What is ATNU?

Animating Text Newcastle University (ATNU) is a digital collaboration between scholarly editors based in humanities disciplines and the Digital Institute that sets out to create new ways in which readers/users can interact with texts, and to explore and test opportunities for immersive reading/writing. What's unique about ATNU is that our ideas for the immersive texts of the future are based on the texts and books of the past that we are editing (1500-1900), which were already imagined as variable, dynamic, vital, interactive, akin to a 3D experience.

This collaboration aims to both use and build digital software that will give us: (a) new ways of explaining the complex life of texts over time and through space, and in and out of different languages and cultural contexts, and (b) new immersive experiences for readers. At the heart of this is a conception of texts as mutable and contingent and a reimagining of what a reader can be: an auditor, a performer, a creative writer. The project is driven by a desire to understand how texts are transformed in their passage across linguistic and national borders and to develop new skills of seeing/hearing/making stories that are based on and anticipate a very high level of interactivity, and a rounded (embodied) understanding of how meaning is made.

ATNU connects the original, deep, historical research from the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, the School of Arts and Cultures, the School of Modern Languages, and the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, with the transformational research of the Digital Institute. The intention is to share expertise and intellectual resources and to work to deliver ambitious, future-facing research that will nurture largescale collaborative projects.

Why pre-1860 texts?

In these earlier periods the characteristics of manuscript and the printed book (and their relationship with one another) are fundamentally distinct from how they are in the period from the late nineteenth century to the present. Yet the ways in which pre-1860 texts are re-presented in current print and digital editions often fails to recover their vital, distinctive contexts (the relations between authors, copyists, printers, publishers and booksellers), and the way the printed page is meant to facilitate particular experiences. The dialogue between computing and humanities scholars will enable us to think creatively about how past ways of imagining the book can lead us to new ways of experiencing them. This will be a bold contribution to a vital debate not just about the future of the book, but also about the place of historically-focussed editorial scholarship in the story of the humanities.

Why use digital technologies?

Digital technologies have the potential to transform research, dissemination and engagement in the field of scholarly editing. Current efforts focussed around dissemination through websites are not realising the opportunities that could emerge from separating content from presentation, and nor are they fully exploiting new digital tools and techniques. These opportunities include:

  • using data analytics techniques for the automatic analysis of text, including tracing changes through revisions;
  • exploring methods of representing the underlying text that can make it more amenable to computational analysis and multiple forms of presentation;
  • investigating how to support and enhance annotation, including the use of ontologies and controlled vocabularies, and the support for enabling and analysing multiple editorial views over the same text.

What is scholarly editing?

Scholarly editing produces one of the key resources that makes possible work in the humanities: texts. It is a field that requires high-level, specialist skills ─ reading historical handwriting, analysing the production and circulation of manuscripts and printed texts, collating large numbers of variants in different versions. Increasingly it also demands expertise in digital technologies. The expectation of the international research community is that editions be made available online as well as in print, allowing for new kinds of interaction. At its most basic, any digital edition should have a search function and provide hyperlinks to other sources or commentary. Although these are useful tools, they barely scratch the surface of what a digital edition could be. Digital editions which merely offer a fac-simile of a printed book look backwards and seek to replicate the book in ways that weaken the digital experience. If you want to know what we mean by digital scholarly editing then head over here. If you want to see examples of digital editions already published, then have a look at the Catalogue of Digital Editions.