D. Des Chene (goclenius) wrote,
D. Des Chene

Watching texts grow

At Technologies du langage, a note on History Flow, a system for visualizing changes in texts over time. The examples are taken from the English Wikipedia. Here is a detail from the history of “Capitalism”:
Source: IBM Collaborative
User Experience Research Group
(detail; see the Gallery)
As Jean Véronis, the author of Technologies, notes in another post (“La mort des brouillons”), one casualty of the use of computers for writing is the brouillon or draft. For historians, drafts are an invaluable resource in understanding the process of composition, the use of sources, and (in the case of works edited by several authors) the role of collaboration (in the Waste Land, for example, which underwent heavy revisions at the suggestion of Pound). (See the permanent online exposition Brouillons d’écrivains at the Bibliothèque Nationale, from which Véronis reproduces several images.)
Wikipedia and its kin preserve every state of a document, and allow readers to examine the differences among them. Imagine, Véronis says, that we had all the drafts of Diderot and D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie or the Encyclopédie méthodique of Pancoucke, the largest project ever produced by French publishers to that point (a prospectus of 1800 envisioned 199 volumes; at least 210 were actually published).
Whether more data, or even striking pictures, will yield better theories of the production of texts I don’t know. In the meantime there is at least an anecdotal pleasure in contemplating the expansion of “Capitalism” and the gentle flow of “Love”.
Tags: wikipedia ibm

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