Supporting Annotation as a Scholarly Tool: Experiences from the Online Chopin Variorum Edition

  1. 1. John Bradley

    King's College London

  2. 2. Paul Vetch

    King's College London

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Members of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities,
King's College London, in partnership with researchers
at Royal Holloway College, have been investigating the use of
some text/image comparison enhancement technologies for the
creation of an Online Chopin Variorum Edition (OCVE). The
project's primary research goal is to explore how one might
provide improved support for the comparative scholarly analysis
of (in this case musical) source materials (manuscripts, first
impressions of first editions, and later impressions which often
contain variants), using as a basis the music of the famous 19th
century composer Frédéric Chopin.
OCVE provides access to images of the music directly, rather
than to symbolic representations of that music. In this light, it
investigated three kinds of image manipulation:
1. superimposition: OCVE looked at the laying of images from
two defined filiation chains over top of each other in order
to reveal variants,
2. juxtaposition: OCVE explored the provision of tools to
facilitate the comparison of variants on a bar-by-bar basis,
3. combination/interpolation: OCVE considered the utility of
allowing users to create purposeful collations assembled
from the variants.
Figures 1 and 2 illustrate superimposition and juxtaposition in
the context of the OCVE project. Figure 2: OCVE Superimposition
At first glance perhaps OCVE looks like another digital archive
project, but a part of the goal of the project was to probe the
edges of established digital archive practice to see how that
model might be extended and made more useful to scholarship.
Digital library and archive research has been underway in
information and computing science for more than ten years
now, and started full of promise about the expected benefits to
scholars. After ten years, however, it would seem that the
humanities should be reaping these expected benefits that were
set out with such enthusiasm 10 years ago. Indeed, of course
there are clear tangible benefits from using digital archives and
similar resources. Note, for example, a recent report in the
AHDS Newsletter about the launch of the Early English Books
Online (EEBO) resource as a cheaply available resource for
colleges and universities in the UK. There a reader in History
of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway (University of
London) is reported as saying
Once you get a taste of what research can be like with EEBO you
want more. It transforms how you work. I can work at 2am. I can
scribble on my printouts. I'm not restricted by library opening
times. I've cut my transport costs and time. It's simply more
Clearly, the potential of simply making rare material more or
less instantly accessible on demand is a clear benefit, and one
that one hopes will be available to more and more researchers
over time.
At the same time, digital libraries in the 1990s seemed to
promise more than improved access alone, and in these other
areas they have proven to be somewhat of a disappointment.
See the recent analysis of the impact of digital libraries on
humanities research from the perspective of several librarians
who did some research on their impact:
While digital resources are becoming more visible in the
humanities, use of these resources by scholars remains limited.
Humanists have come to rely on computers and electronic
communication for some of their daily work, but the use of digital
information resources has yet to become routine. Digitization
projects are bringing texts, data sources, sound, and images to the
scholar's desktop; however, the functions on which research in
the humanities depend are neither well understood nor well
supported by librarians.
(Brockman et al.)
The Brockmann et al. report goes on to examine some aspects
of humanities research in general, and proposes some common
elements that appear in the work of many scholars, and that
perhaps should influence future technical developments in
digital libraries. One of the common elements is 'annotation'.
Humanists write in their books, they scribble notes on
photocopies; they print out material from online sources and
write on it as well. The report claims that the process of writing
these annotations, and the recording and organising of notes
that arise from this work supports the scholarly research process
for many researchers. It is interesting to note that the EEBO
user mentions this ( "scribbl[ing] on my printouts" ) explicitly
as one of the benefits of using EEBO as well.
There has been work in computing science developing models
of the role of annotation to support reading and research. Much
of this has evidently been linked to the development of tablet
computers where it is possible for the user to write on a digital
copy in the same way that they might want to write on a printed
one. Catherine Marshall's article "Towards an Ecology of
Hypertext Annotation" reports on a study of annotations in
textbooks, and begins the process of developing some models
of annotations, based upon the how the annotator intends to
use them in the future. In Marshall et al. there is a report on
how annotations on tablet computers supported the research
aims of a reading group. Bradley, in Bradley 2004, applied and
extended some of the models outlined by Marshall in her papers
to the task of humanities textual scholarship. This paper will
extend some of the issues presented in part there.
There is also some critical literature on the role of
annotation-like note taking and organisation, and an analysis
of the impact of computing support for these tasks in the social
sciences. There is some discussion of this literature, and its
possible relevance to humanities text-based scholarship in Bradley 2003, and this article draws attention to the potential
of providing computing support for such materials that goes
beyond merely supporting the representation (in something
like TEI) of notes and annotations to also developing tools to
support the process of building and organising the annotations,
and then using them to support study of the materials they are
linked to.
As a response to this work, we created a formal model for
annotations, a prototype annotation tool and an annotation
presentation environment in OCVE. In this paper we shall
discuss how we arrived at the model we had for OCVE, where
it supported (and where it failed to support) the act of analysis,
and we will provide some thoughts on how these tools might
be improved to better support creation and analysis. In addition,
OCVE annotations contained in their model some sense of
annotations for public and for private use. The paper will also
discuss some of the implications we noted in using annotations
in a public vs. a private manner, and how public annotations
relate to recent developments in public collaboration software
such as wikis.
Bradley, John. "Finding a Middle Ground between
'Determinism' and 'Aesthetic Indeterminacy': a Model for Text
Analysis Tools." Literary and Linguistic Computing 18.2
(2003): 185-207.
Bradley, John. "Highlighting the Past: Annotation of historical
texts to support Humanities Scholarship." Presentation given
at the University of Kentucky and MITH, University of
Maryland. April 2004. Accessed 2005-04-06. <http://ww
Brockman, William S., Laura Neumann, Carole L. Palmer, and
Tonyia J. Tidline. Scholarly Work in the Humanities and the
Evolving Information Environment, a report from the Council
on Library and Information Resources. Washington: Council
on Library and Information Resources, December 2001.
Accessed 2005-03-21. <
Leon, Pat. "Early English Books Online: The Holy Grail of
online resources?" Arts and Humanities Data Service
Newsletter (Autumn/Winter 2004). Accessed 2005-03-21. <h
Marshall, Catherine C. "Towards an Ecology of Hypertext
Annotation." Hypertext 98 (1998): 40-49.
Marshall, Catherine C., G. Golovchinsky, M. Price, and Bill
Schilit. "Introducing a digital library reading appliance into a
reading group." Proceedings DL (1999): 77-84.
Online Chopin Variorum Edition Pilot Project. Accessed
2005-03-03. <

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Conference Info

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Hosted at University of Victoria

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

June 15, 2005 - June 18, 2005

139 works by 236 authors indexed

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Series: ACH/ICCH (25), ALLC/EADH (32), ACH/ALLC (17)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

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