The CWRC project aims to deliver an online system that enables unprecedented avenues for studying Canada’s literary heritage.
We are now are witnessing explosion of online materials, as many original resources are being migrated online, and the methodological implications are profound (Anderson; Felluga). The “Million Books” problem has been recognized by scholars and granting councils as one of the most pressing challenges to traditional humanities methodologies and simultaneously one of the greatest opportunities for real innovation in the development of digital methods (Crane; Olsen and Argamon).
The methodologies adopted by literary researchers to date rely on digital tools derived from print models, which cause a fundamental impediment in taking advantage of the newly available resources. Literary research is shifting from the conventional model of solitary scholars working on small groups of texts, towards fertile large-scale cross-disciplinary collaborative energies. The objective of the CWRC project is to help shift the methodology for the domain through an integrated software infrastructure that will connect scattered and siloed data and support the investigation of links between writers, texts, places, groups, policies, and events.
The Collaboratory will be comprised of 3 elements:
- A database (Online Research Canada, ORCA) to house born-digital scholarly data, digitized texts, and metadata (indices, annotations, cross-references). ORCA will continuously expand, remain current with scholars’ results, and aggregate data within scholarly contexts. Content and tools will be open access wherever possible and designed for interoperability with other systems.
- A CWRC 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.
- ORCA content and the CWRC toolkit will be integrated through a web-based service-oriented platform, to enable efficient deployment of emergent tools supporting literary research. A carefully developed and tested user interface will integrate the various components of CWRC to create a user-friendly research environment.
The emphases for platform development are the following:
- a browser-based very user-friendly XML editing system posing a low barrier to usage of at least a minimal tagset, integration with authority lists; semi-automation of tagging and authority list integration
- roles and workflow management support for diverse projects
- fast XML-aware and relevance ranked search across all the collections
- tools for analyzing, manipulating, and visualizing humanities data for literary studies
- interface with excellent usability, including Web 2.0 features/compatibility with external systems (we don’t want a mashup, but a smoothie)
The CWRC infrastructure will enable literary scholars to advance our understanding of past and present cultural change and produce new knowledge accessible to Canadians and the world.
At the same time, CWRC will advance digital humanities methodologies in a number of ways:
1) through the development in close consultation with a community of literary scholars of a platform for the collaborative production and maintenance of an extensive body of born digital scholarly materials as well as bibliographical materials, biocritical reference matter, and digital archives of existing texts;
2) through the production in consultation with this community of literary scholars and the digital humanities community of a suite of tools designed to allow researchers to interrogate digital materials in new ways;
3) through its experiments in social networking and attempting to crowdsource (cf. ReCAPTCHA) the immense labour of creating high-quality digital content;
4) through the provision of a testbed within which scholars can deploy experimental tools and interfaces. The development of these tools in partnership with this community will assist digital humanists in producing tools and interfaces that are well suited to scholarly use.
The CWRC platform development is proceeding in tandem with a number of research initiatives in both literary studies and in technical fields including the digital humanities and computing science. This collaboration is key to the design of CWRC as an infrastructure project.