My favourite colour is purple
Farewell from Dixit by ESR 4.
This report is a summary of my Dixit time, about my work, about experiences I made in the network and also about the people in it.
My hosting institution in DiXiT was the Centre for Information Modelling – Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities at the University of Graz (ZIM-ACDH) where my work was supervised by Georg Vogeler. The initial title of my fellowship was “Digital scholarly editions and Paleography” which after a few months slowly shifted towards “Digital scholarly editions and typography.” The reasons to modify the predefined focus were twofold: Firstly, from the initial DiXiT grant proposal to the start of my fellowship there was made significant progress in the field of modeling transcriptions of handwriting (e.g. in the context of DigiPal), while on the other hand, there is still no formalized model to describe typography in digital scholarly editions and beyond (for instance in large corpora of prints or incunabula). Secondly, my scholarly background lies in 19th– and 20th-century Textual Scholarship and Philology and it seemed reasonable to base a thesis on my already existing expertises and interests.
A model to describe typography
The major objective of my fellowship was to create a transcription model that allows for enhance studies of writing – or in the case of my work typography. Therefore I started my fellowship with an extensive reading about editorial methods to engage with writing, from manuscript descriptions to glyph encoding with Unicode to representation throug images. From there I looked beyond textual scholarship in the narrower sense, into other fields that engage with writing, and in particular with typography: (applied) typography, paleotypography and paleography, graphetics and graphemics, and so on. With every new article and/or book I read, I got to understand the subject of describing writing better, but at the same time I became more and more lost in a struggle of terminologies and concepts. Paul Schaffner once wrote on the TEI list in a relevant discussion:
In my experience, all discussions of characters, glyphs, graphs, and symbols end in a metaphysical muddle.
I can confirm that. Typography is a very complex subject itself. Furthermore every field has its own perspective on “writing” and its own language to talk about it. For instance, how to name the smallest entity of writing: glyph, graph, letter, type, or even character or sign? Questions like this can lead to endless discussions without satisfying answers. However, at some point last year, when I started to get wrinkles and gray hair from all the thinking, I finally draw down a conceptual model to describe typography.
In the meantime, I have formalized the conceptual model as ontology in OWL, including FRBR, SKOS and DC vocabularies. It is now ready to be implemented in my prototype edition.
The prototype – Stefan George Digital
As sample for my studies I built a prototype edition of prints by the German author Stefan George (1868-1933) who has engaged with typography in exceptional ways. More detailed information about my thesis subject and the major questions can be found in this short paper proposal from DH2016.
The corpus of the prototype edition includes four different editions of Stefan George’s Der Teppich des Lebens und die Lieder von Traum und Tod. Mit einem Vorspiel that differ from each other concerning their typographical design (e.g. format, material, layout, and, of course, the used typefaces resp. fonts). The digital edition is developed within the framework of GAMS, a Fedora based asset management system that is developed at ZIM-ACDH by Johannes Stigler. The digital facsimiles come from a IIIF compatible image server and can be displayed and explored via the OpenSeadragon and the Mirador Viewer as well as in a METS-based book viewer (all image functionalties have been implemented by my colleague Gerlinde Schneider). The TEI encoding, all XSLT-transformations and functionalites as well as the design of the web interface are made resp. developed by myself.
All four volumes are encoded in XML/TEI P5. The TEI-Schema was built with particular regard to the book-historical and typographical focus of the edition. Metadata includes, for instance, detailed analytic descriptions and measures of the whole book and the single page as well as of decorations and materials. A typographical commentary (similar to what in German is called “Stellenkommentar”) explains phenomena of design at the respective points in the book. Furthermore a prosaic commentary (“Überblickskommentar”) about the design and production process of the book is provided. The transcription part captures besides textual variants also typographical variants, as, for instance, the varying use of punctuation marks in George’s poetry.
The next step, which I will conclude by this summer, is to implement the ontology into the edition to achieve detailed descriptions of the used typefaces resp. fonts, including information about their historical script models and semantics. Furthermore I plan to provide the ontology to the public, hoping that someone will find it useful and applies it in the context of her own work.
Experiences beyond my fellowship work
Besides majorly working on my fellowship, I was able to gain some secondary skills in my DiXiT time that will be useful for future academic work. For instance, I was co-organizing two workshops at ZIM-ACDH: a Spring School on Advanced XML/TEI-technologies (see blog post) and a Summer School on XML/TEI for beginners. Another event I was co-organizing in 2016 was a two days symposium on Digital Scholarly Editions as Interfaces with over 100 participants from all over the world. The event was a great success (see conference report by my co-fellow Roman and me). Currently, I am working together with other staff members of ZIM-ACDH on the publication of the conference proceedings.
The overall experience
Being part of DiXiT, I could strengthen and expand my knowledge of digital scholarly editions, learn how to interact with the academic community and bring the work of my thesis forward. For the single fellow the programme offers many chances: besides the networking opportunities and the events in the programme itself, the generous training budget allows attending training events and conferences. I presented my work, for instance, at the DHd2016 conference in Leipzig, the DH2016 conference in Krakow and at the ESTS2016 in Antwerp.
— Wout Dillen (@WoutDLN) July 14, 2016
A further pleasant effect of DiXiT was, that we fellows got to know some of the most competent people working in digital scholarly editing in Europe (= our supervisors), that we could attend their teaching sessions at the DiXiT camps and also collaborate with them. What I liked most about the network as a whole, is that it brings together people from different disciplinary and professional backgrounds. I think we looked at the “digital scholarly edition” from many sides and this opened up my own perspective on it.
Save the best for last
Amongst all the fantastic things I’ve already mentioned, DiXiT represents to me also the people who I shared the experience of the last three years, or at least parts of it, with. First of all, I had the pleasure to work at ZIM-ACDH with very supportive and positive people. Some of them became closer friends and made my time in Graz also from a personal perspective worthwhile. Another mention needs to go to the researchers in and around King’s College with whom I spent good times in the legendary Plough during my secondment. Finally, there are all the people of the DiXiT network: The “Cologne group” who were fair, pragmatic and calm project leaders and organizers. The supervisors – first of all Georg as my own supervisor – but also everyone else who gave guidance and support to us fellows. Last but not least, the DiXiT fellows were a fantastic group. No matter how crazy the PhD roller coaster drove, meeting up with my fellow colleagues every six months felt always like arriving in a “safe space”. We shared joy, tears and magic moments all over Europe.
Europe? Who needs Europe nowadays? I think it is important to mention (and I think I speak here for all DiXITeers), that DiXiT was also an international and intercultural experience, and that it was not only a project funded by and conducted in the European Union, but also a project in the European spirit. DiXiT brought together people from all over the world: from Spain to Finland to the U.S., from Italy to Ireland, from Germany to Greece to Great Britain, and from Poland to the Netherlands to Belgium. It united people to communicate, to collaborate, and to understand each other. I think the big global leaders out there can learn something from our small, purple network.
Although I would have really liked to continue working at the ZIM-ACDH, I decided for personal reasons to go back to Berlin after my fellowship. At the moment I am quite melancholic that the DiXiT-time is ending, but at the same time I am looking ahead curiously and excited what comes next. I am sure it has something to do with digital scholarly editions.