Intro to Digital Humanities Final: Reanimated Corpus

Final Project (Detailed Description)

Public domain remixing: Reanimated Corpus

A quick introduction:

This project is directly inspired by the work and research that took place in and out of the classroom of Dr. Pandora and Dr. Purcell’s Introduction to Digital Humanities course at the University of Oklahoma. In exploring the digital turn in the humanities I’ve begun asking questions I otherwise might not have, and for that I am forever grateful for the doctors P. Though this project is quite young (I mean, I’ve barely scratched the surface here) I have started building a small team and am working on nailing down the purpose of the work I hope to be engaged in for the next few years. All information present in this post/paper is subject to change, though I’m fairly confident in the direction it’s headed and will provide all pertinent information here.

The basics:

            The project will involve sourcing a “dead” corpus of public domain poetry, that is poetry that is free for all to use that is of little note, and will start with computational analysis of the text for the purposes of establishing theme and category. The theme/category structure of the material will, hopefully, make it easier for the team of writers, of which there are currently few but projected to be at least six, to pick through the work to begin the process of remixing/reinterpreting the content. This process of remixing will see writers collaborating to create a new, or “reanimated” corpus. Remixing will not be held to a strict standard, instead the writers will be encouraged to explore the corpus to find something that touches them, and it will ultimately be up to the individual how they approach the process. It is my hope that writers will feel inclined to take as many creative liberties as is conducive to creating a work that functions and is readable, beside that I’ve the intent to be as hands off as possible. Poets might wish to use single poem or several poems, and what they do with said poems is their business until it comes time to weed out the ill-fitting for the finalized collection.

This team of writers will, however be required to maintain a journal of sorts detailing aspects of the process they deem interesting or important to note, and these journals will be collected and reviewed for the purpose of establishing a collaborate field note pool at the projects end. The main purpose with this journal will be to keep track of what poems were used in the remixed poems for reasons that will become clear as I continue. Writers will also be required to sign up for a social media account such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. Those involved will not be required to post often, or to advertise constantly, the accounts will instead be used for inter-project communication and networking with other digital humanists/artists.

Another team of artists will be formed, and it will be up to them if they wish to stay in contact with the writers or not. This team will comprise visual artists and musicians. After the team of writers completes the remixed corpus, it will then be handed along with the source corpus to the second team for further remixing. The same creative freedom offered to the team of writers will be offered to this team, no one will be censored, however, all involved will be allowed to question the intent and nature of the works created. Same goes for this team with regard to journaling and documenting what poems were used.

After each team has completed the remixing process we will begin working on creating a website that will act as a database for the source corpus, and a home for the visual and sonic art. It is assumed that we will enlist the help of yet another team, this time a team dedicated to building and maintaining the website. My current understanding of the function of the website is at once archive and gallery, wherein the source material will be tagged with a reference number, said reference numbers will be placed on the appropriate pages of the remixed corpus so that the source material  that inspired the remixed poems can be easily accessed by a reader. The works of visual and sonic art that were inspired by the source material and/or the remixed work will be displayed on the page of the “called” source work, providing yet another level of experience for the reader/visitor. Though there is no concrete aesthetic I have in mind, I would like to see the visual/sonic art displayed as thumbnails around the source work, and that the source work would be presented (if possible, depending on where it was sourced from) as a high resolution scan of the page and the bits of book around it that will fit.

The end result should be a physical copy of a remixed or “reanimated” corpus with each page displaying a reference number, a website acting as an archive for the source corpus and a home for the further remixing provided by the visual artists and musicians, and finally an experience different from the norm for both artist and reader.

Why it matters:

Conceptually this project was born from my want to incorporate the attitude of collaboration and non-expert/expert participatory work with a project that reaches back into a dead body of work and pulls out a new soul. Briefly mentioned above, the social media platforms would serve primarily as a tool for networking with scholars, writers, humanists, digital experts and the like to establish a body of thinkers that could contribute to the quality of the project via consultation or, perhaps, a bit of volunteering. Creating and maintaining a website that would hold a forgotten or dead body of poetry would also function as an exercise of digitizing ephemeral art, something of great import considering the rate at which many are switching to device rather that paper and ink. And, hopefully, this sort of project would catch the eye of other artists so that they might begin digging through the rich (albeit sometimes boring) bounty of public domain art we have to work with.

