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‘O brave new world…’: The Future of Open Shakespeare is Open Literature

James Harriman-Smith - March 12, 2013 in Community, Musings, News, Releases, Technical

At the start of March 2013, openshakespeare.org went offline. Fear not: it will return in all its full annotating, comparing, analysing, searching, publishing glory soon, as an integral part of this website, where all its data, not least its introductions to individual plays, now lives.

This post will set out the reasons why we decided to make this move, and what our vision is for the project in the months and years ahead.

First, the previous incarnation of Open Shakespeare had several problems, largely invisible to most visitors but extremely frustrating for those of us working behind the scenes.

  • No easy way to upload content such as introductions and essays. This was because we were mixing a pylons back end with a wordpress-powered front end. One of the saddest parts of this situation was that we never managed to get certain introductions live. Now, I’m happy to report that you can read Professor emeritus Hugh Macrae Richmond’s thoughts on Henry VI part 2 for the first time on this website.
  • Open Shakespeare had the potential to be something much bigger than it ever was, as evinced by its sister-project Open Milton, which put Milton’s texts inside the same framework as we were using for Shakespeare. Rather than proliferate parallel projects, it made sense to bring them all together under an ‘Open Literature’ platform: uploading the Milton data is thus one of our next big priorities.

Now from these criticisms comes our vision for Open Literature, an adaptable platform for appreciating literature online. We are creating it with the following principles:

  • Ease of use: many of our Open Shakespeare volunteers, myself included, struggled with the intricacies of the website, the vast majority of Open Literature’s administration can be done through the wordpress interface, whether this is the uploading of texts or the publishing of comments, essays or words of the day.
  • Reuse of existing technology: both the Open Knowledge Foundation and other parter organisations have several projects which overlap with Open Literature: we intend to use Textus to power our annotations here, and we will certainly also be making use of the FinalsClub annotations incorporated into Open Shakespeare through the AnnotateIt system.

So there you have it, the groundings of a website where:

  • Anyone can get involved with little technical knowledge.
  • Literary texts from any authors can be uploaded, annotated, searched and analysed.
  • Quality content about these authors can be made open, available to use, re-use and redistribute.

If you’d like to get involved in setting up this platform, the evolution of all our work on Open Shakespeare, do drop in to the Open Humanities mailing lists, either its general or developer variants.

As Miranda says, “O brave new world / That has such people in’t!”.

‘Touching this vision’: Comments on Producing Shakespeare Visualisations

James Harriman-Smith - April 27, 2012 in Community, Essay, Musings, Technical, Texts

This post is written by Pat Lockley, who has put together a set of data visualisations for both Shakespeare‘s plays and Middleton‘s. These public-domain visualisations were discussed on Open Shakespeare recently, and Pat has kindly written the following description of his own methodology, with some thoughts on how such e-resources are perceived.

I’ve worked in either e-learning or education now for over five years – and one of the main things I have often noticed is the time and effort required to make new resources. People often dream of having a magical button that will make e-learning materials for you, but this, surprisingly perhaps, still remains very much a pipe dream. Often though, as a developer (I am more developer than scholar, or even teacher), you find something in a form which can be converted in order to create e-learning resources. If we ignore the idea that all elearning has to be drag and drop activities or quizzes, then there is a lot of material on the internet from which teaching materials can be made.

So where did the Shakespeare idea come from? Well, I found the text at http://shakespeare.mit.edu/, and noticed that the web pages had a structure to them: you could see in the underlying HTML who was a speaker, the act, the scene and what the line number was. Hence I didn’t have to do anything with the HTML, bar write a little bit of code to read it and turn it into a database. Effectively, this code was looking for repeating patterns in the HTML, and then converting them into entries to store in a database.

Now that I had the text in a database, I could write queries on the database to extract and present the data in a variety of ways. All of the data and code was written by me, and some of it is now online on the OKF’s Datahub and GitHub. I’d also be interested in hearing if people would like the data served in any other way. As I said at the start of this blog, people seem to like magic buttons which do all the hard work, and so perhaps making the data available isn’t that helpful for a general audience? Further, I’d like to think that maybe there is some scope in building services around the text, but again, as someone who isn’t a Shakespeare scholar or teacher I think I’d struggle to come up with useful ones in advance.

Shakespeare Visualised

James Harriman-Smith - April 7, 2012 in Community, Essay, Musings, Technical, Texts

How can computers read Shakespeare? It’s a tricky one, not least because ‘reading Shakespeare’ is a bit of a tricky term: I am certain that everyone who reads a Shakespeare play or poem (let alone seeing them performed), reads them in a different way, with different associations and preferences running through their neurons. If ‘reading Shakespeare’ is such a personal, human thing, then it may well be fair to say that computers are not very well equipped to do it. That said, some recent, public domain images by Pat Lockley, entitled ‘The Science of Shakespeare’ present an interesting way to rethink the relation between computers and the act of reading Shakespeare. A computer cannot in any way read as a human does, but that does not make its contribution worthless. Instead, it makes a computer’s reading of Shakespeare something complementary, something that might challenge or confirm our own impressions of Shakespeare.

