The process of creating a Digital Scholarly Edition (Aff606a)

As long time readers of this blog will know I, along with my classmates, am engaged in the development of a digital scholarly edition, a digital edition of the diary of Albert Woodman, a signaler with the Royal Engineers stationed on the Western Front. The purpose of this blog post is to consider and discuss the creation process of this digital scholarly edition or DSE. Having worked on the project since October, the process that we followed in adapting Woodman’s diaries for the digital age is an apt one to analyse.

As is to be expected, planning could be described as the most integral and vital stage of the project. Planning for the Woodman Diary began as early as October wherein the team considered similar projects; the Diary of Mary Martin and the diary of Dorothy Price respectively. The team felt it important to analyse the successes and shortcomings of multiple digital editions and how to adapt said strengths and avoid what were seen as common pitfalls. Careful planning and the attentive leadership of our project manager ensured that the project kept on top of its deadlines. Coordination between the team was essential, to this end the team utilised the project management tool JIRA. Through JIRA our team were able to appoint tasks, subtasks, announce project sprints and close them off. It had a simple, yet psychological, effect on the team as we strived to finish out our sprints in before deadlines. JIRA, combined with the creation of a Gantt chart ensured that our goals, deadlines, predicted outcome and backup plans were well documented and disseminated between the team. Everyone knew the role that they had to play. It really cannot be stressed enough how important the planning process is to the success of the project.

Following on from this, the team began to dissolve into their various roles. For example, I took upon the role of content manager for the Diary, a role wherein I was (as the name suggests) largely responsible for the content of the site. Hand in hand with our ‘official’ tasks was an ever growing list of further responsibilities, such as my own coordination with the press and the post processing of the diary scans. This expanding series of tasks indicates the nebulous nature of the project that despite our plans, scope creep is a likely issue to affect the creation of a digital edition.

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An example of an unedited diary scan along side an edited version.

Creating a DSE requires an understanding and appreciation of the analogue object in question. When planning the project, one must consider the envisaged outcome of said edition; will the project be faithful to the source material by utilising diplomatic and documentary edits? The aforementioned examples, the Diary of Mary Martin and the diary of Dorothy Price, were documentary in their approach; the design of their sites mirrored the stylistic handwriting of the analogue editions with misspellings, line breaks and page breaks emulated faithfully. With the Woodman Diary, it was decided to follow the documentary approach made with these editions. Stylistically, we felt it appropriate to use Woodman’s own handwriting for the design of our site, tying the digital and analogue together in both design and functionality. With the design questions answered, the issue facing the team was the encoding of the diary. The issue of encoding was discussed in an earlier blogpost, available here, but it goes without saying that this was the most strenuous task to date. While this blogpost is not concerned with the nature of encoding, it goes without saying that in producing a digital edition the encoding is the most important task facing a developer. With regards to the Woodman diary, some of the most pressing issues were linked to the artefact’s place in time. Woodman’s writings reflect a specific time and place, as such annotating his comments and abbreviations required a substantial amount of research into the First World War, the final year of the war in particular.

The issue of annotating the diary was considered in the planning stage when it was necessary to consider who the project’s intended audience would be. Assuming it to be the general public, a degree of familiarity with the Great War was to be expected (as we are currently in the midst of the centenary commemorations). Thus, specific military terms and place names which may not seem, at least to the intended reader, were annotated to help deliver context to Albert’s writings. Woodman’s unique position in the war as a signaler delivers a much different context to the war. Positioned behind the lines in a nexus of mail, telecommunications and troop movements, Albert is well informed about events unfolding across the world stage. With such a unique perspective on the Great War, we felt it necessary to do Woodman’s story justice, it was obvious that a documentary approach was the one best suited for the project.

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The logo of the site is actually Woodman’s own handwriting.

As I type this post the project has entered its final phase. The design of the site (visible in this post) is finalised, as are the annotations and the TEI encoding. Facing the team now are the final edits of the additional, supplementary and contextual, material and coordination with the media. That the team has reached this point without much issue is a testament to the degree of planning and management conducted in the early months of the project. As repeated throughout this post, having worked on the creation of a DSE for several months, the importance of planning when creating a DSE is essential to its success.

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The WIP Woodman Diary site.

Further Reading:

Duffin, Brendan. Digital Scholarly Editions (2014) Web, available at http://www.library.nuigalway.ie/researchsupport/digitisationcentre/digitisingtosupportscholarship/digitalscholarlyeditions/

The Diary of Mary Martin (2014) Online, available at http://dh.tcd.ie/martindiary/

The Diary of Dorothy Price (2013) Online, available at http://dh.tcd.ie/pricediary/about-dorothy-price-her-family/about-dorothy-price/

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