Thursday, 27 September 2012

Sabbatical with Question Marks and Wodwo

I am back from my sabbatical term, which I liked so much that it is rather difficult to get back on the teaching track. Not that this was an ideal sabbatical, because being a member and a chair of a variety of committees at my university, I could not leave behind all the duties I have, and these distracted me from pure research and writing to some extant. Nevertheless, even with this limitation I just loved to be free from teaching responsibilities to be able to read and learn. Also I wrote as much as I could, for the record and for my bosses who may read this post, I finalized a volume of essays on Tudor cultural issues, an article on a fascinating early modern book, started another one on the decorated initials in the early prints of Hamlet and some blog posts on the critical assessment of digital textabases of Shakespeare.  Also I could attend some conferences in Sevilla, in Budapest, in Edinburgh and at our university, and these conferences occasioned meeting good scholarly friends, and making some new friends from the UK, through the US to the Czech Republic. The climax of the sabbatical was the month I could spend at the Nanovic Institute, University of Notre Dame, a place ideal for the scholarly hermit.

Even though I had such ideal circumstances I did not achieve everything I intended. Before the sabbatical I prepared for a really beneficial leave during which I intended to complete, or at least draft a monograph on the 21st-century digital reception of Shakespeare. First and foremost I read and considered when preparing for the term whatever has been written about a sabbatical at ProfHacker. I also made plans, e.g. how many words are to be written every day so as to achieve the desired objective. And actually I think I could keep to that and yet not even the first draft of the volume has been completed. So in a word, planning was not enough. Throughout the leave I wrote for immediate requests, for coming conferences, did editing, because these were obligations I could not postpone. Although all or most of these activities formed steps towards the writing of the volume, reconsiderations of the general topic from a variety of angles, for a variety of purposes and audiences and all these did good to the future volume but were and are not identical with the generation of pages for the book itself. This is so even if the pages written in English and Hungarian will all be part of the book in the long run. Thus, from the perspective of the ultimate aim of the sabbatical, it turned out to be something less successful.

Beyond the successful and the disappointing tangible outcomes of the sabbatical leave there was a more complex result as well, which can hardly be placed on the measurable hierarchical scale. This complex outcome was the result of having the time and opportunity to step back from the hurly-burly of the works and days of everyday life. This step occasioned thoughts to surface, thoughts that were always lingering at the back of my mind. These thoughts have been formed in the Wodwoian manner: “What am I?” or “What am I doing here..?”, which questions boil down to the general problem with English Studies, or to doing research in my particular field, i.e. Renaissance English Studies. Most of the time I write and publish in English, most of the time I read papers at conferences in English. So I can hardly reach out to Hungarian people who do not take the trouble to read in English (and why would they?). Research in this field as far as my experiences with funding are concerned is not encouraged because of limitations in financial resources—whether it is an individual grant or one for a team the result was the same in the last five years. I or we received top grades, 90-100% in project evaluations, and finally our project was turned down, and others focusing on Hungarian literature won. This is all understandable, because ultimately we are in Hungary, there are poor financial resources, and taxpayers’ money should end up in projects that are relevant for more people in Hungary.

“What am I, then?” OK, my research is not marketable in Hungary, but then the Anglo-American world should be fine. And it is so, but it is precisely the sabbatical, and the trip to the University of Notre Dame, that taught me that it is very difficult to play on the same field as my American or British colleagues. Not that they (you) are not kind and friendly enough, far from it, but rather that because of the limited access to sources—primary and secondary as well—sometimes I felt that the paradigms we were caught up in are not necessarily identical. More precisely what is natural to them (to you), and seems to be part of the everyday discourse on Renaissance or early Early Modern phenomena sounds far from natural to me. And this is so even though I use twitter and I read blogs and search for books that they (you) published recently. What is the most tragic about this is that this gap becomes only visible when there is time to read, reflect and meet people (you) in person. When functioning as a screw in the large machine of the Hungarian higher education I don’t even notice this distance.

The next Wodwoian question is “what am I [to do], then?” A likely response may be that my next move could be the comfortable turn of the screw, i.e. accepting that the fact of life is some sort of isolation until the next sabbatical. Or the other solution is this: I try to do my best to obtain grants for a month visit to places either in the UK, or in the US where I can efficiently work. One month must be sufficient for writing up an article that might be published, if I go to the target place well-versed in the topic with some background research and a 0.2 version of the paper. At least this seems to have worked during my visit to the University of Notre Dame. [And another fruit of this last visit to ND was that my family could survive without me nicely enough. First and foremost because my children are getting more and more mature (between 10 and 18), so they do not miss me so much—and there is skype and google talk to keep in touch. And my wife is just hyper-understanding—how lucky I am!] So, "I’ll go on looking…."

Monday, 23 April 2012

Digital Shakespeares 5 and HBWS12

This is the final post in the series exploring the databases containing Shakespearean texts. From Stoppard I have learned that “there is an art in delay.” In this series of posts dealing with digital databases of Shakespearean texts I have constantly postponed revealing the collection of these databases. I have done this through introducing the topic and then for four posts I posted a list of criteria that I think helps to assess digital databases. Originally I thought it would be enough to post the sixteen questions I found relevant in meditating about databases, but then realized that these criteria formulated as questions without explanation would be less beneficial, so I pasted a paragraph-long explanation to each of the questions. Last week having finished the posting of these questions, I had to admit that the delay is not righteous any longer. So this time, I should present the list of databases on the one hand.

On the other hand this post is not just a post directing attention to databases that might come in handy when doing some research on Shakespeare, but also a contribution to another project, i.e. the celebration of Shakespeare’s 448th birthday. The Happy Birthday Shakespeare website can be found here. This is not the first time that a blog post functions as a gift to the long dead and still living Bard. Last year I wrote up a post in the same project about the given theme: “How did Shakespeare shape my life, my intellectual life?” That said it may be clear that this year if I intend to take part in this festive event again, I cannot retell the same story. Of course, hermeneutics would remind me that a year later—having changed (hopefully for the best)—the same story would not, could not be the same, yet I think this year I should do something else. So this year, as I guess Shakespeare would be interested in what happened to his texts, I present him and anybody else interested in this, the list of databases that contain Shakespeare’s texts.

