CEDAR (Critical Editions for Digital Analysis and Research) is a multi-project digital humanities initiative based at the University of Chicago. It is a collaboration among UChicago faculty members from several departments and schools, together with postdoctoral and student research assistants and scholars from other institutions. CEDAR project teams are working with selected materials from well-known and influential literary corpora that have long histories of transmission and translation, including the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Hebrew Bible, and Shakespeare’s plays. A less well known group of literary texts from 17th-century India is also being employed, consisting of poems written in Middle Bengali and Sanskrit. In contrast to the projects involving these premodern and early modern materials, other CEDAR collaborators are working with more recent, 19th-century materials: in particular, the works of Herman Melville and William Blake.
The CEDAR collaborators are developing, testing, and documenting new methods of digitally representing, displaying, and analyzing manuscripts, textual variants, and diverse editorial readings and translations. The innovative software they are using can represent every textual nuance a scholar may wish to note and it can model the most complex intra- and intertextual relationships, with proper attribution to each author, editor, and commentator. The CEDAR software enables views of textual features and interconnections that are not possible in traditional printed editions or in other software available today. The result is a tool for textual research that goes beyond existing tools to facilitate the most rigorous philological scholarship, on the one hand, and the teaching of complex texts and their histories to students, on the other.
A Shared Environment for Scholarly Work
CEDAR makes use of the University of Chicago’s OCHRE database platform, a powerful, thoroughly tested, and well-supported computational environment for scholarly and scientific research. The OCHRE platform has been developed over the past several years with funding from the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure of the National Science Foundation. Technical support, including user training, legacy data conversion, and long-term data hosting, is provided by the OCHRE Data Service. OCHRE is currently being used by more than 60 multi-person research projects at 17 universities in North America and Europe. It can integrate and manage large amounts of data of all kinds—textual, numeric, visual, sonic, cartographic, etc.—and it has many tools for cleaning, interlinking, displaying, and analyzing a project’s data; publishing the data on the Web; and archiving it for long-term accessibility using open, standardized formats. The OCHRE servers are monitored and backed-up by professional system administrators in the University of Chicago’s Library and Research Computing Center.
Scholars in the humanities have long needed a technically sophisticated and well-maintained computational environment that can accommodate all kinds of information and perform the most complex scholarly tasks, and is also sufficiently flexible and customizable to serve a wide range of scholars in different fields of research. A shared environment of this kind will enable economies of scale that make it possible to sustain and enhance the software over the long term, because there is a common code-base that works for everyone. This is in contrast to the incompatible code-bases that underlie the motley assortment of idiosyncratic and often short-lived software applications currently used in digital humanities, most of which serve only a few scholars and are not sustainable.
CEDAR demonstrates that the same underlying data model and software can be used for research on very different literary corpora written in different historical periods using different languages and writing systems, and studied today by different communities of scholars. Digital images of original manuscripts as well as digitized transcriptions, translations, and commentary are all stored in the same database, constituting a well-organized, curated, and reusable body of data. Moreover, the OCHRE platform used by CEDAR can easily exchange data with other digital tools for literary studies via widely used standards such as the TEI textual markup format and the Semantic Web standards of the World Wide Web Consortium. Contributing scholars have password-protected access to CEDAR data to build, enrich, and analyze critical text editions using a graphical user interface. Meanwhile, a lightweight open-access Web browser app (currently under development) will make it easy for scholars and students everywhere to view and search the CEDAR text editions. The result will be a new kind of online critical edition that is not closed off but can continue to grow and be supplemented by additional commentary, translations, and images.
We are grateful to Paul Funk, not only for his generous financial contributions, but also for his intellectual contributions as an active member of the CEDAR technical staff and as an aficionado of early modern English literature. The CEDAR initiative is supported also by a grant from the University of Chicago’s Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. The development of the OCHRE computational platform used by CEDAR has been supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure.