Can Pliny be one of the muses? How Pliny could support scholarly writing

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. John Bradley

    King's College London

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In Bradley 2008a the software Pliny (Pliny 2007) is
described as a tool to support traditional scholarship,
which, in turn, is assumed to be based on the reading
of primary and secondary texts and the eventual writing
of new secondary texts that describe an interpretation
that has emerged in the scholar’s mind as s/he worked
with his/her materials (p. 266). In that paper I described
mechanisms – there called affordances – that Pliny provides
to support personal annotation and the use of personal
annotation to support the development of an interpretation.
Fig. 1 (taken from my presentation at the DH2008 conference:
Bradley 2008b) shows, in a way somewhat different
from that shown in Bradley 2008a, where Pliny
is meant to fit in the three-stage processed described in
Bradley 2008a.
Fig. 1: Pliny and a scholar’s personal space
Perhaps this figure makes it more evident that Pliny fits
between two borders that separate public and personal
space: one that takes non-personal materials as inspiration
in (on the left) and a second one (on the right) that
puts personal materials out into the public domain again
in the form of a book or article. In past work on Pliny
I have focused primarily on the boundary on the left in
Fig. 1 and on how the computer might support the development
of a personal interpretation (in the middle). For
this poster I’d like to extend some thinking, and promote
some thinking by others, about the boundary between
the public and personal space that is shown on the right
– output from Pliny rather than input into it.
Section 6 of Bradley 2008a described the beginnings
of a kind of strategy for how to use Pliny’s interpretation
development affordances to support the writing of
a traditional presentation. It also touches on the way
that Pliny can export its formal model of the materials
it holds about an interpretation into a computer-ontological-
kind of format – currently Topic Maps (Biezunski et
al., 2002). There is certainly interesting further work to
do to explore the potential of the formal output of Pliny
materials to represent scholarly thinking in, say, XML,
but this is not the focus of this poster. Instead, I would
like to focus on strategies that could be built into Pliny to
assist its user in the transformation of materials that s/he
has put into Pliny into a traditional prose text.
The task of putting ones thoughts into the linear order of
a text that is understandable to others is quite evidently
a difficult one, and although a 2D Pliny-like representation
of the things one wishes to discuss is helpful, it
seems, by providing a holistic personal overview of your
materials that could be used to guide writing, the task
of taking this overview and transforming it into prose
is still difficult. There seem to be two issues: one is
captured by the seeming difficulty of fully representing a
2D hierarchical Pliny reference space as a 1D (temporal)
hierarchical object that is, superficially at least, the basis
of scholarly writing. The second relates to what happens
to personal materials such as the kind of notes one
makes in Pliny – insights perhaps – when they become
public objects. Catherine Marshall (Marshall 1998, pp.
40-42, and again in Marshall and Brush 2004) categories
personal annotation, for example, as different from public
annotation – more informal, more terse, likely often
even enigmatic to the outside reader – and it is in this
difference that perhaps the challenge of transforming a
collection of these things into prose meant to be read by
others also resides.
There is, of course, a substantial amount of work that
theorises about the act of writing and reading. I confess
that I am not in a position to fully take all of this in,
although among my readings in this area I have found
the work of George Landow (see, for example, Landow
1997), to be as close as anything else I have read that
tries to blend theoretical and practical in ways that provide
useful pragmatic clues about the process. My aim
with Pliny is primarily practical rather than theoretical,
although I would wish, where possible, to do work here
that would be informed by whatever practical insights
can be drawn from the theorising that has been done
about scholarly writing. An alternate, and definitely
more practical stream of thinking comes from computer
science in the work of Marshall, Frank Shipman and others
