Good things take time

About six months ago when my DiXiT adventure has just started, I posted a short description about my project on this blog. Quite some time has passed since, at least it feels like a lot of time, and during summer and autumn I have significantly developed my ideas how the fellowship should be designed. This phase of shaping my PhD plans was pretty intensive; sometimes it felt like taking a step forward and two steps back.  However, now I am very happy how everything worked out and I succeeded to combine both the DiXiT requirements for my position and my personal research interests.

Update ESR4 – Palaeography and digital scholarly editions [post has been updated 26/1/2015]:

Writing and typography in the lyrical work of Stefan George

Building a transcription model to capture graphical information in a digital scholarly edition

The aim of my fellowship is the development of a transcription model that allows for enhanced paleographical and typographical studies within the context of a digital scholarly edition. The project focuses mainly on writing in prints, hence typography (both on micro- and macro-level), but also examines particularities of cursive and block-letter handwriting. As a result, a model will be developed which is adaptable to different types and styles of writing and allows the identification, description, comparison and citation of them.

Subject matter

Stefan_George_1910_Foto_Jacob_Hilsdorf_bwThe subject matter of the study will be the lyrical work of the German poet Stefan George (1868-1933). George has engaged with script in exceptional ways: from 1897 on he almost completely abandoned his cursive handwriting, using instead highly stylized block letters. The members of the George-circle, the intellectual group around the author, were expected to apply the same writing style in order to strengthen the circle’s identity. As a result, the numerous correspondences and drafts transmitted in this so-called Stilschrift cannot always be clearly assigned to a specific scribe.

From 1904 on, George applied a specific typeface to his printed publications as well: the 3rd edition of ‘Das Jahr der Seele‘ was the first volume in the so called St.-G.-typeface, which emerged when the German dispute between Antiqua and black letter (Fraktur) typefaces was in full swing. Accordingly, St.-G. forms a third, alternative typeface class inspired by modern Grotesk typefaces but also showing features of ancient Roman and Carolingian scripts. Until 1927 this particular typeface has been modified several times with the result that there is not a single definitive, the one St.-G.-typeface, but various versions of it.

Current research

The current research doesn’t provide sufficient insight about the theoretic discourse which has accompanied George’s engagement with typography and writing in general. Especially the author’s role in the design of the St.-G.-typeface is rather unclear, as well as the role his book designer and friend Melchior Lechter and the foundry and printer Otto von Holten played. Additionally it is still debated today whether the single glyphs of the typeface have been developed out of the St.-G.-Stilschrift or the Akzidenz Grotesk typeface. In the end there are also several theories circulating, mostly mere interpretative approaches, which assume a relation between the content of George’s works and its physical appearance, and which include both typography and the design of the whole book.


(1) Typographical discourses around Stefan George

My fellowship is dedicated to clarify current questions and ambiguities as raised above. A theoretical part using an interdisciplinary research approach combining literary studies, book history, textual scholarship, and typographic and paleographic studies will address George’s engagement with writing and the discourses about it both in the George-circle as well with the publishing-collective (book designer, foundry, printer, and publisher) around him. It will be mostly based on correspondences already published in editions or held at the Stefan-George-Archiv in Stuttgart as well as on treaties on the issue writing by George himself, his affiliates or contemporary typographers.


(2) Capturing and representing graphical issues in (digital) scholarly editions

Furthermore, already existing editions of George’s work will be evaluated and the impacts of editing practices for the transmission of the particular styles of writing will be elucidated. Moreover scholarly editions and tools with a particular focus on graphical issues will be analyzed for summing up the current state of Digital Paleography and for evaluating their applicability to typographical forms. In the end this section will also reflect in general on the appropriate visualization of writing forms and styles in digital scholarly editions as well as about type-facsimiles.

(3) Building a transcription model

The third part of my fellowship will be rather practical, focusing on methodologies and developments from Digital Humanities. To develop a transcription model which allows for enhanced studies on micro- and macrotypography, a small-scale corpus consisting of printed lyrical works of Stefan George will be built. The inclusion of manuscripts of his work as well as the extension of the model for describing handwriting will be considered during the project run-time. The development of the transcription model will include the following steps:

(a) Testing the current practices (especially TEI and Unicode) in digital scholarly editing to encode glyphs and/or enrich text with paleographical and typographical information.

(b) Designing a controlled vocabulary and if possible an ontology to describe single glyphs of a character set from various forms of writing (handwriting vs. typeface) focusing on their distinguishing features. Appropriate RDF-vocabularies (e.g. SKOS) and UML-modeling are tested as methods of formalization.

(c) Adapting the model in the context of a XML/TEI transcribed digital scholarly edition and proof of practicability. Evaluating and implementing frameworks and data models such as SharedCanvas and Open Annotation which might be suitable for the edition’s scope.

(d) Describing a canonical reference system which allows for identifying and citing on the level of glyphs.

(e) Developing extraction scenarios for glyphs to store them in a graph database for revealing semantic relations among them. A possible inclusion of other scripts, which could have served as a model for the St.-G.-typface, is projected as well.

Dasjahrderseele Expected outcome

Regarding the subject of the study – Stefan George’s writings – the transcription model will support investigations on the author’s work including formalized and citable paleographical and typographical data. The glyph repository will allow the retracing of the development of the St.G.-typeface, exploring its relation to the block-letter Stilschrift as well as revealing similarity to Grotesk typefaces and ancient scripts such as Uncial and Half-Uncial and Caroline minuscule.

From a digital textual scholarship perspective, my dissertation will contribute to the fields of Digital Paleography and Typography. Implemented in the framework of a digital scholarly edition, the transcription model will enhance the possibilities for historical and philological driven research on the graphical appearance of texts as well as support investigations on writing in its textual and material context.


I am based at the Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities in Graz. I graduated in Editorial Philology in Berlin where I worked in the field of digital scholarly editing of mss and prints. I am interested in modern ms and print studies, theories and concepts of writing, text and editing theories, media transitions at the turn of the ct. 19|20.

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