Creative Engagement with Creative Works: a New Paradigm for Collaboration

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Steven E. Jones

    Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities - Loyola University, Chicago

  2. 2. Peter Shillingsburg

    Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities - Loyola University, Chicago

  3. 3. George K. Thiruvathukal

    Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities - Loyola University, Chicago

Work text
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Creative Engagement with
Creative Works: a New
Paradigm for Collaboration
Jones, Steven E.
Loyola University Center for Textual Studies
and Digital Humanities
Shillingsburg, Peter
Loyola University Center for Textual Studies
and Digital Humanities
Thiruvathukal, George K.
Loyola University Center for Textual Studies
and Digital Humanities
Funded in part by a Digital Start-up Grant
from the National Endowment for the
Creative Engagement with
Creative Works
is a project to build a new
online environment (e-Carrel) and integrated
tools with the aim of improving understanding
of creative processes across various humanities
disciplines and genres. Studies of the production
and reception of literary, historical, musical, and
philosophical works are all built on primary
materials that are textual in the broad sense--
documentary, material objects: manuscripts,
newspapers, periodicals, pamphlets, books, and
images. But current solutions to digitizing
and providing access to these materials are
structurally flawed and lead away from the
often-stated goal of extensive collaboration.
Digital transcriptions relying on XML or other
inline markup can often prevent or limit
collaboration on the files themselves, can
(paradoxically) threaten a project’s integrity,
and can lead to early maintenance problems and
the ultimate abandonment of projects beyond
the lifetimes of their initial creators.
We propose using standoff markup instead,
indexing these files to inviolate core files, thus
affecting the way humanities disciplines interact
with primary materials--moving away from
proprietary, look-but-don't-touch window-case
projects toward secure and enduring projects
that are open to ongoing annotation and re-
markup, and which thus encourage widely
collaborative knowledge sites.
Electronic projects that restrict their
construction and enhancement to a select few
persons as a way to protect the intellectual
integrity of their resources inadvertently
introduce a significant threat to the durability
of text files, whose hard-won accuracy is
the result of expert attention. The creators’
anxiety to protect the results of their time-
consuming and labor-intensive in-line-tagging
leads to a proprietary attitude that’s detrimental
to scholarly collaboration, because everyone
knows that the text files are vulnerable to
inadvertent change every time they are reopened
for further tagging. Protective restriction also
restricts truly collaborative work, the life of
digital humanities projects in the world.
These restrictions can be loosened or eliminated
by a fundamentally different approach to
collaboration, durability, and maintenance,
pioneered in scientific fields following principles
modular component structure,
distribution and aggregation systems,
stand-off enhancement mechanisms, and
methods for identifying and crediting
researchers with their individual
contributions to composite research projects.
These trends in software development allow
for decentralized alterations. But even free/
open source (FOSS) software projects are not
without problems. The past was dominated
largely by projects where the code was kept
under tight wraps, using version control systems
such as CVS (Concurrent Versions System) and
Subversion. Only a handful of FOSS projects
succeed with this model, notably the Firefox
project, but many FOSS projects are already
migrating to more distributed approaches (the
Python language, the Linux kernel, etc.). Much
like archives, software development projects
in the FOSS community tend to self-organize
and establish their own governance. While they
make their code available (as required by the
FOSS licensing schemes) they also tend to fall
into disuse, making it hard for new developers to
come along and take the project to new levels.

Distributed version control systems record a
project's entire history and state, which can be
copied freely, allowing derived works to take
place. When a copy is made, however, the entire
history is kept intact, allowing new contributors
to either make their own changes or to push their
changes back to the original maintainer. The
push/pull model is so sophisticated that anyone
who makes changes can get recognition for their
work, because their specific changes to the code
are encoded in the derived history.
Our Creative Engagement with Creative Works
and e-Carrel environment incorporates these
principles and adds the functions of stand-
off files for markup and annotation, along
with a dynamic authentication mechanism.
Experimentation has shown the considerable
promise of such functionality. (See the Just
InTime Markup system rototyped at the
University of New South Wales at ADFA
by our Senior Consultant, Paul Eggert and
his team working on Australian literature;
and see Desmond Schmidt’s MVD or Multi
Version Document system, the architecture and
some code of which we are incorporating).
These are the building blocks of our project’s
coherent vision for archiving creative works
for creative collaboration, preservation, and
dynamic interactive access, realized in the form
of tools and programming frameworks.
We establish an image file and a base text
for each significant version of a work. Text
data for all versions are compressed in a
composite, inviolable CorTex file, which anchors
all stand-off contributions. Each participant's
contribution is credited and protected from
work by other contributors. Endusers choose
a historical text (or other object) plus
desired types of enhancements from a
menu dynamically aggregated from distributed
sources. The e-Carrel processes and presents
perspectives of texts and enhancements for
viewing, printing, or export in commonly used
formats. Individual projects using the system
can vet and certify parts of a project. And--most
important--this system allows for the storage,
retrieval, and coordination of different, even
conflicting editorial or critical approaches to the
same literary work. In this way, it opens the
horizon of any given project’s ongoing reception.
By giving scholars and students a vested
interest in a growing integrated collaborative
project, CECW ensures preservation and
access to textual research projects and their
superstructure of critical analysis at the same
time that it promotes collaboration beyond
the project initiators' participation and goals.
Project viability follows community ownership
and becomes a widely distributed responsibility.
The system ensures long-term maintenance
and growth through collective ownership,
distributed storage, and the principle of
LOCKSS (Lots of copies keep stuff safe).
Our strong definition of LOCKSS, which
distributes multiple accurate copies, and in an
ongoing process verifies them by way of the
persistent CorText data and checksum system, is
significantly different from the "soft" version of
LOCKSS that just sends "copies" into the world
in whatever state and trusts to the hive mind for
endurance and integrity.
CECW makes use of RDF capabilities and is
XML aware but is by design markup agnostic.
It allows for the importation of materials from
other systems and prepares perspectives of the
E-Carrel materials for export in various forms
compatible with other systems (such as PDF and
in-line coded XML).
This poster session will provide demos of
portions of the software in development, in
particular, the standoff markup tool used
within the E-Carrel environment. A case-study
CoreText will be loaded for the purposes of
Eggert, Paul
(2009). 'The Book, the e-Text,
and the Worksite'.
Text Editing, Print and the
Digital World.
Loyola University Center for Textual Studies
and Digital Humanities.
Schmidt, Desmond
(2009). 'A Data Structure
for Representing Multi-Version Texts Online'.
Int. J. Human-Computer Studies.
: 497-514.
Shillingsburg, Peter
Gutenberg to Google.
Cambridge: Cambridge

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2010
"Cultural expression, old and new"

Hosted at King's College London

London, England, United Kingdom

July 7, 2010 - July 10, 2010

142 works by 295 authors indexed

XML available from (still needs to be added)

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (5)

Organizers: ADHO

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