Pierce Interprets Pierce

Conducted at metaLAB, the project sought to study, disseminate, and valorize Charles S. Peirce’s work by transcribing, analyzing, and visualizing his writings held at Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Design + Research
September 9, 2023
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Pierce Interprets Pierce

This project was conducted at metaLAB in spring 2023, and produced a short paper that waspresented at the ACM Hypertext conference in Rome, in September 2023.

Charles S. Peirce is widely acknowledged as one of the founders of philosophical pragmatism and semiotics. His works deeply impacted the intellectual evolution of scientific methodology. Pierce left behind an extensive manuscript archive when he died in 1914 of over 100,000 pages, of which only 10% were ever published in his lifetime. 50,000 pages of these manuscripts, which constitute his mature works, are held at Harvard’s Houghton Library, in Cambridge, MA. Many attempts have been made to classify and organize Pierce’s records since his death. The first (and unsuccessful) was the team duo of Kernan and Royce in 1915. However, the most definitive catalog on Pierce comes from Prof. Richard Shale Robin. His annotated catalog on Pierce, which he started in 1960 and finished in 1967, continues to serve as the most important work of scholarship in understanding Pierce’s work. The Houghton Library subsequently digitized the microfilms using the Robin Catalog, but their limited legibility recently persuaded the library to undertake a renewed digitization effort working with the original manuscripts. This project studied Pierce’s sometimes difficult writings through AI-based computational techniques (using Transkribus) that allow for automated transcription and the study of idiosyncratic graphical markings, color codes, revisions, insertions, and annotations. The modern-day building of interoperable catalogs of cultural significance employs methods heavily influenced by Peirce’s work. Knowledge graphs and Semantic Web offer standards for constructing semantically enhanced digital scholarly editions. From the standpoint of data visualization and interface design, our goal is to provide end users with a series of data visualizations capable of working as indices to specific facets of the archive. In addition to standard tools like text search and classification, comprehensive visualizations will allow for the thorough exploration of the archives and for zooming down into particulars.

Find the full length project description here.

You can find the 2023 ACM Hypertext paper below and here.