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.