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TALK: Using Technology to Visualize Textual Instability

March 12, 2019 @ 9:45 am - 10:50 am
Rolfe 2118, UCLA
Los Angeles, United States
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David J. Birnbaum and Robert Romanchuk


Like any work written in a medieval vernacular, the tradition of the Middle Byzantine “romantic epic” Digenis Akritis is characterized by textual instability, or what Paul Zumthor calls “mouvance.” This instability extends to the Old Slavic version, whose plot is reshaped not only from its putative Greek source, but, in some places and even more radically, between the Old Slavic (Macedonian or Galician) translation and its early (Serbian or NE Russian) recension; and between that early recension and its later, Muscovite abridgment.

The epic’s first two episodes are preserved only in the “reshuffled” Muscovite abridgment. Meanwhile, other valuable material is found in an “Amazon” episode, lost from the original translation and reconstituted by the early editor out of text copied from other episodes. Our goal was to produce a digital visualization tool, based on Hugh Olmsted’s plectogram, to help the critical editor (Romanchuk) recover the original shape of the epic’s first episodes from the “reshuffled” abridgment, and identify variant readings from the Amazonian “cento” or patchwork quilt and incorporate them in their original places; and to help readers follow the critical reconstruction and understand pre-modern editing practices more generally.

David J. Birnbaum is Professor and Chair of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches computational Digital Humanities. Much of his electronic text work intersects with his research in medieval Slavic manuscript studies, but he also often writes about issues in the philosophy of markup. His most active current research involves two topics: the machine-assisted analysis of Russian verse and textual transmission in the Slavic middle ages. He is one of the developers of CollateX, a software package for the collation of manuscript variants.

Robert Romanchuk is Pribic Family Associate Professor of Slavic at Florida State University and currently Visiting Associate Researcher at the UCLA Department of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Languages and Cultures. His fields are philology and psychoanalysis. He is working on a critical edition of the Old Slavic Digenis Akritis (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press), a series of articles on “Little Russian literature” (with Roman Koropeckyj), and a monograph on Gogol’s Mirgorod.


March 12, 2019
9:45 am - 10:50 am
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Rolfe 2118
Los Angeles, United States
+ Google Map


Digital Humanities Program
Department of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Languages and Cultures