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Proposal for Dickinson Electronic Archives

by the Dickinson Editing Collective
General Editors and Coordinators, Martha Nell Smith and Lara Vetter
General Editors, Ellen Louise Hart and Marta Werner
University of Virginia Press
Electronic Imprint
Responses to Peer Review Questionnaire

1. & 2. Narrative Description and Rationale; Executive Summary of Publications of Emily Dickinson's Correspondences and Writings by the Dickinson Family

Emily Dickinson did not distribute her poems conventionally, in mass-produced printed volumes. But she never said that she did not publish. In fact, Dickinson "published" her poems by circulating them in her letters, and the surviving record of her documents makes plain that she distributed more than one-third of her poems in her correspondences (arguably many more since so much of the record has been lost). Calling for a witness to its value, Dickinson once asked a prominent editor whether her verse breathed, and the past century's impressive editorial achievements printing her manuscript writings testify that her creations not only breathe but are profoundly generative. In fact, no less than thirty valuable volumes of her poems and letters have appeared in print to date, for scholarly and general audiences. This is not surprising, given her profound significance to American literature and history; with Walt Whitman, she is widely regarded as the quintessential American poet, and her work a foundation upon which twentieth-century American poetry is built. Since 1995 the Dickinson Electronic Archives (DEA), produced by the Dickinson Editing Collective, has been building upon this foundation as well - taking scholarly editing into new media; using previously unavailable strategies and tools proffered by advanced computing in the humanities for representation of original materials and for storage and retrieval of the consequent data; and situating scholarly editing in new relations to the academy, publishers, libraries, and all readers. While for the first century of public exposure Dickinson's writings were regularized to fit the technology of print, the electronic editions such as those which the editors of the Dickinson Electronic Archives have been developing and propose to publish with the University of Virginia Press Electronic Imprint place Dickinson's own distribution method at the center of editorial praxes. These editions expand critical inquiry by asking questions previously unimaginable within the constraints of the book, the machine that has made the object, "Dickinson poem," and that has determined how that object is seen, interrogated, and theorized.

Bringing together the expertise in markup, storage, retrieval, and display of texts and images of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia and that of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) at the University of Maryland, the Dickinson Editing Collective wants to work with the University of Virginia Electronic Imprint to implement fully the TEI-conformant XML markup of the scholarly editions of Writings by the Dickinson Family in the Dickinson Electronic Archives (DEA), upon which we have been making steady progress for the last seven years. Besides serving as a model for online scholarly publication, our plan for development can also serve as a model for audience development and for facilitating collective thinking between scholars and readers within and without the academy, as well as for cross-institutional collaborations and knowledge exchange between universities and publishers. The DEA projects have begun to formalize collaborations and knowledge exchange between the two humanities computing institutes, providing opportunities to experiment with cross-institutional information exchange and inter-server searchability, which will be of great use to digital library projects and dispersed researchers alike, and contribute to formulating a model for future developments in humanities computing and in methods for humanities knowledge production and dissemination. Moreover, our experiences with electronic publishing contribute to a larger conversation within humanities education: the current crises in publishing, tenure, and reward, articulated most recently in a call to action by Stephen Greenblatt, President of the Modern Language Association. With a critical review process designed to incorporate user feedback, this plan can also serve as a model for establishing a kind of open critical review akin to that scientists use in the e-Print Archive maintained by Cornell University and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (http://xxx.lanl.gov/).

Working with MITH and with IATH, the Dickinson Editing Collective has been working toward an ambitious kind of scholarly publication of Dickinson's corpus: a multimedia archive unique in its scope and vision, aimed at exploring and virtually reconstructing Dickinson's textual, social, historical, and geographical worlds. Previous editions have focused solely on providing print translations of her poems and letters as separate genres, and have viewed manuscripts in relation to printed versions of their texts, thereby forcing editors to extract poems from the letters in which they appear. Our editions place the manuscripts themselves at the center of critical attention rather than placing them only in relation to some published version, real or imagined (as scholars have done imagining how Dickinson would have preferred to see her poems in print). We take advantage of the computer's remarkable capacity for representing visual material by displaying full color facsimile images of her manuscript pages and drawing our transcriptions from the manuscript record itself in an effort to further critical inquiry of her manuscripts beyond those featured in R.W. Franklin's The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson (1981). While our text markup will facilitate numerous choices for searching and sorting the material, our organizing principle follows the record left of Dickinson's writings: individual bodies of correspondence, for those individual manuscripts sent to a particular audience and preserved by that recipient, and writings preserved by Dickinson herself, bound in manuscript books or left loose in a box or drawer. Taking advantage of the web's ability to link documents hypertextually, as well as the opportunities afforded by XML markup to search and manipulate data, our editions of Dickinson's work and those of her family not only recover a textual and social history unavailable in previous editions but allow students, teachers, and scholars unprecedented control over navigating her extensive corpus.

