That was the year that was

It’s that time of year again, when balances of the past twelve months pop up in publications big and small, digital and analogical, of universal and individual interest alike. Granted, we’ve arrived slightly late to join the bandwagon, but given the relative quiet of the blog, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity for a small update on ATNU’s activities, and on what is in store for the future.

One could argue, in our defense, that 2017 was for ATNU a relatively short year. Although the project has been in development for longer, its activity didn’t start in earnest until September and ATNU only showed its face to the digital public in October. Delaying this yearly review until the first days of January could then be seen as an underhanded attempt to trick the calendar into giving us an extra few 2017 days — although, of course, none can fight the passage of time.

As I’m sure all of you who took the time to visit our about page know, ATNU is, at its core, a research project bringing together digital technology, scholarly textual editing, humanities research and computer science. The central question powering all of ATNU’s initiatives is the deceptively simple ‘what is a text?’ and the very nature of ‘text’ is at the forefront of all our collective research and practice. The people that make up ATNU have also identified three research themes into which working sub-groups could be divided, to better tackle the giant simple question of what a text is. These research themes are Translation, Performance, and Manuscript & Print.

In these first four months of active work, we decided to separate into smaller sub-groups focusing on each of the research themes. The objective was to identify problems, issues and challenges that could be addressed and supported by a digital approach. However, we want to do more than just identify gaps — we want to propose solutions, so each research theme group was also tasked with the conceptualisation of small pilot projects that could plug those gaps. In classical rhetoric, this was the inventio phase of the project. So what have we inventio-ned? Let’s take a closer look.

The group working on translation, as it would be expected, is particularly interested in how texts move across national and linguistic boundaries. This interest is of course a product of some of our individual research interests, but it goes directly to the heart of the big question: is the translated text the same as the original text? If not, what changed? How did it change? And how does the change affect reading? One of the main difficulties in working with translated texts is the necessity for researchers to be fluent in a (potentially very large) number of languages. So, what tool could we develop that could give researchers the possibility of looking at a number of translations simultaneously, without necessarily being fluent in all languages? The first translation pilot project will try to tackle this problem.

The group working on Performance is interested in how texts not only incorporate the potential for performance (as it happens, for example, with dramatic or musical texts), but in how the very text is, at times, a performance in itself. With these two aspects in mind, the Performance group is planning a two pronged approach: on the one hand, a pilot along the lines of a more traditional scholarly digital edition — though with a few twists; and on the other hand, another pilot project that will create visualizations of the performative aspects of texts.

The interests of the Manuscript & Print group are aligned with the research and practice of both print and digital textual scholarship. The concept of variance in particular is at the forefront of the group’s concerns: how and why do texts change during printing, and how does that affect the very concept of text? How can we identify, trace, explain, and communicate those variances? For manuscripts these and other issues are also present. People rarely write cleanly, from start to finish, in a notebook. How can we reproduce, analyse, and investigate the timeline of manuscript composition? The Manuscript & Print group wants to find answers for these questions, and is particularly interested in coming up with ways to visualize this information in a way that is clear to the public at large, and helpful to scholars.

In these past few months then, the people at ATNU have been busy thinking about and tackling these issues. However, we have also had the pleasure and the opportunity to share with colleagues our vision for this project and the Digital Humanities field at large. In November, ATNU members participated in the ‘What is a text in the digital age II’ symposium, which was an excellent opportunity to discuss the current and future state of digital scholarship. We also presented our project to colleagues at Newcastle in the ‘Digital and Research’ event organised by the good people at NUHRI. James Cummings, as a consequence of his brilliant and distinguished career in DH, was also present at the annual TEI conference (in Victoria this year), and has just returned from Japan where he was one of the key-note speakers for the ‘Towards the Construction of Humanities in the Age of Digital Archiving – Construction of the Next Generation Knowledge Base for Buddhist Studies’ conference — if you want to know more about it, don’t forget to read James’ blog. For 2018, there are many more public-facing engagements in the cards, the first of which will be in two weeks’ time, when we will be participating in the C.A.K.E. event organised by our colleagues at Creative Fuse North East. We are also planning to show our faces at some of the bigger DH forums around (pending, of course, the graceful acceptance of our proposal), we are arranging for a series of visiting speakers to talk to us at Newcastle, and we will, from next week, start a monthly lunch meeting with our colleagues here at the university to discuss all things digital.