So this time, both as a gift and a conclusion to my previous posts I am going to lists databases, not unexpectedly in an indirect way, making the experience interactive. There is a simple way for whoever is interested in this list, as following the link to my Delicious stack, “Databases of Shakespearean texts” one may well go to the list directly, and check out the items immediately without reading the rest of this post. Those, however, who would like to stay here for longer, I shall give some explanation on how these otherwise different types of databases can be classified as databases. I am quite sure that a lot of databases have been left out, but as I promised it in the introductory post, I have only dealt with databases that have some either institutional basis, or scholarly references or both.

There are seven ways the individual databases can be classified. Some of the databases can be downloaded, or at least the text analysis software, such as WordHoard or WordCruncher, the rest of the databases can be used via a web browser. Most of the databases are dedicated to Shakespeare studies, while two of them are rather text analysis tools demonstrating their power on the Shakespearean corpus, i.e. WordCruncher and Wolfram|Alpha. Most of the databases are Open Access but some are massively behind the pay-wall, such as Gale Catalog: The Shakespeare Collection, XMAS, and one project though not behind the pay-wall yet it needs a password which may or may not be granted is The Shakespeare Electronic Archive. Most of the databases are dedicated to Shakespeare, while there are two that include texts by Shakespeare and many others as well: Project Gutenberg, The Internet Archive. Most of the databases include a text analysis tool, but there are a few that only contain digital texts, such as The Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, the Shakespeare Quartos Archive, the Shakespeare in Quarto, etc. Some of the databases deploy either an unreliable corpus or a somewhat questionable one from a strictly philological point of view, while some others use either the digital versions of reliable early prints (Shakespeare Quartos, Shakespeare in Quarto), or even modern critical editions (Internet Shakespeare Editions, The Shakespeare Electronic Archive). Most of the databases are device independent, while there is at least one that has been built only for the iPad: Shakespeare's The Tempest for iPad.

The lines of this classification create a rather complicated matrix upon which the individual databases can be located. This complexity is both an advantage and a disadvantage. It is an advantage as it demonstrates the interest in Shakespeare in the digital space, that scholars use digital technology in studying and thus representing the Bard’s texts in the 21st century in a great number of ways and modes. But this variety also demonstrates that enthusiasm towards digital scholarship is also dispersed, funds are scattered instead of uniting forces and resources to create a database that would be equally useful and beneficial for a variety of scholarly approaches, number of levels of interest from the scholarly to the general. Do you like this, Will? Anyway, I wish you a happy birthday in the heavenly theatre with this multifocal symphony of textual databases.

PS. The advantage of checking my Delicious stack is that it may well be improved in the long run. I can imagine, however, that somebody would like to see the list here as well, so here it is:

3.      Hamlet Works
4.      Internet Archive
6.      MONK Project
8.      Open Shakespeare
26.  WordCruncher
27.  Wordhoard
28.  XMAS 3.1

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Digital Shakespeares: Features of a Database 4

This post is number five in the series of posts dealing with working out a possible methodology for assessing and accounting for databases containing Shakespearean texts. After an introductory post four other ones have been dedicated to listing and explaining, contextualizing questions that might come in handy when pondering about these databases. So far areas of basic facts, transparency and flexibility were covered in the first three posts, and now, as I have promised I am going to meditate and present questions pertaining to what I would like to term as “interdisciplinary openness.”

Most of the databases reduce texts to their linguistic aspect. Queries focus on words, strings of words, linguistic units, grammatical units and verbal statistics. They can also visualize tendencies, create diagrams in a variety of formats about the linguistic construction of the text. All this is fine, as most of the time when reading a Shakespearean play the reader will be interested in the ways a text communicates its layers of meaning through verbal means. There has been, however, a tendency in scholarly circles claiming in a great number of ways that a text does not only reveal layers of meaning via its linguistic construction but that meaning is also a social construct embedded in the material ways a text functions in the world.  So, scholars claim that bibliographical data from the date of publication to publisher, from the typeset to the type of paper, from decoration to page size play their part in the process of constituting meaning. Here, a long list of authors, theoretical and pragmatic may be presented from David Scott Kastan to John N. King, from Woudhuysen to McGann, from Shillingsburg to Hayles, from Marshall McLuhan to Andrew Murphy to mention a few authorities in the field. It is beneficial if a database allows for research other than ones pertaining to the linguistic aspect. The next three questions, thus, explore ways in which a database may cater for interests in aspects other than the linguistic one.

  1. Format of the digital text (txt, xml, jpg, tiff etc.)

Interdisciplinary research presupposes the complexity of possible questions to be asked, and this complexity can only be provided through presenting the texts in a variety of formats. Sometimes the best choice is to have a rather unmarked list of words, e.g. in a txt file, this is sufficient and even more fruitful for some queries, especially when it is not clear how the file is read by a text analysis tool. For another set of questions encoding is needed, say for tokenised or lemmatised queries, other times it is the best if there are images only that may be analyzed in ways unimaginable before. It is the format of the file that enables these differing approaches, so it is fine if the same text is accessible in a variety of formats.

  1. Is it the linguistic, digital or bibliographic aspect that is emphasized?
The linguistic aspect refers to the language, linguistic elements of the digital text. The bibliographical aspect refers to the material aspect, but in this very case, this does not define the digital text, as  digital, but as an outcome of the visual aspect of some original printed material. The digital aspect refers to the computational coding of a text that enables the visual aspect and also the searchable quality of these texts. It is clear that builders of databases have to decide on what they intend to achieve. Unfortunately there is no such database that would/could lay equal emphasis on every aspect of a digital text. Databases vary among paying special attention to the text as a linguistic unit, or to the text as a deeply encoded entity that allows for complex and intelligent queries, or to aspects that are relevant for the historian of the book.

