A DH Profusion: Projects, Praxis, and a Social History of Toronto

Blogged by Jason BoydTextingWilde

On this year’s Day of DH, I’ve got many DH-related things jostling together in my head: the CDH’s upcoming annual meeting of the Advisory Board (next week), where the Centre’s Annual Report is reviewed and we solicit feedback from the Board about future goals; a meeting (tomorrow) with an out of town DH-colleague interested in learning more about the foundation and development of the Centre in order to better strategize about how a similar unit could be created at his institution; my workshops on “Issues in the Digital Humanities” at DHSI@Congress in Ottawa; my attendance at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) at the University of Victoria at the beginning of June; and planning for the Ryerson-based day of “Digital Pedagogy and the Student Experience” Summer Institute in August (submit a presentation proposal!). However, there are two research-related things that I’m spending some time thinking (and writing about) today.

Both these projects involve social editing and social editions. These are ideas I have been thinking about for some time in relation to a number of projects I am involved with, but the two projects that I am thinking about today are the Texting Wilde Project (TWP) and Toronto of Old/Toronto of Now: A Locative Social Edition (TOON).

The TWP’s goal is to develop computer assisted methodologies for the analysis of large corpora of life writing texts. It is currently developing a sample corpus of early biographical texts relating to Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) (coincidentally, on this date in 1897, Wilde was released from prison after having served 2 years of hard labour), marked up in a customization of the Text Encoding Initiative’s P5 Guidelines to facilitate exegetical analysis. This work is fairly far along, and the next milestone for the TWP is developing an online editing environment that can facilitate both analysis of and collaborative work on the corpus, adding to the sample corpus as well as populating the TWP Chronology and Personography. One of the biggest questions I’m trying to answer at the moment is the degree to which it is possible and desirable to ‘hide’ the TEI markup behind a more ‘user-friendly’ editing interface, such as the one developed by the Transcribe Bentham Project for the transcription of the manuscripts of Jeremy Bentham. Because a substantive portion of the TWP TEI markup is analytical—requiring an interpretative judgement of the meaning of a text (for example, whether a particular biographic anecdote is offered firsthand or secondhand and whether a source is provided)—rather than descriptive (explicitly designating structural and semantic textual features, which I acknowledge also involves interpretation), means that in many cases, the markup does not simply involve looking at a digitized page and determining that a segment of text is set as a paragraph or a title, etc., but instead, for example declaring that the “he” in a given paragraph is person X (by putting in tags that point to that person’s entry in the Personography).

So, in some cases, it may not be easy to translate a tag set into a button on an editing toolbar that can be clicked after highlighting the relevant segment of text as with the Transcribe Bentham editor. Additionally, there are some who strongly believe that if one is going to use TEI as an editor, one must work directly with TEI (I remember this issue being hotly debated at a scholarly vs social editing conference hosted by Peter Robinson at the University of Saskatchewan a couple of years ago). To do this of course requires a level of proficiency that can only be developed by sustained training and application, so to go this route would be to raise the bar on participation in the editing of the TWP, and make it less of a (or a more narrow) social editing project. So what I’m really trying to determine as I think about the design of the editing environment for the TWP is whether there is a happy middle point, a hybrid or a multifaceted interface and collaborative editorial process that could facilitated a range of different levels of expertise with TEI (including non-expertise). Ultimately, what this design will model is the type of scholarly activities and community that I would like to see develop around early Wilde biography studies and more broadly, around the study of large collections of life-writing texts.

The second project I am thinking about today is Toronto of Old/Toronto of Now: A Locative Social Edition. This is a project I started working on last year as part of my Special Topics in Digital Media: “The Social Edition” course in the Masters of Digital Media program at Ryerson. In the course I and my students developed proposals and prototypes of projects using RULA Maps, a geolocative app for situated mobile learning being developed by Ryerson University Library and Archives (RULA) in collaboration with Ryerson faculty (e.g. ARCH App, for Vincent Hui of Architectural Science) and community organizations (e.g., Discover St. Clair, for the Wychwood Barns Community Association). My project (which I collaborated on with student Madelon Crothers) was to take Henry Scadding’s social history Toronto of Old (1873) and edit it for the RULA Maps app, allowing people to not only read Scadding’s text about Toronto locations while at the locations Scadding is writing about, but also add their own stories, images, sounds, and so on, about the locations. With the launch of RULA’s Digital Media Experience (DME) Lab (housed in Ryerson’s stunning new Student Learning Centre – a building I’ve nicknamed ‘The Crystalline Entity’), I’ve been discussing with its personnel about ways in which to move the project forward. In many ways Scadding’s text is ideal for this project, not least because he speaks about many places relatively close to the Ryerson campus (Scadding’s house still stands in Trinity Square, very close to Ryerson), but because he talks about nearby areas of the city that are currently undergoing massive change (the Regent Park social housing redevelopment; the redevelopment of areas like Corktown Commons spurred by the 2015 Summer Pan Am Games) and whose previous community histories may be lost if not recorded. The social edition would not only respond to Ryerson’s “city-building” goal, enabling engagement with local communities, but would also enable the public to become involved in scholarly activity (editing, archiving, researching), and bring scholarly work to the public. So I’m looking forward to exploring how RULA Maps can be developed to help scholars, students, and community members critically and creative engage about the urban space that they inhabit by using a locative edition of Scadding’s text as a launching pad.

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