Out now: French Literary Studies and the Digital Paradigm Shift

In what seems like a distant past, that is in september 2012, Lars Schneider and me organized a two-day session at the bi-annual conference of the German French Scholars’ Association in Leipzig (Frankoromanistenkongress; website no longer available!). The other day, the proceedings finally came out and we are of course very happy and proud. Just because it is digital doesn’t mean less time and effort goes into revising, copy-editing and layout, obviously.

: Index des perso nnes – entrée Helmina von Ch

From Anne Baillot’s contriubution: Index des personnes – entrée Helmina von Chézy

The proceedings appear as a special issue of Philologie im Netz (PhiN), one of the oldest all-digital journals in the German humanities, with a strong focus on French an Spanish literary studies, under the title “Literaturwissenschaft im digitalen Medienwandel”, which roughly translates into “literary studies in the digital paradigm shift” and with a CC-BY license. Sounds good? Well, there is a catch: the contributions are in French or German. However, they all have abstracts in English, so I thought I just publish the set of abstracts here. Enjoy!

Table of contents

  • Lars Schneider & Christof Schöch: Literaturwissenschaft im digitalen Medienwandel: Einleitung
  • Klaus-Dieter Ertler: Die Gattung der frankophonen “Spectators” im Spiegel der zeitgenössischen Medienrevolution
  • Martina Semlak: Digitale Edition als Instrument für literaturwissenschaftliche Forschung
  • Anne Baillot: Les corpus français sont-ils allemands? Éditer des textes de la Prusse frédéricienne en Allemagne
  • Delphine Dufour: L’enjeu numérique dans l’édition de la correspondance de Marceline Desbordes-Valmore
  • Isabel Rio Novo & Célia Vieira: e-Poeticae – Textes de théorisation littéraire en ligne
  • Glenn Roe: L’étude littéraire à l’ère du numérique : du texte à l’intertexte dans les “digital humanities”
  • Anne-Sophie Bories: Taratantara : la mémoire et l’oubli du décasyllabe dans la poésie de Raymond Queneau
  • Christof Schöch: Corneille, Molière et les autres. Stilometrische Analysen zu Autorschaft und Gattungszugehörigkeit im französischen Theater der Klassik
  • Lilian Landes: Flexibel, fluide, filternd. Weshalb die Geisteswissenschaften stärker von der Netzkultur profitieren sollten
  • Annette Keilhauer: Perspectives des études genre à l’ère de la numérisation
  • Thomas Stöber: Der “digitale Schreibtisch”: Innovationsmanagement und Vernetzung für das wissenschaftliche Arbeiten
  • Jörg Dünne: Das Jules Verne-Projekt – Alternative Heuristiken literaturwissenschaftlicher Forschung

Collection of abstracts

  • Klaus-Dieter Ertler (Graz): Die Gattung der frankophonen “Spectators” im Spiegel der zeitgenössischen Medienrevolution

The journalistic genre of the “Periodical Essays” or “Spectators” of Richard Steele and Joseph Addison (1709-1714) had an important influence on the communicational system of the 18th century. With its fictional aspects, it ‘created’ a new public of readers who were discovering their important function in the creation of a public space. In the context of the contemporary digital revolution, these ‘spectatorial’ texts are revealing some important features concerning the future development of communication. They announce the complex and volatile processing of information, linked to its fictional elements and to the construction of publicity. In this contribution, we are showing the historical context of this genre and its links to the digital age. In her companion piece to this contribution, Martina Semlak offers an introduction to the possibilities of representation of these texts as a digital edition (cf. http://gams.uni-graz.at/mws/).

  • Martina Semlak (Graz): Digitale Edition als Instrument für literaturwissenschaftliche Forschung

Spectators [http://gams.uni-graz.at/mws] is a digital edition project which aims not only at editing the prominent Romanic weeklies, but also provides analyses on narratological and thematic levels. A key research interest is the impact of the ‘digital turn’ on the methodological and scientific practices of scholarly editing. This essay is directly related to the article by Klaus-Dieter Ertler and describes the theoretical basis and practical implementation of a digital edition. The genre of the ‘spectators’ is characterized by its narrative and discursive breaks. A digital edition is suitable for representing such complex dimensions. For the annotation of the texts, a textual model based on the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) was developed. A workflow that allows for easy data acquisition and analysis was designed in concert with the literary scholars involved in the project. A digital repository – the Geisteswissenschaftliches Asset Management System (GAMS) – ensures the sustainable and quotable long-term availability of the edition and provides different levels of access and functionality for its use.