  1. Which aspect of the text is open to queries?
If it is possible to present the text in a variety of formats, thus a variety of disciplinary approaches may be occasioned within the database. If this is so, it is also relevant which aspect of the text is open to queries, as it is a query that makes computer enabled research fruitful. It is the query that makes research faster and more accurate, so it is great if the image file is there that enables research related to the history of the book, but if this aspect of the text is not open to queries, computation is like a disabled giant: it is there but the scholar cannot make use of the power of computer technology. The Text Encoding Initiative enables marking up a text for queries about the visual aspect of a work, and there are even free image mark-up tools, so technologically it is not impossible to prepare a database in which the bibliographical code is open to queries.

* * *

This time, thus, we have seen the remaining three criteria for assessing a database. These questions covered practically an area that I have labeled as “interdisciplinary openness.” The interdisciplinarity of a database manifests itself in the variety of formats of the files, the types of queries that a user may conduct. Naturally, these criteria may or may not be true for each and every database and can only be used as a means of orientation. So neither these three criteria nor the other thirteen should be thought of as complete and compelling ones, but rather as means to be able to discuss critically a database or databases. What follows form this is that a positive assessment does not necessarily mean that one can give the highest possible scores for each and every criterion, as it can easily happen that a database can fruitfully be used even though reviewing it with the help of the above sixteen criteria should suggest that the database is less good. Assessment at its best relies on criteria relevant to the individual database. Having thus finished the meditation about the criteria of assessment, next time I shall start a new series of posts exploring databases one by one.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Digital Shakespeares: Features of a Database 3

This is the last but one post in the series “Digital Shakespeares: Features of a Database. The previous posts presented and explained the first eight questions of the list that I used when assessing databases containing Shakespeare’s texts. The first eight questions explored some basic facts and the documentation of the database. This time the focus will be on another aspect that I label as flexibility. This is an important aspect, as it makes a database more usable if it can be bent to the researchers’ expectations and interests. Before this larger area of questions there are two extra ones that pertain to the ease of the usage of a database.

  •  9.  Is the interface clear and logical?

    The question about whether the interface is clear and logical does not invite an answer in a form of a subjective aesthetic judgement, but rather reflection about the pragmatic aspect of the interface. What I am interested in here is whether one could without much thinking and many mistaken steps navigate from one action to another with relative ease. Nevertheless, I am aware that this feature of a database is a rather subjective one, as something that seems illogical and complicated for one user may well be straightforward and simple for another. Yet hopefully the response to this question will not reflect on the interface in isolation, but will keep an eye on other databases and even other applications, and then subjectivity can be avoided via experience and comparison.

    1. Is it possible to create a researchers room?
    A researcher “room” is a handy opportunity if the database is an online one. It seems handy if one can stop working whenever it is necessary without losing the findings of the then current research, and can continue working when it is possible again. This feature is also important as this may be the cyber-spatial “room” where one may share the results with colleagues and may expect some reaction from them to her/his work. A researcher “room” can be a place that anybody can, may customize to her/his expectations, work-method and needs, can leave notes and reflections on where one is in the process of research.

    The theoretical problem that is addressed by the following questions seems to be the following. A database most of the time is built for one type of research, which is no problem as how can one foresee what other researchers would like to do with a particular database. One may well argue that the virtue of a database is that it does what it promises in the best way, and I agree with this argument. An equally powerful claim could be, however, that if a database is tuned for only one type of research, naturally the one that best suits the builder, then why and how could it be used by other researchers with either slightly, or completely different purposes? So in this Kantian or Pyrrhonian situation, where there are two equally powerful claims in opposition, I would like to vote for some sort of a flexibility providing more opportunities than the ones envisioned by the builders. I can imagine that a database that can be adapted to a variety of purposes will be the one that will attract researchers’ attention.

    1. Can the digital text be downloaded?
    Sometimes it seems beneficial to be able to download the text that one works with. This adds to the usability of a database, as it can easily happen that the analytical tools of a database do not harmonize completely with the needs of a researcher. It is then beneficial if the text, or texts can be downloaded and fed into another search engine. This may well be the case with absolutely cleansed texts to be used with independent text analysis tools, or with deeply marked-up texts, when the mark-up is deeper than what the facilities of the database allow to explore. In this latter case it is also possible that queries tuned for specific aspects can be executed elsewhere than within the database.

    1. Can the results of the query be saved, downloaded?
    It may well be fruitful if the findings can be saved and downloaded to be deployed elsewhere than within the application. This may be appropriate if results in one database are to be compared with the findings in another one, or if to be arranged in another way than what is occasioned by an application. A third scenario when saving, downloading is fruitful may be when one intends to insert, or copy-paste the results of the query into an article, paper, blogpost. (Only between round brackets do I dare to insert here, that as a Zotero fan, it would be nice if a database could be linked to Zotero, and then referencing would be a matter of clicking here and there. I am aware that this is only the lazy researchers dream…)

    1. Is the source-code open, i.e. can the search tools be modified?
    This attribute is something that is both beneficial and nice. It is beneficial because the tools may be tuned for the analysis of texts from another database without starting the building of the search-tool from nothing. Naturally it can happen that it is easier to start from nothing, but it can happen as well that coding means just fine-tuning. The open-source code is nice too, as it tells the user that the builder trusts his/her users, shares with them everything, admits that the application can be developed, used elsewhere and in other ways than first envisioned.

    To sum up, this time I pondered about the features of a database that I labelled “flexibility.” Flexibility of a database lies in whether a researcher can or cannot adapt the texts included in the database, the analytical tools to her / his needs. Flexibility is not only important because the database then will be one that may serve a variety of purposes but also because this way it will attract more users. Having, thus, accounted for this feature of a database what remain for the next post are the attributes that I classify as “interdisciplinary openness.”

    Monday, 26 March 2012

    Digital Shakespeares: Features of a Database 2

    This post is the second in the series describing and interpreting a set of questions that I have used when exploring databases containing Shakespearean texts. The last post presented and explained the first four questions. This time I shall cover questions 5-8 exploring documentation, purpose, fitness for purpose, and the quality of the text. Let’s start then with question 5.

