Is Ioannes Dantiscus coming to DH 2014 in Lausanne?


Dantiscus’ 2nd diplomatic journey

Ioannes Dantiscus, a Polish bishop and diplomat of the early 16th century, was a  prolific writer of letters. Their publication as a digital corpus throws much light on the Europe of his day. During his numerous diplomatic journeys he traversed the continent back and forth, acquainting himself with cultural and political elite of visited kingdoms. Relationships thus formed could last a lifetime and his vast circle of correspondents (ranging from Erasmus of Rotterdam and Nicolaus Copernicus to royal houses of Spain, Poland and Prussia) was important part of the Respublica Litteraria – crucial intellectual backbone of the time.

I will present the complete project of editing and publishing Dantiscus’ texts in greater detail soon, but for now I’d like to focus on one small aspect on which concentrates the research work of my Polish colleague Katarzyna Jasińska-Zdun. Her goal is to reconstruct Dantiscus’ journeys – mostly on the basis of his correspondence. With over 6,000 Latin and German manuscripts there is work piled up high for her!

Good news is, she’s not the first one* to dedicate her working days to the Dantiscus’ heritage so all his known correspondence is already recorded in an extensive database and annotated in TEI/XML. It should be pretty straightforward then to extract the necessary information thanks to little XSLT/XQuery magic and we’ll end up with a list of places and dates for which we know he was present there because he either has sent or received a letter in that location. Which is all very well, but as the saying goes the picture’s worth a thousand words. If the picture is moving – only the better!

This brings us eventually to the TEI Hackathon at Lausanne. Presently we are at the stage of choosing projects we’ll be pursuing during the event. My vote goes to Rendering Complex Markup section. So, from the top of my had I’ll list some possible visualisations (all involving underlying map):

– mark the places where the letter was sent from/received

– mark the routes between the cities

– add the slider allowing the user to change the time period and visualise the reconstructed position of the author as circle moving along the routes with the size of the circle growing in accordance with our uncertainty

Of course, there’s more geographical data to be extracted from TEI annotated texts. Presumably we could visualise not only places of sending or receiving but all places mentioned in the texts and even deduct more information from mentions of other people. You might possibly not be as enthusiastic as Katarzyna about some long-dead guy from Gdańsk (that’s what Dantiscus means) but let’s notice that an imp0rtant percentage of digital editing project covers letters and probably all have place names in them. It might be quite universal thing after all, not to mention great fun**.

* Dr Anna Skolimowska is well known to wast dedicate her life to the cause.

** Even more fun is to be had if we end up with Toledo, OH, United States instead of Toledo, Spain.

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Is it all about the looks?

I’ve a paper underway called “Ending the myth of presentation in digital editions”. It’s about –as you might’ve guessed – shifting the perceived goal of digital edition from it’s published instantiation to underlying annotated data, from which the publication in whichever form may be created. Is there some logic then in inventing classification of the digital scholarly editions based on the publication?

Let’s assume you have the data, all beautifully prepared, lacking only the means to get to wider auditorium. What could you do now?

Basically you have three options, just like dinner courses. And you’re allowed all three though it comes at a price (and may cause obesity). Don’t know where this metaphor will take me, most probably some pub brawl, but let’s try anyway. First of your courses would be an old-school printed edition (or a modern take on that – ePub, Kindle, you name it). You will have golden embossing on the cover, you can put it on the shelf, support broken chair and whatnot. There’ll always be some cosy library corner to host it (even though not many will spot it there). Nice, isn’t it?

But what about a website. Reach the masses with the broadband connection! Hypertexting connecting everything with anything, images zooming, your carefully composed commentary popping out at every corner, brilliant visualisations, what’s not to like?

For the still un-satiated there is a dessert. Special-orders only, so sadly there may be a bit of a wait. But it’s gonna be worth it, just better plan a lump sum in your budget beforehand. What exactly do you gain? But the freedom to roam of course. Let’s have a look at all three again.

Book (or digital imitation). You can read and that’s mostly it. Digital version you can probably search. Website – you can browse to your heart’s content, view it at different angles and search – either by predefined criteria or Google style. It’s super fast, portable, easy on the server’s processing powers and doesn’t require fancy software unavailable with your hosting company. This is really a lot and, in most cases, enough. But the fussy wants more. He not only wants to read, not only wants to be entertained by your prepared visualisations but knows there’s a whole lot of structured data underneath and wants to dissect it, turn it up-side down, analyse and generally play with it in his own foul manner. It really depends if you’re willing to cater for these kind of people or maybe you’re one of their number yourself?


extremely lossy – less lossy – not lossy: imaginative classification of publication methods

So as the output you have version that (in comparison with your annotated data) is:

  • extremely lossy
  • just lossy
  • not lossy at all.

Of the three, what would you choose? I don’t think printed version is going away anytime soon. But between two and three the seemingly prevailing choice is the website. As to why’s I can only guess:

  • it’s relatively quick/easy/cheap to produce
  • it lets the authors retain plenty of control over how the data is used

Personally I think the latter is the way to go, as it’s the only way that unlocks full research value of the edition and makes it re-usable and re-publishable in new, better ways in the long term. Still, it poses serious obstacles, one of which are it’s costs and difficulty to produce and to archive. Which boils down to the question: are we able to develop tools that make option 3 similarly easy as 2 or 1? And what exactly the requirements for such tools are? The latter is my task as DiXiT researcher so I’ll keep you posted.

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It’s a start

I joined the Academic IT on April 1st as Researcher for the Digital Scholarly Editions – 20month fellowship funded by the Marie Curie DiXiT (Digital Scholarly Editions Initial Training Network) project.  I am working at Banbury Road under supervision of James Cummings on the development of a modular publication architecture for scholarly digital editions, especially those that implement the TEI model.
For the past few years I’ve been busy developing software for the edition of Ioannes Dantiscus’ Correspondence and other humanities research projects at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, University of Warsaw, Poland as well as teaching computer workshops for students and staff there.
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