Sunil Manghani


Submitted Entry for 2014 Competition


Abstract

Theory, Culture & Society (TCS) is a highly ranked, international peer-reviewed journal for the social and cultural sciences. In 2000 the editors began work on the ‘New Encyclopedia Project’ (NEP), developing both a critique of and report on knowledge in the context of globalization and digitalization. Always intended as a ‘project’ – as ‘something experimental and in process’ – the editors have agreed with the publishers to make the contents of the NEP open access. The BL Labs project will link the NEP to the British Library’s digital collections to explore new configurations or ‘supplements’ of the encyclopedia project. A selection of entries from the NEP will be re-written as hypertextual, annotated versions, merging the original journal text with the British Library’s collection of images, maps and multimedia. As new digital, palimpsest entries, they will illustrate ‘knowledge constellations’ that both explore and comment on scholarly experiences of digital information and knowledge generation.

The ‘logic of the supplement’ is taken by its editors as the ‘critical logic’ of the NEP, ‘in so far as it lays bare the relationship between the field of knowledge and the frameworks though which that field is continuously produced’. The first iteration of the NEP was published in a special issue of TCS in 2006. The issue is over 600 pages with contributions from over 100 scholars from around the world. The editors adopt the phrase ‘global public life’, suggesting ‘the displacement of the term ‘sphere’ by the term ‘life’ [alerts to] the difficulty of separating politics and aesthetics, and cognition and affect. The accent on life, furthermore, points to the potential for information to be conceived as alive, as an autopoietic system, or as a complex multiplicity which does not necessarily behave and act as a docile tool but rather is worlding, inventive and generative’. The proposed BL Labs project will examine the interaction of ‘systems’ of information as a means to consider extending the contents of the NEP through new digital supplements.

Within the modest time-frame of the BL Lab the proposed project will aim to (1) engage with the contents of the NEP and British Libraries digital collections; (2) document the process of engaging with archives and datasets; and (3) produce a set of three examples of the NEP’s potential future iteration. In the vein of naturalists carefully presenting specimens for curiosity cabinets and the plates of encyclopedia, illustrated entries will show, through annotation, the working process or experiences one has when engaging with the texts. In addition to annotations, hypertext and embedded elements from the digital collections, the project will work with the Library’s datasets, such as library borrowing and reader records, along with the use of Google’s Ngram viewer, to place a ‘big data’ lens upon the concept of ‘global public life’.
NEP contents listing in special issue of Theory, Culture & Society, ‘Problematizing Global Knowledge’ (Vol 23, No.2-3, 2006): http://tcs.sagepub.com/content/23/2-3.toc Theory, Culture & Society website and blog: http://theoryculturesociety.org

Assessment Criteria

The research question / problem you are trying to answer

Please focus on the clarity and quality of the research question / problem posed:

As the editors of the NEP put it: ‘people don’t just use digital archives, rather they increasingly inhabit a different informational society which is a digital archive’, and which goes beyond ‘the ordered grids, knowledge-trees and hierarchies of traditional means of accessing information in libraries and archives’. In view of which, at the heart of the NEP is both the concept of the supplement and its consideration of the relationship between the archive and the encyclopedia. Questions are raised about how the materiality (and immateriality) of information and artifacts become classified, de-classified and disseminated. The encyclopedia can be argued a hierarchical device, yet equally it can be appropriated – or ‘supplemented’ (in the deconstructionist sense) – as a tool to reveal its shortcomings (one only has to think of the writings of Jorge Luis Borges, George Perc, or George Bataille). In the editors’ introduction to the NEP special issue, they refer to the prospects of an ‘encyclomedia’ – ‘a new term to point to the increased mobility in working the space between the encyclopedia and archive […] a circling, returning and spiraling through knowledge in many different connective forms’. Related to these new forms, the NEP raises awareness of the new scholarly ‘experience’ of information and knowledge, captured by the phrase ‘global public life’ (with ‘global’ here also suggestive of widely available technologies of access, creation and dissemination). Within the time frame of the BL Labs residency, the project considers the following research questions:

• How do we understand the ‘experience’ of engaging with knowledge systems such as the encyclopedia within the context of digitalization – and how can we illustrate the associative research processes and ‘supplementation’ that ensues as we inhabit networks of information?

