Reflections on creating a Digital Scholarly Edition

The process of creating a Digital Scholarly Edition with a team of my fellow MA students began in September of 2014. In preparation for the project ahead, a series of lectures and workshops were delivered by An Foras Feasa at Maynooth University, many of which are discussed in an earlier post to this blog. In January of 2015 the project began in earnest when the practical work began on the source material.

SOURCE MATERIAL

The diary which was to become the subject of this Digital Scholarly Edition is that of Albert Woodman. A Dubliner who had worked as a clerk in the General Post Office, Woodman joined the British Army as part of the Royal Engineers ‘L’ Signal Company and left for France in 1915. In 1917 Woodman married Nellie May Valentine Preston while back in Dublin on leave, and in the coming months (January – November 1918) Woodman wrote in two diaries detailing his time at war, his observations on the conflict surrounding him, and also his thoughts of home and in particular his new wife.

THE CONTENT FUNDAMENTALS

On initial inspection the diary is quite a simple entity, a traditional diary consisting primarily of text in the form of handwritten daily entries and some newspaper clippings and other imagery inserted by Woodman. The most fundamental aspects were text and images, however breaking the diary down revealed a significant amount of work would need to be carried out in order to make this a Digital Scholarly Edition. The text would need to be carefully transcribed, edited and proofed; the diary pages were to be digitally scanned at the imaging laboratory in An Foras Feasa and then carefully re-mastered, cropped and edited for digital presentation. Yet still this was just the tip of the iceberg. Simply to present the diary as a digitised transcription or high quality image would be to ignore the value which can be brought to the object by the many digital tools and methods available in creating a Digital Scholarly Edition; as such a series of more technical and contextual approaches and methods were added to the project.

ADDED VALUE

One such aspect of which I played a part was in expanding the value of the text as presented in a digital scholarly edition. The text was to be complimented by adding information in the form of annotation to particular sets of non-standard or notable terms; while named entities such as personal names, places and organisations were also to be assigned this added value. As such the text would have to be carefully examined to identify the terms and named entities to be annotated. This work was also further extended by research for the annotation, stylistic conventions and decision making on the extent of annotation. Questions arose in regards to what should be annotated as well as how much information should be added so as to contextualise the information without distracting the reader from the meaning of the primary source, which were the entries as written by Albert Woodman.

This aspect alone was a significant task, yet there were several other elements that were identified and explored for possible inclusion as being able to expand the value of the diary as a digital edition. Supplementary articles were sourced and written by team members, audio and video interviews with experts in related fields were taken, digital mapping technologies were examined for possible inclusion and related literature such as instruction manuals on World War I Signaller instruction and methods were sourced and examined.

TECHNICAL

While these ‘added value’ approaches were significant and utilised many aspects of the teams skills in the humanities such as careful reading, textual analysis, editing, proofing, research, contextualisation and styling, the technical aspects of building and styling the digital product were equally substantial. The decisions on the technical writing and construction of the digital project are what the digital scholarly edition is built on, and these methods are what would enable the content and shape the format and presentation of the edition.

With this in mind further departments within the project were identified that would contain the nuts and bolts of the final digital product. Methods and styles of schema, encoding, wireframes and design layouts were integral to handling both the core information and any ‘added value’ content the project team hoped to include.

TEAMWORK & PLANNING

In reflecting upon my experience of the process in creating a digital scholarly edition, the above topics may be described as a summary of aspects which were noted and addressed in the overall construction of this digital scholarly edition.

  • Understanding of the Source
  • Fundamental Content
  • Added Value Content
  • Technical Construction

Yet in entering the final stages of this project it is the importance of proper functionality in a project team and clear planning that is perhaps an even more striking lesson of note taken from the process. To illustrate this I would recommend recent blog posts by two of my colleagues in this project regarding the importance of teamwork and project planning relating to this project of which I am very much in agreement.

The creation of a digital scholarly edition was a new venture for the members of this project team and it was one in which each team member stepped into unfamiliar academic disciplines, furthermore the unfamiliar nature of the project posed regular questions within the team as to method. Yet the early identification of core goals, the assignment of responsibility without segregation, good communication and clear planning provided a structure which allowed progress and decisions to be made with team consultation on a regular basis.

SUMMARY

The process of creating this digital scholarly edition has provided a valuable insight not just into practical humanities-based techniques and digital methodologies, but the processes of a functional team project. In reflecting on this process the four summarised points (Understanding of the Source, Fundamental Content, Added Value Content, Technical Construction) are vital to first assessing the challenge ahead. Yet it is also imperative that good teamwork and project planning exist so as to properly drive forward a (projected) successful project.

REFERENCES

Dabek Meredith. “Creating a Digital Scholarly Edition: Lessons from The Woodman Diary Project.” A Digital Education, 19 April 2015. Web. Accessed 20 April 2015.

Groome, Noel. “Primary Source Images & Editing: A Case for Caution!.” Noel Groome Blog, 12 December 2014. Web. Accessed 20 April 2015

McGarry, Shane. “Perils of Project Planning.” Getting Out of the Book and Into the Digital, 19 April 2015. Web. Accessed 20 April 2015.

