Assistant for Philological Explorations
-- APE is not a philological enigma --
What is APE?
APE is a freely available computer program designed to assist in the exploration and interpretation of larger text corpora. In its current state of development it allows someone to write and access web-based commentaries which are dynamically linked to primary source editions on a local computer system. More features are expected for the future, such as maintaining various kinds of cross-references inside and between the primary sources and comments.
APE is rooted in the field of humanities computing, more exactly: in the endavor of designing strategies and tools for sophisticated digital editions. So far such editions have, with a few exceptions, been designed for the use on stand-alone computers. In some respect this meant a great improvement on traditional printed editions, especially because it was then possible to perform sophisticated keyword searches on large text collections. Since the appearance of the Internet we have the techonology at hand to make our textual sources easily accessible for almost any scholar around the world. But using the Internet for humanities' research does not only mean to put our digital editions on the Web. This is just a part of the vision. Furthermore, the current computer technology provides us with the technical means to develop completely new scholarly research agendas. Now, we posses the technical infrastructure allowing us to combine various kinds of data with each other in ways almost unpredictable just a decade ago. What is still needed are appropriate software, skills and strategies for net-based academic communication and discourse: We need to develop new paradigms, standards, tools and techniques for distributed digital knowledge systems and must explore and demonstrate their benefit in practice.
By shifting the focus from local computers to net-based systems it becomes apparent that a knowledge infrastructure for the academic realm is confronted with somewhat opposed requirements. On the one side, our digitized primary sources have to be as accurate as possible and should allow stable points of references. On the other side, as the result of our research we expect to arrive at new insights which then should replace the old data. This problem is, of course, not unknown to traditional media, but it is diminished by the fact that printing is a comparatively slow and expensive way of publication. The question is now whether we can keep the benefits of the old system in respect to quality and reliability, but yet transform it into a more flexible and transparent net-based knowledge system.
APE's Linking Mechanism
One crucial requirement for academic knowledge systems are stable points of references. The fact that the "404 Not Found" error of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol is notorious even to the most technology-ignorant Internet user makes it obvious that the linking mechanism of today's World Wide Web is absolutely not sufficient. This insufficiency is due to directly using Universal Resource Locators (URLs) when linking to remote documents. When a document is moved to another location the link immediately becomes unresolveable. In this respect URLs can be seen as analogous to conventional shelf marks. Referring to a book by indicating its location in a particular library is only a good idea for raw manuscripts and requires the commitment that its shelf mark is not frequently changing.
The lesson to be learned from this comparison is that we need some equivalent for a library catalog. Today, this function is more or less occupied by Internet search machines. However, using them is a rather inconvenient, slow, inflexible and unreliable way to resolve a broken link. Instead it would be much better to implement a kind of catalog which could be automatically queried by a computer without direct interaction with a human user.
To remedy this deficiency, APE implements an enhanced linking strategy which uses so-called Universal Resource Names (URNs) which provide some kind of indirect reference. While URLs are analogous to traditional shelf marks, URNs are more similar to the kind of canonical references commonly used in traditional scholarly publications. URNs designate objects, such as for example text passages, by a unique global identifier, and it is the task of an additional process to find instances of this identifier; in other words: In order to follow a link URNs must be (dynamically) resolved into URLs. By this means a suitable browser can provide its user with tailored links. One can, for example, imagine a scenario where a document contains an URN encoded link to a primary source and the browser resolves it -- depending on the preferences of the user -- into either a transcription of this primary source, or a translation or a facsimile of the respective manuscript.
APE includes a simple editor for writing and managing notes on primary sources. This meta-data is stored in XML files and can be shared among users via HTTP, hence making it easy for a distributed group of commentators to organize their collaboration and to keep track of the state of their work. In a future version, this approach shall also allow to integrate the meta-data produced by APE into semantic web activities like those recently launched by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Such semantic webs use standardized vocabularies, so-called "ontologies", to mark up meta-data. This provides a way to automatically evaluate and merge data available on an open hypertext system.
The author established a partnership with the following humanities research project:
APE is being developed using Delphi 7 under Windows 98. It should also run under other 32-bit operating systems from the Windows family such as Windows 95, Windows NT etc. Users reported that they also successfully run it with Windows emulators under LINUX. APE requires a pre-installed Internet Explorer 5 (or above) on your system.
Delphi 7 Source Code
To compile APE on your Delphi 7 system install the packages below in the specified order. Pay attention: In order that everything fits together, it is likely that you need exactly the mentioned versions of this packages, even if there also exist newer releases.
Download Primary Texts
The following primary texts for APE are available on the Internet. The links point to zip archives to be downloaded on your local computer. Included in the archives is a readme.txt file which gives detailed information about each text and advice how to use it with APE.
This list is to be continued ...
PD Dr. Dieter Köhler