    1. Is the documentation of the database clear and succinct?
    Documentation of responsibilities and sustainability (even if theoretical) purposes and origins may well be a characteristic feature of a database. These should be explored in detail and even the problematic points may be clarified. It is also relevant here whether this documentation can be found easily or is buried at a location that can hardly be found. Naturally it is open to debate what is meant by “detailed” documentation, especially because I can hear the counterargument that a good project does not need documentation as the database and its usability speak for themselves, it is, thus, not needed to document this. There is much truth in this claim, since who needs the documentation for something that works properly and with considerable success, who reads the documentation of Twitter and Facebook. I reckon the case is different with applications and databases that if only partially but still would like to attract scholarly audiences as well. For the scholarly community to be able to take the results of a project and research or query seriously must be able to look behind what is immediately visible. What is going on behind the scenes is as important for a serious user as the results of a query provided by the database. So a clear and succinct documentation is indispensible for an intended audience that would like to be taken seriously.

    1. Is there a clear statement about the purpose of the database?
    This question speaks for itself. It is reassuring to know what the database was built for. It does good both to the creator, because to have a clear purpose help one stay focused. Also this does good to the user, because then (s)he knows what to expect, be confident to use the database for what is was created for.

    1. Quality of the texts.
    The quality of the text is one of the cornerstones of a database. Even if this is only one of the four aspects of a database, this is the first aspect that a Shakespeare scholar will enquire about, and if it does not live up to scholarly standards the database will not be used.

      1. Is the origin of the digital text documented?
    This has two advantages. If the textual and editorial choice have been explained, it is very likely that the creator of the database has given thought to the choices made. In this case it is very unlikely that it can happen that someone created a powerful, fancy and interesting tool, and then feeds into it an unedited text found somewhere in the public domain without say checking that the King Lear under consideration was written by Nahum Tate. If a text is documented appropriately it is very unlikely that such a mistake is made. The second advantage of documentation is that the Shakespeare scholar does not have to spend or waste time with discovering slowly that the text is unreliable and useless for a scholarly purpose.

      1. Is there somebody responsible for the digital text?
    The documentation should not only reveal the origin of the digital surrogate but also should name the creator of the text. Even in cases if the text was not created by the creator of the database but (s)he uses someone else’s text. This is important because even if a text is left without editing, when preparing the machine readable text there must be decisions made, and it is indispensible that somebody takes responsibility for these decisions. This is part of scholarly honesty.

      1. Are the editorial decisions explained and documented?
    Of course, the expectation is not to explain every single editorial decision, because that would mean the creation of a documentation similar to a critical edition. The expectation, however, lies in the exploration of general editorial decisions with a few examples for the sake of clarification. Decisions are the ones that pertain both to the text and to the encoding of the text.

    1. Is there a harmony between the purpose of the database and the search engine, quality of the texts, level of encoding?
    It can happen that the purpose of the database and the search engine, quality of the text and the depth of encoding have not been harmonized. It can happen that a database intends to serve scholarly purposes for which a powerful search engine has been installed, which should secure the scholarly outcomes of the queries. The search engine, however, cannot secure scholarly purposes in itself, if not accompanied with an appropriate text. The excellence of the engine cannot compensate for the weakness of the text. Unfortunately in this case there is no real compensation, the weakest part determines the power of the database. It can also happen that the search engine has not been tuned for the depth of encoding. It can happen that the level of encoding does not harmonize with the power of the search engine, or it can also happen that the text is encoded in more depth than what the search engine has been tuned for.

    This time I focused on the aspects of documentation that should ensure the quality or at least the transparency of the database. These qualities may well attract or distract a Shakespeare scholar to or from the database. Next time I shall continue the list and explanation of the questions that help analysing a database focusing on Shakespearean texts.

    Monday, 19 March 2012

    Digital Shakespeares: Features of a Database 1

    In the previous post I launched a series of post that are going to deal with digital databases presenting Shakespearean texts. I also promised that this time I would list the questions I have used for the analysis. Back then I though it was sufficient to list the questions, but then I had to realize that without some explanation questions cannot fulfil their purpose. So I explained them and found that the explanation would exceed the thousand-word limit of a blogpost, so again I have to chop the meditation up into pieces. Out of the sixteen questions this time I shall explore the first four.

    The first three questions gather basic facts about the database. Basic facts or data can, however, be revealing about the agenda of the project, its concept of the user, and, thus, play their significant part in the modes a database processes its cultural signification.

    1. Is it open access or behind the pay-wall?
    I am first and foremost interested in databases that are non-profit, Open Access. The reason for this special interest has two reasons: a pragmatic and a somewhat more theoretical one. The pragmatic reason is that my home institution does not have access to most of the profit-oriented databases, or if it does have then the subscriptions are occasionally left without renewal after their expiration. The theoretical reason is that I am very much in agreement with the Open Access movement among digital humanists, and actually act accordingly: with a British colleague we created a very modest OA academic, digital journal (e-Colloquia), I also blog—as you can see—about my research both in English and Hungarian so that colleagues be informed about what I am working on, and those also who do not belong to the guild of scholars but are interested in these matters. Research, experimentation are all about openness, why to bury them behind the pay-wall?

    1. Is it an online or offline database?
    Most of the databases are located in the cloud. Nevertheless, there are some that either partially or completely reside on the users hard-drive. Both solutions have advantages and disadvantages, which qualities do not depend on theoretical considerations, but rather depend on the database and its purposes. It is no good to force somebody to download terrabites of information, but it sounds great if there is neat and clever software without fancy display that one can download and manipulate, or even develop on ones laptop.

    1. Is it possible or is it necessary to register, or can it be used without registration?
    Again this may be appropriate or useless, but this is also a fact about a database. Occasionally, however, the impression is that if there is a need for registration, the database and the project that lies behind it seem more serious. Sometimes it is more advantageous to be able to register, as there may be more facilities for registered users. Also registration filters users, as the user has to take the trouble to register, and thus implies that it is important for her or him to be a visible member of the community of users.

    After the basic information about a database, the next set of questions explores aspects of Transparency. Out of this set, this time I am going to deal with the first and leave the rest for the next post.

