The Cynic Sang: The Blake Archive and Blake Quarterly Blog

December 2, 2016

Do we know what we’re estimating?

Filed under: XML — Robert Rich @ 8:40 am

One of many things that working on the separate plates has gotten me thinking about is how we conceptualize units of space. Doing the textual transcriptions for the separate plates requires that we use a lot of <space/> and <vspace/> tags. Inside these elements, we use the attribute “extent=” to describe the size of the space. The difficulty of this is that I never feel like I have any idea what it is we’re counting. It seems like the standard instruction in the matter is to put down a rough guess and wait until it’s up on the testing site to ensure the accuracy of the number. This makes sense, but it would seem that even to put in a rough guess a person would need to have some idea what the unit is. Consulting the “Filling out an XML BAD File” on the WIP site doesn’t provide any help in the matter.

Back when I was working on the transcriptions of Blake’s letters, I would usually just assume the unit of space was about the extent of a character. I never knew whether this was close to what a unit of ‘space’ was supposed to be (The image below is actually an indent rather than a space, but the concept applies insofar as both require the transcriber to provide a number indicating the distance between things). 


Either way, it gets more complicated when the object you’re transcribing looks like this:


Here, most of the object does not have writing on it, so thinking of a space as a given number of characters wouldn’t be that helpful for estimating the extent of the space, even if that were an adequate way of gauging size. 

This makes me think that maybe when we go about updating the tagset we should say something about approximately how big a space of “1” would be. What are we actually counting? Would it be helpful at all for a transcriber to look at the object dimensions and then think of the space as a given unit (such as a centimeter)?  I’m not sure how things work on the programming end. If it would be at all feasible, I do think it might be useful to include information in a future (updated) version of “Filling out an XML BAD File” explaining to the person what it is they’re estimating when they estimate the space extent. 

November 22, 2016

A Newbie Learns to Read Blake

Filed under: Uncategorized — joeykingsley @ 3:36 pm

Since this is my first semester working with the Blake Archive—and all of my previous interaction with Blake’s work has consisted of reading his poems in relative isolation in my house—my main concern has been trying to understand Blake’s handwriting and figure out how the XML tag set works. More specifically, I have been trying to identify the places in the text where Blake scribbles over words or crosses them out. In some instances, the word underneath may be legible, but as a newcomer to reading Blake’s original manuscripts, I have trouble asserting anything with authority. Similarly, it has been difficult deciphering the way in which Blake renders some individual letters. For example, his “s” often looks like an “f” and his periods sometimes look like commas. I realize that recognizing things quickly is an issue of experience, and I do find that copyediting the XML against the original images of the letters is very helpful. The process of working backwards—looking at the XML, then the handwriting—seems far more useful than trying to look at the letter and blindly translate Blake’s handwriting. (more…)

November 10, 2016

Throwing out and linking in

Filed under: Blake Quarterly — Tags: — Sarah Jones @ 5:37 pm

A tension between Morris and me (more of a comic routine, really) is that I’m always throwing out things in which he sees value. By value, I mean value for posterity. For instance, this summer I purged the filing cabinet in my office of files for some old Blake Quarterly issues, much to his dismay. We joke that at least I don’t work in rare books (The Gutenberg Bible? That old thing? I put it in the bin last week). (more…)

November 7, 2016

The Problem of Metamarks

Filed under: Uncategorized — harper1387 @ 8:07 pm

This semester we’re looking at some of the unique features of the Bake marginalia, and some of the challenges of representing them accurately with TEI elements. One element we’re considering is <metamark>. But what exactly is a metamark?

This is how it’s described on the main website, which is frequently repeated elsewhere online:

<metamark> contains or describes any kind of graphic or written signal within a document the function of which is to determine how it should be read rather than forming part of the actual content of the document.

Note the extreme ambiguity of this description, e.g. about what the ‘it’ actually means. The metamark is a graphic or signal which is supposed to determine how it should be read — ‘it’, meaning of course not the metamark but the document, in which you find the metamark. Not that this brief description gives any indication as to what limits or bounds that ‘document’ or what kind of scope it has for telling the reader how this document (the paragraph, the page, the chapter?) should be read.

