As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been interested in using Juxta to compare two versions of the nineteenth-century novel, The Missionary. Originally released in 1811, The Missionary was edited and rereleased in 1859 under the new title Luxima, the Prophetess. Inspired by work like Ben Fry’s (a few years old, but still one of the most compelling examples of what can be accomplished with collation tools), I’m hoping (as he puts it) to “actually see change over time” in Sydney Owenson’s views on the missionary presence in India.
In a few weeks, I’ll have a user guide prepared for Juxta Desktop and Juxta Commons. In the meantime, I’m going to dedicate this post to detailing some of Juxta’s more helpful features, as well as its more frustrating limitations.
First, Juxta Desktop:
Juxta Desktop is a pretty sweet downloadable application for textual collation. It offers three visualizations of the differences between two (or more) texts: the heat map, the side-by-side view, and the histogram. Not only can this application be used to analyze changes made to a primary text, but it can be helpful in the scholarly writing process (comparing one draft to another), in the classroom (as a tool to help students understand the history of the book, for instance), and for analysis of born-digital texts.
In my case, I’ve been interested in two tasks: 1) illuminating specific changes made to the text and 2) visualizing broader patterns in the aggregate of these changes. At the moment, I’m focused on the first task. Unsurprisingly, then, I’ve been exploring Juxta Desktop’s annotation feature for making notes on targeted sections of text. It’s a very neat feature: as you go through the comparison set, you can actually annotate where the witnesses diverge. Somewhat irritatingly, however, you can only add annotations in collation view:
And not in comparison view:
The inability to see both versions of the text hinders close reading of the changes in the 1859 version. To judge the relative importance of the edit (the extent to which a paragraph or sentence was altered), I switched back and forth between the collation and comparison views, making the annotation feature a bit awkward to use. I’ve taken to just using the comparison view while making note of specific passages in a separate .doc–there must be an easier way of doing this, but that’s what (rather, all) I’ve got for now.
That said, annotating on Juxta is fairly easy, and if I wasn’t interested in such specific excisions, additions, and alterations, probably the annotation feature would prove enormously useful. To annotate the sentence below, I clicked on the section in which I was interested. A green box popped up. I clicked the greyed-star in the green box. Voila! A new dialogue box appeared, allowing me to annotate that section of text.
One of the tricky things about seeing only the base text for annotating, however, is that you clearly can’t see where Juxta has messed up in creating the comparison set. Check out its huge screw-up in not catching this, for instance (only clearly visible in comparison view):
What threw Juxta off was a stray footnote in the text. Luckily, editing the original text is easy (just click the “Edit” button by the bottom panel). What’s more frustrating is that each “Update” to the original text creates a new version of the witness rather than amending the existent version–problematic, because in creating a new witness you lose annotations made to its previous version. In some ways, this isn’t a huge issue–get rid of footnotes in ABBYY FineReader, Jade!–but something to be aware of, nonetheless.
Now, Juxta Commons:
Juxta Commons actually highlighted this Missionary/Luxima comparison set (as created by Josh Honn) in its blog. Juxta Commons (says its User Guide) “takes the power of desktop Juxta to the web, making it easier to add files from various sources and share your results with others.” The advantages of making Juxta sharable and social are significant. Consider, for example, Emma Schlosser’s comparison set on Wikipedia’s article on the Benghazi attack (Juxta Commons has a Wikipedia API feature. How cool is that.). One can easily imagine the benefits of using the comparison set to help students analyze public reactions to Benghazi over time or to spark broader conversation with fellow scholars.
Juxta Commons (I think) is also prettier than Juxta Desktop.
It takes a while for a comparison set to be made–a few minutes for me, at least. Again, not a huge deal, but maybe worth pointing out as one of the ways in which Desktop differs from Commons.
Annotations in Juxta Commons works in much the same way as annotations in Juxta Desktop. You work from the base text in collation view, like so:
The same visualization options–heat map, side-by-side view, and histogram–are available in Juxta Commons.
Also worth highlighting is the inclusion of Versioning Machine in Commons. With Versioning Machine, you can compare multiple versions of a text simultaneously. I haven’t worked with Versioning Machine–being interested in only the 1811 and 1859 versions of my text–but if I were to get into the various editions of The Missionary published between 1811 and 1859, this might be a helpful way of visualizing gradual changes made to the text over time.
Commons, in short, works much the same way as Desktop, but with more features. I expect Desktop will probably be obsolete in a short time, if it isn’t already.
In conclusion, some things I’ve been thinking about:
- I wish I had kept page numbers in the .txt files. I’m going to have to go back to the original copies of the texts to track down specific pages for citations.
- I wish Juxta had a print format feature: it would be great to be able to print out the comparison set. (For whatever reason, I imagine it spooling out on dot matrix printer paper.)
- I would really like to see a project in which the end result of the Juxta comparison set was not just the comparison set itself. Does someone have a project they can refer me too?
- In that vein, we’ve heard a lot of talk about how DH projects can’t (and won’t) lend themselves to traditional scholarship; the collaborative structure of DH means projects do not necessarily terminate in (what Bethany Nowviskie calls) the “fixed products of humanities interpretation.” I wonder, though, if we can’t accomplish traditional scholarship with tools like Juxta Commons…? That is, I would like to see an article that openly acknowledges having heavily used Juxta for a “traditional” collation project; I want to know what Juxta opens up in textual analysis itself (separate from its social aspect) that can’t be reduplicated by older modes of collation. If anyone has suggestions or recommendations, I’d love to check them out.