One thing that many of the images do, for example, is to flatten Shakespeare: the ‘Shakespeare Connections’ sequence shows us who speaks to whom over the course of the play but not at what times; similarly, the ‘Shakespeare Fingerprints’ sequence shows us when someone speaks, but not to whom. When a human reads a play, these two dimensions, the moment and the direction of a speech, cannot easily be filtered out, and I’m yet to find the human reader capable of mapping in his notebook such images as the ‘Science of Shakespeare’ pages provide. In this respect the computer’s view is unique, because non-human.

Let us concentrate now on ‘Shakespeare Connections’. As I mentioned, many of these computer-generated windows on the play confirm things that we already know. In The Winter’s Tale picture, it is unsurprising that Leontes, the jealous and suspicious king of Sicilia who banishes his baby daughter and comes close to killing his wife, is the character who interacts with the largest number of people.

The Winter's Tale

Similarly, it is no surprise that Caius Martius, aka. Coriolanus, is at the heart of Coriolanus.

Coriolanus

However, some plays surprise us with their diagrams. It is Falstaff, and not Prince Hal, who is at the centre of the web of King Henry IV part I, and Portia, not the merchant Antonio or Shylock the Jew, who sits at what might also be called the emotional centre of The Merchant of Venice.

Henry IV part I

The Merchant of Venice

One final point. These images show us neither the character who speaks most, nor the most important character in the story. The former is a job for a different program, and the latter one for a human. The ‘Shakespeare Connections’ simply show the character who speaks with whom, and who, out of all these characters, has the largest number of interlocutors. This focus makes the pictures well-suited to showing us the complexity of Shakespeare’s history plays, plays often criticised for their complex plots and excessive numbers of events.

I would like to conclude therefore with a triptych, composed of those images that represent the Henry VI trilogy. Here, the lines in red show us what a tangled web Shakespeare weaves, and how the trilogy descends from the high martial nobility of Talbot, to the bitter struggle led by York and his sons for control of the English throne, until we reach the last convulsions of the war, where Warwick (and the Lancastrian army) is betrayed and killed at the battle of Barnet.

‘That store of power you have’: Repositories

James Harriman-Smith - February 17, 2012 in Community, News, Technical

No Word of the Day this week, but an announcement instead. All the code behind Open Shakespeare, as well as the data is now freely available on GitHub. You can get to it with the following links:

This “store of power”, as Helena puts it at the end of All’s Well that Ends Well, has been around for a while, but the addition of the data puts the entirety of the project in one place. As well as the plays and poems, you will also find the Droeshout engraving of the bard, material from the Encyclopedia Britannica, and some useful scripts (capable, amongst other things, of using XSL to produce high quality PDFs via Latex).

If you have any questions about using the repository, check out the readme or get in touch with us on our mailing list. Making this stuff freely available is a key part of our belief in openness, and it would be truly wonderful to see other projects grow out of our own.

Success in Inventare il Futuro Competition

James Harriman-Smith - November 8, 2011 in Community, Essay, News, Publicity, Technical, Texts

By James Harriman-Smith and Primavera De Filippi

On the 11th July, the Open Literature (now Open Humanities) mailing list got an email about a competition being run by the University of Bologna called ‘Inventare il Futuro’ or ‘Inventing the Future’. On the 28th October, Hvaing submitted an application on behalf of the OKF, we got an email saying that our idea had won us €3 500 of funding. Here’s how.

The Idea: Open Reading

The competition was looking for “innovative ideas involving new technologies which could contribute to improving the quality of civil and social life, helping to overcome problems linked to people’s lives.” Our proposal, entered into the ‘Cultural and Artistic Heritage’ category, proposed joining the OKF’s Public Domain Calculators and Annotator together, creating a site that allowed users more interaction with public domain texts, and those texts a greater status online. To quote from our finished application:

Combined, the annotator and the public domain calculators will power a website on which users will be able to find any public domain literary text in their jurisdiction, and either download it in a variety of formats or read it in the environment of the website. If they chose the latter option, readers will have the opportunity of searching, annotating and anthologising each text, creating their own personal response to their cultural literary heritage, which they can then share with others, both through the website and as an exportable text document.


As you can see, with thirty thousand Euros for the overall winner, we decided to think very big. The full text, including a roadmap is available online. Many thanks to Jason Kitkat and Thomas Kandler who gave up their time to proofread and suggest improvements.

The Winnings: Funding Improvements to OKF Services

The first step towards Open Reading was always to improve the two services it proposed marrying: the Annotator and the Public Domain Calculators. With this in mind we intend to use our winnings to help achieve the following goals, although more ideas are always welcome:

  • Offer bounties for flow charts regarding the public domain in as yet unexamined jurisdictions.
  • Contribute, perhaps, to the bounties already available for implementing flowcharts into code.
  • Offer mini-rewards for the identification and assessment of new metadata databases.
  • Modify the annotator store back-end to allow collections.
  • Make the importation and exportation of annotations easier.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if any of this is of interest. An Open Humanities Skype meeting will be held on 20th November 2011 at 3pm GMT.

