material Editions: finish dig ed from unfinished 19c newmedia prototype; dream big abt conveying whole book remotely w/new tech, 3D printers— Amanda Visconti (@Literature_Geek) April 9, 2013
If Blake's imagetexts = scholarly topic, visuals of meta-texts also do; explore graphesis of dig editions w/limitstretching print texts.— Amanda Visconti (@Literature_Geek) April 9, 2013
Will eventually seek user testing volunteers, especially teachers/book clubs interested in Ulysses, editing, and/or DH (tweet if interested)— Amanda Visconti (@Literature_Geek) April 9, 2013