09 January 2013

Attempting to Do Digital Humanities

Back at the beginning of the millennium, I tried to put together a web-based edition of a bunch of scraps of biblical lore in Old English (some incorporating Latin) that are copied into about a dozen and a half manuscripts now held in libraries in London, Cambridge, and Oxford and date from the tenth through twelfth centuries.

The texts overlap in the various manuscripts, with some nearly identical, but most varying in one way or another. I made a rather goofy facsimile of a page from one of the manuscripts in the fashion of Victorian re-drawing of maps and illustrations, to try to show the colors used for the large capitals as well as the arrangement of the text on the page:
This is from the twelfth-century manuscript known as Cotton Julius A.ii, which also contains a prayer, a "Dialogue" between Adrian and Ritheus, and a translation of some proverbs by the Roman statesman Cato and related material.

I wanted to make a non-linear hypertext edition in which readers could jump between edited text, diplomatic transcription, translation, detailed manuscript description, and other texts with similar materials depending on interests and on experience with manuscripts.

But I didn't have the coding skills to make the edition as sophisticated as I wanted it to be, nor the social engineering skills to get someone else to do it for me (or with me). More problematic: as I worked on the edition, I realized the coding languages, conventions, and possibilities were in rapid flux, so any digital edition I might publish would rapidly become out of date.

Here's a translation:

Here it says about the two thieves who hung with Christ.  In Hebrew, they were called [Acha]sachat and Macros, and in Greek Malica and Ioca, and in Latin Cismus and Dismus. Cismus lived, and Dismus did not live.
Noah's ark was three hundred fathoms long, and fifty wide, and thirty high.
Saint Peter's Church is three hundred feet long and two hundred feet wide and the steeple one hundred twenty, and it has twelve thousand and fifty lights, and there are sixty-two steps in the stair.
Solomon's Temple was sixty fathoms long and sixty high and thirty wide. And there were a hundred and seventy thousand workers who carried the stone, and a hundred eight thousand that cut and joined them, and there were three thousand, three hundred officials.
Istorius said that the length of this Middle-Earth was twelve thousand miles, and its breadth six thousand three hundred, not counting a few little islands.
Man has two hundred nineteen bones and he has three hundred sixty-five veins, and there are that many days in twelve months, and a hundred twenty years has thirty-thousand and six hundred days. 

I ended up compiling the full text of the materials into a nice traditional, linear, print publication (with no colors).  You can read it in English Studies if you have access to an academic library, or know someone who can download a pdf and email it to you.

I still want to explore the possibilities of digital editing and publishing, though to start with I need a project that's somewhat less complex, in the number of manuscripts and/or in the variability of the texts.