The Ibsen Letters - and Beyond

  1. 1. Øyvind Eide

    Center for Ibsen Studies - University of Oslo, Unit for Digital Documentation - University of Oslo

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The Ibsen Letters - and Beyond


Centre for Ibsen Studies
University of Oslo


University of Virginia

Charlottesville, VA





This paper will explore the possibilities for combining TEI encoding and database
approaches in order to present a structure of metadata about letters, and
demonstrate how these metadata can be used to integrate information from
different sources in order to generate TEI documents "on the fly". We will also
show how this system can be extended to include not only letters wrritten by a
single person, bu also letter exchanges between different persons.
In January 1998, the Manuscript project at the Centre for Ibsen Studies at the
University of Oslo was started. The goals of the project are as follows:
Locate all original manuscripts and letters written by Ibsen
Track down material that is still unknown to the research
Make digital facsimiles of all manuscripts and letters

The Manuscript project works in close co-operation with two other projects which
are also located at the centre, i.e. The International Ibsen Bibliography1. <>
and the Henrik Ibsen's Writing.2. <> The
digitization part of the Manuscript project does not aim at digitizing a
particular collection of documents from one archive, but the writings of Henrik
Ibsen wherever they are located. The manuscripts for his plays, poems, articles
and speeches constitute a relatively small number of items located in 10-15
collections, whereas ownership of approximately 2.700 known letters, telegrams
and dedications3. This number includes letters that we know the
existence, but not the whereabouts, of. We believe most of them to be spread between 100-150 different libraries, archives, museums
and private collectors.
We have developed a digital register of all known letters based on a printed
register from 1978.4. Henrik Ibsen's brev : kronologisk registrant
med adressatregister m.v. / ved Øyvind Anker. - Oslo, 1978. The
purpose of the digital register is to:
Contain information about each of Ibsen's letters, including
information about the location of the originals
Contain information about the status of the digitization of each
letter, with links to the digital facsimiles
Support advanced searches

The use of TEI for metadata is, along with formats like EAD, MARC and Dublin
Core, found in several other projects.5. The William Blake Archive
<> uses TEI for
manuscript description. See also three papers from DRH'97 <>: "Integrating data
and metadata in the digital library: SGML and other approaches" by MacKenzie
Smith, Harvard University Libraries; "EAD at the Library of Congress: a
progress report" by Lee Ellen Friedland, Library of Congress; and "Linking
word and image: two TEI-based imaging projects" by Richard Gartner, Pearson
New Media Librarian, Bodleian Library, Oxford. In the first version
of the register, it was a single SGML file using a small subset of TEI Lite. The
links to the facsimiles were contained in the register for each letter, but
there were no links to transcriptions, as the aim of the project was to make
facsimiles, and not transcripts. But, as we will see later, this kind of
information is included at a different level.
As in other projects using TEI for metadata, we soon faced a file size
problem.6. "SGML solution can obviate many of these problems:
[...] It can, however, lead to extremely large documents when the collection
is large." MacKenzie Smith, op.cit. We decided to convert the TEI
file into a database, but we wanted to continue using the TEI format for
delivery. We use PERL scripts to link the database to a HTTP interface. The
search page is written in HTML, while the user can choose to have the result of
a search delivered as a TEI lite document or as a document containing a HTML
This system presents the results of our project. But printed editions of most of
the letters exist in electronic forms. It is important for the users to have
access to as much source material concerning Ibsen as possible, provided the
quality of the material is of an acceptable standard.
Therefore, we made an agreement with the Documentation project7.
<> to include
searches in their database of classical Norwegian literary texts as a part of
our presentation. This made it possible to include a link to a text version of
each letter, together with the link to the facsimiles.
This system can be described using the library catalogue metaphor: The register
database corresponds to the card catalogue. A search in this database will
produce "cards" pointing to the online resources. Some questions regarding
integration of the different source materials will be discussed in this
A main problem with publishing letters as described above is that it does not
show clearly in which way the letters are part of an exchange between two
persons. Letters to Ibsen from some persons, e.g. the author Bjørnstjerne
Bjørnson, are also published in digital form by the Documentation project. We
will demonstrate a user interface that shows the two participants in a letter
exchange as a TEI document presenting the letters in chronological order, with
facsimiles and text when they are available. Some of the difficulties we faced
in this work will be discussed.
Most letter exchanges will be part of a vast international web. No single
institution, nor single country, can publish a complete set. Possibilities to
use our approach for integration of collections and registries of letters will
be discussed. A long-term goal is a system where all digitally available letter
registers and collections worldwide are available through an integrated search
system. This would be an important step in the direction of a digital library
with an organization based on content, not on the locations of paper

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Conference Info

In review


Hosted at University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

June 9, 1999 - June 13, 1999

102 works by 157 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ICCH (19), ALLC/EADH (26), ACH/ALLC (11)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

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