Camp Ulysses: Versioning, Collation, and the Digital Ulysses, University of Victoria, 6–15 June 2013
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Camp Ulysses:
Versioning, Collation, and the Digital Ulysses, University of Victoria, 6–15 June 2013

With their compelling mix of renowned scholars, informal presentations, and hands-on learning, the University of Victoria’s Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI) seminar entitled “Versioning and Collation in the Digital Environment” and its complementary course “The Digital Ulysses” came together to form the capstone of the Modernist Versions Project’s (MVP) “Year of Ulysses.” While DHSI workshop attendees were not bound to any particular text—indeed, the diversity of texts present was astounding—course leaders and MVP co-directors Stephen Ross and J. Matthew Huculak (University of Victoria) could not help but return to Joyce time and time again. Furthermore, the presence of the eminent Joyce scholar Hans Walter Gabler, who arrived early to participate in the DHSI seminar before taking over the second half of the nine-day intensive study, as well as Clare Hutton (Loughborough University), Ronan Crowley (SUNY Buffalo), and Amanda Visconti (University of Maryland), guaranteed that Ulysses was never far from hand. Also in attendance was Zailig Pollock (Trent University), who shared the obstacles and solutions he has encountered in producing an online digital edition of work by the Canadian modernist poet P. K. Page, The Digital Page, an ongoing project, to be housed on the Modernist Commons.

The DHSI seminar was a “quick and dirty” hands-on introduction to collating, versioning, and examining texts using digital tools such as Juxta, the Versioning Machine, Voyant, and the Mandala browser. Ross and Huculak chose not to divide the participants into teachers and students; instead, they assembled a medley of workshops, discussions, and impromptu lectures, so that the classroom became a forum where eminent Joyceans and graduate students alike could benefit from the others’ knowledge. Topics ranged widely from palaeography to the uses (and abuses) of distant reading—all with the goal of understanding what digital collation tools and digital reading environments [End Page 217] can do for editing and criticism. We emerged from the windowless computer lab three times daily for coffee and sandwiches.

The workshops operated on a BYOT (Bring Your Own Text) basis: each of us came to the seminar with at least two versions of a literary work, used Juxta to collate and correlate the versions, and then experimented with ways of visualizing that digital edition. Susan Schreibman, the Long Room Hub Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities at Trinity College Dublin, visited us on 8 June to answer our questions about the Versioning Machine, a kind of software that can create accessible online reading environments for digital editions. Schreibman reminded us that one of our primary concerns should be the durability of our data: will we still be able to use our files when the technology we relied on to make them is outdated? As Crowley put it, “Only the good files will be raptured.”

As might have been expected, the lexicon of textual scholarship was one of the first areas of contention. For example, what is the relation between the text(s) and the work? Huculak observed that the text is “the sequence or array of words and images transmitted in the document” or “that which is held in language,” while the work is “that which you hold in your hands.” Gabler contested Huculak’s definition: “The work is immaterial,” he argued, “We read texts, we speak of works. . . . Once we believe in the diachrony of the texts and work, then the work is the focal point of all the texts that testify to it. And these are by definition variants, versions, through which we arrive at the work.” Gabler added that variation and revision have not been amply theorized, recommending Daniel Ferrer’s Logiques du brouillon and Roger Lüdeke’s Wiederlesen “for those who have German and French ghost readers at their elbows.”1

The seminar ended on a further cautionary note from Gabler, who warned that, while “the digital medium is the essential medium for exploring textual versions of a work,” he can find himself “adjusting [his] project to what these tools can do, which is a dangerous position.” Ross looked forward to the interpretive fruits of...