Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Barr, Rebecca Anne; Tonra, Justin
DH2014: Annual Conference of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organisations
"Crowdsourcing Annotation and the ‘Social Edition’: Ossian Online"
Lausanne, Switzerland.
Poster Presentation (Refereed)
Optional Fields
James Macpherson’s Ossian poems were the international sensation of the eighteenth-century. First published in 1760, Macpherson’s work caused a literary furore. Ostensibly translations from Gaelic manuscripts, the poems were published as fragments of a lost Celtic epic, salvaged from a dying oral culture and translated for the edification of a modern readership. Despite the controversial provenance of the Ossian poems, they transformed European literature; their impact was profound, international and long lasting, initiating the Romantic movement in Ireland, Britain, Europe, and beyond.   Ossian Online is a new initiative to freshly edit and make available this profoundly influential work of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European culture. It will work on the principle of the ‘collaboratory’: providing an online infrastructure for scholarly collaboration. As a platform in which participants can annotate, debate, and engage, this project will create an innovative space for interdisciplinary dialogue, where scholarly debate and exchange can occur in real-time.   The past five years have witnessed an exponential growth in the use of social media for scholarship and communication in eighteenth-century studies (Eighteenth-Century Questions, The 18th-Century Common, 18thConnect, Mapping the Republic of Letters). Ossian Online harnesses this critical mass and directs its potential towards the online scholarly edition. By creating a new online edition of the poems which visualises textual variation, evolution, and genetic relations, and altering the medium in which the text is presented, this project will bring Ossian to a global audience.   Ossian Online will also act as a test case for new approaches to humanities research, bringing greater immediacy and interdisciplinarity to the fundamental practices of academic communication than are afforded by traditional models of scholarly publication. The rewards of this endeavour will be apparent not just in the synthesis of different disciplinary insights, but in the challenges it poses to established disciplinary conventions. Ossian Online uses social media technologies to crowdsource annotations to a new edition of the Ossian poems. The project closely follows many of the recent articulations of the possibilities of the ‘social edition,’ (Siemens, et al., DHQ; Siemens, et al., LLC). It also provides a practical example of an edition which enacts one of the many potential affordances of social media for scholarly editing and annotation. Ossian Online aims to contribute to the description of an active typology of the emergent ‘social edition,’ which remains more theorised than practiced. More broadly, this paper will seek to “extend our understanding of the scholarly edition in light of new models of edition production that embrace social networking and its commensurate tools” (Siemens, et al., LLC 447).   The multidisciplinary appeal of Ossian makes it an ideal candidate to test a set of technologies which promise to use participatory experience to reorient the role of the scholarly editor “away from that of ultimate authority and more toward that of facilitator of reader involvement” (Siemens, et al., LLC 446). Scholars from the range of disciplines that study Ossian (literature, history, Irish studies, Scottish studies, Celtic studies, romanticism, textual studies, book history) are a crowd—as McGann has put it—“who have yet to be sourced” (2). To date, crowdsourcing has been used for different scholarly ends (including transcription, correction, and identification of data), but this represents one of the first occasions on which the wisdom of the crowd will be leveraged to critically annotate a literary work. Building on the principles of existing crowdsourcing software (Transcribe Bentham, Candide 2.0, Prism, CommentPress,, Ossian Online will develop an interface for the collaborative research environment that will satisfy the particular needs of the literary text and reinvigorate related scholarship. Moving Ossian online preserves the core-values of the humanities while articulating them through new opportunities offered by the digital revolution. It will facilitate a forum in which multiple scholarly perspectives can be synthesised, through an interdisciplinary research environment.   Interest in the ‘social edition’ is growing within scholarly editing and digital humanities communities. In a similar manner to the recent ‘Social, Digital, Scholarly Editing’ conference at the University of Saskatchewan, this paper will address the theoretical, practical, and social effects of the collaborative editorial possibilities enabled by the development of digital platforms.   This paper will have two particular focuses: first, to provide a critique of social media platforms and technologies used by Ossian Online, and suggest which are best suited to fulfilling the needs of ‘social edition’ developers. Second, it will articulate the current possibilities and challenges of constructing a ‘social edition,’ outlining future directions for “the organization of digital text [ . . . ] to promote social interaction within and around it” (Fitzpatrick).
NUI Galway
Publication Themes