I believe it is safe to assume everyone present in this room has at a certain point embarked on a brand
new research project. Maybe the project you started working on had a fixed shape and predetermined
goals. But some of you might have been in the particularly lucky position of being able to set those
goals yourself, according to what you think the scholarly community needs. As it happens to be, I am in
that position myself. It is great and terrifying at the same time.
Perhaps that the participants of the DHBeNeLux conference can identify with that feeling. You are
working in a field that for years now is flooded with positive reports about extraordinary chances,
collaboration, possibilities for new research, and refreshing insights that were not possible
beforehand… It is actually quite a pressure.
The most interesting projects did not necessarily started out with the intention of fulfilling all those
promises. Of course they might have strategically exploited the sexy magic of the words “Digital
Humanities” in their project plan or funding application, but that is mere rhetoric. The projects that
are refreshing examples of how Digital Humanities are not much concerned with whether or not their
project is actually part of the field of Digital Humanities. To put it bluntly: they “just start” and learn
along the way. Then again, as academic projects they are concerned with evaluation, adjustment, and
I have no clear idea about the Digital Humanities community and who is actually, officially, a part of it,
but I suspect most of you will be interested in the project I recently embarked on. It is a combination
of both practical work and evaluation. And it does intend to make use of digital technologies to
complement traditional scholarship.
My project is part of DiXiT, a Marie Curie funded training network concentrated on
digital scholarly editions. Twelve European institutions are involved, including our
host of today: the Huygens Institute of the Netherlands. I am engaged as an Early
Stage Researcher at the University of Antwerp, where I do my PhD at the Centre for
Manuscript Genetics under supervision of professor Dirk van Hulle.
My research, Mapping Invention in Writing, concentrates on a very specific element
of digital editing. A quotation of book historian Robert Darnton describes the issue
“Any historian who has done long stints of research knows the frustration over his or
her inability to communicate the fathomlessness of the archives and the
bottomlessness of the past. If only my reader could have a look inside this box, you
say to yourself, at all the letters in it, not just the lines from the letter I am quoting. If
only I could follow that trail in my text just as I pursued it through the dossiers, when I
felt free to take detours leading away from my main subject. If only I could show how
themes criss‐cross outside my narrative and extend far beyond the boundaries of my
Translated to scholarly editing: the editor of the complete works of an author is often
one of the few persons that fully realises the originating and the workings of a text.
He is aware of the influence of the books read by the author; through deletions and
additions he sees how the author’s thoughts shaping on the page. He realises how
the text is a representation of a creative process.
In his influential work Fluid Text, John Bryant emphasises this fluidity.
Bryant distinguishes several steps in the process of writing: from the earliest creative
moments of mental transcription (when the author transfers the words in his mind to
the page) to various stages of revision.
An example of this fluid process is a citation marked in a reading book, scribbled
down in a notebook and incorporated in the actual text of a literary work. Perhaps
there is a literal relationship, perhaps the author paraphrased the citation, or perhaps
its influence is only noticeable as a slight change in the literary text
In all cases, following the textual trail of this citation provides insight into textual
genesis on several levels:
… how a text is formed by exterior influences (exogenesis) as well as from the ‘inside’,
by crossed‐out words or altered phrases (endogenesis).
[The distinction between exo‐ and endogenesis suggest that these processes function
separately from one another. I believe, however, that are inextricably linked and that
the distinction between them can be neutralised.]
However, digital scholarly editions offer many options. In my research, I focus on the
question “how can a digital scholarly edition represent the creative and textual
genesis of a literary work?”
1) XML TEI, which is used by many digital scholarly editing projects, allows for a
detailed encoding of the endogenetic writing process.
2) By integrating in a DSE the intertextual relations between the readings and the
writings of an author, it
3) becomes possible to visualise the interaction between the endo‐ and exogenesis.
This brings us closer to Darnton’s dream:
… a digital scholarly edition that provides its user 1) a detailed transcription of the
author’s texts and 2) an understandable representation of the relations to other texts
(i.e. his reading material).
Working at the Centre for Manuscripts Genetics gives me the opportunity to bring
this theory into practice. One of the biggest projects of the CMG is the Beckett
Archive: it is both a digital archive and a genetic edition of Samuel Beckett’s works.
Last year, Dirk van Hulle and Mark Nixon published Samuel Beckett’s Library, in which
they “critically [examine] the reading notes and marginalia contained in the books of
Samuel Beckett's surviving library in Paris”.
Consequently: we have the material and the inside knowledge of Beckett scholars.
All that is left is to combine them. If material is structured appropriately, it provides a
map for any interested reader to find his way through the edition.
My research touches upon several issues:
1) The design of my research presupposes that the editor plays an active role in
determining what is and is not part of the relevant material. According to Pierre‐Marc
De Biasi, the “exogenetic empire” knows no bounds: consequently it is the editor that
decides upon the scope and the limits of this empire. This implies that there is a grey
scale of editorial in(ter)vention: to what extent should the editor be sure of an
intertextual link before encoding it?
2) Then there is the interaction between the textual scholar and the IT‐specialist that
constructs and designs the DSE. There interaction in constructing and designing a DSE
is as inextricably connected as the endo‐ and exogenetics of a literary text.
Finally, my aim is to evaluate the reusability of the resulting infrastructure for other
DSE. The intertextual references in the Beckett module are limited. The Guiltless
Copybook of James Joyce on the other contains a big amount of intertextual
references. My experience as an editor leads me to suspect that there is a different
method for every text, depending on the goals of the project, the views of the editor,
his methodology, what he wants to convey, preserve and present. Or could there be a
general property that applies to every DSE?
The final result is a combination of constructive work and theoretical evaluation. The
envisioned digital infrastructure functions as a user’s map of a digital library, guiding
him through the author’s text and his reading material. It represents the interaction
between those materials, and thus illustrates the complex genesis of a literary work.
In this way, it facilitates new research in the nature of writing.