Editing Modernism in Canada


April 22, 2013

James Neufeld and the Davies Diaries Project

James Neufeld, Professor Emeritus in the Department of English at Trent University and EMiC co-applicant, is editor in chief of the digital edition of the diaries of Robertson Davies — the Davies Diaries. Davies, a prominent Canadian novelist and man of letters, was a prolific writer. Dating from 1935 to 1995, the entries — which Davies divided into categories such as Personal Diaries, Theatre Diaries, Travel Diaries, Massey College Diaries, and day books — contain approximately three million words.

The Davies Diaries project has been included in the manuscript digitization project being jointly undertaken by EMiC and Library and Archives Canada (LAC). This means that the final edition will include digitized images of every page of the diaries, linked to the LAC catalogue. Although Neufeld and the team are still in the initial phases of the project, they have already completed considerable preparatory work. In particular, they have developed the TEI and XSLT for the project, and have generated sample pages in HTML. Currently, them team is transcribing and coding all diary files that have not yet been transcribed, and also proofreading and coding computer files of transcriptions that have already been done by Davies’s daughter and literary executor. Once these two tasks are completed, all the diaries will have been transcribed, proofed and coded, ready for editing for online presentation.

Neufeld and the team have faced several issues in their work so far. A particular challenge has been annotating Davies’s numerous and sometimes cryptic historical, cultural, and biographical allusions. Another challenge the team faces centres on how to present the diaries as chronologically continuous while also preserving Davies’s division into separate volumes and separate categories. On the technical side, Neufeld’s team are developing a timeline and an interface for the edition, both of which will be done in conjunction with work on the Digital Page currently in progress at the Modernist Commons. The team is continuing to explore the possibilities and requirements of TEI and XSLT, which will be used in the final online presentation of the diaries.

For Neufeld, while the breadth of Davies’s interests and of his circle of acquaintance provides a challenge to anyone who presumes to annotate this material, it also stands testament to the broad social and historical value of these documents. Davies himself touched on this idea when he said, “my diaries are the stuff of which social history is made, and I cannot imagine that Canada has an embarrassment of such material.”

Neufeld hopes to interest Canadian cultural institutions — such as the Shaw Festival and the Stratford Shakespearean Festival — in participating in the online presentation of the diaries through links from their archival websites to relevant passages in the diaries. This seems a logical step as the Davies Diaries project has recently received from the Davies estate Davies’s collection of his theatre programs, reaching back to 1938.

Neufeld sees the possibilities for hyperlink material — textual, graphic, audio and video — in the final edition as both endless and endlessly exciting. A considerable body of this material is included in the Davies fond at LAC, and will be incorporated into the digital edition. For now, Neufeld and the team are focussed on the next steps of the project, one of which is the preparation of applications for major funding.

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