The Orlando Project, which has regularly reported on its work in progress at meetings of ACH/ALLC, is due for publication in early 2006. In this paper the three originating literary scholars on the project will look
back at the its original goals, consider significant
turning-points in the process, and reflect on what the
project ended up producing for the first release.
The project takes its name from Virginia Woolf’s fantastic narrative of an aspiring English writer who begins life as an Elizabethan male and is transformed in the course of the novel’s romp through history into a woman who lives up to the year of the novel’s publication in1928. The transformation occurs while Orlando is abroad as ambassador extraordinary for King Charles II in Turkey. Woolf’s narrator has much to say about the difficulties
this poses for the historian, lamenting that “the revolution which broke out during his period of office, and the fire which followed, have so damaged or destroyed all those
papers from which any trustworthy record could be drawn,
that what we can give is lamentably incomplete.” The charred fragments offer some clues, but “often it has been necessary to speculate, to surmise, and even to use the imagination.” We would locate the electronic Orlando, like Woolf’s protagonist, as the site of an extraordinary transformation associated with the challenges of moving
between cultures, the limitations of paper, and the necessity
for speculation, imagination, and new approaches to scholarship.
None of us were experienced in humanities computing when the project was begun; we set out to write a feminist literary history. In the process of trying to figure out how to do it, we decided to use computers. Ten years later, we have produced an extensively tagged XML textbase comprising a history of women’s writing in the British
Isles in a form quite unlike any previous history of
writing. At a glance, it may look like another translation
into electronic form of the genre of alphabetical
companion or literary encyclopedia, and it is indeed deeply
indebted to that flexible and enduring form. However, our custom markup system has been used to tag a wide range of semantic content in the textbase, and a backend indexing and delivery system allows that markup to be exploited to produce on-the-fly documents composed of portions of the project’s digitally original source
documents. The result is a very flexible and dynamic
approach to literary history that challenges users to harness
the power of the encoding to pursue their own interests.
Recent argument about the crisis in scholarly publishing, such as that marshaled by Jerome McGann in support of the NINES initiative, has focused on the need to draw a larger community of scholars into best-practice methods
of electronic markup and publication of texts. This is
both crucial as a means of addressing the crisis, and
indispensable to the continued development of electronic
tools to serve the humanities research community. We
offer ourselves as a kind of case study in such a process, given that our project did not originate as humanities computing endeavour but was completely transformed in the course of becoming one. In going electronic, we became radically experimental, tackling problems and producing results that we could not have foreseen at the outset.
We will reflect on the results of taking an already very ambitious project electronic in relation to a range of
o the impact on the intellectual trajectory of the
project of engaging with, in addition to our disciplinary
subject matter, a whole new field of inquiry and
undertaking what became an interdisciplinary
experiment in knowledge representation;
o the impact on the project’s temporal trajectory;
o funding, and its relationship to funding structures and opportunities;
o the intensification of collaboration, increase in
project personnel, and transformation of roles and responsibilities;
o the impact on research and writing methods of composing an extensive scholarly text in XML;
o the shaping of the research itself by the use of XML;
o the development a delivery system that aimed at once to be reassuringly accessible and to challenge users to employ the system in new ways;
o dilemmas regarding modes of publication
While the paper will, given the constraints of time,
necessarily touch briefly on some of these various areas,
these reflections will be framed as an inquiry into what it means to bridge the gap between the community of researchers deeply invested in humanities computing and the wider scholarly community.
We have come to see Orlando as a kind of emissary of humanities computing, in that we hope it will prove to be a major step towards establishing methods for
encoding critical scholarly materials. It provides a test case of the feasibility and benefits of employing XML to encode large semantic units of critical discourse. It offers a model which we hope will be employed and adapted by other projects, and we will indicate the direction we would like to take the project in the future. But perhaps most importantly, the Orlando Project offers a substantial resource that in its design will, we hope, alert scholars
beyond the humanities computing community to the
potential of encoding as a means of scholarly inquiry and a tool of critical expression. The proof of that will be in the pudding, of course, so the paper will also report as far as possible on the initial reaction from the scholarly community in the field of English studies to the project’s public release.
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The effort to establish ADHO began in Tuebingen, at the ALLC/ACH conference in 2002: a Steering Committee was appointed at the ALLC/ACH meeting in 2004, in Gothenburg, Sweden. At the 2005 meeting in Victoria, the executive committees of the ACH and ALLC approved the governance and conference protocols and nominated their first representatives to the ‘official’ ADHO Steering Committee and various ADHO standing committees. The 2006 conference was the first Digital Humanities conference.
Conference website: http://www.allc-ach2006.colloques.paris-sorbonne.fr/