Digital Scholarship Incubator Reflections: Everett Lang

This post is part of a series of reflections from 2017 Digital Scholarship Incubator participants.

Everett Lang: Talking to other people in the workshop who have done similar projects has encouraged me to start reaching out for advice, and also to start collecting examples of other digital text projects.The first session has raised a some questions I hadn’t yet considered about the practical sides of project management. While most of these concerns will hopefully be addressed in the upcoming topic sessions, it was a bit of a wake-up call about the amount of work that will be required. I am also beginning to break down the preparatory part of the project into individual tasks. A recurrent question is “How much of of this background scholarship do I want or need to present digitally?” The first thing I want to do is to establish a critical edition of the text, working from the first two printed editions. While this is something that is secondary to the project’s primary goal, and I could even do this “by hand,” the nature the project suggests I could also present a critical apparatus as another layer of information in the main text, or as an accompanying file to the primary project text.

Another background task I would like to spend more time on is engaging with the research about how readers experience digital texts. I have some notes on this topic from the Literacy class I took at the BC School of Education two years ago, and this will provide my starting point. What I think want to do is to use essentially the same markup tools that are used in presenting scholarly texts in order to present a learner-focused commentaries that can be viewed without breaking the flow of reading. My project is inspired by the own experience using the digital tools for Greek and Latin texts (specifically Perseus Project) that provide a certain amount of information about individual words by compiling links to dictionary definitions. However, this process disrupts the process of reading for learners by switching out of the target language; it also atomizes the language to an unnatural degree by giving readers information about grammatical form (often machine-identified and misleading!) without information of how those forms function as part of a meaningful unit of syntax. On the one hand, there is a lot of potential to add extra layers of information to a text; on the other, I frequently criticize textbooks and web interfaces with too much information that, however well-meaning, makes reading far more difficult than it ought to be. So, in summary: while I can now envision how I would like my texts to look, the basic set of tools I would like to provide for readers to navigate them, and how to code this, I am still working on articulating clearer methodological goals in respect to how these tools will work together for the intended audience.