One of ATNU’s missions is to foment further interdisciplinary humanities research and help strengthen grant applications for external funding. Correspondingly, ATNU is currently collaborating in the development of two further research projects to be submitted this year. In addition to this, we’ve also had the immense pleasure of being named as associated partners in a large-scale European project — more details to follow.

Closer to home, we have been thinking about how to bring Digital Humanities scholarship, practices and methods into the lives of our undergraduate students here at Newcastle University. James Cummings and I (i.e., Tiago) have been developing a third-year module that will place the Digital Humanities in a larger historical context intersecting technology, history, and literature. Students will be faced with familiar texts in unfamiliar ways and, hopefully, become aware and curious about the role of DH in contemporary humanities’ research.

That was our 2017 — short, but full of life. Thank you for reading this far. At this point, you might be wandering what 2018 will bring us — fear not, here it is, in short, digestible form. Our first and major priority is, of course, to realize some of the pilot projects outlined above. If the first four months were the inventio phase of the project, in the next four (and following) we hope to go as far as the pronuntiatio stage, for at least a few of the pilots outlined. By that point, you’ll be able to see, read about, and perhaps even play with, the concrete experiences we will build in our website. These pilots will also develop into larger projects, and new pilots and projects will succeed them. As we’ve said above, ATNU will also be hosting and participating in many events throughout the year. For news on that and much more, be sure to follow us on twitter and read this blog. Watch this space — good things are coming.

Digital and Research

Yesterday, ATNU presented at the Digital and Research event organised by Newcastle University Humanities Research Institute. The afternoon was a showcase of some of Newcastle’s digital centres and live digital humanities projects, ending with a forum on equality and diversity in digital research. Luckily you won’t have to take our word on how great it was because you can just go and check the live tweeting for yourself:

Our many thanks to Matthew Grenby for inviting us and organising the event, and all the present for a brilliant afternoon.

What is a text in the Digital Age II

Last Friday ATNU was present at the second What is a Text in the Digital Age symposium, co-organised by ATNU members Jennifer Richards and Michael Rossington, and Rick Rylance from the Institute of English Studies. The invite-only symposium brought together a mixture of established and early career researchers in order to reflect on how the digital age has transformed our notion of what a text is.

As usual in Newcastle, the day was bright but cold when the participants arrived at the Core. Jennifer Richards, Michael Rossington and Rick Rylance welcomed everyone and asked Kelvin Everest (Liverpool) to recap the discussion of the first symposium in London. The day’s programme began with ‘The User’s Perspective’, with contributions from Clare Hutton (Loughborough) and Nicolas Bell (Trinity College Library, Cambridge).

Clare Hutton began by confronting digital and print editions of Ulysses from a user’s perspective. With a particularly polemic critical edition of Ulysses in mind, Clare put forward the argument for ‘unediting’, which would allow the reader to approach a readable text. Clare’s provocation did not go unnoticed: much of the discussion that followed focused on this critical junction. Some argued that rather than ‘unediting’, one should think of user-centred editions that would allow readers to choose the type of text that they want to read. This possibility is one of the advantages offered by a scholarly digital edition over a traditional print edition.

Nicolas Bell focused on digitization projects within libraries. Commercially backed projects, such as the one sponsored by Google Books, tend to be extremely risk averse when it comes to questions of copyright. Nicolas then made the case that libraries need not be constrained by the same degree of caution, and that many copyright issues can be solved at no extra cost by engaging in a conversation with the copyright owning estate. The discussion that followed addressed issues such as funding and the ‘digital penumbra’ — the unwanted effect that non-digitized might be less visible for readers than texts which are available online.

