Newsletter - Spring 2000

"... e a chi per tempo passar legge, niuna cosa puote esser lunga,
se ella quel fa per che egli l'adopera ..."

Semiannual publication dedicated to the study of Boccaccio on the Internet.

Co-Editors: Michael Hemment, Michael Papio & Massimo Riva
Editorial Board: G. Melloni, A. Oldcorn

Now in its fifth year of development, the Decameron Web at Brown University continues to benefit from the generous contributions of Boccaccio teachers and students, scholars and laymen, from around the world. Since our last Newsletter, the site has seen some important developments: a new Project Director, a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities' Division of Education and Technology, and a variety of new research tools and content contributions.

The first part of this academic year 1999-2000 was committed to laying the technical groundwork for a number of exciting new design and search features that will soon appear on the site. Specifically, we have completed the encoding necessary for detailed searches of Boccaccio's masterpiece, proofread the entire Italian text for errors, prepared over sixty new documents for addition to the site, and redesigned the user interface for improved navigability and user-friendliness.

Proofreading of Electronic Text:

When reexamining the Decameron Web at the beginning of the year, we came to the realization that improving a web site is not unlike renovating a house. Before adding a new deck, a sunroom, or changing the shutters, we needed to solidify the foundation and check for "termites." What this meant in terms of the Decameron Web was to verify that the integrity of the site's core feature, the electronic text, was sound. After extensive evaluation, we discovered that there were numerous grammatical inconsistencies and spelling errors in the text that required editing by a large team. Using Vittore Branca's authoritative edition as our standard, our entire staff engaged on a painstaking revision process that was, nevertheless, essential for the integrity and future success of the Decameron Web. We now have a good foundation upon which to expand the rest of the site.

New Tools for Detailed Text Searches:

In order to facilitate advanced text searches, identification and indexing of names, and the markup of narrative characteristics such as direct speech, we are replacing the existing HTML version of the text with an SGML encoded Decameron. The completion of the SGML text by Brown University's Scholarly Technology Group and our staff will enable researchers to define their text searches by selecting from one of three categories: "Characters," "Geographic Locations," and "Single and Multiple Words." Within each of these categories, users may define their query by either 1.) simply typing in the name of the character or place they are looking for, 2.) customizing their search by selecting attributes from pull-down menus, or 3) viewing the results of our pre-searched lists.

The Detailed Search pages are currently being tested by our Boccaccio students and members of our Advisory Board. Although not all of the bugs have yet been eliminated, please feel free to experiment with it.

Making the Decameron Web 'Friendlier':

The hypertextual arrangement of information in relation to the text provides each Decameron Web user with a series of documents that are always pertinent to his or her interests. This simple characteristic - the great advantage of a hypertext presentation over the traditional book - helps researchers arrive quickly and effortlessly at new information and, at the same time, underscores the multidisciplinary nature of serious literary study.

The Decameron Web, as it is currently designed, forces users to sometimes dig three or four levels deep in order to find what they need. For example, to locate the essay entitled "The Collective Representation of Death in the Decameron" users must now follow the following sequence: Homepage>Literature>Literary Motifs and Topics>The Plague>"The Representation of Collective Death in the Decameron." It is not difficult to see from this example how content can easily become "buried" within the site and, as a result, "hidden" to the user.

In an effort to make all of the new content and features as accessible as possible and to prepare the Decameron Web for future expansion, we have decided to redesign the entire site from the bottom up. To improve "horizontal" navigation, we plan to add menu bars to the top of each page, allowing users to access any area of the site instantly, and to easily "backtrack" if they desire. All of the articles will also be reformatted, making it easier for students and researchers to read and print the online text. Finally, we are redesigning the homepage to accommodate a variety of new resources, the detailed search pages, a pedagogy module, and the forthcoming Electronic Boccaccio Journal.

The Electronic Boccaccio Journal:

During the past year, we have been developing an electronic journal for Boccaccio specialists that will be integrated into the Decameron Web. The idea is to invite submissions from an international audience of Boccaccio scholars representing a broad range of critical perspectives in a variety of fields. In addition to critical essays on Boccaccio's life and works, the journal will act as a forum for discussing trends in humanities computing, the use of information technology for teaching, book reviews, new translations of Boccaccio's works, etc.

Taking the Decameron Web Overseas:

The "Computers, Filologia, e Letteratura" Conference at the University of Rome (Nov. 3-5, 1999) was the perfect occasion for us to present the Decameron Web to an international community of humanities computing specialists. Our project director delivered a paper addressing the pedagogical application of hypertext-based projects, such as the Decameron Web, to university literature classes.

Our next international foray will be the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing/ Association for Computers and the Humanities (ALLC/ACH) Joint International Conference at the University of Glasgow this summer.

Future Plans:

Our immediate goals for the future are to implement many of the design and search features we have created "offline," to publish the first edition of our electronic Boccaccio journal, and to add some of Boccaccio's minor works to the site, including the Corbaccio and the Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta. In addition, we are working on a Pedagogy module that will provide Boccaccio teachers and students with a variety of instructional resources: ideas for class activities, sample essay questions, student guides to paper writing and classroom presentation, paper contests, etc. Finally, we will continue to keep adding new content to the site. Our Boccaccio students and staff assistants have already edited and encoded a significant number of new documents, many of which are enriched with scanned images, sampled audio clips and digital timelines.

The Project