Animating Text Newcastle University

James Cummings (james.cummings@newcastle.ac.uk), Newcastle University, United Kingdom and Tiago Sousa Garcia (Tiago.Sousa-Garcia@newcastle.ac.uk), Newcastle University, United Kingdom

1. Animating Text Newcastle University

This DH 2018 poster will provide an introduction to a new kind of digital humanities research network and the pilot projects it is building. Animating Text Newcastle University (ATNU) is a three year interdepartmental research project exploring new frontiers at the cross-roads between traditional scholarly textual editing, digital editing, digital humanities and computer science. It is a collaboration between humanities researchers and computing scientists that is exploring research questions raised by pre-1860 editing projects. The poster at DH 2018 will introduce the ATNU network, the successes and failures of the project so far, and the individual pilot projects it has undertaken.

ATNU connects original historical research from across Newcastle University from the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics , the School of Arts and Cultures , the School of Modern Languages , and the School of History, Classics and Archaeology , with the transformational research of the Digital Institute . The intention is to share expertise and intellectual resources and to work to deliver ambitious, future-facing research that will nurture future large-scale collaborative projects. The network is hosting invited expert workshops, visiting speakers, and undertaking pilot digital projects informed by editing challenges. It is hoped that this will not only increase familiarity with DH methodologies and technologies inside the institution but foster partnerships outside it.

1.1. Why pre-1860 texts?

In these earlier periods the characteristics of manuscript and the printed book (and their relationship with one another) are fundamentally distinct from how they are in the period from the late nineteenth century to the present. Yet the ways in which pre-1860 texts are re-presented in current print and digital editions often fails to recover their vital, distinctive contexts (the relations between authors, copyists, printers, publishers and booksellers), and the way the printed page is meant to facilitate particular experiences. ATNU is contributing to a vital debate not just about the history of the text and the future of the book, but also about the place of historically-focussed editorial scholarship in the story of the humanities and its digital future.

1.2. Funding Streams and Resistance to Failure

A frustrating aspect of many research projects is the tendency to promote their successes and ignore failures. These projects may produce excellent outputs which benefit the humanities, but in discussing their projects they often count the hits and ignore the misses. It is completely understandable when highlighting the success of their projects to those who funded them. However, ATNU is fortunate in being slightly different: it is funded by Newcastle University’s Research Investment Fund specifically to bolster digital humanities research at the institution. Part of the ATNU mission is the development of additional grant applications for cutting edge projects that specifically have their basis in more risky blue skies thinking. Moreover, in order to develop these funding bids ATNU is undertaking a series of pilot projects but because these are funded internally they are allowed to be more experimental. They do not have to be successes -- failure is indeed an option! Where the pilot projects succeed they will go on to be the base for external funding bids, but where these projects are less successful, their failures can be publicly documented and projects can be re-oriented towards more successful techniques.

1.3. Pilot Projects

The network’s pilot projects are in three categories: “Manuscripts and Print”, “Performance”, and “Translation”. The projects in each of these have a set of shared interests, methodologies, and an overlap of possible technological solutions.  

  • Manuscript and Print: the projects in this area investigate topics such as scholarly digital editing, the process of collaborative editing, the presentation of editions, and the handling of variation across multiple versions. The first pilot is a prototype digital edition of the Sarum Hymnal involving text, image, and music encoding.
  • Performance: many texts have a life beyond the page, and include acoustic and visual experiences. ATNU is exploring how best to represent and enable these performative and interactive dimensions.  One pilot in this looks at a visual, interactively animated, view of James Harrington’s early modern proposal for reforming voting systems, another experiments with the acoustic effect of punctuation in early modern texts.
  • Translation: investigating pre-modern texts and their translations, how these entities relate, and developing tools for researchers comparing texts in translation. A pilot under this theme is examining the concept of the social translation.

The poster will provide more details about the network and its pilot projects.