Digital Projects at SHARP 2015 — Part 2 ArchBook

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In a previous post we presented an overview of the SHARP 2015 Digital Showcase, with a focus on two projects and a promise to follow up with a discussion of two additional ones. This post partially fulfills that promise with a look at Richard Cunningham’s presentation of ArchBook: “Architectures of the Book Knowledge Base” at SHARP 2015. (A post on Jordan Michael Howell’s “Digital Bibliography Quick Start” will be available shortly).

Attractively designed, ArchBook is a resource focused on “specific design features in the history of the book.”

It seeks, however, to be more than a digital version of a work such as Glaister’s Encyclopedia of the Book. Thus, rather than aim for full coverage of book architecture or design terminology from A to Z, the site offers in-depth articles devoted to selected elements in the history of the book. Each essay or entry charts a given feature’s initial appearance in the history of the book through its historical transformations and, in some cases, eventual vanishing. Likening their approach to Raymond William’s Keywords, the editors note that the articles are crafted to spur responses, further thought, and additional investigation. The idea for the resource emerged from work by the Textual Studies team of the Implementing New Knowledge Environment (INKE) project in 2009; grants from SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada) secured by Inke and Alan Galey (University of Toronto) funded the project through 2013. Thus, while ArchBook had not been previously demonstrated at a SHARP conference, it is a resource that has been around for a while. (Indeed I have used it in my courses since 2013.)

To date, eleven “entries” or essays have been begun, and nine completed. Alan Galey’s Openings bears the earliest publishing date, 3 January 2012, and Laura Estell’s Commonplace Markers and Quotation Marks is the most recent entry, having been published in January 2014. Other topics covered include Decorated Letters, Flaps, Girdle Books (in progress), Grangerizing, Manicules, Pages (in progress), Table of Contents, Varorium Commentary, and Volvelles. As seen in this view from the Manicules page, each entry consists of five sections navigable by tabs: Definition, Historical Overview, Spotlight, Notes, and Works Cited. (Note: the sixth tab shown, Post-Publication, does not appear for all entries; moreover, this link is broken. However, the project blog does feature a post about manicules).

This entry’s historical scope extends from the classical era through iAnnotate’s stylized manicule designed for digital reading needs; such extended temporal coverage typifies the essays. Multimodal, the essays are also accompanied by images, and additional images appear in the 116-item image database.

The entries have evidently shaped the far more extensive glossary. Many terms from the essays are briefly defined in this section, including some of the entry topics. For instance, the glossary features an explanation for a “volvelle” (or wheel chart; it “consists of one or more layers of parchment or paper discs or other Over 125 items are defined, and they span a surprisingly broad range of topics. Alongside entries for watermarks, signatures, fascicle, gutter, gathering, one will also find definitions for PDF, commonplace book, presentation copy, plate, and multiple words related to typography and printing.

ArchBook shows much promise, but it also displays some of the issues we have discussed on EMOB over the years. The thought-provoking, well-researched entries benefit greatly from the long view each takes of its given topic, the accompanying images, and the references provided for further reading. The essays clearly took time to craft, and the time factor perhaps explains why only nine have been completed since the project’s inception in 2009. While there are detailed instructions for authors about entries, few have evidently answered the call to contribute. Similarly, the post-publication tab mentioned above seems to have failed to take off. ArchBook’s home page explains that “each ArchBook entry contains a post-publication discussion section with links to the project blog and related wikis, where readers are invited to continue the discussion,” yet no such exchange has been forthcoming. We have discussed the difficulties of generating exchange in digital resources devoted to that purpose many times on EMOB. We have highlighted the challenges most clearly perhaps in our multiple posts on EEBO Interactions, whose ultimate demise we noted in a post dated March 2013. We have also discussed the problems of sustaining such archives and resources, be it a matter of funding or the economics of time. Perhaps the decision to showcase ArchBook at SHARP 2015 was an effort to both publicize and to gain more users, responders, and entry authors for what is already a highly useful resource. Perhaps this post will also assist in attracting more notice to ArchBook.

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4 Responses to “Digital Projects at SHARP 2015 — Part 2 ArchBook”

  1. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks for this lucid overview of ArchBook, Eleanor. It looks like a valuable reference tool, and its emphasis on illustration points to one of the strengths of digital tools.

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  2. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I think that 18thConnect has a mechanism for evaluating the scholarly nature of projects on its site. Are there equivalent means for evaluating or peer-reviewing the scholarship of digital projects? If no system exists, how might such a system work? Who are the peers?

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  3. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Anna,

    I might not quite sure what you are asking. Could you say a little more? There are both internal, site-specific (such as 18thConnect) and larger bodies in place that do assess the quality of projects, and DH scholars have often shaped and developed these standards.

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  4. Anna Battigelli Says:

    My question is simple: how do digital projects like ArchBook get reviewed by peers? What are some of the larger bodies that you mention?

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