    1. Who built the database and who takes responsibility for it?
    For a database to be taken seriously as a scholarly, reliable and useful one two considerations seem adamant: responsibility and sustainability. For a database, if expecting serious users, it is of crucial importance to have either a scholar or a team of scholars behind it. An Open Access (not to mention for-profit) project does not mean that anything goes, projects do not need reviewing, should not be open to criticism. All these lead to the concept and virtue of responsibility. Without real human beings shouldering responsibility for their activity, even if it is a noble project of passing on Shakespearean texts and information and features of those texts free of charge to an unknown but yet foreseeable target audience, a project cannot be taken seriously. Scholarly discussion, accountability, expression of critical opinion are vital for a project to be worthy of scholarly attention. If there cannot be found an individual or a team who can participate in a discussion, or whom questions can be addressed to, the air is withdrawn from scholarly objectivity.

    As far as sustainability is concerned a nameless enthusiast as the creator and builder of a database will very likely miss the financial resources to create a strictly speaking reliable project. Eagerness burns out after awhile, interest can be lost in a hobby-like project. Institutional affiliation, funding processed by committees all secure reason for believing that the project will survive even after the disappearance of the first love for the project. From the users perspective making use of, thus relying on the outcomes of a research in a database, and the criteria of repeatability are all parts of the problematics surrounding a database. Sustainability seems to be less of a problem for a profit-oriented project, but is not a mission impossible for a project that has institutional and affiliations and opportunities to have a share from national or other funding.

    Unfortunately this time I could only cover these first four questions. But even this post may have been beneficial because this could either function as an appetiser or something that will tell you that it is superfluous to read one. Either case is just fine. Time and energy are valuable.

    Tuesday, 6 March 2012

    Digital Shakespeares: Introduction

    Having finished editing a book for CSP on Tudor authors belonging to the period C.S. Lewis labelled as the “Drab Age,” I am going to focus on a somewhat different area for the next period. This shift of focus lies in turning to new aspects of reception studies and histories, something I worked on in my Tudor research as well. What is new, however, is that instead of dealing with how certain ideas and trends of thoughts or authors were received in England and in English in the long Tudor era, now I shall ponder about how Shakespeare’s reception has witnessed a change with the digital area.

    The 21st century has brought some change in the reception (history) of Shakespeare, as digital projects by individuals and teams, the use of digital tools in social media contribute to a turn in how Shakespeare both as an icon and as a literary figure acquires a mode of signification in present day digital cultures. This new mode of signification consists first, in the accessibility of the digital texts of his works in a great variety of formats, reliability and purposes. Adjacent to the availability of texts, social media also affect how Shakespeare figures in the contemporary world. Social media—relevant to a variety of degrees in this research—include micro-, meso- and traditional blogging services, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ insofar as they open the gates between academic and popular cultures, blur the technical distinction between academia and widening circles of enthusiasts and the interested, change the concept of peer-review. The accessibility of texts and the relaxation of the demarcation lines among so far segregated circles of readers present a new phase in the way Shakespeare is perceived.

    Naturally the claim is not that there is a revolutionary and dramatic change going on nowadays. Many aspects of reception are not necessarily affected by the digital shift that I deal with, as theatre, filmic adaptations, printed editions etc remain, or may remain unaffected, and circles of the academia remain as closed as before. What, however, the claim asserts is that for a growing number of Shakespeare scholars and for a growing number of other people (the numbers can hardly be estimated but because of openness of the internet I dare to believe that this is not an insignificant set) the world of Shakespeare is in change. This change—both present and future—cannot, should not go unreflected, and it is the task of humanities, maybe digital humanities, to ponder about and account for this phenomenon that pertains to the first decades of the 21st century. This is true even though Michael Best is right when explaining the academic resistance to web 2.0, especially to open Shakespeare databases in his “Shakespeare and the Electronic Text” (151).

    I am aware of the problems, mainly theoretical ones that lie at the heart of this type of research. At the moment the theoretical framework hovers around cultural semiotics, or more precisely the phenomenology of signification in culture. This phenomenology focuses on how meaning is constructed in the digital context relying on material—whatever this means in cyberspace, linguistic and computational aspects. But this theoretical background is still in its sedimentation phase, so I have not assumed or forged an ultimate stance. What, however, is rather clear is the steps that I am going to take here. I am going to devote posts first to reflections on digital databases of Shakespearean texts, and then I am going to meditate about how Shakespeare is present in digital social media.

    The forthcoming first set of posts, thus are going to deal with databases devoted exclusively or not exclusively to presenting digital Shakespearean texts in a variety of formats and with a variety of purposes. Now, of course, it is far from clear what expectations one may have towards a Shakespearean database, and as far as I can see in the literature, especially in two seminal issues of journals, i.e. Shakespeare 4.3 (2008) and Shakespeare Quarterly 63.1 (2010) there is no absolutely theorized and standardized protocol to follow in the assessment of what is going on in the world of Shakespearean digital texts. Although a widely accepted protocol is missing I am still inclined to meditate about the individual databases with addressing the same questions to each one of them so as to be able to help a compare-and-contrast analysis. The objective of this analysis is not to place databases into a hierarchical order, naively claiming that one is better than the other, but rather to explore their virtues, and to establish trends.

    The questions I shall ask reflect my preferences towards a Shakespearean digital textual project, but hopefully these questions will not be classified as merely subjective preferences and naïve essentialist assumptions, but assumptions that explore the possible heart of a textual database. The template of the questions covers three areas that I find essential for a database: first, transparency, i.e. whether there is an individual or a team who shoulders responsibility for the database with clear and detailed documentation about ontologies and purposes; second, flexibility, i.e. if the database allows the user to temper with anything in the project or if it is open to collaboration; third, interdisciplinary openness, i.e. what kind of approaches to the texts these databases enable. The next post is going to cover the questions themselves with explanation.

