Thursday, 28 December 2017

New publication and project documentation

The project has a new publication, on "Curating Object-Oriented Collections Using the TEI," recently appearing in the Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative. In it, I provide a framework for tagging material objects in documents using the TEI guidelines, which forms the basis for our own approach in the Digital Ark. Here is the abstract:
This article considers the possibilities and challenges in using TEI-based XML markup for curation of objects mentioned in historical documents such as catalogues and inventories, but also in unstructured forms such as diaries and personal correspondence. It takes as a case study documents related to early modern collections of curiosities. It first considers how far the current guidelines for manuscript description can be generalized for encoding other kinds of material objects and their contexts. It then examines what more is required for treating mentions and descriptions of objects in historical documents. It argues that the core affordance of curation for such materials is the ability to identify and select what constitutes a mention of an object and to relate that mention to its immediate context, including its relationships to object groupings.
On the occasion of this publication, it seems a good time to draw together some documentation from this and our project Guidelines for preparing transcriptions to give a fuller account of how we are processing our documents in the Digital Ark. So, we have started a new page (a work in progress) where we will gather documentation for the project, starting first with transcription preparation, and then adding other relevant technical features. Over the next few months (with the benefit of a sabbatical leave), I hope to continue to update this document and provide other project updates.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Gimcrack gets last laugh

They laughed at Sir Nicholas Gimcrack, a late-seventeenth-century virtuoso, for his scheme of bottling fresh air from around England, storing his stock like wine in a wine cellar, and then breaking it out on special occasions for the refreshment of special guests. Now, a company in Alberta is commercializing Gimcrack's idea, bottling air from the Rocky Mountains and selling it worldwide for $15 per bottle.

Gimcrack is a character in Thomas Shadwell's play The Virtuoso, performed by The Duke's Company at London's Dorset Garden Theatre in 1676. In it, Gimcrack is the butt of gibes and jokes by other characters for his many experiments and activities (including his collecting of curiosities) which very closely parallel the reported activities of members of the Royal Society of London. And London audiences laughed along at the crazy antics of this early modern egghead. Except Robert Hooke, fellow of the Society, who was not amused by the performance, clearly seeing himself behind the portrayal; however, it was probably Robert Boyle that Shadwell had in mind with this allusion. Boyle had built several air pumps and was experimenting with pressurized cylinders, and he had sent his agents to various sites to measure air pressure at different altitudes using an early form of barometer (from Tenerife to the Isle of Dogs). Shadwell's treatment of the Royal Society and the culture of curiosity is remarkably prescient in many respects, now very particularly so given a new enterprise by Vitality Air, recently reported by CBC Calgary. Like Gimcrack, who offers his guests choice of a variety of airs ("Gentlemen, what country air do you like best?" 4.3.231), Vitality Air comes in three flavours—grape, strawberry, and root beer—although it derives from only two locations, both in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. Sir Nicholas Gimcrack, a man ahead of his time.