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Visualising Textuality – New Interfaces to Historical Texts

Final Report Summary - NEW INTERFACES (Visualising Textuality – New Interfaces to Historical Texts)


++ Please note that this project has been terminated early. ++

While data and information visualisation is a state-of-the-art topic for statistical data in many disciplines, it still is a desideratum in text-based research in the Humanities. The primary goal of the research project “Visualising Textuality – New Interfaces to Historical Texts” is to explore new forms of representation and visualisation of complex texts, textual relations and structures to be used for scholarly research – text-based data that is traditionally disseminated by means of scholarly editions. The innovative processes and interfaces to text, developed in this project, enhances traditional forms of representation and allows scholars and lay readers to become more skilful, better-informed readers and to make up their own minds about utterance and text. The research project does not deal with texts written with print design in mind, but with historical texts, never intended to be printed. These texts are often of complex nature, non-linear, multi-dimensional and of unending variation. This complexity derives as well from the cognitive process of textual production as from the dissemination of text(s) in space and time. For medieval documents, this can be observed e.g. in commentaries of theological texts. The project explores methods, techniques and technologies that answer questions of complexity in text-based research. It develops new forms of representation and multi-dimensional visualisation of textual complexity, advanced interfaces for human-computer interaction and interoperability with other resources. It does not, however, stay on a theoretical level. Its second objective is to create “knowledge sites” of two important historical documents which future researchers can employ for their own studies. As case-studies, two manuscripts containing Old-Irish glosses (8th Century) from the Würzburg library are chosen.

One of the overall objectives of the proposed research project is to create a “knowledge site” (manuscript images, texts and bibliography), where relations and interdependencies are not only described but can easily be visualised on a user’s request aiming at serving “as a resource offering readers access to a broad literary, historical, and textual study”. Since, so far, no particular method has been developed to cater to these objectives, an in-depth methodological research accompanies the creation of the knowledge-site. The project also provides a contribution to the on-going discussion of “electronic textuality” as well as a step forward for a better exploitation of the potential of electronic texts for scholarly work.
Following these considerations, this encompasses two main objectives:

1. To explore methods, techniques and technologies that answer the above mentioned questions, focussing in particular on the following aspects:
1a. Formalisation of complex textual relations;
1b. New forms of representation and multi-dimensional visualisation of textual complexity;
1c. Advanced interfaces for human-computer interaction;
1d. Interoperability with other resources.
2. To create “knowledge sites” of two important historical documents which future researchers can employ for their own studies.

Until its early termination, the following work has been performed:

- Bibliographical studies
- Digitization of “Würzburg Matthew” manuscript (UB WÜ thanks to the Libri Sancti Kiliani digitization project of the Würzburg University Library
- Development of a (digital) formalisation schema. This schema includes manuscript description, manuscript layout, text in different layers, and intertextual relations. With the exception of the latter, the schema by large extent builds on the Guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative. For intertextual relations (internal reference, external references to biblical texts, external references to patristic texts), a canonical system of references was developed. It follows mainly the (analogue) systematics of the Corpus Christianorum Series.
- A diplomatic transcription of based on the groundwork of late Michael Cahill
- Research on visualisation techniques and human-computer interfaces. Based on the schema for formalising intertextual relations, graphs were chosen as an appropriate model for visualising these relations. A survey of various graph-based visualisation tools, their features and drawbacks was undertaken. The system gephi has been chosen as being most suitable for the project. On Human-Computer-Interfaces focusing on digital editions / knowledge sites, the researcher co-organised and international conference Digital Editions and Research Libraries in 2011 and published the proceedings.
- Description of textual relations using the formalisation schema (partly completed).
- Development of functional prototypes for visualisation tools and user interfaces as proof-of-concept

See attachment for further illustrations.