Towards a Scalable Digital Library of Pre-Modern Chinese: From Static Database to Evolving Platform

Presentation at Harvard University, “Advancing Digital Scholarship in Japanese Studies: Innovations and Challenges” Workshop, 7 November 2015
Belfer Case Study Room, CGIS, 9.00 am

In the ten years since first going online, the Chinese Text Project has gradually expanded from a simple tool for searching and navigating a handful of early Chinese texts to become the largest publicly available full-text database of pre-modern Chinese, containing over 20,000 texts and more than 3 billion characters. In this presentation, I discuss technical and structural changes that have made this expansion possible with only limited resources. These changes involve the exploitation of two primary avenues for scalable development: firstly the use of automation to achieve goals realistically attainable by computational methods, and secondly the encouragement of open user engagement to recruit human volunteers to assist with tasks less suited to automation. Specific examples include the application of optical character recognition to both enable full-text search of scanned early editions as well as create draft transcriptions of the same texts that can be proofread by crowd-sourcing, and of natural language processing techniques to the identification of text reuse and automated compilation of dictionary data. I also introduce ongoing work including the development of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and related mechanisms that will allow other projects to integrate with and build upon the resources of this digital library in a decentralized way while at the same time avoiding duplication of effort.

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