Report: Historical Source Edition 2.0 conference

This blogpost was originally posted on the official DiXiT blog.

Earlier this month, I traveled to Warsaw to attend the Historical Source Edition 2.0 conference (6-7 October) organised by Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History; the Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Center; and the University of Saskatchewan. On paper it was again a small step outside of my comfort zone (a space recently praised in Elli’s final DiXiT report) as the conference was situated in the field of history rather than literature. But it wasn’t really, and everything felt very familiar. The great thing about working in the Digital Humanities is that it is so fundamentally interdisciplinary that it exposes how closely linked all this humanities research really is. Working in DH you don’t just learn to explain your research to researchers working in entirely different departments; you are pretty much actively encouraged to collaborate with each other too.

For me this has become especially clear in the last couple of months, where after a DiXiT year’s worth of working myself into the field of library and information science (which I try to keep up with as I continue to write on my DiXiT research), I find myself working together with historians and linguists to write funding applications, teach BA and MA classes, participate in trial-juries, etc. And what goes for DH goes for its subfield of digital scholarly editing too, as the critical study of source documents is of course as important in historic research as it is in literary research – they are similar means used to somewhat different ends. So it did not come as too much of a surprise when I read the programme and noticed that several papers would explicitly deal with digital scholarly editing; and that hearing their full presentations many more would deal with it implicitly as well.

My own talk was one I wrote together with Dirk Van Hulle, who was sad to have to miss the conference himself. In this talk, we wanted to introduce the field of genetic criticism to an audience of historians, and suggest ways in which its theories and methodologies may be usefully deployed to conduct historic research as well. Our example was the Declaration of Independence; a document that was first written by Thomas Jefferson, and then heavily discussed and edited by Congress before taking its present form. The difference between Jefferson’s draft and the accepted document exposes an intricate writing and decision making process (that Jefferson elaborately commented on in his later autobiography) that had important historical ramifications.

And since Jefferson’s original draft survives, a genetic approach could expose some of the concepts Jefferson was struggling with himself as he was writing it – especially also in the light of some discoveries made at the beginning of this decennium by exposing the draft to hyperspectral imaging techniques. The talk ended with an introduction to the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project, intended to give the audience a glimpse of the kind of analyses and visualisations that become possible when encoding these documents in our specific TEI XML Encoding Schema. For those interested, our slides for this talk can be consulted online.

Bringing historical and literary researchers together like this was a success, I think. Soon after the start of the conference it already became clear just how closely related our research is, and how much we can learn from one another. I was especially struck by a paper by Sasha Hinkel on a critical edition of works by Eugenio Pacelli – a historical edition that was also profoundly interested in, and accordingly exposed, its author’s writing process. The connection between our research lead to an interesting dialogue that spilled over into the coffee break and encouraged Sasha to forward links to the BDMP and our Encoding Manual to his colleagues in Münster. On the whole it was an interesting conference, that inspired a series of fruitful discussions on shared topics such as the (in)significance of stable first (digital scholarly) editions in a digital medium; opportunities for dissemination through the semantic web; the importance of offering our research and editions to the public with as free a license as our materials allow; and of encouraging the public to engage with these materials in new and meaningful ways. I’m already looking forward to the open access publication that will result from this conference.

And as an added bonus, attending this conference allowed me to meet up with my dear DiXiT colleague Magdalena Turska, confirming our shared experience that while DiXiT is over the network lives on.

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