The SGA encoding venture was valuable in that it introduced me to the scope and possibilities of interpretation and collaboration within the digital humanities arena, much of which we also touched upon during class. Going into this semester, I had almost no experience with either the textual criticism or computer markup language that the project necessitated, and was honestly quite wary of both at first. But like most encounters I have had with foreign languages, it is surprisingly easy to learn the XML alphabet, pick up a couple of key phrases, and use them to communicate basic ideas to others. Constructing comprehensive sentences to convey abstract thoughts, on the other hand, often requires a whole different force of knowledge and imagination.
During our XML coding sessions here at U.Va., we mostly worked within a fairly simple markup framework, that was both representational and descriptive; it attempted to show the editorial changes that Percy and Mary made to the manuscript. I encoded pages 74 (http://sga.mith.org/eng738t/ox-ms_abinger_c57-0074.jpg) and 75 (http://sga.mith.org/eng738t/ox-ms_abinger_c57-0075.jpg) from Chapter 10. In general, what I did was pretty straightforward denotation of <line>, <del rend=”strikethrough”>, <add place=”supralinear”> to respectively signify line breaks, deletions, and additions. If we were certain it was Percy’s modification (the Word document transcription would have to confirm), then we could mark it as <mod resp=”#pbs”>. Subjectively speaking, I found the work was strangely soothing, in a monotonous, “Modern Times” sort of way. Every once in awhile I would come across a hitch that I (with the aid of excellent group leader, Eliza) would have to overcome as best possible.
For example, if one looks at the first third of page 75, on the right hand side (5th line), there are a couple of strange insertions that Percy made to the writing: something like X and i. I ended up just signifying the X and i generally as <metamark>:
<line>I <del rend="strikethrough">could not</del> <add place="superlinear"><mod resp="#pbs">I was unable to</mod></add> overcome my repugnance <add place="superlinear"><mod resp="#pbs">to the task</mod></add> <metamark>‸</metamark><add place="superlinear"><metamark>X</metamark></add><metamark>I</metamark></line>
So I marked them up in a very simple way, giving the same code to two different symbols. As a novice encoder, I suppose that as the document that I committed to Github would move up the ladder to be verified by more experienced encoders, such <metamark>s might acquire more specificity. Why is there is X, and is it the job of the encoder to figure that out, or the consumer/researcher using the interface? My guess is that the “I” just meant Mary or Percy’s pen was running out of ink. Maybe someone more familiar with the other pages might be able to spot a pattern and signify them accordingly. I could be looking at it too closely, and it probably belongs in the “does not matter” category, but it was something that that I wonder about in the grander scheme of things.
Another hitch would be the strange lines that presumably Mary drew in the middle of page 75, with which I just marked <mod rend=”bordered”> all the words that had lines wrapped around them:
<line>perfect solitude: <del rend="strikethrough">my deli</del> <del rend="strikethrough">I used to</del> <mod rend="bordered">Alone</mod></line> <line>in a little boat <mod rend="bordered">I passed whole</mod> days on</line> <line><mod rend="bordered">the lake watching</mod>the clouds & <metamark>‸</metamark> <add place="superlinear"><mod resp="#pbs">listening to</mod></add> the ripp<add place="intralinear"></add>ling</line>
The lines are rather intricate, and I marked them up rather generally before sending them back to Maryland. I suppose quandaries such as this made me aware of some of the difficulties of trying to translate visual images into XML, and whether or not I had any authority to make certain interpretations. The outlines also seem to signify that either Mary or Percy is marking off some section, but sometimes it is unclear what is being marked, or what is more important: “the lake,” or “watching”? I think that for me, it is certainly difficult working on the production side of things while being quite unfamiliar with the writer’s habits, how markup is conveyed to the interface, or the audience.
So, during this project, in addition to acclimating myself to XML, I faced the much greater challenge of transitioning from solitary, reflective study to collaboration and interdisciplinary work within the digital humanities. Even in the last place on earth that still houses shy people (the university), I tend to fall pretty far on the “introversion” end of the spectrum. Thus the constantly evolving, makeshift nature of digital humanities and those reverberations within literary studies was both exciting and, to be honest, quite daunting for me. I think anyone would ask herself what her importance or value is in a digital project—a part in the machine, or an interpreter bringing her own voice to a literary text? And I guess one can’t help asking, is there a “right” project to join, or a necessary circle of digital humanists to be part of? Should one be brushing up on her calculus, or continue unraveling this very long George Eilot sentence? These are questions that I thought about during this semester.
Lastly, the interesting and unexpected delight about this particular encoding venture was that, in a way, it actually brought me closer to a text than I had ever could have imagined. A recurring theme during our semester has been the bracing critical distance that digital tools can allow for: that perhaps one of their greatest strengths is that they would compensate where human subjectivity might falter from emotion or by the limitations of having merely one single collector of data. The flipside of this would be that computers would mercilessly extract the “human” element of a text. But sans the digital, I probably never would have been able to see Mary’s original manuscript and feel its “aura” (yes, it’s survived). And although I was skeptical of some of Percy’s revisions (what exactly is the difference between “I could not” and “I was unable to”?), I had to admit I was quite taken by the whole collaborative process of these soul mates, and couldn’t help being touched by some small changes (“day” turns into “sunshine”) that Percy made to the novel. In grad school, we’re not supposed to say things are fun, but this was a fun and enjoyable experience.