04 abril, 2006

RSA: A Recapitulation

We have delayed for several days the summary of our participation in The Fifty-Second Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America that took place in San Francisco from March 23rd- 25th. It is not a question of laziness, but rather a certain inability that we are not ashamed to confess.

The fact is that the data is overwhelming: a program with more than 900 scholars presenting their research; an average of 25 simultaneous sessions at any given time on days that began at 8:45 and ended around 18:00; an arduous task of trying to choose what was most interesting from an abstract book 355 pages in length, tightly compacted in a tiny font with an endless number of appealing titles. And then the chance encounters and conversations in the hallways, the bustling of the greatest imaginable concentration per square inch of humanists, exhibitors and tables full of the latest editorial novelties that we love so much, complementary activities, random conversations... and through the windows, glimpses of an impressive city that invited further exploration.

Our session featured a very distinguished audience. Some names: Liana Cheney, David Graham, Stephen Rawles, Emilie Bergmann, Peter Boot, David Boruchoff, Diane E. Sieber, Anne J. Cruz... We revealed to them the secrets and marvels of the CD of Spanish Emblems, of the DVD with the edition of the Tesoro de la lengua castellana by Sebastián de Covarrubias (prepared with the collaboration of I. Arellano and R. Zafra, from GRISO), and of the Psalterium from the Kalocsa Library.

In the ensuing period of discussion our longtime friend Stephen Rawles intervened at length, with some very pertinent questions. We will share here only two of them: whether we intended to offer the complete facsimiles of the books that we publish, and whether we would allow the copying of our texts for free use. Of course, these are two matters that we have pondered frequently. Photographic facsimiles are beginning to be abundant on the Internet and we have little doubt that within a short amount of time many libraries will be offering a huge number of digitized resources in this way. We believe that the value of the work that we are doing lies precisely in the presentation of a text that is fully transcribed, linked and annotated and that is where we have concentrated our efforts. Obviously, we reproduce the illustrations and title pages of all the books, but they too are analyzed, described and linked. At the same time, we recognize that there are some works which demand a facsimile reproduction of the highest quality: such is the case of the Kalocsa Psalterium. And there are other projects, centered around a single work, which benefit greatly from a facsimile reproduction: thus, for the DVD of the Tesoro, we have indeed included the facsimile of the editio princeps (1611) as well as the manuscript of the Suplemento.

The other question was debated with astute observations on the valid pedagogical use of copies by Diane Sieber – and, in fact, we sensed a certain general agreement in the room. Responding to her is not an easy task. On the one hand we would prefer to protect the work we have undertaken from being pilfered. On the other hand, we admit that there are legitimate uses that would be greatly facilitated if automatic copying of textual fragments is enabled. A compromise solution is the possibility, that we already allow, of working with a computerized file – a shadow file – where a given user can annotate and edit the text as desired, but without the ability to export it to another program. Well... In any event, we give our solemn promise to Stephen Rawles and to all of our audience to continue weighing the pros and cons in order to ultimately arrive at a fair final decision.

It would be disingenuous to pretend that we could possibly summarize here all of the sessions that we attended. We can only give brief notice of the heightened interest evident in emblematics and related themes throughout the conference. In addition to our session, others of interest to our audience included: «Images, Emblems, and Allegory», «New Technologies and Renaissance Studies VI: Beyond Technical Access: The Digitized Emblem and the Wider World», «Early Modern Emblems: Parallels and Progressions», «Images of the Body Politic I: Iconography of Power; Visual Arts, Coins and Medals, Emblems»; but there were many other sessions in which emblems or other topics of special interest to Studiolum held center stage.

There is no doubt that we have returned home somewhat wiser – or, at least with much more information in our heads – and with renewed energy and desires to carry forth with our work. We are very thankful to the RSA, and most especially to the organizer of our session, Liana Cheney, for her excellent work and for her kind invitation to participate in the next RSA Conference that will take place next year in Miami.