Assembly and organization of Emily Dickinson's Correspondences correspondence by correspondence serves as a major contribution to Dickinson study, and we intend to exploit fully the hypertextual organization of the DEA by embedding every document within a complex network of related documents and materials. Working directly from the manuscripts, editors will link every poem, letter-poem, or letter to the correspondence in which Dickinson first placed it, as well as to the printed volume(s) into which it has been translated, our ultimate goal being to link Dickinson's manuscripts to any other versions of that document that may exist. In fact, the publication of Emily Dickinson's Correspondences will be followed by production of an edition of the remainder of her original work. The electronic editions will include high-quality, color photographic images of all original manuscripts by Emily Dickinson; XML-marked-up transcriptions of original manuscripts; critical annotations that address constellations of related documents, text-types and codes, physical descriptions of the manuscripts, textual notes, critical and bibliographical commentaries; facsimile images of printings of Emily Dickinson's writings, beginning with facsimile reproduction of all editions of Dickinson's writings between 1890-1913; and XML-marked-up transcriptions of these printings, including annotation.

Furthering our mission to explore the worlds of Dickinson and her readers analytically, our scholarly editions of Emily Dickinson's writings will reside alongside another body of publicly available digital resources that contextualize them: critical editions of the writings of Dickinson's family, cutting-edge electronic pedagogical tools, pioneering digital articles, and a collection of TEI marked-up out-of-print Dickinson-related resources. For the past few years, the Dickinson Editing Collective has been working to create resources for teachers wanting to bring Dickinson web resources into their classrooms; now, working with programmers and scholars at MITH, we are embarking upon a project to develop editing software (the Versioning Machine; http://mith2.umd.edu/products/ver-mach/index.html) for use by scholars who do not have access to the resources available at research one institutions and for use by teachers and students of Dickinson's poetry, affording students the opportunity to delve into Dickinson's manuscript world, previously the domain of scholars only. Moreover, we have been working together to theorize, compose, and build upon foundations laid for a new genre of scholarship, the digital article. Like a printed article or monograph, the digital article makes a critical argument, but by utilizing the medium of the web, the digital article can be less confined, hypertextual in its organization, and interactive in its presentation (the online journal Postmodern Culture provides early examples of such critical strategies). Finally, we are working to encode secondary materials, cross-searchable with our critical editions of Dickinson's writings, for scholars and readers alike.

The Dickinson Editing Collective proposes to complete the following online scholarly editions with the University of Virginia Press EI:

  • Emily Dickinson's Correspondences, all writings by her more than 99 correspondents, including poems, letters, letter-poems, drafts, as well as all other versions of poems sent in correspondence.

  • Emily Dickinson's Poems, Unbound Poems, Prose Fragments, not included in a correspondence, including all poems, letters, letter-poems, and drafts on loose sheets and bound in manuscript books.

In consultation with IATH, MITH, and Dickinson scholars who will act as guest editors of individual correspondences, a team led by Lara Vetter will complete XML markup of all materials (images, notes, and transcriptions) of all Dickinson family documents following a DTD designed by Vetter based on the standards of the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative). Rigorous formal analysis of all documents has been completed, and the first major section of the project is well advanced-Correspondence with Susan Dickinson (edited by Martha Nell Smith and Ellen Louise Hart; all graphic files, transcriptions, and notes have been completed and have been published in HTML format at IATH since 1997). This major digital production was preceded by the work of a print publication-Smith and Ellen Louise Hart's Open Me Carefully: Emily Dickinson's Intimate Letters to Susan Huntington Dickinson (1998). Widely and positively reviewed, that breakthrough volume was nonetheless limited in that it could not feature all of Emily's writings to Susan nor could it feature more than a very few of her writings' diverse elements (from unique punctuation marks to extraordinary spacing between letters to innovative, strategic placement of texts in their relation to margins, embossments, and other stationery characteristics). The publication of these materials comprising her major correspondence contribute not only to the history of major American author Emily Dickinson's writing life, family life, literary culture, and social milieu, but also to women's history, as well as to histories of textual editing, literary production and distribution, reception, and that of the institution of the author. Correspondence with Susan Dickinson is a crucial augmentation of the work begun in Open Me Carefully and the vital first installment of Emily Dickinson's Correspondences.

The last 18 months have been devoted to laying the infrastructure for Emily Dickinson's Correspondences, designing the DTD and TEI header for the project, creating and documenting principles and procedures, training and supervising staff, constructing regularization databases, building electronic tools to assist encoders and editors, marking up and proofreading documents, and writing the XSLT. The complex nature of the Dickinson manuscripts required a more customized DTD that is conformant with the TEI-LITE DTD but extends considerably the degree and type of markup facilitated. In consultation with Daniel Pitti at IATH, Vetter has created a DTD for the Dickinson manuscript project that is based in, and conformant with, the guidelines put forth by the TEI. As TEI has an inherent bias toward encoding logical and coherent structure, we have modified the TEI in order to privilege instead the physical features of the manuscript, while still allowing for the deep searching and sorting capabilities facilitated in encoding logical structural elements.

