Featured Abstract: March 8

Each Monday and Thursday, an abstract from one of the symposium participants will be posted to facilitate discussion.  We welcome your comments!

Featured Abstract: “On the Value of Comparing Truly Remarkable Texts”

Gregor Middell, University of Würzburg

Looking at the comparatively short history of editions in the digital medium, one notices
that those projects which are highly critical about the edited text invariably end up pushing the boundaries of established practices in text modeling and encoding. For example, this has been the case for the HyperNietzsche edition, which developed its own genetic XML markup dialect, or for the Wittgenstein edition, which went as far as developing its own markup language. The ongoing genetic edition of Goethes Faust is no different in as much as it makes use of common XML-based encoding practices and de-facto standards like the guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative but at the same time felt the need to transcend those, so it can cope with the inherent complexity of modeling its subject matter. Rooted in the tradition of German editorial theory, the Faust edition strives for a strict conceptual distinction between the material evidence of the the text’s genesis as found in the archives on the one hand and the interpretative conclusion drawn from this evidence on the other hand, the latter eventually giving rise to a justied hypothesis of how the text came into being. These two perspectives on the edited text, though complementary, are structured very differently and moreover cannot be modeled via context-free grammars in their entirety. Therefore it is already hard to encode, validate and process a single perspective via XML concisely and eciently, let alone both of them in an integrated fashion. Given this problem and the need to solve it in order to meet the expectations of scholarly users towards an edition which in the end claims to be “historical-critical”, the Faust project turned to multiple, parallel encodings of the same textual data, each describing the textual material from one of the desired perspectives. Necessarily the different encodings have to be correlated then, consequently resulting not in the common compartmentalized model of an edited text but in an integrated, inherently more complex one. In the work of the Faust project, this crucial task of correlating perspectives on a text is achieved semi-automatically by means of computer-aided collation and a markup document model supporting arbitrarily overlapping standoff annotations. The presentation of both this editorial workflow as well as its underlying techniques and models might not only be of interest in its own right; it might as well contribute to the answer of a broader question: Can we gradually increase our notion’s complexity of “what text really is” while still being able to rely on encoding practices widely endorsed by the DH community today.

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