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Post Scriptum: A Digital Archive of Ordinary Writings (Early Modern Portugal and Spain)

Final Report Summary - P.S. (Post Scriptum: A Digital Archive of Ordinary Writings (Early Modern Portugal and Spain))

Within the P.S. Post Scriptum project, systematic research was developed, along with the publishing and historical-linguistic study of private letters written in Portugal and Spain along the Early Modern Ages (16th to early 19th centuries). These documents are almost all unpublished letters made by authors from different social backgrounds. They could be masters or servants, adults or children, men or women, thieves, soldiers, artisans, priests, political activists, among other kinds of social agents. Their epistolarity survived by chance, when their paths met the persecution of the courts of justice (inquisitorial, civil, ecclesiastical, and military), given that courts have always used private correspondence as criminal evidence. Moreover, such instrumental correspondences were contextualized by the justices of their time, since they were filed within the court proceedings side by side with the transcription of the witnesses and defendants hearings. The documental value of these letters-as-evidence comes from the fact that they often present an almost oral rhetoric, treating everyday issues of past centuries in a register that hasn't been easy to study, apart from occasional examples.
The P.S. Project team has spotted, as intended from the beginning, a wide collection of private Portuguese and Spanish letters kept by 49 different archives (7,000 texts, the older ones from 1500 and the later ones from 1833). From these, the team selected, for the sake of publication and study, the sample that would allow to build a significant corpus, which, from the Corpus Linguistics perspective, has to have at least 1 million words. So the team built a 2 million words (tokens) bilingual corpus (1 million words for Portuguese letters and 1million for Spanish ones, i.e. 5,000 texts). The documents were photographed and transcribed in a paleographic manner and contextualized with the data that the team could extract from the surrounding documentation. A scholarly digital edition was then prepared, using the appropriate XML-TEI standard of textual encoding ( Successive experiments on the online publication of such edition have led to the adoption of a new environment, TEITOK, where the letters text, the participants stories, the historical situation description and the utterances grammar can all be cross-searchable in an interactive manner. The online environment was also used to transcribe and automatically annotate the letters language, thanks to its powerful back-office.
The data were also actively studied by the team in a number of peer reviewed conference presentations (62) and publications (21 journal articles and 28 book chapters). The topics developed by these approaches belong to several fields, from digital humanities to generative syntax, from corpus linguistics to language history, from discourse analysis to cultural history.
The main achievements of the above described work can be summed up as a well-succeeded creation of new compatibility between scholarly digital editions, designed to support historical studies (including language history) and robust annotated corpora, providing evidence for the study of language change. One parallel cultural achievement is the realization of a dream once described by Michel Foucault, referring to ordinary people living in the Early Modern times and caught in their anonymous - often miserable - condition by persecuting authorities: “We may amuse ourselves, if we wish, by seeing a revenge in this: the chance that enabled these absolutely undistinguished people to emerge from their place amid the dead multitudes, to gesticulate again, to manifest their rage, their affliction, or their invincible determination to err -- perhaps it makes up for the bad luck that brought power's lightning bolt down upon them, in spite of their modesty and anonymity.” (Michel Foucault, “The lives of infamous men”, Power, New York, 2001/1978, pp. 157-175, cit. p. 163).