• What are the analytical and reflective approaches required to track the research process when using digital collections?

• On a practical, technical level, how can we show the results of the above processes, with the view to pitching a more ambitious, longer-term project to produce an interactive, digital multi-modal version of the NEP?

A digital version of the NEP was always envisaged, but which has proved difficult to realize. An underlying aim is to develop the project into a larger, AHRC funded project, either developed through the AHRC collaborative doctoral award scheme, working with the British Library, or a large grant scheme, depending on the outcomes of the BL Labs project. NEP grew out of an extensive international community of scholars and network of universities around the world (in particular connecting with East Asia). Future iterations of the project will be able to bring together a number of international partners.

Please explain the ways your idea will showcase British Library digital collections

Please ensure you include details of British Library digital collections you are showcasing (you may use several collections if you wish), a sample can be found at http://labs.bl.uk/Digital+Collections

The proposed project will connect with key digital collections at the British Library, specifically the image, maps and multimedia (broadcast news) databases. The idea is to showcase how these materials can combine in the research process as an individual reads and works with the NEP materials. The aim is to produce key examples of entries from the NEP, enhanced with hypertext and annotations to plot the associations and brainstorming processes of an individual researcher. It is important to note the purpose of using the digital collections is not to illustrate the NEP entries, but to add to the texture and tenor of the original texts to extend the project’s meta-critique of the classificatory system of the encyclopedia and its relationship to the archive. The journal special issue of the NEP was collated under the title of ‘problematizing global knowledge’. The proposed project will re-write, over-write and blend the original materials with those of the Library’s digital collections to further the critique of knowledge in the context of globalization and digitalization. Arguably, the published journal focuses more strongly on global and historical issues. Nonetheless, it is an explicit primer for a ‘supplementary’ digital version in the future, for which the British Library provides an unrivalled set of collections.

Some of the key image databases include the ‘1 Million Images from scanned books’, Early Photographically Illustrated Books, Illuminated Manuscripts, King's Topographical Collection, and Literary Landscapes. The International Dunhuang Project and the Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections also connect well with a number of contributors’ work in the NEP. In addition, the Endangered Archives Programme is highly pertinent where questions are raised about the construction and longevity of the encyclopedia. The idea of materials being ‘in danger of destruction or neglect’ is particularly significant to deconstructionist accounts of the archive and its supplement(s). The Library’s collection of maps is of interest in terms of spatialising the construction of knowledge and the broadcast media materials will be of value in developing some of the more contemporary interests of the NEP.

In addition to the digital collections, the project will also attempt to aggregate data to allow ‘big data’ to run in parallel with the reseacher’s own, hermeneutic handling of both the NEP and digital collection materials. The British National Bibliography (BNB) and Integrated Archives and Manuscripts System (IAMS) can be drawn on in a straightforward way to develop the networks of reading materials that are common to encyclopedia entries, but their statistical data can also expand the lens through which we relate to the accessing of information. The British Library Book Ordering Data, for example, combined with the Anonymised Reader Records can paint a broader picture of the ‘information user’. The UK Web Archive can also help focus on the digital domain, and like the Endangered Archives Programme, allows consideration of the loss of information as much as its abundance. External to the British Library, a complementary dataset might be the Google Ngram Viewer, created by Google Books and based originally on 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008. The corpus apparently contains over 500 billion words in American English, British English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, and Chinese.

Please detail the approach(es) / method(s) you are going to use to implement your idea, detailing clearly the research methods / techniques / processes involved

Indicate and describe any research methods / processes / techniques and approaches you are going to use, e.g. text mining, visualisations, statistical analysis etc.

