Editing Modernism in Canada


February 26, 2013

Katie Tanigawa and Nostromo

As a doctoral Research Assistant for Stephen Ross and the Modernist Versions Project at the University of Victoria, Katie Tanigawa is neck-deep in Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo. Katie is versioning two witnesses of Nostromo — the 1904 T. P.’s Weekly serial edition and the 1904 Harper & Brothers edition — with the goal of using digital technology to gain insights into the text. In particular, Katie is looking for variants in the naming of central characters in the two versions.

At this point in her project, Katie is in the process of completing markup of Part 3 of the text. She is also using Mandala and Juxta to reveal meaningful differences related to her research interests — namely, the variants in character names and the location of the variants within the two versions of the text. Katie’s work so far has led her to wonder how a Rich Prospect Browsing Interface (RPBI) like Mandala can best be used in tandem with markup to reveal meaningful connections within a single text, as well as differences between multiple witness texts.

Many of the challenges Katie faces with this project centre on the ethics of markup as a critical practice. She is very aware that structural markup and semantic markup serve both performative and descriptive purposes, and that the decisions she makes in marking up the text are interpretive. Through her process, Katie has come to question who counts as a character and what counts as a place. Further, she must decide whether to use the <persName> tag, which is used to indicate a proper name (i.e. “Barack Obama”), or the <rs> (referencing string) tag, which is used to indicate a general-purpose name or character epithet (i.e. “the president”). These distinctions can be highly insightful, as they indicate relationships between characters, and also social and political hierarchies within the text.

Another challenge Katie continues to encounter in her work on Nostromo is workflow. One of her goals is to establish a versioning method that allows for both broad inquiry and specific, research-oriented inquiry, and her workflow is a key factor in determining that method. This has led Katie to question the interoperability and flexibility of this type of research-specific semantic markup.

Katie’s work on Nostromo has raised several questions about the role of digital or computational approaches in enabling critical insights into modernist texts — which is the central mission of the Modernist Versions Project — and as her work progresses, she will be well positioned to begin to answer those questions.

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