DSE Blog Post: Creating a DSE

At the beginning of the Masters course in Digital Humanities, I enrolled in Digital Scholarly Editions. At that early stage I was unsure as to its full meaning, however as the year has continued, I have grown more comfortable with the term. The first semester focused primarily on the idea of Digital Scholarly Editions and their worth, as well as their contribution to academia and the technologies involved. Thankfully, defining Digital Scholarly Editions is an easier task than defining Digital Humanities as a whole. A technical description of Digital Scholarly Editions as hierarchy ordered down from a text, involving a number of digital apparatuses (http://www.academia.edu/214152/Theorizing_the_Digital_Scholarly_Edition). After I began the Digital Scholarly Edition, the above definition became clearer and more understandable. The most interesting part of the module began in the second semester. The class was arranged into a team involved in the creation of a Digital Scholarly Edition on the war diaries of Albert Woodman, a signaler in World War 1. The task seemed daunting at first; this blog post will briefly discuss the process over the last four month.
The team were fortunate to have an experienced team manager in Shane McGarry. At a very early stage, he ensured that we all knew our roles and objectives, constantly kept in touch and assisted in completing tasks using software management tools, which proved helpful. Meetings were held weekly which ensured that the whole team understood the project as a whole. The involvement of a good team manager is a must have when creating a DSE owing to the wide range of abilities needed for successful completion of the project. A team of researchers may all be able to delegate tasks successfully; and software developers would all have experience in their field. However, the production of this DSE brought together people from varying fields. Students of history, literature, computer science and design were brought together. The manager was able to delegate particular tasks to the team members that were suited to their individual strengths while also affording them opportunities for the acquisition of further knowledge. The module allowed for students previously inexperienced with XML encoding to encode a full month of the diary, in some cases even more.
The transformation of print material to a digital medium is one which takes an incredible amount of work. The diaries themselves had to be photographed to a high standard. Transcriptions had to be checked and edited to ensure that encoding could take place at a later date. This is another important point not mentioned as of yet, the system works in successive forms. An objective must be completed before the next stage can be tackled. The use of successive forms was retained throughout the encoding stages whereby transcriptions, named entities and annotations had to be completed before the encoding could be fully finished.
My main objectives, named entities, required a lot of work at the early stages of the project. At the beginning I had to decide upon the material to be included in named entities. The general rule is to include persons, places and organisations. However, certain projects include temporal settings such as times of the day. I deemed this to be unnecessary unless we want to map his travels very precisely, which ended up being overly ambitious for the scope of the project. The diary had been transcribed into two separate word documents, Wilson and Butterfly as per his own diaries. The original work took place on these documents. I devised my own work plan regarding the material. I read through the documents and inserted the tags, ‘place’, ‘name’ or ‘organisation’ after any key terms. A quick search in the document handler allowed me to quickly access the material. At this point I created a spreadsheet to ensure efficient storage of the relevant data.
The creation of a digital scholarly edition allows for a lot of extra material. It is this material which seems the most interesting and exciting at the beginning of any project. As a result, the need to set boundaries is important. The team would have liked to complete as much as possible although the timeframe did not allow for this. The use of digital mapping was a very interesting tool. Albert Woodman included maps of the areas in which he was stationed and we were able to map these onto modern day maps. It is this kind of material which is missing from print editions. The extra information surrounding the project allows for a greater context and offers a certain amount of personal enjoyment for a user. The idea of the Digital Scholarly Edition is to sufficiently captivate the user so that they will use the diary to the best of its potential. I believe supplementary material is one of the most important facets when stimulating user interest.
The description of the named entities began after compiling was complete. This was a process which varied in length between the different sections involved. Places and organisations proved to be the easier sections. Names offered up a lot of discussion during meetings and took time to fully research. The project needed a strong foundation, as it was to be placed online. Historians are often critical of online sources in relation to academia. As a result, assurances had to be made that a full bibliographical list was kept of the main sources which were used during the project.
In conclusion, although the project is not fully completed as of yet, it has the structure to be a very successful project. The team has worked together using knowledge from varying fields to ensure a well rounded Digital Scholarly Edition. As any project nears completion, it is usual to contemplate on improvements that might have been made. The Digital Scholarly Edition of Albert Woodman’s diaries will be completed within the time frame we set out, but I think everyone in the project would have approached the project differently if given more time. The additional material which has been mentioned previously in the blog post is one of these aspects. The opportunity to add even more material surrounding the diary would have been great. However, time constraints and workloads of the MA and PhD courses kept us from breaching the boundaries of safe optimism.

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