Editing Modernism in Canada


May 5, 2013

Zailig Pollock and the Digital Page

Zailig Pollock, Professor in the Department of English Literature at Trent University, is the principal investigator, and — alongside Dean Irvine and Sandra Djwa — one of the general editors of the Digital Page, an online digital edition of the Collected Works of P.K. Page to be housed on the Modernist Commons. The project is supported by SSHRC, and by EMiC, in the form of research assistantships and a PhD stipend, as well as through funding for conferences and DHSI. Trent University has also provided space and in-kind funding as part of its role as a partner institution.

Not unlike P.K. Page herself, the Digital Page is complex and multi-faceted. Right now, the team is working on the first half of the project, which includes designing an interface for the edition, which will serve as a template for other EMiC-affiliated editions; transcribing and encoding material for the first volumes of the edition to appear (poetry, Brazilian Journal, Mexican Journal, Visual Art); and beginning the process of identifying, acquiring, transcribing, and encoding material for the correspondence volume, which will be the last of the series to actually appear.

So far, Zailig has developed TEI and XSLT for encoding poetry and prose, and for generating a variety of HTML files for such things as representation of manuscript revisions, clean reading text, list of emendations, list of regularizations. He has focussed especially on the representation of complex revisions — some of the pages he deals with have gone through half-a-dozen or more stages of revision, sometimes over an extended period of time. Zailig is quite satisfied with the TEI/XSLT aspect of the project, which has advanced to the point that he is able to produce HTML files that do whatever he wants them to do.

The main challenge Zailig has faced is a lack of technical expertise — both his own lack, and the lack at Trent University in general. Because no one editor has the all of the expertise required to produce a digital edition, collaboration is essential. Without the support of EMiC, this project would be much more difficult, perhaps impossible. In terms of interface design, Zailig is working with the Modernist Commons to develop an interface for the Digital Page which will include such things as a timeline to serve as the spine of the edition linking all of Page’s written and visual work and events of her life, collations, fully integrated text and images, and textual apparatus, among other things. There are three other aspects of the edition which are under way but not yet settled: text/image interface, collation tools, and a search engine. For all of these, Zailig is depending on the developers at the Modernist Commons.

Zailig’s main overall concern is that he is the only EMiC-affiliated editor working with XSLT, even though TEI files cannot be integrated into a digital edition without XSLT. Although Zailig took the XSLT course at DHSI, he found it to be very challenging for someone without a background in programming. Further, the course did not really focus on the needs of editors, who are never going to master the enormous complexity of XSLT as a whole, but who need to be familiar enough with it to do basic coding and to discuss more complex needs intelligently with a developer. To encourage a basic and adequate familiarity with XSLT rather than actual expertise, Zailig hopes to offer a course on XSLT for EMiC with his son, who is an expert in XSLT.

Zailig is also representing EMiC in a joint project with Library and Archives Canada (LAC) to digitize Canadian modernist literary manuscripts in their collection. In addition to Page, the first phase of digitization will include  Robertson Davies (diaries), F.R. Scott, Louis Dudek, and Elizabeth Smart.

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