Annotation in scholarly editions and research

It has been, alas, almost exactly a year since our last face-to-face Besterman Workshop at 99 Banbury Road. Of course, webinars allow more people to join, and to do so, most importantly, from the comfort of their homes, where they can sit comfortably and set their thermostats to the temperature that suits them best. The advent of the Zoom/Teams era, however, has brought with it a number of unfortunate consequences: discussions are not as lively as they used to be, asking a follow-up question is nearly impossible, and so are chats with friends and colleagues, before, during, or after the talk. Worst of all, we no longer get a chance to eat our beloved Leibniz or Belgian biscuits – but those, to be fair, had already become something of a rarity towards the beginning of 2018. Anyway: those of you who did attend our last face-to-face Besterman Workshops may remember this gloomy and cumbersome poster of mine hanging from the mantelpiece.

This poster was presented at a conference in Wuppertal, Germany, at the end of February 2019: ‘Annotation in Scholarly Editions and Research: Function – Differentiation – Systematization’. Organised by Julia Nantke (Universität Hamburg) and Frederik Schlupkothen (Bergische Universität Wuppertal), this two-day bilingual Anglo-German colloquium was a wonderful occasion to reflect on the age-old human habit of glossing, commenting, and generally interfering with other people’s work.

Alongside some theoretical papers (to mention but one, Willard McCarty’s brilliant keynote lecture on annotation as a knowledge-producing practice), the symposium featured several more practice-oriented talks that would have certainly been of interest to many of our Digital Humanities followers: some focused on how best to structure and visualise annotation in digital scholarly editions; others raised the question as to how to annotate audio-visual materials; and yet others investigated the extent to which annotation can be automated.

Some of the papers given at the ‘Annotation in Scholarly Editions and Research’ conference can now be read in a volume published last year (yes, in 2020!) by De Gruyter and available in print as well as an Open Access eBook.

My own contribution to the volume (which you can find here, should you want to read it) presents what I think might be an efficient and user-friendly three-level annotation system, the ‘reversible annotation system’, which I developed while working on Digital d’Holbach, a born-digital scholarly edition of Paul-Henri Thiry d’Holbach’s complete works. On this model, I argue, a single set of notes can be so structured as to cater to very different audiences, meaning that the edition can hope simultaneously to be user-friendly and cost-efficient. Should you have any comments or suggestions for improvement, please do not hesitate to let me know!

Ruggero Sciuto, University of Oxford

Introducing Tout d’Holbach

Have you ever used Tout Voltaire or the ARTFL Encyclopédie and thought: ‘Wow! This is so helpful!’? Have you ever planned on giving a Zoom talk on pandemics in Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie and realised that all you had to do to get your primary sources was to search the database for ‘peste’, ‘pestilent.*’, ‘épidémi.*’, nothing more? Or maybe you wanted to write an article on Voltaire and dodos? You looked up ‘dodo’ in Tout Voltaire, and it only took you about three seconds to realise that you had pushed your quest for originality a bit too far. Have you ever wished that something like Tout Voltaire existed also for other authors? Well, if you work on d’Holbach, we’ve got good news for you!

The ARTFL Project at the University of Chicago and the Voltaire Foundation are very pleased to announce the release of Tout d’Holbach, a database that brings together fully searchable transcriptions of the vast majority of d’Holbach’s works. (If at this point you cannot be bothered to read more and wish to start experimenting with the database right away, here is the link: https://artfl-project.uchicago.edu/tout-d-holbach.)

At the moment, Tout d’Holbach only includes d’Holbach’s original writings, defined as those considered to be ‘œuvres originales publiées isolément’ (‘original works published separately’) in Jeroom Vercruysse’s fundamental Bibliographie descriptive des imprimés du baron d’Holbach (1971; new ed. 2017) (The Essai sur les préjugés and the Tableau des saints are not there yet, but they will be soon! We promise!). Moving forward, full transcriptions of d’Holbach’s translations and editions, respectively marked as Ds and Fs in Vercruysse’s bibliography, will be added, making the database more worthy of its high-sounding name.  At the same time, we are also thinking about making Tout d’Holbach a bit less ‘d’Holbach’: adding to the database texts whose attribution to the Baron is highly controversial will put us, we hope, in a position to better understand the real contours of d’Holbach’s textual corpus, thus answering a question that has occupied scholars’ minds for more than two centuries.

Thanks to the generosity of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Voltaire Foundation is currently working on a born-digital critical edition of d’Holbach’s writings: Digital d’Holbach. Unlike Digital d’Holbach, Tout d’Holbach is not a critical edition: none of the texts is annotated, and the transcriptions, while broadly accurate, may contain occasional typos. Tout d’Holbach is a research tool, and one, we hope, that will prove invaluable to researchers collaborating on Digital d’Holbach as well as to scholars working on the European Enlightenment more broadly.

So, here is the link again for those of you who haven’t yet given in to temptation and already clicked on it: https://artfl-project.uchicago.edu/tout-d-holbach.

P.S. If you have some time to spare while you #stayathome and would like to contribute to the project by checking the transcription of a section of one of d’Holbach’s works, or if you would like to know more about Digital d’Holbach, please email Ruggero Sciuto at ruggero.sciuto@voltaire.ox.ac.uk.

– Ruggero Sciuto and Clovis Gladstone