Sunday, 27 November 2011

Tablets Apps, or the future of the Scholarly Editons?

I was yesterday at a very interesting symposium entitled The Future Perfect of the Book organised by the Institute of English Studies. It has been an interesting mixture of people and of presentations. One in particular I would like to discuss (i.e. Elaine Treharne's keynote adress The Numbered days of the Page), but not now, in another post.
In this one I would like to report about the presentation I gave with Miguel Vieira and that builds on the research conducted by Patricia Searl for her MA dissertation on Digital Humanities at Kings' College London. Here is the abstract we submitted to the conference organisers:
The last 20 years have seen a rise of scholarly digital editions, which offer new, unexplored dimensions and depth to textual scholarship. The new possibilities opened up by the pioneering work of Peter Robinson and Jerome McGann’s charmed editors to the point that at the beginning of the millennium they seemed ready to switch to the digital medium. However, this promised switch did not happen and while many universities have adopted eBooks for course readings, digital textual scholarship seems not to have reached classrooms at all. In fact, an unpublished survey of twenty-two undergraduate syllabi in the US and UK has revealed that not one class had a single web edition as an assigned reading material. On the other hand, in commercial publishing the last couple of years have seen a boom in eBooks and eReaders. It is true though that eBooks look like very poor relatives of digital scholarly editions: in most cases they include the raw text with no additional features other than string searching. As such, eBooks look somewhat regressive, representing an evolution of the codex but not the revolution of the way we read texts which was promised by the advent of computers. Usability studies have demonstrated that reading on tablets is more enjoyable than reading on the screen of computers and, in some cases, more than reading print. But this is for general reading: does it also apply to highly sophisticated digital scholarly editions? Is the sophistication of such editions, as we have conceived them so far, the enemy of accessibility and user-friendliness? Are tablet apps a possible way to enhance the appeal of Digital Scholarly Editions? These are some of the questions that this paper will address.
and here are the slides we have used for the presentation

Comments? The presentation was very well received and we got plenty of nice feedback.
Early this week Miguel and I rehearsed the presentation within the DDH internal seminar and Raffaele Viglianti wrote a very nice summary of this event.

I will get back shortly on this topic, so stay tuned.

Friday, 18 November 2011

To Market! To Market! Academia in the Marketing Age

The 80's were supposed to be the decade of marketing and PR. Ah! Amateurs! They thought that doing a little bit of ads on the telly an on the newspapers was enough...

These days I seem to be spending most of my time organising marketing activities, advertising activities we can use for marketing, talking to people about marketing, writing advertising material, using all possible social networks to share all of the above and now blogging about it (meta-marketing?).

One of the most important duties of a Head of Teaching is, it appears, ensure that there are enough students around to justify the existence of a teaching programme and the job of colleagues. Quite scary, it you think of it. I'm not complaining, mind you, only reporting the fact and reflecting on it.

In the past we (Centre for Computing in the Humanities -- now Department of Digital Humanities -- at King's College London) have not been very good in letting people know what we were up to, in particular from a teaching point of view. We had thought (or so is my reading of the situation, as I was not involved in this thinkings) that our outstanding record of research would have been enough to attract students. We were wrong, so wrong. Students are not aware or not interested in research, as it happens, they are interested in knowing that there is some teaching going on and that they can gain a valuable qualification out of it. Funny that! So, now this trend has to change and here is the list of the initiatives I have undertaken these days:

  • New marketing printed materials is being developed.We will start with foldable leaflets, then we will see
  • A video will be produced early next year: I will need to have my hair done for the interview!
  • Three virtual open days will be organised for potential MAs and PhD students
  • An event on "Become a Digital Humanities PhD student" has been organised for the 1st of December
  • The PhD seminar has been moved from our gloomy Seminar Room into the Anatomy Theatre Museum and Opened up to the public. Next week Seminar will be the first of the new Era!
  • A lot of contacts are going on with King's Agents in Asia and in the US
  • Our 2011-12 Students have organised a Facebook group from where they broadcast all our initiatives
  • Social Media, in particular Facebook and Twitter are intensively used (by me, mostly) to spread the word about our activities
Will I be successful? Will our MA programme survive the wild cuts operated by the less illuminated cabinet Englad has seen since WWII? Stay tuned and you will have an answer!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

At the TEI Technical Council: Genetic Criticism Encoding

I have to say that today I feel very pleased with myself: the TEI Technical Council has just approved the proposal for encoding modern manuscripts and genetic criticism. This will be available for all TEI users with the next release of TEI (sometimes around Christmas).

