The Cynic Sang: The Blake Archive and Blake Quarterly Blog

February 4, 2016

Reflections on the material consequences of image processing

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Mary Learner @ 5:58 pm

For my most recent task as one of the project assistants digitizing Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly, I had to resize and rotate images from the journal that are blurry, crooked, or otherwise aesthetically displeasing. This task is about as complex as it sounds. I enter width values into XML documents or slightly rotate files, finessing how the pictures appear on the page until I am satisfied with the result. The images that require attention are not the materials from the William Blake Archive, which appear as high quality scans in the articles with links to objects in the archive, but instead are images the archive does not have, either because they are not Blake’s work or they are unavailable, and so have been cropped from PDFs made from scans of the printed editions that include grey-scale photos of the originals. Which, as that convoluted sentence suggests, means these cropped PDF images are fairly removed from their origins. And as a nascent book historian fascinated by materiality, in relation to both print and digital editions, I am reminded of the significant consequences of editorial choices even when they are as minor as adjusting how images appear on a page. Along with the other graduate students completing this project, I am leaving fingerprints of yet another mutation on the material.

Bibliographers and digital humanists have an ongoing debate about the effects of transmission and reproduction, especially in relation to technological advances. Thomas Tanselle, writing in 1989 before the digital boom, argued that “every reproduction is a new document.”[1] Albeit he was considering reproductions in terms of Xeroxes as replacements for original materials, but as scholars like Matthew Kirschenbaum and Bonnie Mak have persuasively argued, the materiality of digital objects also necessitates each reproduction to be considered unique, believing like Tanselle that “with characteristics of its own […] no artifact can be a substitute for another artifact.”[2] Each modification leaves traces behind. For Mak, a palimpsest serves as a useful metaphor to comprehend this layering of meaning through mediation since “Palimpsests, by definition, are evidence of an effacement that is incomplete; they transmit vestiges of their former lives […] [and] digitizations may be recognized as vibrant and historically situated sources in their own right that offer alternative points of entry into enduring debates about the production and transmission of knowledge.”[3]

According to these definitions, even the minute changes in size, which are mostly arbitrary and based on aesthetics, add another layer of meaning that both changes the object and affects readers’ experiences of it. This dilemma is nothing new—it’s one that has been raised by the editors from the project’s beginnings—and it reveals the issue of theory versus practice. In theory, each action made by editors and project assistants alters the material. But in practice these many of these changes occur below the threshold of human vision. There are alterations that meaningful and discernable, and there are ones that are not.

Of course the adjustments I make on these images are not to efface the original, but rather to better represent the articles in a different medium. The main goal is to improve the appearance of image quality. By shrinking the scans, grainy pictures become sharper. My tinkering is well-intentioned and never purposefully distorting, instead done with an eye to clarify what appears blurry. But these modifications do have consequences, perhaps inescapable in the transition from print to digital. For instance, the size difference online prioritizes the images from the Blake Archive, and rightfully so in a journal that emphasizes Blake’s illustrations. To look more closely at the cropped scans requires more engagement by the reader, who must click on the image if they want to see a larger version, or open the link to the full PDF of the issue (though again, they will download a reproduction). So I can’t help but wonder about the effects of medium on interactions with the journal, and what is enabled and lost in the process of editing it, even when making the smallest of changes. As to how meaning changes with difference in image size, however, is up for readers to decide.


[1] Thomas Tanselle, “Reproductions and Scholarship,” in Literature and Artifacts (Charlottesville: Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, 1998), 70.

[2] Ibid., 70.

[3] Bonnie Mak, “Archaeology of a Digitization,” JAIST 65.8 (2014): 1516.


February 2, 2016

MLA Session 522 Recap

Filed under: BAND — Tags: , , , — Eric Loy @ 3:54 pm

I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a panel at MLA 2016 last month, titled “Bibliography in the Digital Age: Tools, Technologies, Theories” and sponsored by the forum Bibliography and Scholarly Editing. (more…)

January 28, 2016

Hidden Behind a Screen

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Rachael Isom @ 7:40 pm

During the past few months I have been one of several project assistants processing images for the online archive of Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly. Every now and then, hidden amongst the articles, minute particulars, and book reviews, I’ll stumble across a creative piece. Last week, while working on an issue from 1991, a poem caught my eye, but it wasn’t a poem by Blake; it was a poem about the Blakes, written by American poet Paulette Roeske. It’s called “Mrs. Blake Requests Her Portrait.” (more…)

January 21, 2016

Blake Quarterly winter issue

Filed under: Blake Quarterly — Sarah Jones @ 3:48 pm

Our winter issue (vol. 49, no. 3) has just been published. It contains: (more…)

December 17, 2015

Publication Announcement – Songs of Innocence copies I, X, and Z

Filed under: Publications — Tags: , — Andrea H. Everett @ 1:00 pm

The William Blake Archive is pleased to announce the publication of electronic editions of Songs of Innocence copies I, X, and Z from the Huntington Library and Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Victoria, and the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich. They join copies B from the Library of Congress, G from the Yale Center for British Art, L from the Bodleian Library, and U from the Houghton Library. (more…)

Reading around Songs of Innocence

Filed under: Blake Quarterly, Uncategorized — Tags: — Sarah Jones @ 11:20 am


Today the Blake Archive reunites three copies of Songs of Innocence that are geographically disparate (I in the United States, X in Australia, and Z in Germany).  (more…)

Building better ‘Bus Projects’

Filed under: BAND, Digital Humanities — Tags: , , — Laura Whitebell @ 11:00 am

I learned a great new phrase at Blake Camp this year: ‘Bus Project’. This is a project that you are in charge of, but that anybody else could take over in the unlikely (and of course, tragic) event that you get squashed by a bus. Usually, this means that you keep comprehensive notes, talk to your colleagues and generally leave a long and detailed paper trail everywhere you go.


December 10, 2015

Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends

Filed under: BAND, XML — Tags: , , — Eric Loy @ 12:24 pm

We’ve blogged a few times about our progress with the Four Zoas encoding project, mostly recounting our efforts to develop a more flexible and dynamic schema as well as create an experimental display that takes advantage of our new XML elements. This progress has been slow but steady, and after a rigorous round of development focusing on a single difficult object, we’re ready to test our work across more objects and expand the schema to incorporate more textual features.

So as a theatrical monarch once said, “once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” Except, I can promise it will be more than just once(more…)

December 3, 2015

Scholars and their tools: building the digital archive of BIQ

Filed under: BATS, Digital Humanities, XML — Tags: , — Adam McCune @ 9:58 am

When I began working on the digital archive of Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly, the vast scale of the project—over 2000 articles in multiple formats (PDF and either XML or HTML) published across nearly 50 years—made systemic corrections and adjustments very difficult. (more…)

December 1, 2015

And the winners are …

Filed under: Blake Quarterly, Uncategorized — Sarah Jones @ 8:15 am

The winners of our Blake Quarterly subscription giveaway are Harriet Linkin and Sylva Ficová. Congratulations to them and thanks to all who entered.

We’ll probably have another giveaway next year, so stay tuned.

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