The Canadian Comparative Literature Association (CCLA/ACLC) celebrated in 2019 its fiftieth anniversary. The association’s annual conference, which took place from June 2 to 5, 2019 as part of the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Canada at UBC (Vancouver), provided an opportunity to reflect on the place of comparative literature in our institutions. We organized a joint bilingual roundtable bringing together comparatists and digital humanists who think and put in place collaborative editorial practices. Our goal was to foster connections between two communities that ask similar questions about the modalities for the creation, dissemination and legitimation of our research. We wanted our discussions to result in a concrete intervention, thought and written collaboratively and demonstrating what comparative literature promotes. The manifesto you will read, “Knowledge is a commons – Pour des savoirs en commun”, presents the outcome of our collective reflexion and hopes to be the point of departure for more collaborative work.
Thanks to a panel on the Journal in the digital age at CSDH-SCHN 2020 I learned about the manifesto, Knowledge is a commons – Pour des savoirs en commun. The manifesto was “written colingually, that is, alternating between English and French without translating each element into both languages. This choice, which might appear surprising, puts into practice one of our core ideas: the promotion of active and fluid multilingualism.” This is important.
The manifesto makes a number of important points which I summarize in my words:
We need to make sure that knowledge is truly made public. It should be transparent, open and reversible (read/write).
We have to pay attention to the entire knowledge chain of research to publication and rebuild it in its entirety so as to promote access and inclusion.
The temporalities, spaces, and formats of knowledge making matter. Our tools and forms like our thought should be fluid and plural as they can structure our thinking.
We should value the collectives that support knowledge-making rather than just authoritative individuals and monolithic texts. We should recognize the invisible labourers and those who provide support and infrastructure.
We need to develop inclusive circles of conversation that cross boundaries. We need an ethics of open engagement.
We should move towards an active and fluid multilingualism (of which the manifesto is an example.)
Writing is co-writing and re-writing and writing beyond words. Let’s recognize a plurality of writing practices.
Do you need online teaching ideas and materials? Dialogica was supposed to be a text book, but instead we are adapting it for use in online learning and self-study. It is shared here under a CC BY 4.0 license so you can adapt as needed.
Dialogica (http://dialogi.ca) plays with the idea of learning through a dialogue. A dialogue with the text; a dialogue mediated by the tool; and a dialogue with instructors like us.
Dialogica is made up of a set of tutorials that students should be able to alone or with minimal support. These are Word documents that you (instructors) can edit to suit your teaching and we are adding to them. We have added a gloss of teaching notes. Later we plan to add Spyral notebooks that go into greater detail on technical subjects, including how to program in Spyral.
Dialogica is made available with a CC BY 4.0 license so you can do what you want with it as long as you give us some sort of credit.
Michael Sinatra invited me to a “show and tell” workshop at the new Université de Montréal campus where they have a long data wall. Sinatra is the Director of CRIHN (Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur les humanitiés numériques) and kindly invited me to show what I am doing with Stéfan Sinclair and to see what others at CRIHN and in France are doing.
The goal of Lincs is to create a shared linked data store that humanities projects can draw on and contribute to. This would let us link our digital resources in ways that create new intellectual connections and that allow us to reason about linked data.
He started by talking about whether textual traditions had any relationship to the material world. How do texts relate to each other?
Today stemata as visualizations are models that go beyond the manuscripts themselves to propose evolutionary hypotheses in visual form.
He then showed what he is doing with the Canterbury Tales Project and then talked about the challenges adapting the time-consuming transcription process to other manuscripts. There are lots of different transcription systems, but few that handle collation. There is also the problem of costs and involving a distributed network of people.
He then defined text:
A text is an act of (human) communication that is inscribed in a document.
I wondered how he would deal with Allen Renear’s argument that there are Real Abstract Objects which, like Platonic Forms are real, but have no material instance. When we talk, for example, of “hamlet” we aren’t talking about a particular instance, but an abstract object. Likewise with things like “justice”, “history,” and “love.” Peter responded that the work doesn’t exist except as its instances.
He also mentioned that this is why stand-off markup doesn’t work because texts aren’t a set of linear objects. It is better to represent it as a tree of leaves.
The question I want to explore today is this: what do we do about distant reading, now that we know that Franco Moretti, the man who coined the phrase “distant reading,” and who remains its most famous exemplar, is among the men named as a result of the #MeToo movement.
Lauren Klein has posted an important blog entry on Distant Reading after Moretti. This essay is based on a talk delivered at the 2018 MLA convention for a panel on Varieties of Digital Humanities. Klein asks about distant reading and whether it shelters sexual harassment in some way. She asks us to put not just the persons, but the structures of distant reading and the digital humanities under investigation. She suggests that it is “not a coincidence that distant reading does not deal well with gender, or with sexuality, or with race.” One might go further and ask if the same isn’t true of the digital humanities in general or the humanities, for that matter. Klein then suggests some thing we can do about it:
We need more accessible corpora that better represent the varieties of human experience.
We need to question our models and ask about what is assumed or hidden.
This directory contains 450 novels that appeared between 1770 and 1930 in German, French and English. It is designed for us in teaching and research.
Andrew Piper mentioned a corpus that he put together, txtlab Multilingual Novels. This corpus is of some 450 novels from the late 18th century to the early 20th (1920s). It has a gender mix and is not only English novels. This corpus was supported by SSHRC through the Text Mining the Novel project.
Domenico Fiormonte has recently blogged about an interesting document he has by Father Busa that relates to a difficult moment in the history of the digital humanities in Italy in 2002. The two page “Conditional Agreement”, which I translate below, was given to Domenico and explained the terms under which Busa would agree to sign a letter to the Minister (of Education and Research) Moratti in response to Moratti’s public statement about the uselessness of humanities informatics. A letter was being prepared to be signed by a large number of Italian (and foreign) academics explaining the value of what we now call the digital humanities. Busa had the connections to get the letter published and taken seriously for which reason Domenico visited him to get his help, which ended up being conditional on certain things being made clear, as laid out in the document. Domenico kept the two pages Busa wrote and recently blogged about them. As he points out in his blog, these two pages are a mini-manifesto of Father Busa’s later views of the place and importance of what he called textual informatics. Domenico also points out how political is the context of these notes and the letter eventually signed and published. Defining the digital humanities is often about positioning the field in the larger academic and public political spheres we operate in.
Yesterday I gave a talk at Access 2016. This conference brings together archivists and librarians interested in library technology. I was honoured to give the Dave Binkley Memorial Lecture at the end of the conference. My conference notes are here. My talk was about the ethics of digitization, or more generally datafication.