Online Collaborative “Rubáiyát” Complements Harry Ransom Center Exhibition on Persian Poem

April 2, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas — The Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin, has introduced The Collaborative "Rubáiyát," an online edition of Edward FitzGerald's five published versions of the "Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám" that can be annotated by Web visitors. This project was created in conjunction with the exhibition "The Persian Sensation: 'The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám' in the West."

The Collaborative Rubaiyat

Found at http://scholar.hrc.utexas.edu/rubaiyat/, The Collaborative "Rubáiyát" is a Web 2.0 tool designed to help users experience the poem as fully as possible and share their observations with others. Users can read, tag and comment on the text of the final fifth edition, as well as read and respond to other users' comments. The program also allows users to track FitzGerald's revisions of each stanza through all editions.

The Collaborative "Rubáiyát" is accessible online and in the Ransom Center's exhibition gallery, and will remain as a permanent feature on the Ransom Center Web site. Online users accessing The Collaborative "Rubáiyát" will need to register for an account to leave comments or add tags. Exhibition visitors can add tags or comments as a guest without creating an account.

The exhibition is on display through Aug. 2. The year 2009 marks the 150th anniversary of FitzGerald's landmark translation of the poetry of the medieval Persian astronomer Omar Khayyám. These gemlike verses about mortality, fate and doubt became an unprecedented popular phenomenon in England and America but have since fallen into obscurity.

The exhibition's curators, Michelle Kaiserlian and Molly Schwartzburg, have added their own set of comments to The Collaborative "Rubáiyát" to illuminate connections between the physical exhibition items and the poem as a whole.

"One of the challenges of placing literature in a museum space is, how do you make the entire work available to your audience?" said Schwartzburg, curator of British and American literature. "We originally planned to use this software simply to allow audiences to read and comment on one version of FitzGerald's translation in the gallery space. But what we ended up with is much more exciting: a variorum edition of all five versions of FitzGerald's translation that can be accessed and commented upon from around the world."

The text is derived from the 1921 edition printed by Thomas Y. Crowell and Company. This text was chosen because it is in the public domain, and because it includes all five of FitzGerald's editions. FitzGerald edited the text each time it was republished, sometimes adding stanzas and other times revising stanzas.

The Collaborative "Rubáiyát" is powered by eComma, which stands for "eCommentary Machine." The eComma open source Web application is a flexible text management system that allows its users to annotate texts and to share their annotations with others. eComma was designed by a team of graduate students and faculty members of the Department of English at The University of Texas at Austin. The project received a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and grants from the university's Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services.

"The eComma software is unique because it enables users to annotate a text collaboratively at the word or phrase level," said Katharine Beutner, assistant director of the eComma Project and graduate intern at the Ransom Center. "This means that users can add notes just as they might add marginal notes in a book—and then share those detailed, precise notes with other readers instantaneously. Anyone with an Internet connection can join in the ongoing conversation about the poem."

The Collaborative "Rubáiyát" is the first public installation of eComma. Developers are working with six professors in The University of Texas at Austin's Department of English this spring, preparing to test the eComma pedagogy tool. An open-source, modular version 1.0 of the eComma application will be released and available for download later in spring 2009.

The Ransom Center Galleries are open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. The galleries are closed on Mondays.

For more information, contact: Alicia Dietrich, Harry Huntt Ransom Humanities Research Center, 512 232 3667;  Jennifer Tisdale, Harry Huntt Ransom Humanities Research Center, 512-471-8949.