Boot, P. (2007) Mesotext. Framing and exploring annotations. In: Learned Love. Proceedings of the Emblem Project Utrecht Conference on Dutch Love Emblems and the Internet (November 2006), (pp. 211-225).
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From the introduction: Annotation is an important item on the wish list for digital scholarly tools. It is one of John Unsworth’s primitives of scholarship (Unsworth 2000). Especially in linguistics,a number of tools have been developed that facilitate the creation of annotations to source material (Bird and Liberman 1999; Carletta et al. 2003). In edition studies, Peter Robinson expressed the need for it to be included in the future digital edition (Robinson 2003). At Brown University’s Virtual Humanities Lab work on annotation facilities for its Boccaccio editions is in progress (Zafrin and Armstrong 2005). Wittgenstein students are working on the integration of annotation into a digital edition (Hrachovec and Köhler 2002). The present author has worked on the annotation tool EDITOR (Boot 2005). When we set out on what was to become the Emblem Project Utrecht, Els Stronks and I wrote a paper on the kinds of analysis we wanted to be possible on our emblem collections (Boot and Stronks 2002). Subsequently, we have researched Petrarchist imagery in Heinsius (in collaboration with Jan de Boer), and rhetorical elements in Jacob Cats (Boot and Stronks 2003), and Els Stronks has analysed the presence of churches in our material (cf. her paper in these proceedings).The ultimate justification for digitisation efforts is not, I still believe, mere electronic availability of the texts, however important that is. The wider issue is to make the content of the works available as potential nodes in a larger digital network that will include not just the sources but also the tools, the output and the intermediate products of scholarship. Willard McCarty notes that annotation and the commentary have much in common (McCarty 2005, 93). Annotations are the ‘morsels’ a commentary may bring together, the commentary consists of morsels that might live as individual annotations. Annotation, however, is a much wider phenomenon than that which would fit in a commentary. Annotation is not about the clarification of obscure passages or perhaps commentary to larger text units alone, though that too, but really about anything that can be said with regard to a text: categorisation, illustration, hyperlinking, modelling, etc. This essay explores the concept of annotation, and more specifically it explores what annotations can do. The word I will use for a body of annotations is mesotext. ‘Mesotext’ because it is text that can be located somewhere in between the primary texts of scholarship (the sources that scholarship is based on), and its secondary texts, the books and articles that it produces. Mesotext is metatext, in the sense of Gérard Genette, it is text that talks about another text. But unlike the ordinary secondary scholarly text, mesotext in a sense is data. It has no explicit point of view, there is no thesis that it explicitly argues for– though it may be used to argue for one, clearly. As the word mesotext indicates, mesotext is framed by other texts: the texts it is about, the texts it supports, and, as we will see, the models that instruct it. The concept of mesotext may help allay fears that the fragmented nature of the web will strip scholarship (and perhaps life)of some of its coherence and thus of meaning.
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