I have worked on this material for a long time now, and all started with a paper I presented at the Digital Humanities Conference in Ann Arbor, in 2007 (attention! if you click on it, it will open a 26MB PDF, so you want to be cautious). The paper has been published later as a chapter of a book:
E. Pierazzo. 'Digital genetic editions: the encoding of time in manuscript transcription'. Text Editing, Print and the Digital World, Digital Research in the Arts and Humanities. M. Deegan and K. Sutherland (eds.), Ashgate: Aldershot, 2008, pp. 169–186.
After, within the MS SIG, a formal working group (chaired by Fotis Iannidis) was organised and then, after an exciting workshop held in Paris in 2009, a draft proposal was submitted to the Council in 2010 (it seems about right is that the Council is actually meeting in Paris, what a coincidence!).

In particular this proposal includes the possibility of transcribing the text page by page, line by line (instead of, say, chapter by chapter): I have discussed this, with Peter Stokes, in an article:

E. Pierazzo, P. A. Stokes. 'Putting the text back into context: a codicological approach to manuscript transcription'. Kodikologie und Paläographie im Digitalen Zeitalter 2 - Codicology and Palaeography in the Digital Age 2. M. Rehbein, T. Schaßan, P. Sahle (eds.) Norderstedt: Books on Demand, 2011, pp. 397-424, available from
The final approval for the proposal arrived after a night of readings and comments (see the thread in the Council mailing list) and some last discussions about grouping surfaces to encode leaves and in general multi-surfaced objects. But there we are: it is done.
This is of course not my work only, quite the contrary: if this model will be usable by real people in real projects it is because many have contributed generously. Here is the list of some of the people that contributed (I may be forgetting some... forgive me!): Fotis Iannidis, Malte Rehbein, Gregor Middell, Lou Burnard, Moritz Wissenbach, Gerrit Brüning and all the people in the Council: thank you all (and not only from me). Now I can't wait for the next release!

Oh Happy Day!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

On Blooks and other oddities: the DH abstracts' Season

Last week I was preparing a lecture for my course on Digital Publishing on the Web 2.0 and Scholarly Publishing (this alone deserved a post...). I ment to talk about the relationship between Blogs and formal publications and I remember the case of the Julie/Julia project, a blog that was first turned into a book, then to an Hollywood movie. While I was doing my online enquiries, to my horror, I found out that, apparently, a book that is based on a blog is called a Blook: not kidding and not irony, look at this, there is a Blooker prize, nothing less (my partner in life declared he feels sick every time I mention it, and I'm not that far off either).

Now, this happen to be the DH abstracts' Season: every year, around the end of October, in a striking coincidence with Halloween, a small army of DHers get in an extraordinary excitement, with emails firing across countries and time zones, all trying to write as many abstract as possible to submit to the forthcoming Digital Humanities conference. Again, my partner in life is no exception. It just happens that this year submission draws on some thoughts expressed on his project blog. It just occurred to us, than, it might be a case of a Blabstract, an abstract based on a blog. In case his blabstract get accepted, he might even end up and giving a Blaper (which, by the way, is not a new coinage, even if it has a slightly different meaning), not to mention the possibility of publishing a Blarticle (again, not a new word!) in the proceedings! Oh well...

The points I was trying to make are two:

  1. in the digital age, genres and media tend to cross-breed and melt one into another
  2. When one gets a linguistic creativity attack, the risk is not knowing where to stop...
Happy DH abstracts' Season!