Digital Humanities & Historic Estate Records: Project Update

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In a previous post to this blog a practical work module forming part of this students MA in Digital Humanities was introduced which seeks to integrate Digital Humanities methods with Historic Estate Records. This module is now entering its final stages which aim to incorporate what has been researched in the way of digital tools and methodologies with the data held in the Historic Estate Records.

In the process of undertaking this research a range of digital tools and methods along with several challenges have been encountered while seeking a strategy for bringing together the digital and historical record elements. In this follow up post, some of the digital tools and methods will be discussed, along with the challenges encountered in seeking to integrate the digital and historical data relating to this project.

IDENTIFYING THE INTEGRATION

As the first post relating to this practical module discussed, one of the primary goals of the project was the integration of data from an identified collection of Historic Estate Records (The Borrowes Collection) into a geo-referenced digital environment. For the supervising institution, Maynooth University Library, a selection of 17th, 18th and 19th century leases that included some hand drawn maps were of particular interest. In these maps the potential for digitally geo-referencing landholdings within the Historic Estate was considered; and the goal of identifying the land areas in a modern digital map using information from the leases became a focal point for the project.

In order to proceed with developing a strategy for the geo-referencing of these records, three phases of research began. The first phase involved analysis of any existing digital projects which were similar to the project at hand by which potential approaches could be identified. The second phase involved researching the tools and methodologies for the process of geo-referencing historical maps, records or data in a digital environment. The third and final phase would involve closer examination of the historical records in order to identify, compile and organise the historical and geographical data which could be integrated within the digital project.

A RELATED PROJECT

The first phase began by looking at similar projects which had geo-referenced historical data. Perhaps the most significant of those analysed was the Landed Estates Database, a digital project hosted by the Moore Institute at NUI Galway. This project is perhaps the most comprehensive digital resource relating to information on Historic Estate Records in Ireland, although its scope is limited to Connacht and Munster. In regards to geo-referencing, the Landed Estates Database project has identified the buildings associated with these estates as its focus. As such the project has identified and geo-referenced these buildings using location markers in a Google Map window, and in some instances included recent images of the buildings. This project does not use geo-referencing to identify the extent of the estates landholdings, but identifies those buildings historically significant to the running of the estates. The project adds to the historical understanding of these buildings and the landed estate by linking their historical function with their current state by including the more recent pictures in which many are in full or partial ruin, or performing very different functions in modern Ireland.

The examination of projects such as the Landed Estates Database allowed an understanding of what could be achieved by identifying a focus and set of data for geo-referencing and presenting it in a digital environment.

DIGITAL TOOLS & METHODS

The next phase involved researching the tools and methods for digitally manipulating, integrating and presenting the maps and data of the Borrowes Collection in a digital environment. With this in mind research began to identify tools and methods which would fulfil three important requirements.

  1. A method for aligning and overlaying a historical map with a modern digital mapping system.
  2. A method by which data beyond the historical map could be integrated in the digital version.
  3. A method by which further manipulation or customisation of the map could be implemented if deemed necessary for the final presentation of the digital resource.

To date several tools and methods have been identified which are capable of performing the above requirements, QGIS and MapWarper for integrating historical and digital mapping, GeoJSON for the integration of further data and Mapbox for further customisation of the digital map.

THE HISTORICAL DATA

The first two phases opened up the potential for what could be achieved by identifying a focus for the project and implementing a professional digital presentation of historical data using the appropriate tools and methods. The third and final phase involved the identification and compilation of data within the Borrowes Collection in order to facilitate this goal.

In the case of this project the nature of Historic Estate Records posed a significant challenge in that these materials can be very fragmented. The data and number of maps in the leases that allowed the landholdings to be adequately identified on a modern map has proved challenging. There is also the absence of an overall estate map or records such as rent books for the entire estate. As such this particular collection of records may not yield a sufficient data set to facilitate the complete geo-referencing of this particular landed estate; yet through this challenge the project has entailed a greater degree of research into further methods of understanding and identifying historical lease maps and land areas that a more complete collection of records would necessitate. This project has therefore made extensive use of digitally presented, historical mapping projects such as The Down Survey of Ireland and Griffiths Valuation in order to identify the lands referred to and illustrated in the records relating to this project.

SUMMARY

As this Digital Humanities project enters its final stages it remains on course to integrate digital tools and methods with historical data in order to present a strategy for enhancing Historic Estate Records. An interesting note however is the value which existing Digital Humanities projects such the Landed Estates Database, The Down Survey of Ireland and Griffiths Valuation have served in facilitating the understanding of the analogue source material in research for this Digital Humanities project, perhaps a sign in itself to the value of Digital Humanities projects.

REFERENCES

Groome, Noel. “Digital Humanities & Historic Estate Records.” Noel Groome Blog, 20 March 2015. Web. Accessed 09 April 2015

Prunty, Jacinta. Maps and map-making in local history (Dublin, 2004)

The Down Survey of Ireland. Web. Accessed 10 April 2015

Griffiths Valuation. Web. Accessed 10 April 2015

Landed Estates Database. Web. Accessed 09 April 2015