    Friday, 10 February 2012

    Blogoshpere 30 January – 05 February 2012

    Due to some illness I can only post this review of the blogosphere in my fields of interest now. Anyway, people out there worked much last week fortunately. In the Early Modern set there is a fascinating variety of posts including a comparison of EM news to blogging about historical events nowadays, climbing hills and conversion, Isabella’s virginity, burlesque, EEBO and about Twitter.  Digital Humanists wrote about definitions of Digital Humanities and about measuring impact. Happy reading!

    Early Modern Studies:

    NM in the post entitled “History’s Birthday – Blogging Early Modern News” provides a fascinating phenomenology of writing news. This phenomenology then provides a way of comparing EM news (ballads etc) and blogging about historical events nowadays. This is a though-provoking post, indeed.

    Climbing hills and mountains: the labouring convert.” explores the English uses of the metaphorical journey to the hilltop in writings dealing with conversion. A must-read post.

    Liz Dollimore in her “Shakespeare’s Sources – Measure for Measure” argues that Isabella’s virtue seemed to have been an issue for Shakespeare. She claims that in Shakespeare’s sources, in George Whetstone’s Promos and Cassandra (1578) and in Giraldi Cinthio Epitia and Juriste (1566) Isabella’s forerunners lost their virginity, which is preserved, in turn, in Measure for Measure with the bed-trick featuring Marianna.

    Stanley Wells’ post, “Send Up for Shakespeare!” is a very informative writing about the burlesque adaptations of Shakespeare. Fun!

    Anna Bagitelli reflects on research in the digital age in her “EEBO Interactions and Bibliography: Linking the Past to the Present”. She reviews the novel approaches to texts, and then she writes about the merits of EEBO Interactions: a chat-room for EEBO users. The only problem left without discussion is that contribution is massively behind the pay-wall.

    Sava Saheli Singh compares in a fascinating way 16-17th-century note-taking techniques and Twitter in his post, “old paradigms for a new mode.”

    Digital Humanities:

    Melody Dworak defines crowd-sourcing and digital humanities in an illuminating way in her “Defining Terms: My First Step in Visualizing DH Crowdsourcing Models.”

    Shawn Moore defines Digital Humanities in his “An Affective Response to Defining Digital Humanities.” It is also worth reading the comment thread, too.

    Ernesto Prieggo distinguishes between “quantitative” and “qualitative” impact in social media in his “On Sharing With the Right People, or Why Online Metrics to Assess "Impact" Should Be Qualitative (Too).” When defining “qualitative” impact he does this with exploring an example: “I call this qualitative impact: in this specific case my sharing of one particular link produced only one click, but the person who clicked on it would not have found the article that quickly otherwise (perhaps she wouldn't have found that article at all!). Moreover, the person who did the only one click was indeed the exact target audience for that article.”

    Wednesday, 1 February 2012

    Blogoshpere 23 January – 29 January 2012

    Although rather late, here is my take on what happened last week in the blogosphere in the two fields I am interested in the most. Early Modernists came up with a variety of posts about Shakespeare ranging from moods of love, through text miming and an exploration of a proverbial saying that has its origins in Hamlet, to one of Shakespeare’s sources. Beyond the Bard there is only one post that I refer to, which is about the problematics around ending one of the marriages of Henry VIII. Under the label “Digital Humanities” I have gathered posts discussing the debate on the merits of Digital Humanities such as Fish’s third post and the reactions to it, along with definitions and tasks for Digital Humanists. I also refer to a beautiful collection of Lucas Cranach’s paintings tagged and searchable. Happy reading, then!

    Early Modern Studies:

    Stanley Wells in his “Shakespeare’s Many Moods of Love” meditates about the variety of passions in in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. He poetically concludes this post saying “Shakespeare’s Sonnets transcend the boundaries of sub-divisions of human experience to encapsulate the very essence of human love.”

    Aditi Muralidharan demonstrated the use of WordSeer in her recent post “Men and Women in Shakespeare.” So far WordSeer was only capable of very simple searches, but now she announces that it is also capable of “a simple, but complete, exploratory analysis.” The demonstration consists in this. “‘How does the portrayal of men and women in Shakespeare’s plays change under different circumstances?’ As one answer, we’ll see how WordSeer suggests that when love is a major plot point, the language referring to women changes to become more physical, and the language referring to men becomes more sentimental.”

    Adam G. Hooks meditates in an enlightening way about a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet in his “Mangling Shakespeare.” He explores the way the line “a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance” makes sense in the play, and how it is used in another way as a proverbial expression meaning almost the opposite. Instead of writing about this phenomenon in the discourse of correctness and incorrectness, he makes a case for the avoidance of evaluation.

    Liz Dollimore in her “Shakespeare’s sources – Henry VIII” explores that tactful modifications the playwright introduced to Holinshed’s Chronicles, and to what we know nowadays about the beheading of Anne Boleyn.

    Claire showcases the complexities, problematics of dates, the difference between divorce and a marriage annulled, legitimization of Elizabeth in her post, “25 January 1533 – Marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.”

    Digital Humanities:

    Stanley Fish in his third post on Digital Humanities, entitled “Mind Your P’s and B’s: The Digital Humanities and Interpretation,” identifies, I’m afraid somewhat reductively, Digital Humanities with statistical analysis, or “data mining,” or “formalist analysis.” He claims that Digital Humanists propose two statements about themselves: “(1) we’re doing what you’ve always been doing, only we have tools that will enable you to do it better; let us in, and (2) we are the heralds and bearers of a new truth and it is the disruptive challenge of that new truth that accounts for your recoiling from us.” His main objection is that Digital Humanists do not only resist theory, but rather play the role of anti-theorists, insofar as they conduct data mining randomly, without a prior hypothesis. Well, I find his approach all too reductive.

    Steve Anderson reacting to Stanley Fish’s post, “Stanley Fish is at it again: “Mind Your P’s and B’s” argues—not so much to anybody’s surprise—that Fish is mislead. Not because that he is wrong in his argument, but rather that his hypothesis about Digital Humanities is mistaken. Anderson claims “His argument isn’t so much about the digital humanities then, more so it concerns privileging quantitative analysis over a deep and personal qualitative reading.”

