Crowd-sourced Annotations for Herman Melville’s Mardi: A Beta Sprint Proposal for the Digital Public Library of America

Herman Melville’s Mardi (1849) is one of the most beautiful novels that no one ever reads.

That was my pitch to the Digital Public Library of America, in a statement of interest for their “beta sprint.”  All 60  or so individuals or organizations that expressed interest are now included on a mailing list. Maybe it is just the as-of-yet modest scale of the enterprise, but the organization as far as I can make out is operating on principles of absolute inclusivity. Which is the same model I want to use for creating crowd-sourced annotations for Melville’s “philosophical romance,” the least read, perhaps, of all his celebrated and uncelebrated works.

The hyperlinks in the preceding paragraph were as follows: “Digital Public Library of America” links to the main page of Harvard’s Berkman’s Center for Internet and Society wiki on the Digital Public Library of America initiative, “”statement of interest” links to a page in the wiki with a list of proposals, including my own. “Crowd-sourced annotations” links to a description of the proposed annotation-aggregating model, for which Mardi would be a prototype, which I sent out on the listserve, and wanted to make available as a public document.

“The evolution and success of this initiative,” the main page of the wiki states, “rely on inputs from a diverse range of stakeholders and community members; we very much hope that this wiki will be the embodiment of a consensus-based and peer-produced approach.”

The night before the last there was a thunderstorm, now already half forgotten. An ecological blog should update depending on weather, or phases of the moon.

photo credit: R. Firat

No one else ever reads Mardi. This makes me, by default, something of an expert.  The argument for why I think it in particular is apt for this experiment will have to wait. It has something to do with storytelling, with ideologies of laborious texts and idle narratives.

“We can assume,” (again quoting from the wiki) “that users will contribute heavily in all aspects of the DPLA, for virtually no incentives. The best thing to do is turn the creation of the DPLA into a game for the users to play.”

Under my proposal, the spaces in which to list affiliations and institutional partners are blank. That might change. “The necessity arises,” as Melville also says, “for procuring one’s yams.”

So let’s play. What kind of multi-media content would you want in a customizable version of an undervalued novel? Audio recordings, illustrations, footnotes, the ability to rate or contribute to an evolving text? This is an open collaboration, and you are invited to comment below.

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