And what are we to make of the comment that this mark is not ‘part of the actual content’? Consider what kind of graphics we’re talking about here — for example, the letter ‘A’ beside a column on a page, which tells the reader to read that first, and the column marked ‘B’ second. Usually, though, these kind of metamarks are what we call the ‘paratext’ (a term which also includes features like headers, page numbers, rubrics, etc), and are included in the original creation of the document. And yet not relevant as ‘content’? Possibly this paratext-metamark is not the main preoccupation of those responsible for the TEI documentation. The main page gives a link to a section of the ‘Primary Sources’ page, which offers this clarification:

By metamark we mean marks such as numbers, arrows, crosses, or other symbols introduced by the writer into a document expressly for the purpose of indicating how the text is to be read. Such marks thus constitute a kind of markup of the document, rather than forming part of the text.

So metamarks are the original markup, and like markup, are meant to be ‘unseen’ by readers. Appreciated with respect to how they orders the content, but otherwise ignored.

Still, this description seems problematic. How are metamarks separate from any other kinds of marginalia? For all of us working on the Blake Marginalia project, why don’t we treat all of Blake’s writings in his books — like his habit of scrawling ‘Wrong!’ alongside the Lavater aphorisms — as metamarks? Any marginal signs, by coexisting with the content, alters the reader’s perception of the original work. And according to the documentation, the metamark is special for indicating a ‘deliberate alteration of the writing itself, such as “move this passage over there”’. Clearly, this is an element for which examples are more useful than description.


The first example given: scribal markings from a 15th century manuscript, in which the scribe mistakenly missed out a line when writing a paragraph. Writing it in the margin instead, the small + found here and interlineally in the text indicate that the new line is to be placed there. Logical. But clearly this element, with its ambiguous interpretation, has a broad range of use. Searching further through the reams of TEI documentation available online, I found instances of <metamark> being similarly used to describe the sequence of newspaper clippings in a notebook, editorial markings like ‘stet’, the cancellation of material, and the variant readings of manuscript lines. And judging by the argument threads in the forums, a lot of other users seem equally confused about whether they’re applying the element correctly.

The Blake Marginalia

So we come to the Blake Marginalia project and its team, who so far have found at least 2 examples of what we think count as <metamark>, and which do and do not conform to the basic description. Here’s one:


And the other:


Like in the first TEI example, the <metamark> is a small + found both in the typographical line and next to a marginal annotation. As with that first example, the reader is meant to associate this marginal note with that line — by inserting it into that space? For the first example, the reader would then be supposed to read:

Who are the saints of humanity? Those whom perpetual habits of goodness and of grandeur have made nearly unconscious that what they do is good or grand — this is heavenly heroes with infantine simplicity.

Maybe not entirely unreasonable, but it doesn’t quite seem to scan. The application of this function to the second example is even more absurd –- “would to God that everyone would consider this” is clearly a comment separate from the original aphorism, not meant to form part of it. So possibly the mark is merely meant to draw our attention to the marginal comment, and its relevance to that place in the text? If so, it’s hard to see this as constituting a ‘deliberate alteration of the writing itself’. The + might just be another piece of marginalia, another type of ‘highlight’, a symbol used to draw our attention to the relationship between the underlined section of the aphorism and the marginal note, which is already apparent through their physical proximity. As a signal to the reader, the + mark is unnecessary, superfluous. And yet Blake, very frequently in this book, draws similar crosses next to other marginal notes, which appear to us completely different to the one on page 118. For example:


So really, all that differentiates this symbol from the other two examples, is that there are two separate symbols there: one in the margin, one in the text. It’s only our awareness with paratextual features like editorial ‘insert here’ marks, that lead us to suppose that this is an important distinction. So, two questions for the Marginalia group — should they be specially marked at all? And if so, do we use <metamark>?

