Words move. They move us to understand Canada’s tradition and diversity. They move 166,701 majors, including future leaders in politics, business, education, and culture, yearly through humanities programs of Canadian universities. They move $3.3 billion yearly through our publishing industry. They move people halfway around the world to visit Anne of Green Gables’ farmhouse on PEI.
Words move differently now, through semi-conductors, across screens, at lightning speed, and in vast quantities.
Scholars have studied how words make and move us for centuries, but the digital turn demands new tools and new tool environments.
The Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC, pronounced “quirk”) / Le Collaboratoire scientifique des écrits du Canada (CSÉC) has been funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s Leading Edge Fund to establish an online infrastructure for literary research in and about Canada.
The Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory / Le Collaboratoire scientifique des écrits du Canada is an online infrastructure project designed to enable unprecedented avenues for studying the words that most move people in and about Canada. At this critical juncture when Canada’s literary heritage is moving online, management of information about Canadian cultural history still relies on tools derived from print models, which cannot accommodate the explosion of online materials. Literary studies must shift from the conventional model of solitary scholars working on small groups of texts, towards fertile large-scale cross- disciplinary collaborative energies. CWRC’s specialized interface will connect scattered and siloed data; investigate links between writers, texts, places, groups, policies, and events; advance understanding of past and present cultural change; and produce fascinating new knowledge accessible to Canadians and the world.
The Collaboratory will be an innovative web-based service-oriented platform combining:
- a database (Online Research Canada, ORCA) to house born-digital scholarly materials, digitized texts, and metadata (indices, annotations, cross-references). Content and tools will be open access wherever possible and designed for interoperability with each other and with other systems. The database will be seeded with a range of existing digital materials, as well as with information to provide the backbone of an Integrated History of Women’s Writing in Canada.
- a toolkit for empowering new collaborative modes of scholarly writing online; editing, annotating, and analyzing materials in and beyond ORCA; discovering and collaborating with researchers with intersecting interests; mining knowledge about relations, events and trends, through automated methods and interactive visualizations; and analyzing the system’s usage patterns to discover areas for further investigation. Forms of collaboration will range from the sharing and building of fundamental resources such as filmographies, and author and subject bibliographies, to the collaborative production of born-digital historical and literary studies.
CWRC’s key is integration: of system components; of information whose value increases exponentially when combined and subjected to new modes of inquiry; of scholarly materials with the massive archive of digital texts; of scholars themselves.
CWRC involves more than one hundred scholars from across Canada, with the aim of engaging the Canadian writing research community at large and researchers worldwide, as both contributors and users, in the task of devising new tools and methods of scholarship to meet the digital turn. The CWRC infrastructure builds on the Orlando Project’s expertise in collaborative online scholarly production.
CWRC’s international team of more than 100 affiliated scholars includes leading Canadian digital humanists, and prominent Canadianist scholars and projects. And because words pose some of the thorniest problems for advanced computing analysis and computing tool usability, the team boasts experts in software engineering, GIS, and business. Such interdisciplinarity is needed to scale up Orlando’s pioneering features to enable a globally distributed community of literary researchers to study highly contextualized, multi-lingual content, and, through their experimentation with new-generation tools, to transform academic protocols for a whole field.
The project is multi-lingual and interdisciplinary in expertise and approach: literary studies, humanities computing, computing science, business, and earth science. CWRC will be mainly open-access, accessible to Canadians and the world.
The CFI’s Leading Edge Fund enables institutions to build on already successful and productive initiatives supported by past CFI investments. CWRC builds on the award-winning, successfully commercialized Orlando Project’s innovations in humanities scholarship, manifested in its published texbase (co-edited by Brown, Clements and Grundy, 2006). Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present, is a born-digital literary history resource extensively structured with semantic tagging of its interpretive contents. It has been heralded by users as a trailblazer: “because of the ways in which the extensive data can be mined or formulated, Orlando … serves as a model for similar databases” (Harner), and praised for its “working method and the multidirectional results” (Bold; see also Booth, Fraiman, Hickman). The Orlando Project’s innovation continues in its ongoing experimentation with methods for advancing literary historical analysis with computers (Sinclair 2009), in its interface research (Ruecker et al 2009; Brown et al 2006a; Brown et al 2007), and in its exploration of data mining and visualization (Brown et al 2009; Sinclair et al 2009).
CWRC’s partners and supporters include:
- the Canadian Literature Centre/ Centre de littérature canadienne, University of Alberta.
The CLC provides leadership on the research side of this project, playing a major role on the CRWC Board, convening regular meetings of researchers and projects involved in CRWC, coordinating research grant applications and funding, and contributing to outreach, dissemination, administration and scholarly output in both official languages.
- Early Canadiana Online
- Peel’s Prairie Provinces (University of Alberta Libraries)
- the Editing Modernisms in Canada (EMiC) project (Dalhousie University)
- individual scholars possessing digital content that they would like to see shared more widely and interlinked with other resources on Canadian writing
- the Playwrights’ Guild of Canada, the of Canadian Poets, the Writers Guild of Canada, and various provincial writers’ groups
- the TransCanada Institute (University of Guelph)
- numerous international Canadian Studies Centres
- Canadian Literature, Canadian Poetry, Canadian Theatre Review, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada
- the TAPoR and Synergies infrastructure projects
- the Orlando Project