Henrik Ibsen meets text encoding - again

Espen Smith Ore
University of Bergen
Allégt. 27
Bergen, N-5007

Hilde Bøe
Ingrid Falkenberg
Jon Gunnar Jørgensen
Center for Ibsen Studies
University of Oslo
Postboks 2543 Solli
0202 Oslo

Henrik Ibsen's collected writings will be published in a new scholarly edition in Norway. These writings consist of all that is written by Ibsen; drama, poetry, letters, drafts etc. A group of national Norwegian institutions collaborate on this project. The Norwegian Research Council is the main founder. Approximately 90 people will work on the project over a period of ten years, having started in 1998. Results and products from the project will be made available as soon as they are completed for publication.

The project will produce both a printed edition and an electronic version. There will probably be more than one electronic version. Some versions may be similar to the printed edition, while others might be different in content and organisation. All material will be stored in an electronic archive. This will make it possible to produce editions for different users, by applying a selection and extraction mechanism and filters to the archive - or by setting up windows into the data.

Data complexity

The project generates new texts based on source texts. Source texts include all known manuscripts in Ibsen's own hand, all first editions of his works and all untranslated editions published while Ibsen was still alive. In addition to this manuscript-material is material from copywriters. All variant readings between the source texts will be shown in a variant apparatus in the main printed edition. The electronic archive should hold enough infomation to allow any one of the source texts to be used as a basis text where the other texts are variants and could be presented as such in an apparatus.

Specialists in various fields make factual and historical annotations as well as notes on vocabulary and language use not found in standard college dictionaries. The annotations will inform today's international readers without interpreting the author's writings from the distant years of 1848-1906.

The annotation in a traditional printed edition is sequential and not repetitive. The first time a phenomenon requires a comment in a sequential reading, it will be commented. The next time, and later, when this phenomenon reappears, it will usually occur with reference to the earlier note, and possibly not commented at all. Electronic presentation will be different, annotation can be made with advanced cross-references in various ways, as long as there is a suitable linking mechanism.

All (relevant) comments will be linked to the various existing versions stored in the archive. Our project considers the first editions as main texts, and it would be natural to connect comments to these. But we are not blind to the fact that other projects follow other principles. When constructing an electronic archive, wishing it to be of value to others, we will therefore take care that the data are properly organized and with sufficient inter-textual links to be of use also by editors following other principles than those used in this project, including future scholars. For our general digital Ibsen archive this means that we must be able to link primary and secondary texts. This will be detailed, allowing any of the stored versions of a work, or variants of a text, to be extracted with the necessary apparatus and comments.

When are two texts the same?

The Ibsen project wishes to show the texts genetic: our aim is to show variations from the first draft to the final printed text (Kynde, 98). As we wish to build a general electronic Ibsen archive - "the total Ibsen" - we must address some decisions and solve some problems, which we might not have encountered if our aim had been limited to a printed edition alone. From the project we have learned how theoretically difficult it may be, for instance, to define exactly what makes a text an Ibsen-text, or when two text-witnesses should be considered variants of the same text (work) versus when they should be considered variants of different works. How different can two texts be and still be considered to origin from the same work? At the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen (WAB) it has been decided not to link versions from "the same" work (Ore & Cripps, 98). Instead WAB leaves it to the individual scholar to register similarity and equivalence between texts.

The aim to provide a genetic view of the texts excludes choosing the WAB solution for the Ibsen project. On the other hand this kind of text linking soon represents individual interpretation and claims about the texts. It is important that electronic versions are made available for users outside the project including tools allowing the users to store their own links and networks around the texts.

When is a text a text?

For many years Allen Renear has researched the concept of text (Biggs & Huitfeldt, 1997) (Renear & al., 1998). The Monist raised the question "Does a text exist if we can not read it?" To this we may add: Does a (written) text exist if it never has existed as a physical object?

For some of Ibsen's early plays the original manuscripts are lost. Copies by copy-writers of some of these excist, copied for theatrical use, still available in role books and prompt books. The role books are structured so that the speech parts for one role are written in full, including parts of surrounding text (from other roles and/or stage directions). (See <http://ellida.uio.no/his/p024.jpg>)

In our particular case it is tempting to store the texts from the role books with enough information to make it possible to create a virtual full text. The text from the role books will have to be used in text critical comments (and possibly the apparatus) so there are not any large labour costs required to add the necessary linking information for "virtual full texts" to be created. But is this something which should be done - or something we should take care not to do? The role-books provide yet another difficult practical and theoretical problem. If we do make a virtual complete text out of the role books, we are not only transcribing an early witness; but we are in fact creating it.

Making an electronic archive is one of the Ibsen-project's main goals. This paper will discuss some of the problems we have encountered, and mainly the difficulties in addressing the complexity of the text.


Michael Biggs and Claus Huitfeldt (eds.), "Philosophy and Electronic Publishing. Theory and Metatheory in the Development of Text Encoding", edited version of a network based discussion, The Monist 80:3 (1997).

Karsten Kynde "Interconnecting Textual Layers", ALLC-ACH '98, Debrecen 1998

Espen S. Ore & Peter Cripps, "The Electronic Publication of Wittgenstein's Nachlass" in The Digital Demotic, Selected Papers from DRH97, Office for Humanities Communication Publication Number 10, eds. Lou Burnard, Marilyn Deegan, and Harold Short, King's College London

Allen Renear, Claus Huitfeldt and Dino Buzzetti, Panel discussion at "Theory and Metatheory in the Development of Text Encoding" at the conference "The Future of the Humanities in the Digital Age", Bergen Sept. 1998, panel papers are to be published on the WWW.