    Ted Underwood, in his “Do humanists get their ideas from anything at all?” responded to Stanley Fish’s third post on Digital Humanities the day after Fish’s post was published The essence of his argument is that Fish’s assumption about the temporal priority of the hypothesis-evidence dichotomy is false. He claims that tools do not force a methodology but are rather “transparent extensions of our interpretive sensibility.”

    Alex Reid also responds to Fish in his “invention and digital humanities navel #dhdebates.” He, similarly to other scholars reacting to Fish explores the complexity of arriving at a hypothesis, or as he puts it of the process of invention. He claims that technology liberates the methods of arriving at an interpretation of a literary work.

    Michael Witmore published his comment on Stanley Fish’s third writing as a separate post entitled “What did Stanley Fish count, and when did he start counting it?.” The centre of his argument goes like this: “The job of digital tools is to draw our attention to evidence impossible or hard to see during normal reading, prompting us to ask new questions about our texts. This ability to redirect attention and pose new questions is the strong suit of certain kinds of digital humanities research. Indeed, we believe the addition of a digital prosthetic to our insistently human reading complements the skills of close textual analysis that are the staple of literary training.”

    Andrew Prescott’s post, “‘An Electric Current of the Imagination’: What the Digital Humanities Are and What They Might Become,” explores the variety of facets of digital humanities. The most important aspect of the long post, the transcription of a lecture originally, is its paving the way for the institutionalization of techniques and tools used by Digital Humanists.

    Trevor Owens’ post, “Debating the Digital Humanities Gets Real,” is just great on two accounts. Owens’s post presents a full circle of the life of a writing which first materialized as a blog post, then was selected as a part of a printed book, and finally there is the blog post meditating about this passage. Also the post is a testimony of the way the full circle is lived by the author, and thus it becomes a true paratextual element.

    The SOPA/PIPA debate occasioned Cathy Davidson’s thought-provoking post entitled “How Digital Humanists Can Lead Us to National Digital Literacy.” The title speaks for itself, of course, but what I liked in the post the most is her definition of Digital Humanities, and the role she assigns to it. Roughly the same text is there on her blog entitled “Digital Literacy: An Agenda for the 21st Century.

    Cranach Digital Archive” is a database of the paintings by Lucas Cranach (c.1472 - 1553). It is an amazing collection of his works with descriptions, especially because one can zoom on small parts of the paintings.

    Tuesday, 24 January 2012

    Blogoshpere 16 January – 22 January 2012

    Somewhat late but still here is a list of the most interesting and informative blog posts published last week. The "Early Modern" set includes meditations about Shakespeare’s Coriolanus triggered by the release of the new filmic adaptation with Ralph Fiennes and Gerald Butler. Some historically minded posts feature Dick Wittington, Henry Howard, the marriage of Henry VII and Yorkist Elizabeth. Furthermore there are two posts related to cultural history, one exploring the usefulness of the experimental-speculative divide in Early Modern natural philosophy, the other meditating about the Italian-Hungarian cultural relationships. Digital Humanists wrote about infographics, an educator’s vision about the near future of higher education, about open access, and reacted to Stanley Fish’s blog post about Digital Humanities. In the “Others” set one may read about Prezi’s new initiative. So, again I learned much last week, so happy reading to you as well!

    Early Modern Studies:

    Paul Edmondson in his “Coriolanus in Conversation” writes about Ralph Fiennes’s Coriolanus in a highly appreciative tone. The post is accompanied by an audio recording of a discussion led by Edmondson and Paul Prescott at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust this week. Both the post and the discussion deserve attention.

    Sylvia Morris’ “Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus: noble warrior or boy of tears?” Is an informative post considering Fiennes in Shakespearean roles. Her last sentence sums up the post, so I’ll paste it here: “Looking at the Shakespearean roles Fiennes has taken during his career it’s easy to see how this one was a part he was waiting to take, while the film also hits the mark as a twenty-first century action movie.”

    Liz Dollimore this time pointed at a source to Shakespeare’s Coriolanus in her post entitled “Shakespeare’s Sources – Coriolanus.” She convincingly argues that “Shakespeare’s main source for this play was Sir Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans.” Her argument consists in putting a quotation from Plutarch next to one in Coriolanus. The two parallel texts really speak for each other.

    David Fallow makes a case in his “Shakespeare and the Pantomime Cat” for the claim that though Shakespeare and Dick Whittington seemed to have shared a fate leading from poverty to fame, neither of them followed this pattern.

    Claire at The Anna Boleyn Files writes about the circumstances of Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey’s execution. This post, entitled “19 January 1547 – Execution of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey” is not so much his poetic appreciation but rather a historical introduction flavoured with a bit of poetry.

    In another post, “18 January 1486 – Marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York” Claire reveals the problematic nature of the marriage between the victor at Bosworth Field and Edward IV’s daughter. The complex procedure involved the interplay of the Parliament, the Pope, declaring Elizabeth to be a legitimate daughter of Edward.

    Peter Anstley in his “Experimental Philosophy and the Straw Man Problem” reconsiders in an enlightening way their experimental-speculative distinction from the point of view of an objection.

    Zsombor Jékely’s “Italy and Hungary in the Renaissance (Book review)” is a post that is fascinating to me, as it is a rather informative one on Italian-Hungarian cultural relationships back in the Renaissance and now.

    Digital Humanities:

    Another reaction to Stanley Fish by Geoffrey Rockwell entitled “The Digital Humanities and the Revenge of Authority” is a meditation that does not intend to argue with or refute Fish, but rather to change the concepts through which a meaningful discussion may emerge. Rockwell clarifies the field with phrasing three questions that can be the basis of further discussions. When exploring the first, he defines Digital Humanities in a rather telling way: “I personally think the digital humanities is a craft that brings computing practices, concepts and language to the building of digital artifacts in the humanities.” I think this is a claim worth pondering about.

    Melissa Terrass’ post, “Infographic: Quantifying Digital Humanities” offers a digital infographics of Digital Humanities as a high resolution image and a really nice printable version. Great post for Digital Humanists and for others as well.

