Whereas the codex has proven its reliability over centuries, the digital documents in increasingly wide use today are evanescent and fragile. The digital humanities are facing an urgent problem: experts warn of a new “digital dark age” as our ability to produce digital content continues to outpace our capacity to preserve and access on-line resources for the long term. Awareness of the challenge of preserving and future-proofing these digital projects—many based on boutique technologies and customized code—is growing across the DH landscape, but to date more literature has been devoted to identifying the problem than to solving it.
In April 2016, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada funded for four years Endings: Concluding, Archiving, and Preserving Digital Projects for Long-Term Usability, a project exploring practical answers to the questions of how and where DH projects should be archived in order maintain the dynamic features that make them readable, searchable, and even interactive. Our research is based on four case studies, each one a Digital Humanities project born from print sources.
The deep enrichment afforded to print by digital tools must not be lost in the face of poor (or no) viable preservation strategies. Our goal is to afford the same sort of stability to DH work that print has provided for so long.
The Endings project began with a portfolio of four long-running University of Victoria projects as test cases for developing our guidelines, principles and approaches for achieving sustainability:
- The Robert Graves Diary
- The Nxa’amxcín Database and Dictionary (currently not public)
- Le Mariage sous l’Ancien Régime
- The Map of Early Modern London
These original projects are described below. As the project has proceeded, other projects have been “adopted” as Endings projects:
- Modernist Versions Project
- The Scandinavian Canadian Studies Journal
- The Colonial Despatches of Vancouver Island and British Columbia
- My Norse Digital Image Repository
- Mapping Keat’s Progress
- Digital Victorian Periodical Poetry (site still under development)
All of these projects are still very much in their prime, and one or two of them are only just getting started. In fact, it is much easier to design a project from scratch with longevity in mind than it is to rescue or re-work an old project which has been active for a long time.
Map of Early Modern London
The Map of Early Modern London (MoEML) has four distinct projects:
- a digital edition of the 1561 Agas woodcut map of London;
- an Encyclopedia and Descriptive Gazetteer of London people, places, topics, and terms;
- a Library of marked-up texts rich in London toponyms;
- and a versioned edition of John Stow’s Survey of London.
These four projects draw data from MoEML’s five databases:
- a Placeography of locations (e.g., streets, sites, playhouses, taverns, churches, wards, and topographical features);
- a Personography of early modern Londoners, both historical and literary;
- an Orgography of organizations (e.g., livery companies and other corporations);
- a Bibliography of primary and secondary sources;
- and a Glossary of terms relevant to early modern London.
In the News
Le Mariage sous l’Ancien Régime (Marriage in Early Modern France)
During the Early Modern era (16th-18th centuries) Western society was obsessed by marriage, an institution evolving rapidly as the Catholic Church faced revolt from protestants and governments sought to legislate in areas previously left under religious authority. From the formal beginning of the Counter-Reformation with the Council of Trent in 1545 until the end of Louis XIV’s reign in 1715, attempts in France to renew the institution of marriage inspired debate resulting in the production of new sorts of texts and images alongside the rebirth of certain traditional forms of critique. The documents in this anthology are the fruit of the conflict among competing discourses: what we call the “nuptial imaginary” is composed of diverse textual genres, each with its own characteristics, but all concerned with the fears, desires, and phantasms that were increasingly visible in an Early Modern society reacting to new social, political, and religious configurations.
Between the 1570s and 1630s, the misogynist and misogamist satire so common in the Middle Ages experienced renewed vigour, playing with traditional historical and mythological allusions while also using pseudo-scientific glosses on medical discourse and Renaissance travel literature. As this “new polemics” disappeared from published texts in the 1640s, satire directed at shrews and their hen-pecked husbands found purchase in popular images: the anthology contains over 70 engravings on the theme of unhappy marriage.
The mid century provides a more hopeful view. Already at the end of the 16th century there had been backlash against the new marriage satire, and by the 1650s, salon literature painted a more nuanced picture of both the perils and the pleasures of married life. Another textual genre born in the 1630s out of the marriage debates is the Catholic marriage manual destined to guide couples through the pitfalls of married life. The anthology includes three examples illustrating the movement away from “consoling” couples in the 1660s to increasing severity from the Church as the century progressed: more egalitarian relations between wife and husband were seen as dangerously undermining traditional social structures.
Significantly, in non-religious discourse during the last third of the century, ridicule predominates, both of dysfunctional couples and of the institution itself, putting in doubt attempts by the Church and the monarchy to reaffirm the importance of marriage as an essential social building block. This questioning posture can be seen most clearly in fiction; among the several novels included in the anthology, Les Agreemens et les chagrins du mariage stands out for its biting denunciation.
From over a century of critique, a more profound renewal of the institution became possible in 18th-century France: the middle-class ideal of couples as helpmeets, anchored in early protestant discourse, gradually took on new purchase in pre-Revolutionary times. If resources become available, this anthology can include documents illustrating this evolution.
The goal of this project is not only to develop the corpus described above, but also to contribute to the exploration of the potential of the digital scholarly edition, as illustrated in the critical apparatus: notes, bibliography, commentary and textual analysis, and especially the proper-name index containing hundreds of entries.
The rights to reproduce the engravings were purchased from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France thanks to funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Other elements of the site (contributions from the editors, transcription of texts, code and encoding) are distributed under the terms of a Creative Commons license (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/ca/deed.en).
Nxaʔamxčín Database and Dictionary
This is a database of words and phrases from the Nxaʔamxčín language (sometimes referred to in English as Moses, or Moses-Columbia Salish). The purpose of this database is to pull together all the materials on Nxaʔamxčín compiled by M. Dale Kinkade and Ewa Ezaykowska-Higgins, two linguists who worked closely with native speakers of the language. The goals of the project are as follows:
- to make these materials available and easily accessible to the Nxaʔamxčín community, rather than to leave them stored on file cards and in notebooks;
- to serve as a searchable tool for learners, teachers, speakers, and linguists;
- to serve as a source for Nxaʔamxčín vocabulary and phrases;
- to serve as a source for creating a Nxaʔamxčín Dictionary in print format.
- to serve as a model for the role of digitization in language preservation and revitalization.
Robert Graves Diary
The University of Victoria digital edition of the Robert Graves has long been seen as a pioneering XML publication project. Beginning with a pilot markup project in 2001 (still used as an example for training purposes by the TEI), it evolved into a complete edition of the diaries of Robert Graves from the period 1935 to 1939 and was one of the first projects built on the now widely used eXist XML database system. A collaboration between the University of Victoria’s English department, the HCMC, and UVic Libraries (whose Special Collections holds the original manuscript), it has been widely cited and referenced as a model project in the field of Digital Humanities since its first publication in 2004. The database was shared successfully with Trinity College Dublin.