Shakespeare and the Internet

James Harriman-Smith - September 5, 2011 in Community, Essay, News, Publicity

From Monday 12th September to Monday 10th October, Open Shakespeare will host a series of articles on the topic of ‘Shakespeare and the Internet’. When we invited contributions, the theme was deliberately kept as broad as possible in order to facilitate a wide and diverse range of responses from each of those who have written a post for us. Our contributors range from teachers and students of Shakespeare to an experimental theatre company.

Having already read the majority of the contributions, I can say now that the series fulfils its goal of offering what the Bard would call a “multitudinous” range of approaches to the topic of Shakespeare and the Internet; subjects range from why Polonius would appreciate hypertext to the problems and opportunities of online abundance. Please feel free to make use of the comments section at the bottom of each article, and to carry on in this space the points for debate that each article raises. The contributions will appear in the following order:

Every article in this series is published under a Creative Commons 3.0 SA BY licence, meaning that it is free to redistribute and reuse, providing that you attribute it to its author (BY) and that you share-alike. As with all the other material on Open Shakespeare, we hope that publication under such a licence will encourage the diffusion and development of our contributors’ ideas.

My thanks to all those who have contributed their time and thoughts to this project, particularly Erin Weinberg, whose proof-reading skills have been extremely useful in the preparation of these pieces for publication. Depending on the success of this series, we intend to publish similar, themed posts under an open licence in the future: if you would like to participate as either a writer or an editor, please get in touch through the usual channels.

Now, to conclude, I leave you, I hope, in approximately the same state of anticipation as Leonato leaves an impatient Claudio in Much Ado about Nothing:

> till Monday [...] which is hence a just seven-night; and a time too brief too, to have all things answer my mind.

Meeting: 2011-08-10

James Harriman-Smith - August 10, 2011 in Community, Minutes

PRESENT

RP
JHS

AGENDA

  • Text Camp organisation
  • Administration
  • Debrief

ACTIONS

  • Ping mark re: openbibli lis; register
  • Make clear that registration essential wiki and eventbrite empf free & sec
  • Copy out of wiki
  • Edit eventbrite to fri
  • Research open guide
  • Make sure new volunteers to LC
  • Add counters / status bars on openlit / wiki
  • Blogpost about editions

Text Camp 2011

James Harriman-Smith - August 9, 2011 in Community, News, Texts

The Open Knowledge Foundation’s first ever Text Camp will be taking place this Saturday 13th August, thanks to JISC offering us the use of their meeting rooms in London.

Details

  • Where? Brettenham House, 9 Savoy Street, WC2E 7EG, London. – Meet outside ‘The Savoy Tup’ Pub, Savoy Street, at 10am to be guided to the venue.
  • When? Saturday 13th August, 10am – 6pm
  • What?A gathering for all those interested in the relation between technology and literature, with a specal focus on the creation of open knowledge.
  • More details: http://wiki.openliterature.net/Text_Camp_2011
  • Order (free) tickets: http://textcamp2011.eventbrite.com/
  • Twitter: #tcamp11

Hope you can make it!

Text Camp 2011

James Harriman-Smith - August 8, 2011 in Community, News, Publicity

The Open Knowledge Foundation’s first ever Text Camp will be taking place this Saturday 13th August, thanks to JISC offering us the use of their meeting rooms in London.

Details

  • Where? Brettenham House, 9 Savoy Street, WC2E 7EG, London. – Meet outside ‘The Savoy Tup’ Pub, Savoy Street, at 10am to be guided to the venue.
  • When? Saturday 13th August, 10am – 6pm
  • What?A gathering for all those interested in the relation between technology and literature, with a specal focus on the creation of open knowledge.
  • More details: http://wiki.openliterature.net/Text_Camp_2011
  • Order (free) tickets: http://textcamp2011.eventbrite.com/
  • Twitter: #tcamp11

Hope you can make it!

Meeting: 2011-08-04

James Harriman-Smith - August 4, 2011 in Community, Minutes

PRESENT

JHS
RP

AGENDA

Text Camp Activities

  • Speakers?
  • Topics?

Text Camp Attendance/admin

  • JISC
  • Promotional materials
  • OKF presence

ACTIONS

  • Ask wifi – remote attendance
    • irc channel, skype …
  • Read up on XCamp activities
  • Ping Ben O’Steen, Mark McGillivray (+ know anyone else?), UCL (esp. Bentham)
  • Front page of wiki.openliterature.net – boxy setup as on http://wiki.okfn.org/
  • Editable wiki for activities: ‘Lightning Talks’
  • Add posts to OKF group wall
  • Email participants to encourage: Wiki edits and join okfn group
  • Sketch structure based on BarCamp / OpenSpaceTech