    This is a thought-provoking—what else could it be??—interview with Cathy N. Davidson about her book, about her vision as an educator. The title is “Steve Wheeler’s Q&A with Cathy Davidson

    Amanda French’s post, an open letter, “On Public Access to Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Publications” is an important contribution to the open access discussions. A must-read post, indeed.


    Some fascinating news for Prezi users: as the title of the blog post claims “Introducing Prezi U – a community hub for everything Prezi in education” a new feature of Prezi was launched for educators which includes a library, a forum and articles to be read.

    Monday, 16 January 2012

    Blogoshpere 09 January – 15 January 2012

    Last week I found a great variety of posts in the blogosphere worth reading and meditating about. The posts that have something to do with Early Modern England include nine post with a wide range of fields discussed. There is, of course, Shakespeare in many clothes: sources and some religious background to Hamlet’s most famous soliloquy. Besides Shakespeare, we could read about Marlowe, gossiping, brothels, turnS of the calendar year, execution, about marginalia for theatre and book historians. Less in number but no less thought-provoking are the posts that pertain to Digital Humanists. Stanley Fish for example continued his meditation about Digital Humanities demonstrating distinction and much erudition—not that I am surprised by this—in his second take on the topic. Furthermore one of my favourite topics is discussed last week, namely a study about the academic use—or not use—of web 2.0 tools. So, again I learned much last week, so happy reading to you, as well!

    Early Modern Studies:

    Samuel Thomas in his Gossip in Early Modern England delineates the origins and uses of the word “gossip” from its medieval beginnings up to the time when it received its modern, mainly negative connotation. In the story we find “god-siblings” and Margaret Cavendish, and other early 17th-century printed material dealing with gossiping. A fascinating story, indeed.

    H.M. Castor reviews the long history of the change in the turn of the year, i.e. the shift from March 25th to January 1st in his “Old year, New year.” This is both an intriguing story and a learned study in social history. It is worth reading for all.

    Liz Dollimore argues in her Shakespeare’s sources – Henry VI part 3 that Shakespeare most of the time relied on Holinshed as a source for this play, but sometimes he turned for other sources. She claims that Holinshed used Hall’s Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families as his ultimate source, sometimes even verbatim, still there are parts in Hall which do not appear in Holinshed. One part, at least, seems more dramatic in Hall, and consequently Shakespeare went back to Hall in this case, i.e. in the scene when Edward IV makes a not so modest proposal to Lady Grey.

    If somebody would like to read about Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, they should consult Ewan Fernie’s “Shakespearience 4: Hamlet’s Depression.” In this post they will meet Luther, the gravedigger scene, mysticism testifying the never-ending interest in both the play and in this monologue.

    If somebody is interested in EM executions, then they—and others as well—will find “Heads Will Roll…But How Far?” at the Early Modern News Networks rather informative. The post is about the execution of William Laud, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, on January 10th in 1645, and locates the event within the EM ritual of executions and their representations in newsbooks of the time.

    I cannot resist the temptation to advertise this post, “Searching for Hungarian Shakespeares” by Paul Edmondson, as it is about a young and talented Hungarian Shakespeare scholar, Julia Paraizs a friend and colleague of mine. The post presents her current research project, and the reason why she spent some four months in The Shakespeare Centre.

    Holger Syme in his Well-Read Plays IV” this week meditated about annotations and marginalia in the third quarto of Thomas Heywood’s Rape of Lucrece (1614; STC 13361a), the Folger’s first copy of Philip Massinger’s The Duke of Milan (1623; STC 17634), the Folger’s second copy of Massinger’s The Bond-Man (1624; STC 17632), the Folger’s copy of the first quarto of the anonymous Edward III (1596; STC 7501) and some other works. His claim this time in his on words is this: “All of them [the particular copies he has written about—Zs.A.] seem to show readers engaged in efforts to make their playtexts more readable. But, as I hope to persuade you, making a play readable, or reader-friendly, did not necessarily mean erasing its origins as a performance script or altering its status from theatrical document to literary work.”

    Dainty Ballerina last week published a post, “Vill you not stay in my bosom tonight, love?,” about one of the most elegant and famous brothels in the 17th Century, named Holland’s Leagure. In the post one may find literary and bookish descriptions of the brothel from its contemporaries, and also she let’s the reader peep into the underworld of 17th-century London. This is a study that is to be read by historians of EM culture, especially because of the detailed references section.

    Adam G. Hooks’ “Anonymous Marlowe” explores the facets of the creation of an authorial persona, as it happened in the case of Christopher Marlowe. This is done through arguing that a poem, i.e. “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love,” attributed to Marlowe could hardly have been written by him. Hooks meticulously presents the reader the history of this attribution. He then concludes his post with this fascinating sentence: “If Marlowe the author was made by the posthumous publication of his works, he was subsequently unmade as readers appropriated (and failed to attribute) his works in the years that followed.”

    Digital Humanities:

    Stanley Fish’s second note on Digital Humanities, “The Digital Humanities and the Transcending of Mortality” discusses the theme of Digital humanities in the matrices of single- versus multiple authorship, singe- versus multi-directional experience, institution versus outsourcing, paywall versus open access, and explores the theological and political aspects of DH. In this discussion Fish quotes from big fishes in the DH guild from Kathleen Fitzpatrick, through Matthew Kirschbaum, to Mark Sample, Mark Poster and Jerome McGann. Fish ends his meditation with “What might those contributions [of DH—Zs.A.] be? Are they forthcoming? These are the questions I shall take up in the next column, oops, I mean blog.” I, thus, can’t wait for the next post. Until then, however, one may read the comment thread attached to the post that runs into 107 comments by now.

    This is a very though-provoking paper at Impact of Social Sciences (London School of Economics and Political Sciences) entitled “Can’t tweet or won’t tweet? What are the reasons behind low adoption of web 2.0 tools by researchers?” The paper investigates why social networking services are not used by the majority of researchers. Actually, I thought that the state of affairs in this case is better in the UK than in other European countries. Seemingly it is not.