  • Anne Baillot (Berlin): Les corpus français sont-ils allemands? Éditer des textes de la Prusse frédéricienne en Allemagne

This paper presents the French corpora from the edition Letters and texts. Intellectual Berlin around 1800 with regard to their place and meaning in a mainly German edition and with regard to the technical difficulties encountered while implementing multilingualism. The first part exposes the research question the digital edition Letters and texts is based upon and the choice of corpora that resulted from it, thus explaining the role played by the French corpora. In the second part, the XML/TEI-encoding of persons, places and comments is being presented together with the difficulties arising from a multilingual presentation. The last part deals with the larger question of standards for digital editions and the role a multilingual presentation should play in such standards.

  • Delphine Dufour (Lyon): L’enjeu numérique dans l’édition de la correspondance de Marceline Desbordes-Valmore

This paper deals with a project aiming to publish Marceline Desbordes-Valmore’s letters in a digital way. Desbordes-Valmore, a nineteenth century French female poet, wrote a great number of letters all along her life and this material still deserves advanced investigations. Taking advantage of the project’s main goal – to offer a new complete and critical edition of a meaningful part of the correspondence –, we will discuss the role of digital issues throughout the process. Actually, this project leads us to promote both a head-on approach of methodological problems and the use of innovative and efficient computer tools. In particular, after digitizing all available sources, we handled them in a specialized database called “Arcane”. Arcane provides an architecture for linked data such as letters, people, places etc., and highlights how networks operate. This is a great way to understand, for instance, how a humble provincial woman with no education could become a famous and successful poet who inspired Verlaine and Baudelaire. Finally, it seems that computer science can help to re-assess any scientific object, which means that a digital study of Desbordes-Valmore’s correspondence should be helpful to get a new and accurate insight into her life and her work. How can we grasp such a body of knowledge with twenty-first century technologies? How can we define the ‘digital turn’ in the context of this literary research?

  • Isabel Rio Novo / Célia Vieira (Ismai / CEL): e-Poeticae – Textes de théorisation littéraire en ligne

We present the first results of an e-publishing project of literary theorisation texts produced in th th stPortugal, France and Spain, during the 19 , 20 and 21 centuries, launched in 2010 by a group of researchers from CELCC/ISMAI (Oporto, Portugal) and available at the website e-Poeticae – Texts of literary theorisation online (http://www.e-poeticae.com). It is intended to provide a digital database containing the greatest number of literary metatexts produced in those countries, in the indicated timeline. By literary theorisation texts we understand those explanatory, analytical or normative texts, in which we find expressed the guidelines, rules, goals or semiotic mechanisms that underlie the creation, structure and reception of the literary text (Silva 1988). The nature of this project is, obviously, dynamic and it implies an active and constant growth of the on-line corpus, that, hopefully, will constitute a huge repository of metatextual material. Since March 2010, e-Poeticae released about five hundred literary theorisation texts, all of them produced in the 19th century and published mainly in Portugal. By developing a digital database that represents documented issues that beset the metaliterary consciousness of both critics and writers, from the 19th century to the contemporary age, E-poeticae can thereby be a relevant resource contributing to the updating of the body of knowledge in the fields of History of Literary Ideas, Critical History and Theory of Literature in Portugal, Spain and France.

  • Glenn Roe (Australian National University): L’étude littéraire à l’ère du numérique: du texte à l’intertexte dans les “digital humanities”

An integral part of the growing international field of concerns and practices in and around the “Digital Humanities”, computational and digitally-assisted approaches to humanities text collections have in the past several years become increasingly prevalent. This article aims to explore both the promise and perils of these new digital approaches to literary and historical data sets, as well as the methodological underpinnings that inform their elaboration. In particular, we will examine several computational approaches to literary-historical analysis in French literature undertaken by the ARTFL Project at the University of Chicago, one of the oldest North American centres for digital humanities research.

  • Anne-Sophie Bories (Paris 3 & Leeds): Taratantara : la mémoire et l’oubli du décasyllabe dans la poésie de Raymond Queneau

Although Raymond Queneau employs a variety of canonical metres in his poetry, he appears to avoid the decasyllable almost completely. On the rare occasions when he does use it, he systematically opts for a 5-5 metre instead of the canonical 4-6, thus forgetting both the decasyllable itself and its traditional metre. The 5-5 metre bears neither the epic nor the lyric registers of the 4-6, being linked more to folk song, with connotations of a lower register. In this article I make use of an extensive database developed specifically to analyse Raymond Queneau’s versification, in order to assess the form and the meaning of Queneau’s decasyllable. I link the use of this metre to the themes of memory and the past. Queneau, whilst forgetting a canonical metre – the 4-6 –, remembers a rare one – the 5-5 – and uses this vulgar verse to address a serious, metaphysical reflection on the passing of time. This mismatching of subject and tone is typical of Queneau’s writing practices.