In part I’m inspired to do this so that we can highlight and bring life to the notion that there is no creation without influence. This argument seems a given, but with so many companies gunning for artists that remix, deform, and screw with art that isn’t in the public domain, it seems we all need to sit down and learn a bit about fair-use, copyright law, and what it means to create in a world so interconnected and wildly attached to notions of ownership and intellectual property. Of course, I mean not to claim that this project will change anything, but it’s an attempt and I posit that means something, no matter how insignificant a drop in a broad digital bucket it might be.

Another important intention of this project would be breaking up the linearity of the writing process as well as the linearity of the reading experience. Attention spans are, at least it seems, shrinking. If we could with this project provide a source of entertainment that allows one to explore not only a body of poetry but also that which inspired it, and upon reaching the source material offer the reader also a further remixing in the form of audio and visual media, then perhaps the breaking up of attention would create more interest in the work itself. Furthermore, it is my goal to facilitate exploration of and screwing around with the entirety of the project and readers would be encouraged to do with the works as they wish.

As a last argument for why this project matters I wish to direct a question to you, reader. Why does any art matter? Now, don’t flog me, please. I mean not to insist that all art is meaningful as a matter of course, only that the process of creation is an important aspect of human existence, and that through exploration and creation we build better questions and attempt to answer with more clarity. The sort of knowledge one attains (if, that is, one can “attain” knowledge) while observing or creating art is at its core cathartic. And so, at the very least, this project matters because it has the potential to matter if someone bothers to explore it and learn from it.


One obstacle that has been on my mind from the beginning is the matter of commoditization of the project. Because the project will be packaged (ideally) as a published hard or paperback book, we run into the issue of finding a publisher that won’t mind us advertising it as a source material for anyone that wishes to remix our remix. Sure, we could luck out and find some bold group willing to do anything for “free-thinking artist folk”, but it seems that’s terribly unlikely. We could self publish, but that brings me to payment, another major issue. Finding writers willing to work in their spare time, or on days they are scheduled to work on the project (an issue I’ll mention later) might not be an issue, and even musicians and visual artists might be willing to offer their work without immediate or promised pay, but programmers and website designers are busy-bees not often willing to do any work involving an keyboard without remuneration. Some possible solutions to this issue include applying for grants, selling an organ, crowd sourcing some of the work, panhandling, or crowd funding the entire project. Most of those options are feasible, however another obstacle is, well, what I want. I want this to be published through a reputable source as I want to see that someone out there has faith (can see potential) in projects like this. Call me romantic, or dumb, but I want to be turned down and told my project won’t work, perhaps it could make the project stronger.

Also, time management. Yea, well. I’m not sure how this will work out for people not being paid, unless of course the whole crowd funding or grant thing works out. How do I encourage people to participate in something that will eat up their time and potentially offer them little if anything in return? I’m not sure. I can hardly get off of my own ass, let alone encourage another to do so. I’m willing to act as head of the project, as facilitator and show runner, however, the project is supposed to have a personal feel unlike a typical writing gig. This project will involve (I hope) hard working writers investing time and emotion into creating a soul for a dead corpus, and I’m not sure how to handle scheduling that sort of process. As far as solutions go, I suppose allowing all paces whether snail or bullet train and hoping for a three year ETA is all I’ve come up with so far. So, if you’re reading this, I’m all ears. Or eyes, if you email or text me.

And, finally, the most basic issue: finding the source material. Not mentioned above was the fact that I’ve no clue where to start looking for a source corpus, though I have a few folks I know thanks to the doctors P and their proclivity for arranging erudite and kind guest speakers. Another issue is, once this source corpus is sourced, how do we go about digitizing it? I know the technology exists, and it’s just outside my reach but within my sight here at OU. Though, I did have a wonderful conversation with a gentleman at the university who might be able to assist, and I have the desire to do the work necessary to see this project through. Hopefully all goes well.



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