The second session of the day changed gears into approaches to collaborative work. Paul Watson and Nick Holliman (Digital Institute, NU) and Michael Rossington (SELLL, NU) offered different perspectives on interdisciplinary work. Paul opened the session by stressing the importance of abstraction when working collaboratively with computer science. Abstraction, Paul argued, allows not only for a better approach to the problem, but significantly allows for the reuse and re-purpose of methodologies to other data sets. Work on phylogenetics, for example, can be useful for a genetic literary analysis. Nick focused on some of the challenges he identified in working across disciplines. Questions of language are at the forefront of most problems, and although the vision should be shared between all parties, outcomes are not necessarily common. Rather than thinking in multi-disciplinary terms, a more fruitful approach would be to think of the collaboration as multi-perspectival. Finally, Michael presented a case-study of a typical humanities problem that could be solved in collaboration with computer science: how to represent the stages of composition of a palimpsest-heavy manuscript. The productive discussion that followed the short presentations focused on the challenges of working collaboratively, particularly between the Humanities and Computer Science. Data analysis in the Humanities is a particularly germane problem: how to analyse data that is by definition ambiguous?

After lunch, Jacquline Norton and Rupert Maan, from Oxford University Press, shared with the group some of the difficulties publishers face in the digital age. They focused specifically on the Oxford Scholarly Editions Online project, and the challenges of digitizing and encoding scholarly editions from the 15th to the end of the 19th century. Despite the challenges, Rupert and Jacqueline also highlighted the innovations that are made possible by the process, such as the multi-pane simultaneous view of table of contents, text and notes.

The last session of the day was entirely dedicated to one innovative research project currently in development, The Reading Sensorium. Jennifer Richards (SELLL, NU) and Jane Winters (SAS), lead investigators on the project, discussed the origins of the idea, its development, and its current state. The symposium finished with a recap of the day’s discussion and a brief survey of where to go next. Although this edition of the symposium was the last in its current state, everyone expressed a wish to continue the discussion in one way or another. Here at ATNU, we are very keen to keep meeting and discussing these issues — so watch this space for more.

Pleased to meet you

Hello dear reader, I’m Tiago and I will be your interlocutor for the day. I’m the Research Associate for ATNU and, chances are, if you see us twitting, writing blog posts, emailing or generally moving in this great world wide web of ours, I’m the one on the other side of the screen. So I thought it would only be polite if I introduced myself.

Currently, I’m the only ATNU team member whose time is entirely devoted to the project. I’ve joined Newcastle University in September 2017 and have, right away, began to work on the project’s image — so if you have any queries regarding our website, blog or twitter feed, I’m the man you should ask about it. If you have any questions you would like answered about us and our mission, I’m here to answer them.

I’ve recently completed my PhD in the Text and Event in Early Modern Europe (TEEME) — an Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctoral Programme — so you could say collaboration and interdisciplinarity are in my academic blood. My doctoral thesis looked at Richard Fanshawe’s translation of Os Lusíadas, the most significant Portuguese early modern epic poem (if you are curious about this, you can read an article I wrote for Literature Compass here). Although the majority of my academic career has been dedicated to early modern literature and culture, I have a background in computer science and engineering. I have studied computer engineering and worked as a coder before turning my attention to more literary matters. ATNU has given me the incredible opportunity of joining up these two interests, and I’m looking forward to all the amazing and exciting things we can do with a little bit of computer code and a dusting of humanities.

ATNU is just starting up — but behind the scenes we have been quite the busy bees conjuring up some really interesting ideas that we hope to be able to show you pretty soon. Stay tuned and, in the meantime, follow us on twitter and drop by the blog often — we are always happy to see you.

We have arrived!

Welcome to the ATNU team blog! It’s nice to see you here, come on in. Welcome, welcome. This is the place to come whenever you want to hear the latest developments from our work in progress at ATNU. We will also keep you up to date with our research inquires, discuss the latest trends in Digital Humanities and, perhaps, foster a bit of a discussion on some of the issues surrounding digital scholarly editing. We may even have a guest author or two sharing their ideas with us and our readers, so be sure to come back often or subscribe to our RSS feed.

This is a blog, so a little personality is not a bad thing. It also means that whatever is written here is not necessarily the gospel of the ATNU team — post author’s assume full responsibility for their own positions, be they ATNU team members or guests.

That being said, we hardly believe we will ever make the front page of the Daily Mail. We just want to create some good food for thought and, perhaps, be provocative once in a while.

We will soon be introducing our main authors/editors, so keep your eyes open and come back soon!