Editing Modernism in Canada


October 26, 2010

Diary of a Digital Edition: Part Two

It’s the Tuesday after the EMiC Conference on Editorial Problems, and I’m both happy and sad. Sad, because it’s over. Happy, because it was so wonderful to see everyone, share ideas, get inspired, and revel in the community spirit that so defines EMiC. Happy, because now that it’s over, I have time to think through the issues and ideas that came up this weekend and understand how they apply to my own project.

Firstly, I’ll point out the change in the title of this series of posts. The first post was titled “Diary of a Digital Archive;” this one is “Diary of a Digital Edition.” Why the change? Well, Zailig is why. As he so astutely differentiated on Saturday, what I’m doing with my work on Anne Wilkinson really is a digital edition. Yes, it is an edition that will include all of the archival source material that forms the basis of each poem, but that doesn’t make it an archive. For one, the scope of my project, and possibly copyright limitations, won’t allow me to digitally publish everything that’s in the Wilkinson fond—there’s one act of selection right there. For another, my edition will, like a scholarly print edition, make choices about what text to privilege as the clear-reading text and how these texts will be organized—another act of selection. Thirdly, my choices as editor will inform what I choose to privilege in explanatory notes and contextual essays, which is subjective and will have significant impact on a reader’s experience of Wilkinson’s work—another act of selection. Zailig—and please correct me if I’m wrong here, Zailig—seems to see our digital projects as being formed by three components, each of which builds on the other. The first is the archive: the physical papers that are held in a library or archive. The second is the database: the compiled digital files that are created from that archive. The third is the edition: the online organization, selection, and publication of those digital files to create a digital edition. So while my change in terminology may be small, its significance is big.

Another consideration that came out of this weekend was the incredible importance of project planning. So far, I can only see about two steps ahead: finishing the sorting of the unsorted material and writing the finding aid, and scanning all of the archival material I need. After hearing Emily talk about her genetic coding of Page, and Meagan talk about the second iteration of the Image Markup Tool, I sent Dean an email containing one very basic question: What do I do after the scanning is finished? Or, in an expanded form, how do I go about putting together a project plan that outlines everything I need to do, start to finish, so that I never get to a point where I don’t know what to do next? These are things that we’re going to be talking about at DEMiC in the digital editions course, and at the second week of the newly-revised TEMiC, but I guess I’m just a bit impatient. And as my plan starts coming together, I’ll be sure to share it with all of you.

To update you on what’s happening with the sorting of the unsorted archival material, my first day working on it was a bit of a surprise. I got to the library, prepared to be given specific instructions and warnings about not deviating from Fisher’s archival practice. What I actually got was a carrel, some file folders and boxes, and the instructions to have at it. Needless to say, I’ve asked for more specific instruction, and if you’ve got any reading about archiving that I might find useful, I’m taking suggestions.

I’ve also begun the organizational framework that I need to have in place before I start scanning (which I’m hoping to do in November). As Anne Dondertman at Fisher warned me in our first meeting, it’s essential to have a strong organizing and file-naming system in place before you start scanning, so that you save yourself a logistical headache later on. I’ve taken this to heart and come up with a spreadsheet that I’m going to use to keep track of my files.

This spreadsheet allows me to give each file a unique identifier, and includes all of the data I should need to keep track of and organize each file. I’m sure there are fields I haven’t though of yet, but I can easily add them later. The ID is unique for each file and tells me three things (taking the first entry as our example): which poem it is (01—the first poem in Wilkinson’s first collection, “Summer Acres”), which version of the poem it is (01—the version published in Counterpoint to Sleep, which Dean takes as his copy text in his edition of Wilkinson’s complete poems), and which file type it is (01—the image file; 02 indicates a transcribed file). I’ve also given each file a group ID, so that I can quickly visually distinguish all versions of a poem. I’ve also indicated which published edition the poem is from, if it’s from Wilkinson’s notebooks, or if it was published only in a periodical, and the location of the file in the archive. I’ve also indicated who has done the transcription (it’s probably always going to be me, but it’s better safe than sorry to keep track of this information), the location of the actual file (which will be somewhere both on my computer’s hard drive and on one or even two of my backup hard drives; I’ll hyperlink this information so that I can call up the files right from the spreadsheet), and keywords that I can use to search for poems. I think I’m also going to try to figure out a way provide information about each poem’s links with other parts of Wilkinson’s papers, like her letters and journals. This will be useful when it comes time for cross-referencing and writing explanatory notes.

One question that I posed at the end of my last post seems to have answered itself—how will I limit what I choose to include in my edition? As of right now, I’ve decided just to deal with the poems. It is a bounded and not-too-huge body of work to work with (there are 148 poems, most with multiple draft and published versions), and working on the poems, which I’m already really familiar with, will give me the experience I need to move on to other less-known aspects of Wilkinson’s work, like some exciting undiscovered writing that I’ve found in those unsorted boxes, and one day her letters and journals.

More importantly, this is  a project that (I think) I can reasonably complete within the time frame of my doctorate. The issue of getting credit for unfinished work, and the institutional pressures to have complete and peer-reviewed publications on your CV for hiring and tenure, was a recurring issue this weekend. My way of working with and around this is to artificially delimit the bounds of my work so that I have something “complete” to show that is not in fact complete. The digital edition of Wilkinson’s poems is just one part of the larger edition of her complete works that I have planned, but I’ll frame it as a discrete entity for CV purposes. It would be nice if we didn’t have to do this kind of “creative accounting,” but hopefully continued discussion and critique of the issue (like that we engaged in this weekend) will start shifting what the institution values and how they (and we) view our work.

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