Contribution by Walter G. Andrews & Sarah Ketchley
The Baki Project explores an entirely new way of looking at Ottoman texts. You can read about the project on our website at www.thebakiproject.org. However, the heart of the project lies in a few truths that we often conspire to ignore, trying, for very good reasons, to make the object of our study fit the resources, tools, and technologies available to us. Among the truths are these:
- For the most part, a “text” in a manuscript tradition is—like a language—a diachronic object. It grows, develops, and changes over time. It does not have a synchronous model, it is never reproduced in exactly the same way.
- The “print book” version of a manuscript tradition “text” is a fictional object, fixing in immutable and infinitely reproducible form, an imaginary stable text surrounded by a haze of “variants” from which readers can select their favorites. There is no actual text that corresponds to the “critical edition”.
- We have accepted the synchronic critical edition as a stand-in for the actual (multiple and diachronic) text because we have not had the tools to do anything else.
- We now have an array of digital tools that promise an ability to deal with large assemblages of data, to visualize diachronic objects, even to experience a “manuscript tradition text” as an organic entity—which means that we can do something else.
The Baki Project is an experiment intended to explore and demonstrate some of the ways that digital tools and strategies can be brought to bear on foundational Ottoman manuscript texts using the Baki Divanı (Baki’s Collected Poems) as an example. Baki is a good experimental subject. He is recognized as a poet while still a teenager and lives a long life during the reigns of 4 sultans. He clearly added poems to his divan throughout his life and remains a respected poet to this day. The Baki Project plans to approach Baki and his divan in many ways, including some that were unthinkable even a decade ago.
- We are embarking on an effort to locate every manuscript of the Baki Divan world-wide. We have already located more than 200 manuscripts and expect to find more.
- We intend to transcribe as many of the manuscripts as we can. We have already digitally transcribed one test manuscript and will use it as a template for quickly transcribing others.
- We have developed a secret digital transcribing weapon, which we call SCRIBE, which produces directly linked latin transcription alphabet and Ottoman-Arabic script alphabet versions of a text. This tool will provide standardized data for a large-scale database from which all kinds of evidence-based studies can be developed. For example:
- “Genetic” (cladistic) analyses of the growth and change of the divan based on tools developed for evolutionary biology. The reduction to an imaginary model will be replaced by diachronic mapping.
- Diachronic studies of linguistic features such as the spelling of Turkish words in the Arabic script.
- Digital handwriting analysis to identify copyists and group manuscripts.
- Evidence-based authentication of individual poems.
We are off to a good start but, in the future, our goals will require the participation of many researchers and more funding than we now have. If you are interested in the project, follow us on our website. If you are interested in becoming a part of the project, let us know. firstname.lastname@example.org