Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What’s up at the Logic Museum

The Logic Museum is now a wiki, although a closed one, meaning not everyone can edit.

It’s still in the experimental stage. It uses Semantic Mediawiki which means pages can be tagged and sorted in the database. This page shows the kinds of queries that can be run. And it includes a text editor that deals with tables better than a standard wiki – parallel non-English vs English texts are a key feature

The principles of the project are set out here, but essentially it is all about bringing key texts to a wider audience. In two ways.

(1) Specialists in medieval philosophy recognise the difficulty of obtaining sources even in Latin editions. Critical edition projects like Bonaventura and Vatican have a limited print run, and not all libraries purchase these. I have access to the finest libraries in London, including the Warburg, which specialises in medieval and renaissance texts, and the Heythrop, which has a separate theology and philosophy library. Even these are missing some of the texts I would like to read, including Mazzarella’s edition of Simon of Faversham, and Scotus’ Quodlibeta. (The British Museum would certainly have copies, but I have so far avoided this institution as a result of previous experience). So a project that brings Latin texts to the Internet would be useful even to specialists.

(2) The second way involves translating these texts into English thus bringing them to a much wider audience.

The technical problems of the Logic Museum are now pretty much solved. The problem of getting it to work as a collaborative project are only starting. Wikipedia proved that crowdsourcing worked to a certain extent – although many of my posts here have been critical of the project, I still strongly believe it achieved something worthwhile and important. However, Wikipedia relies mostly on unskilled volunteers. By contrast, apart from document scanning, most of the skills involved in putting the Logic Museum together involve some sort of specialist skill. There is still no digitiser that understands Latin spelling and grammar. Thus a typical raw output looks like this. Correcting these texts means human spell-checking. Translating the texts into English requires a higher level of expertise. It’s not the grammar which is difficult. Rather, philosophical Latin employs a number of technical terms which are unintelligible even to a specialist in classical Latin. E.g. ‘dicuntur de quolibet’, which means nothing to someone brought up on the Latin of Cicero and Vergil.

Of course there is a large pool of specialist expertise in philosophy and theology departments across the world. But here you have the problem that crowdsourcing is a volunteer activity, whereas academic specialists depend for their career on publications in recognised sources. Actually they volunteer for that also – no one is paid for their contributions to journals, or for published books. The key is ‘recognised source’. Until someone can put on their CV that they have had a Logic Museum translation accepted, it is unlikely that the project will attract much interest from specialists. There is no reason in principle why this should not happen – think of the Logic Museum as potentially a sort of publishing house which has a review and acceptance process identifying which individual made which important contribution to the project.  But setting this up in the right way requires more thought, and more work.

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