on software like VIKI and VITE and with social sciences theorists in their thinking about tools to support
qualitative analysis (see Shipman et al 1995, and Hsieh
and Shipman 2000 for a computer science perspective
and Pandit 1996 for an overview of that from the social
sciences). In between, perhaps, is the work of Linda
Flower, who in Flower 1988 recognises the rhetorical element
in the act of transforming ideas into prose. Much
of Flower’s article is based around the transformation of
what she calls the “writer’s web of purpose” (pg 532-
534): a verbal image that seems compatible to the graphoriented
model for ideas that Pliny supports.
Work in Pliny so far in this area has been influenced
mostly by some of Marshall and Shipman’s work and
has centered on recognising the challenges inherent in
taking a 2-D Pliny representation of an interpretation
and expressing it satisfactorily in the seeming essentially
1-D temporal context of scholarly writing. The Pliny
user can, of course, create an object specifically to represent
a piece s/he is writing, assemble issues of interest
and play around with them to find a set of relationships
between them that work best, and then use the resulting
2-D space to think about a 1-D ordering that will guide
her/his writing. Pliny can currently look for and exploit
in a rudimentary way such visual structures that the user
has created to guess how the space might be best mapped
into one dimension, and work is now underway to enhance
Pliny’s ability in this area through applying some
of the facilities described in writings about VIKI. Some
work has been done as well to assist the user in managing
the mix of public and private objects in his/her Pliny
connection so that ones aimed at the public are exported
to be taken up in the writing of an article.
The questions to be asked, then, are (a) what are the intellectual
challenges to taking a holistic 2D model of an
interpretation of the kind one can build in Pliny and turning
it into a text, and can Pliny assist this in ways better
than it does now, and (b) what issues arise in the transformation
of private materials such as one accumulated
in Pliny into a public text, and can Pliny help there more
than it does now. I’d be delighted to hear ideas from
conference attendees.
Biezunski, M., Newcomb, S., and Pepper, S. (ed.)
(2002). ISO/IEC 13250 Topic Maps (2nd edn). International
Organization for Standardization. Online at
0322_files/iso13250-2nd-ed-v2.pdf (accessed 7
Novemberr 2008).
Bradley, John (2008a). Thinking about Interpretation:
Pliny and Scholarship in the Humanities. In Literary and
Linguistic Computing Vol. 23 No, 3, 2008, pp. 263-79.
doi: 10.1093/llc/fqn021. Online at http://llc.oxfordjournals.
&keytype=ref . (accessed 7 November 2008).
Bradley, John (2008b), “Playing together: modular
tools and Pliny”. Peer reviewed paper given in the Digital
Humanities 2008 conference, University of Oulu,
Oulu, Finland, 28 June 2008. A draft version of this is
online at
Accessed 7 November 2008.
Flower, Linda (1988). “The Construction of Purpose in
Writing and Reading”. In College English, Vol. 50. No.
5 9Sept. 1988). pp. 528-550.
Hsieh, Hao-wei and Frank M. Shipman III (2000).
“Vite: A Visual Interface Supporting the Direct Manipulation
of Structured Data Using Two-Way Mappings”.
In Procedings of the IUI Conference, New Orleans. pp.
Landow, George P. (1997). Hypertext 2.0: Being a Revised,
Expanded Edition of Hypertext: the Convergence
of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore,
MD: John Hopkins University Press.
Marshall, Catherine C. (1998). “Towards an ecology
of hypertext annotation”. In Proceedings of HyperText
98. New York: ACM. pp. 40-9.
Marshall, Catherine C. and A.J. Bernheim Brush.
(2005). “Exploring the Relationship between Personal
and Public Annotations”. In Proceedings for the JCDL
’04 conference. New York: ACM.
Pandit, Naresh R. (1996). “The Creation of Theory: A
Recent Application of the Grounded Theory Method”.
In The Qualitative Report, Volume 2, Number 4, December,
1996. Online at
Pliny 2007. Pliny project homepage. Online at http://
Shipman, Frank M., Catherine C. Marshall, and
Thomas P. Moran (1995). “Finding and Using Implicit
Structure in Human-Organized Spatial Layouts of Information”.
In Proceedings of CHI 95, Denver, Colorado,
May 7- 11, 1995, pp. 346-353

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2009

Hosted at University of Maryland, College Park

College Park, Maryland, United States

June 20, 2009 - June 25, 2009

176 works by 303 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (4)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None