The project is based upon the following combined methods:

1. In keeping with the scope of the journal Theory, Culture & Society, the project takes its steer from Critical Theory and Hermeneutics. Of the former, relevant considerations are ideological critique, genealogy, deconstruction, the longue durée of cultural history and ethnography. With regards the latter, the project is predicated upon the re-inscription of texts, and in this case also the inscribing and embedding of multi-modal elements and data. The project will adopt a mode of ‘reflexive hermeneutics’, to examine the lived process of engaging with both the scholarly texts of the NEP and the digital collections of the British Library. In so doing, ‘knowledge constellations’ or maps can be superimposed on the original journal texts to show how the researcher traverses a series of readings, materials and points of reference.

2. Analytics – the project will handle some aspects of statistical and dataset analytics, which will be used to contextualize the individual researcher’s accessing of the digital collections. As noted above, this will include data from BNB,
IAMS, British Library Book Ordering, Anonymised Reader Records, the UK Web Archive, and Google Ngram. In the main, data can be aggregated through these systems ready for interpretation. However, further advice and guidance will be gained through working with the BL Labs team.

3. Web-based illustration – This project will not present typical visualizations of datasets, e.g. in the form of infographics etc. Instead, the project will work within the parameters of digital print design to develop three illustrated examples, or ‘plates’, of a proposed hypertext and annotated encyclopedia. The materials will be contextualized with a critical introduction and additional explanatory notes. NB. All project work will be published as a website, devised and housed on the University of Southampton’s servers (see ‘Technical’ evidence below).

4. Reflexive Online Ethnography – the drawing together of both anthropology and web studies has led to the variously labeled practices of online ethnography, netnography or digital anthropology. The project will adopt a reflexive online ethnographic approach to allow the researcher to track and evaluate the live process of engaging (and ‘writing’) with the materials of the NEP and the digital collections of the British Library. Fieldnotes will be worked up as blog entries at key stages of the project. These entries will be made available on the project website and also published on the Theory, Culture & Society blog.

Please provide evidence of how you / your team have the skills, knowledge and expertise to successfully carry out the project by working with the Labs team

E.g. work you may have done, publications, a list with dates and links (if you have them)

I am a Reader in Critical and Cultural Theory and Deputy Director of Doctoral Research at Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton. I also recently took on the role of Associate Online Editor for the journal Theory, Culture & Society, which involves developing the digital and open access offering of the journal through its blog, TCS i-University materials and e-special issues (see: http://theoryculturesociety.org). The role involves developing longer term, strategic projects regarding open access and educational materials. It is in this capacity that I am seeking to develop the proposed BL Labs project. I have the full support of the journal’s editors. They will act as informal mentors for the duration of the BL Labs project and will provide a forum to discuss the potential for the project’s future development.

More broadly, I have published several articles on digital cultures, concerned with the shifting nature of social exchange, identities and the handling of ideas and knowledge in online environments (see: Journal of Writing in Creative Practices Vol 2, Issue 2, 2009, pp.173-192; Theory, Culture & Society, Volume 26, Issues 2-3, 2009, pp.209-232; Design and Communication in Higher Education, 2007, Vol 6, no. 2, pp 85-98). I’ve also published four books in the area of image studies, including Image Studies: Theory and Practice (Routledge, 2013), which includes a chapter on image and data, examining aspects of digital visualisation and infographics. I collaborated with an SME specializing in ‘digital footprints’, co-convening events in Portland, USA: A roundtable, Where Does your Digital Identity Exist?, held at Pacific Northwest College of Art; and a seminar, From Hyperlocal to Globally Anonymous: Digital Identity and the Cultural Sector, hosted by the Berglund Center for Internet Studies, Pacific University, (April 2011). More recently I was a member of the AHRC’s Digital Transformations Research Network, led by Prof. David Gauntlett. I presented a talk at the Designing For Community-Powered Digital Transformations Workshop, Tate Britain (May 2012). See: http://www.digitaltransformations.org.uk/guest-post-designs-on-conversation/

I am skilled in HTML web design and also the management and front-end design of content management systems, such as Wordpress. I have installed, designed and currently manage two CMS-based websites, the Image Studies Companion Website (http://www.imagestudies.net) and the Winchester School of Art’s Postgraduate Research Wesbite (http://blog.soton.ac.uk/wsapgr/). The latter is a Wordpress install on the University of Southampton servers (further details listed below, under ‘Technical’ evidence).

