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Home :: Archive :: 1991 :: April ::
Renaissance Knowledge Base Update
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 116. Tuesday, 23 Apr 1991.
 
	[I am once again endebted to Willard McCarty's FICINO
	discussion group for this posting, which should be of
	interest to many SHAKSPEReans.  -- k.s.]
 
From: 		Ian Lancashire  <
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Date: 		Mon, 22 Apr 91 10:01:29 EDT
Subject: 	Renaissance Knowledge Base -- Future Plans
 
     At the Tempe ACH/ALLC conference, on March 18, Roy Flannagan,
Ian Lancashire and Mike Neuman chaired an open meeting of those
interested in the Renaissance Knowledge Base.  Attending the
meeting by invitation were two representatives of Chadwyck-Healey,
a publisher based in  Cambridge, England, planning a collection of
4500 texts of British poetry marked up according to the principles
of the TEI and dating from about 900 to about 1900, to be selected
from entries in the *Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature*
and issued on CD-ROM. Mark Rooks of InteLex Corporation also joined
us: he is a publisher of electronic philosophical texts and has
plans to issue a multilingual set of texts of Descartes and
Spinoza. Patricia Murphy, a private scholar from Pal Alto,
represented a group of  individuals who would like to develop OCR
technology  capable of scanning 16th- and 17th-century books
through analysis of type forms, so that her group, after gaining
substantial backing, might scan and publish the entire *Short-title
Catalogue*. The meeting attracted a small audience, including Steve
Siebert of Dragonfly Software.
 
     Flannagan asked the group in attendance the open-ended
question where the RKB might go, considering that Chadwyck-Healey
has jumped into the picture with such an ambitious project and
preempted an enormous chunk of the poetry.  The consensus was that
if C-H could publish the English Poetry Full-Text Database out in
the next several years, even at a fairly high price, one of the
largest goals of the RKB planning group would have been
accomplished. Some of the same concerns as had been expressed
in the first organizational meeting of the RKB in Toronto
were again brought up, as with the question "Who is going to decide
when a primary text is not the best and should be replaced by a
modern scholarly edition?" C-H representatives answered that at
least the old-spelling texts in their proposed CD-ROM could be the
basis for comparative textual research, even if they were not
critical texts.  The C-H project will also be a major proving
grounds for TEI encoding: to that end Lou Burnard and Michael
Sperberg-McQueen have been retained to advise C-H about encoding.
Mark Rooks discussed the possibilities for accurate scanning (at
least of 19th- and 20th- century printed books) and manual
text-entry, citing very low error rates with modern OCR scanning,
such as that produced by Caere's *OmniPage* software.
 
     Lancashire suggested that C-H might contact members of the
RKB group who had already entered many texts and cited the Otago
group in particular as having already entered all English poetry
1500-1550. He also explained that a RKB was conceptually different
from a textbase because it had two additional corpora: period
dictionaries and reference works such as *The Dictionary of
National Biography* and period bibliographies such as *STC* and
*Wing*. These should be seen, as David Bank had argued, as
databases that could act as front-ends for searching the textbase.
Lancashire recommended that C-H consider adding contemporary
English period dictionaries to its poetry textbase, especially
Johnson's great dictionary. He also described the bilingual period
dictionary projects at the University of Toronto, which were being
funded by SSHRCC.
 
     The consensus seemed to be that scholars might still occupy
themselves with keyboarding and preserving accurate copies of rare
old or definitive new texts, all encoded using the evolving methods
of the TEI, as outlined, say, for Milton, by Lou Burnard in his
pamphlet on marking up the Milton textbase.  Mike Neuman discussed
the preservation of one author's work, as with Alastair McKinnon's
work on Kierkegaard or his own with Hegel.  Representatives of C-H
discussed the editorial process of deciding how much encoding might
be placed, according to the economy of scale and with respect to
the percentage of text vs. coding in the textbase. C-H may also
consider the possibility of adding digitized images of pages  of
some works to their textbase.
 
     At meeting's end, however, it was clear that the number of new
projects in Renaissance textbases had made the planning of a new
NEH application less desirable. Now that four commercial publishers
(OUP for Shakespeare and Milton, Blackwell for the Otago lexicon,
C-H for poetry, and InteLex for philosophical writings of the
period)  were embarking on publication of author, period and genre
corpora,  some of the most important objectives of the group were
already being met, perhaps better than they could have been imagined
initially. Co-operation among competing publishers was also
unlikely. A number of other individuals and groups were either
being funded by NEH now or were applying to it for support, among
them Leeds Barrell (Maryland) for a chronological list of events in
Renaissance London in the 1590s, Patricia Murphy, the Brown Women
Writers Project, Thomas Faulkner's edition of Burton's *Anatomy*,
the Donne and Shakespeare variorum projects, etc. An RKB would
require the participation of many of these projects, but since they
were not yet completed that participation was yet impossible.
 
     A number of other issues were clarified by the meeting. One is
that an RKB prototype remains highly desirable, even if it
includes a limited textbase of reference materials and major
authors. It would be well worthwhile to pursue this. Also, projects
currently underway tend to ignore Renaissance prose and drama,
manuscript materials, and non-English texts. In this light, the
upcoming Renaissance 92 meeting at Toronto offers a place to
discuss technology and shared databases and textbases with an
international community of Renaissance centres. Given the
multilingual writings of English Renaissance writers such as More,
Elyot, Bacon and Milton, the idea of a multilingual corpus
developed by an international scholarly community should be
considered. The 1991 new OED and the 1992 ALLC/ACH meetings at
Oxford also offer good occasions for future meetings.
 
Roy Flannagan
Ian Lancashire
April 1991
 

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