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Summary of Papers (2005 Forum)

Electrifying the Text Forum, 8 April 2005

1. An Electronic Corpus of Medieval Welsh Prose

Peter Wynn Thomas, Diana Luft and D. Mark Smith (Cardiff University)

'An Electronic Corpus of Medieval Welsh Prose' is the name of a new and exciting research project in the School of Welsh, Cardiff University, which is funded by the AHRC (June 2004 - May 2007). The aim of the project is to transcribe prose texts from the period c.1350-1450 and release them to the world on a searchable CD-ROM. This corpus includes the law texts, historical, religious, medical and grammatical works, and tales translated from Latin and French, and, of course, the Mabinogion tales (including two of the nation's foremost treasures, the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest). The project is directed by Professor Peter Wynn Thomas who gave this paper which was jointly presented by the project's researchers Dr D. Mark Smith and Dr Diana Luft.

The paper considered the two main methods of editing Medieval Welsh prose texts, namely the critical edition and the diplomatic edition. The latter concentrates on representing details from the manuscript, and examples were shown of the excellent work done by J. Gwenogvryn Evans who published editions of manuscripts such as the White Book of Rhydderch and the Red Book of Hergest between 1887 and 1911. As we are on the threshold of celebrating the centenary of the publication of Gwenogvryn's edition of the White Book Mabinogion, it is appropriate to reconsider our attitute towards the reader-editor. There were practical restrictions on the printing press in Gwenogvryn's day, but the technological advances of the current age enable us to reproduce a much closer version of the original using XML - eXtensible Mark-up Language. XML is used in the current project to enable us to represent not only the graffemes of the texts but also their colour, comparative size and position, as well as lacunae in the text, staining, ripped leaves, unclear sections, corrections, and additions in later hands. In order to do this we tag an extensive set of visual features in the texts with XML tags, and there are three levels of tags namely structural tags, tags on line level and tags on word level. Examples were shown of some tags in order to explain how they are used, and an extract from Manuscript Peniarth 47i was shown as an example of the final product. The current project therefore follows in the careful and discerning footsteps of J. Gwenogvryn Evans and our hope is that our XML versions of these manuscripts will be searchable by the widest possible audience.

An electronic corpus of medieval Welsh prose

2. A Historical Corpus of the Welsh Language 1500-1850

David Willis (Cambridge University)

David Willis' paper focused on The Historical Corpus of the Welsh Language 1500-1850 project, a collection of Welsh texts from that period in an electronic format. The aim of the project is to begin to provide an electronically searchable resorce for use in linguistic, literary and historical research, of a kind similar to existing corpora already available for languages such as English, French, German and Irish.

Historical Corpus of the Welsh Language 1500-1850

3. Dafydd ap Gwilym Project

Sara Elin Roberts (University of Wales, Swansea)

The paper opened with a brief discussion of the background of publishing Dafydd ap Gwilym's work - the early publications (William Owen Pughe and the Morisiaid), Ifor Williams' contribution, and then Thomas Parry's Gwaith Dafydd ap Gwilym. The popularity of Dafydd ap Gwilym's work meant that it was published on more than one occasion. I then looked at examples from Thomas Parry's Gwaith Dafydd ap Gwilym, discussing his method of presenting textual variations: he would list and label the manuscripts and then show variations for each line. This is still standard practice today. However, such variations are difficult to use as the print is small, and if there is more than half a page of variations it is difficult for the reader as one has to jump back and forth between the text and the variations. This method also means that there are mistakes in the variations. This is not a criticism of Thomas Parry: he did his best under the circumstances at the time.

Then we looked at the website which is being produced by members of the project. This website includes an edited text, a paraphrased text, translation, notes and stemma for each poem, and one is able to view the edition side by side with the other elements - one can therefore see the edited poem on one half of the screen and the paraphrased text on the other half. We are also able to show the textual variations per line; by clicking on a line of the edited text the main manuscript variations appear on the right hand side. The user can therefore read the variations and they are clear and obvious. There are also manuscript texts available which one can read side by side with the edited text, and there are digital images of the main manuscripts. The paper concluded by looking at the databases - one can either choose any poem and see how many manuscripts that poem appears in, or choose any manuscript and see how many poems are included in that manuscript of the work of Dafydd ap Gwilym.

Dafydd ap website.

4. The Melville Richards Place-Name Database

Gruff Prys (The Place-Name Research Centre, University of Wales, Bangor)

Gruff Prys gave a demonstration of the University of Wales, Bangor's recent project to digitise the vast database of place names compiled by Professor Melville Richards.

Melville Richards Place-Name Database

5. Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru

Lyn Léwis Dafis

Lyn Léwis Dafis discussed some of the digitising processes used at the National Library of Wales, with particular reference to digitising manuscripts.

Website of National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

6. ‘A-B-C digitising: One Example, The Ann Griffiths Website’.

Peter Keelan: Salisbury Collection Librarian, Cardiff University

The Ann Griffiths website was created jointly by the School of Welsh and the University Library, under the direction of Dr Wyn James, in order to assist learning/teaching and research in the field at Cardiff University.

The Ann Griffiths website contributed to the work of the School and Library in many ways. The website brought together many documents from Cardiff and Aberystwyth to create a very broad collection of documents on the subject; for example, manuscripts from the National Library of Wales, books and theses from Cardiff University, articles from periodicals and so forth. At the same time, staff, students and reaserchers world-wide have instant access on the web to rare documents that have been hitherto under lock and key in the Library.

The website consists of three parts:

  1. Over 100 digital texts of Ann Griffiths’s work, background, life and work by diverse authors.
  2. An introduction to her life and translations of her hymns and early letters.
  3. A comprehensive bibliography of the books, articles, manuscripts, and theses that were digitised for the website.

This website was praised after it was published in 2003, and statistics show that researchers world-wide visit the site every month. However, the School of Welsh and the University Library identified aspects which could be improved:

All this underlines the need to plan digital projects as an ongoing process, and not something that comes to an end once the site has been launched. Long-term costs can turn out to be more than expected, and the preservation of digital files over the years is a subject which is yet to be carefully considered in such projects.

7. University of Wales Press

Ashley Drake

Ashley Drake, Director of the University of Wales Press, gave a paper on the challenges facing academic publishing in the twenty-first century.

University of Wales Press Website