Because we are working with a wide array of guest coeditors, we will be able to mark up multiple volumes of correspondence concurrently, as well as Writings by Susan Dickinson. As Emily Dickinson's Correspondences is organized by addressee, markup of these subsets will proceed correspondence by correspondence. Via an editorial submission form and file management system designed by Vetter and implemented by McDonald, guest coeditors will contribute transcriptions and notes, which will be dynamically transformed into an XML document, ready for DEA staff to post-process and finish marking up, and Vetter will be able to oversee every aspect of the project, as each document moves through editing, markup, and proofreading; working with these innovative digital tools reduces significantly the possibility of errors by automating this crucial stage of the process, though both Vetter and the coeditors of individual volumes will manually proofread each document before it is posted.

3. Schedule of Completion

The Collective plans to complete the electronic editions of the Dickinson papers according to the following schedule:

  • Emily Dickinson's Correspondence with Susan Dickinson (500+ poems, letters, letter-poems; these writings include every type of Dickinson document) - December 2003

  • The remainder of Emily Dickinson's Correspondences (1300+ poems, letters, letter-poems) - December 2005

    Emily Dickinson's Poems, Unbound Poems, Prose Fragments - May 2008

4. Our Relationship with the University of Virginia Electronic Imprint

The Dickinson Electronic Archives team will do the research, editorial, and markup work necessary to produce state-of-the-art, scholarly editions of Dickinson's work. From UVP-EI we would like assistance obtaining the necessary copyright, a plan and means for publishing the work upgraded to TEI-conformant XML online, and advice on imaging (UVP-EI may want to produce anew the manuscript images that will accompany transcriptions and annotations rather than using the digitizations currently available in the HTML demo online). Also, our work with IATH and MITH has led us to use the XML publishing system, Tamino, and we seek input from UVP-EI about that (see question 6). We would like to develop with UVP-EI a mutually beneficial publication plan that integrates the distribution of the site-licensed Dickinson materials with those we will be making publicly available (see question 7 for details describing how we imagine this might work). This plan should also address issues of sustainability, and we look forward to the possibility of collaborating with UVP-EI on addressing such issues.

5. Curriculum Vitae

(See attached.)

6. Software

In addition to the editing, encoding, and management tools we have created this year, we are using Adobe Photoshop for processing images and XMetaL for XML mark-up. Both IATH and MITH have purchased and experimented with an XML publishing system, Tamino, and we intend to use this software to publish Emily Dickinson's Correspondences in a web environment. Tamino converts a DTD into an XML schema, then uses XSLT to transform and display documents; additionally, it offers a powerful search engine that will enable us to offer users a high degree of control over organizing, sorting, and retrieving the data.

7. Copyright and Permissions

We propose to publish via site-licensing the born-digital Emily Dickinson's Correspondences and to coordinate this publication with that of Writings by Susan Dickinson, other writings by the Dickinson family, and our digital articles, which will be made freely available in their publication at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities (IATH) at the University of Virginia, as well as the Virtual Reference Shelf (TEI-conformant XML markup of related textual, critical, biographical contextualizations, many of them out-of-print; for example, Jay Leyda's Years & Hours of Emily Dickinson or Phi Delta Gamma's keenly informative tribute to Martha Dickinson Bianchi, Guests in Eden (/resources/guests/giecover.html); the markup of each of these is currently being completed). Thus we will mix publishing resources freely available and those for which we will charge a fee in order to achieve our goals of insuring necessary copyright protections while providing for the intellectual commons. Such a model will provide opportunities for examining, analyzing, and producing accommodating publication plans by which publishers, libraries, universities, researchers, and the general public (indeed, all who comprise the "commons") can benefit and be treated fairly. The extensive town meetings and forums sponsored by the National Initiative for a Networked Cultural Heritage (NINCH) on the implications of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) witness the fact that its intentions and bindings are not clear, and we will work with publishers, curators, scholars, and theorists to develop the most generative and equitable research atmosphere possible, one that protects developers and copyright holders even as it fosters creativity. Both the site-licensing of Radical Scatters and the printing of Open Me Carefully prove that new choreographies of Emily Dickinson materials can be published when done in a conscientious fashion, working in concert with curators (primarily at the Houghton Library, Harvard University, and the Frost Library, Amherst College), and publishers (primarily Harvard University Press) with copyright claims. As libraries such as the Houghton and the Boston Public Library develop archival quality images of their individual holdings, we will explore the feasibility of adapting such model(s) as that being developed by the LEADERS (Linking EAD to Electronically Retrievable Sources) project at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/leaders-project/about.htm (per our discussions with Leslie Morris, Houghton Library, with whom we have agreed to share our DTD). Mick Gusinde-Duffy has indicated that he will work with us to secure the necessary copyrights from Harvard University Press, and in doing so we will build on the models already set forth by the publications of Radical Scatters and Open Me Carefully.

Copyright 1994 by Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved
Maintained by Rebecca Mooney <rnmooney@umd.edu>