Davies Diaries Electronic Edition

This post is part of an ongoing Digital Scholarship Ontario series which highlights the research of Ontario’s digital scholars.

by James Neufeld

The Davies Diaries Electronic Edition will make available to the general public, online, a fully edited version of the extensive diaries which the Canadian novelist, playwright and journalist Robertson Davies kept throughout his life. The project will begin with an edition of the Theatre Diaries, a small subset of the much larger work. The standard markup language of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) will be used to create xml files for each year of diary entries.

The digital presentation of the material builds on the interface model specially developed by Professor Zailig Pollock for his major digital editorial project, the Digital Page (the complete works of P.K. Page). It will allow the user to move easily back and forth between a diplomatic transcription of the text and an emended and regularized clean reading version, using a slidebar. The slidebar will also provide easy access to authorial revisions and editorial emendations. There will be point-by-point linkage of the diplomatic transcription to the digital image of its corresponding page in the original manuscripts; and in the reading version there will be access to annotations and illustrative multi-media material through unobtrusive hover-text hyperlinks. The back end of the edition will be Drupal-based and will build on work already completed or under way for the Digital Page and for the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC).

The Davies Diaries Electronic Edition had two points of origin, connected, as is so often the case, by coincidence. The first was my conviction that this remarkable and complex document in the history of Canadian letters and Canadian culture generally would never see the light of day if we waited for print publication of the entire set of diaries. The second was a unique human network of friends and family that encouraged me to undertake a digital presentation of these materials.

As to the first: Robertson Davies was a fanatical diarist. The earliest surviving diary (he seems to have scrapped some earlier attempts) dates from 1933, and he continued from that point, more or less uninterrupted, until his death in 1995, for an astounding three million or more words. The continuity and comprehensiveness of the record makes these some of the most valuable diaries in Canadian letters. Their length alone more or less guarantees that no Canadian publisher could afford to produce a paper edition of the complete work. Add to that the complex organization of a methodical mind – Davies kept at least four different sets of diaries, according to subject matter, that overlap and interleave with each other – and the fate of paper publication was sealed. The logistical and editorial problems of doing justice to such complex material were intractable, almost insurmountable, if paper was to be the medium of dissemination.

And then the second: I had long heard the praises of digital presentation sung by my friend and colleague, Zailig Pollock, who is preparing a digital edition of the complete works of P.K. Page, materials much more complex than the Davies diaries. He had given me demonstrations of the power and versatility of the Digital Page Reader, a tool for digital presentation of the finished product that was being developed according to Zailig’s literary specifications by his son Josh, a skilled software developer working at Microsoft in Seattle. Having been born into a family of literary scholars, Josh has an innate understanding of literary problems and editorial requirements that makes him the ideal technical partner for a project of this kind.

Coincidence thus became inevitability and three years ago I found myself, no Luddite but certainly a neophyte in all things digital, on the steepest learning curve of my life, which continues on the ascendant. Since I had recently completed a thirty-eight year career as a university teacher and researcher, I found this daunting experience the ideal antidote to a complacent, sedentary retirement. Going digital keeps you busy and keeps your mind alert.

The project has had much help and financial support from a number of partners, including Editing Modernism in Canada, Library and Archives Canada (where the original materials are housed) and Trent University. I have assembled a team of co-editors and research assistants, and we aim to have the first subset, the Theatre Diaries, available online by the end of 2017. It seems best, when engaging in a project as foolhardy as this, to add high ambition into the mix.

James Neufeld is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of English Literature at Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario. He is the author of three books: Power to Rise: The Story of the National Ballet of Canada (1996), Lois Marshall: A Biography (2010) and Passion to Dance: The National Ballet of Canada (2011). The Davies Diaries Electronic Edition is his first venture into digital editing.

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