  • Christof Schöch (Würzburg): Corneille, Molière et les autres. Stilometrische Analysen zu Autorschaft und Gattungszugehörigkeit im französischen Theater der Klassik

The digital age, by making large amounts of text available to us, prompts us to develop new and additional reading strategies supported by the use of computers and enabling us to deal with such amounts of text. One such “distant reading” strategy is stylometry, a method of quantitative text analysis which relies on the frequencies of certain linguistic features such as words, letters or grammatical units to statistically assess the relative similarity of texts to each other and to classify texts on this basis. This method is applied here to French drama of the seventeenth century, more precisely to the now famous “Corneille / Molière-controversy”. In this controversy, some researchers claim that Pierre Corneille wrote several of the plays traditionally attributed to Molière. The methodological challenge, it is shown here, lies in the fact that categories such as authorship, genre (comedy vs. tragedy) and literary form (prose vs. verse) all have an influence on stylometric distance measures and classification. Cross-genre and cross-form authorship attribution needs to distinguish such competing signals if it is to produce reliable attribution results. This contribution describes two attempts to accomplish this, parameter optimization and feature-range selection. The contribution concludes with some more general remarks about the use of quantitative methods in a hermeneutic discipline such as literary studies.

  • Lilian Landes (München): Flexibel, fluide, filternd. Weshalb die Geisteswissenschaften stärker von der Netzkultur profitieren sollten

The field of historical research is one in which a culture of actively developing digital tools for academics has increasingly been growing since the onset of the internet age. However, approaches that are dedicated to the concept of “Web 2.0” are rare. The platform recensio.net, which is presented in the following article, combines traditional and collaborative forms of reviewing in the humanities. The reasons why even young academics (and not just their established colleagues) are reluctant to take on the role of the “prosumer” are also discussed.

  • Annette Keilhauer (Erlangen-Nürnberg): Perspectives des études genre à l’ère de la numérisation

The contribution reflects on the development of Gender Studies in its relation to the progress of new media. The examples used refer mostly to French literature and to the European COST Action ISO 901 Women Writers in History, an initiative which uses and develops new digital tools for research on European women writers from the Middle Ages to 1900. Crucial obstacles in the first period of feminist studies were the missing historical documentation on female authors, the missing access to primary texts and the need to network on a national and international level between researchers with the same objectives. Digitization helped very much to improve the situation and paved the way to a much more intense documentation and interaction. But digitization tools also opened the horizon for much more complex research settings on the level of large scale quantitative research as well as for efficient communication and publication tools. The article ends with a more critical outlook, underlining the limits of digitization. The explosion of accessible data via free access brings with it the need for more accurate evaluation and selection of the data for specific research. Moreover, a certain number of early goals of Gender Studies retain crucial importance, like the edition of print versions of key texts written by women and, more generally, the integration of results of Gender Studies in the general field of literary studies.

  • Thomas Stöber (München): Der “digitale Schreibtisch”: Innovationsmanagement und Vernetzung für das wissenschaftliche Arbeiten

Currently, scholars are facing significant challenges due to the great dynamic in the field of software development for eScience: among a vast variety of existing tools, the most suitable for one’s own scientific work need to be identified. One solution could be a genuine process of innovation management that helps identify these tools and connect them in order to create a specific digital workspace for scholars.

  • Jörg Dünne (Erfurt): Das Jules Verne-Projekt – Alternative Heuristiken literaturwissenschaftlicher Forschung

The “Jules Verne Project” presented in this article is the result of a collective research conducted by a group of more than 40 literary scholars, cultural and media historians over a period of more than four years. It consists of a website launched in autumn 2012 and of a joint publication of a book with 80 short essays as well as a board game in 2013, both concerning Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days and published on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of the novel’s first publication. By choosing a hybrid form of publishing, the Jules Verne Project did not intend a use of digital media that might ‘revolutionize’ literary studies, but rather a pragmatic use of the World Wide Web in order to present results of a specific form of literary research. The online publication of the essays from October to December 2012 was roughly synchronized with the stages of Phileas Fogg’s trip around the world 140 years earlier. It preceded the printed collection of all essays by half a year and thus allowed for a ‘reenactment’ of the original feuilleton publication of Verne’s novel itself. The joint use of digital and print media and of a board game was meant to employ the ludic principle of Verne’s novel for testing an alternative critical approach to literary texts.


Christof Schöch

Christof Schöch is a Research Associate at the Department for Literary Computing, Würzburg University, Germany. He leads the junior research group CLiGS (Computational Literary Genre Stylistics). His interests are in French and Spanish Literature, Digital Humanites, and Open Access.

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