November 4, 2016

Sisyphus and Consistency

Filed under: XML — Adam Engel @ 2:01 pm

My recent projects as Editorial Assistant at the William Blake Archive have shared a mission: to ensure the consistency of the Archive’s text. My last project was to go through the Blake Archive Documents (BADs) and capitalize the C’s, P’s, and O’s in the words “Copy,” “Plate,” and “Object” (and their plurals) whenever they refer to specific copies, plates, or objects. My current project is to enter Bob Essick’s revisions to the lists of related works for each object, so that when the redesigned Archive is unveiled, it will have the most comprehensive, accurate, and consistent information possible.


November 3, 2016

Spelling Lessons

Filed under: Blake Quarterly, Uncategorized — Mary Learner @ 3:26 pm

In the six months since my last blog post, I have continued working through Adam McCune’s wordlists to check for misspellings in Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly. I have moved from lowercase to uppercase, from s-z to S-Z. I’m about 60% through the second list, and have been training with Katherine Calvin to work on image markup next, a process which Adam Engel has described in a previous post. My time spent sporadically drifting between issues, my editorial swerve guided by individual words, is coming to an end (at least for now). But as I move away from this task, I would be remiss if I did not mention how much I have learned in the process of wandering through the randomness of single-occurrence words. (more…)

October 29, 2016

Sometimes We Fail, But That’s Great

Filed under: Uncategorized — jsingles @ 6:18 pm


Working for the William Blake Archive has been exceptionally exciting this semester. Two major project teams are striving to arrive at a better understanding of how to encode some of Blake’s least audience-friendly works: The Four Zoas and his marginalia. The process of approaching these works has required patience, and for every successful moment there have been multiple failures. But these failures are not meaningless, or at least I like to think so. My recent encoding attempts of Blake’s marginalia have not been used by the team as a model of what to do. Quite the opposite, my encoding attempts have consistently been used by the team as examples of what we want to avoid, and I think that’s useful. (more…)

October 28, 2016

Blogging about the blog

Filed under: BAND, Blake Quarterly — Tags: — Sarah Jones @ 9:33 am

It’s no secret, given Mike’s recent preview of the technical summary and tweets like this

Delighted to be shown upcoming redesigned @BlakeArchive site by Joe Viscomi, Michael Fox, Joseph Fletcher.

— Alan Liu (@alanyliu) February 10, 2016

that the Blake Archive is undergoing a top-to-bottom cosmetic and structural redesign, the kind that takes thousands of hours and elicits oohs and aahs when it’s revealed. (more…)

October 18, 2016

Preview of the Technical Summary for the Blake Archive’s New Site

Filed under: BATS, Uncategorized — Michael Fox @ 2:36 pm

The Blake Archive will soon be launching its new site, housed on UNC servers. Here is a preview of the site’s Technical Summary:

System Architecture and Basic Front-End Navigation

The new Blake Archive site does not use some of the technologies that the old site did, such as Java and ImageSizer, and the entire architecture of the old site’s web application has been replaced. The new application is divided into four parts: the site proper, meaning our archive of Blake’s works; a collection of back issues from Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly; our blog; and The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake edited by David Erdman. (more…)

October 14, 2016

Teaching Blake in a Time of Trump

Filed under: BATS, Uncategorized — katherinecal @ 7:08 am

In addition to my position as a project assistant at the Blake Archive, I teach in the Art Department at UNC Chapel Hill. This fall I am teaching an advanced undergraduate course called “Art in an Age of Revolution” that surveys visual culture of Europe and the Americas from the middle of the eighteenth century to the July Revolution of 1830. From the beginning of the semester, I have encouraged my students to draw thematic connections between the historical material presented in class and contemporary discourse on revolution and politics at large. On Tuesday morning, with Sunday’s presidential debate still fresh in everyone’s minds, a class discussion that began with Blake’s designs for John Gabriel Stedman’s Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam grew into a debate on contemporary rhetoric about sexual consent and the intertwined issues of empathy and difference, particularly in relation to protests like the Black Lives Matter movement.

John Gabriel Stedman, Narrative, of a Five Years’ Expedition, against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, 1796, object 2, “A Negro hung alive by the Ribs to a Gallows” (left) and object 8, “Flagellation of a Female Samboe Slave” (right), William Blake Archive.


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