Please provide evidence of how you think your idea is achievable on a technical, curatorial and legal basis

Indicate the technical, curatorial and legal aspects of the idea (you may want to check with Labs team before submitting your idea first).

Technical: The BL Labs residency offers sufficient time to develop the planned prototype ‘knowledge constellations’, which in effect will be flat webpages, illustrating (through annotations and hypertext) the temporal engagements with the journal texts and Library collections. Working primary with image and text, the website design will be based upon HTML. The University of Southampton can provide a variety of installs and server space to meet requirements for the proposed project work. This will be used for the development, testing and backup of the materials. The final published pages will be made available open access via the University’s e-prints repository, which is mandated as an open access archive. Substantial on-going institutional support and investment for the e-prints archive will ensure its sustainability over the long term. In addition to the use of University infrastructure the project materials can also be housed on the BL Labs domain. The longer-term aim of the project is to secure large grant funding for a fully developed interface and/or platform for the NEP online. The BL Labs project provides an opportunity to examine both the conceptual and technical requirements of such an undertaking. The materials produced during the residency will provide proof-of-concept for the intellectual and conceptual elements of the project, which in turn will help focus attention on what kinds of future technical solutions might be required. Thus, working with the BL Labs team presents an invaluable opportunity to begin the research and development process of a digital version of the NEP – which ideally in the future can be a resource made with and for the British Library digital collections.

Curatorial: The project will draw upon the advice of the BL Labs team and collection curators when working with the various digital collections and datasets to ensure the reuse of materials is handled appropriately and sensitively. Discussion with the BL Labs team and curators is built into the project schedule. In addition, as noted above, a longer-term aim of the project is to develop the NEP materials as its own digital collection for the British Library, with a view to providing both an encyclopedia (and/or encyclomedia) for scholarly use and a platform for critical debates of ‘global public life’. This work will ideally be developed with AHRC funding. The proposed BL Labs project offers an excellent opportunity and precedent to help frame future funding bids.

Legal – As noted, the project will draw on advice to ensure appropriate use and re-us of all British Library materials. The materials of the NEP have been made freely available by agreement of the editors and publisher of the journal. All parties will be notified of all aspects of the development of the project.

Please provide a brief plan of how you will implement your project idea by working with the Labs team
You will be given the opportunity to work on your winning project idea between May 26th - Oct 31st, 2014.

May 26 2014- Onwards
Desk-research: re-familiarizing with the materials of the NEP.
Online research: Initial analysis of the materials available via BL digital collections and datasets.
Administrative: Arrange for University web space; plan digital storage and backup of online materials; contact BL staff to arrange meetings for June; liaise with TCS editors and publisher to notify the commencing of the project and to arrange ongoing (Skype) meetings.
Ethnography: establish a system of note-taking (when engaging with the NEP and BL online materials) and begin the process of recording field-notes of scholarly engagement.

June 2014
BL Visits: 2-3 visits at the library to meet with the BL Labs team and relevant curators to learn more about the collections and the technicalities/legalities of use.
Desk-research: Continue to explore the NEP and BL materials to consider connections; access datasets to examine feasibility of ‘big data’ on information access.
Ethnography: Continue with field-notes.

July 2014
Web Design: Develop initial template for three planned examples of the hypertext, annotated NEP entries.
Ethnography: Continue with field-notes and compose initial blog post.

August 2014
BL Visits: Return to BL for further consultation(s) as required.
Web Design: Continue with the development of the template for three planned examples of the hypertext, annotated NEP entries.
Ethnography: Continue with field-notes.

September 2014
Web Design: Refine the template and contents for three planned examples of the hypertext, annotated NEP entries.

October 2014
Web Design: Finalize contents for three planned examples of the hypertext, annotated NEP entries, ready for dissemination.
Ethnography: Compose summative blog post.