Davies Diary Electronic Edition – Part Two

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

by James Neufeld

This is the second entry describing the Davies Diary Electronic Edition. 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.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, the Davies Diaries Electronic Edition makes use of the Digital Page Reader, a handy tool for the digital display of textual materials. Developed by my friend and colleague Zailig Pollock (an experienced digital textual editor) and custom-designed by his son Josh (a well-placed computer expert in Bill Gates’s Microsoft empire), the Reader can present quite complicated literary texts in a simple, user-friendly format. Whether that user is a scholarly editor obsessed with technical detail, or a general reader easily put off by it, the Reader obliges by modifying the display to suit the user’s requirements.

All users of the Reader are directed immediately to the same, easy-to-read, screen. Here’s a screenshot of a sample page from the Davies Theatre Diaries:

Davies Blog figure 1

The right-hand pane, which can be zoomed and re-positioned by the user, remains constant in all views, providing a scanned image of Davies’s original diary text, warts and all, as a stable point of reference. The left-hand pane, however, can provide a number of different, detailed views, depending on the level of your curiosity about the text.

Displayed above is the “Reading Text,” my considered judgement on the way the text should be presented, correcting errors, normalizing inconsistencies, and applying a standardized house style. If you take exception with my judgement, or just want to check what I’ve done, you can quickly glance to the right to compare with the original.

This much is simply a digitized parallel-texts edition. On the left-hand pane, note that only the text corresponding to the page displayed on the right-hand pane is bolded. As you move through the “Reading Text,” and bold the next block of text in the left-hand pane, the image in the right-hand pane will automatically change to track your progress. Highlighted words and phrases in the “Reading Text” indicate the presence of explanatory notes. You can hover over the word to read the note if you’re interested (e.g. the note on Richard McMillan in the screenshot), ignore the highlighting if you’re not, or even turn the highlighting off entirely if you find it too distracting.

If, however, you want to explore the editing more deeply, navigate in the left-hand pane by clicking on the “Process” bar in the top left corner. Here’s what you will get –

Davies Blog figure 2

– a faithful transcription of the Davies original, indicating his line-breaks, preserving his mistakes (“MacMillan” is incorrectly spelled), recording his second thoughts (first Hauman, then Geyer) and providing some metadata (codes that link the text to the Library Archives Canada cataloguing system). And there are neat interactive features as well. Hover over “Hauman” in “Process”, for example, as I did for the screenshot, and the relevant word in the manuscript image is magically enclosed in a red rectangle. Toggle between “Hauman” and “Geyer” and watch the red rectangle follow your choice.

Thus     Davies Blog figure 3  gets you  Davies Blog figure 4     .

Meanwhile, in “Process,” “Geyer” is highlighted in black to indicate Davies’s final choice of text.

The “Product” screen (no screenshot here) shows you the result (the “Product”) of Davies’s own revisions. There’s very little to show in this case (he settled on Geyer rather than Hauman), since Davies did very few revisions to his diary texts; the real usefulness of the “Product” screen comes into play when you’re dealing with multiple manuscript revisions to a poem, for example. My friend Zailig, working on the poems of P.K. Page, can show you six or more different versions of a single poem through the revisions process, just by clicking through the various “Product” screens.

Because it is developed by a textual editor and designed by a computer professional with the needs of the end user in mind, the Digital Page Reader is precise and powerful, and also accessible. In short, it’s all that digital should be – efficient for the editor and fun for the intended audience, whether they’re specialists or general interest readers.

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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