NORWAY: Wittgenstein archives available on line

The Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen has made 5,000 pages of Wittgenstein's writings available for open access on the website Wittgenstein Source. This is part of a process lasting more than 40 man-years and using new digitalisation technology, making the collected papers of the late philosopher available for a growing audience of researchers worldwide.

The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who lived from1889 to 1951, is one of the most studied philosophers of the last century. It is assumed he is the main focus of study and research of researchers and students at several hundred institutions worldwide.

He published only one book in his lifetime, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in 1921, defended as a doctoral thesis in Cambridge in 1929.

When dying in 1951 Wittgenstein left behind some 20,000 pages of unpublished manuscripts and typescripts, the Nachlass, the content of which was largely unknown.

Two years after Wittgenstein's death Philosophical Investigations/Philosophische Untersuchungen (1953) became the first book edition produced from the Nachlass, regarded today as one of the most important books on philosophy.

Since his death a substantial number of books and articles have been published from the Nachlass and Wittgenstein is considered as one of the most significant philosophers of the 20th century. He was widely regarded as a genius during his lifetime.

Wittgenstein's writings contain deletions, over-writings, insertions, marginal remarks and annotations, re-orderings, as well as spelling errors and slips of the pen. While such features are quite normal for modern author manuscripts in general, there are certain particularities that make the Nachlass more special and result from his specific working methods.

The Nachlass is highly 'intertextual' and in a certain sense repetitious. It consists of many different versions and modifications of a relatively small set of primary units of text or of thought.

Wittgenstein wrote in several languages, though mainly in German, and used different language functions; he thereby applied both linguistic and non-linguistic means, such as mathematical and logical notation, diagrams and graphics.

Against this background it is understandable that the Nachlass presents several problems to anyone wanting to prepare it for publication. By the middle of the 1980s more and more scholars requested access to the entire Nachlass rather than to the selections provided by the existing book editions and articles alone.

A Gesamtausgabe (complete edition) was not available, nor had sufficient agreement been reached over what it should look like. Without either neglecting essential aspects of the Nachlass or demanding from the publisher and/or the reader too much in terms of finance, patience or willingness to adopt some very unusual editorial policies it seemed too difficult to put the entire Wittgenstein Nachlass into book form.

The situation is much less troubling now. Since 2000 an electronic edition of the entire Wittgenstein's Nachlass: The Bergen Electronic Edition has been available, published by Oxford University Press. This edition was prepared at the Wittgenstein Archives in Bergen, which had been established in 1990.

After the new digital technologies became available in the late 1980s new possibilities arose for the scholarly publishing of complex manuscripts. The University of Bergen saw this as an opportunity to make the entire Wittgenstein Nachlass finally available. All 20,000 pages were transcribed and published.

Between 2002 and 2004 the Wittgenstein Archives in Bergen ran the project 'Transnational access to European Research Infrastructure Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen', for which 30 European scholars benefited from EU funding to carry out their research in philosophy or digital humanities in Bergen as guest researchers. This was one of very few research projects in the humanities to be funded by the EU Research Framework Programme.

Today the Archives run in cooperation with the Helsinki Wittgenstein and von Wright Archives a similar project for Nordic scholars.

With Wittgenstein Source the Wittgenstein Archives have not only further developed their methods of scholarly digital publishing but also entered the field of open access publishing and Semantic Web methods and technologies.

On this site users can browse and search 5,000 pages of the Wittgenstein Nachlass in facsimile and text editions, among them such important items as the Notes on Logic, the Lecture on Ethics, the Big Typescript and the Brown Book. In addition they can use the Philospace- environment to access the texts via an ontology structure, among other things laying out the map of personal names which Wittgenstein refers to but also philosophical concepts which are treated in the single remarks.

One important feature of Wittgenstein Source and Philospace is that they are laid out for multilingual use (currently German, English, Italian and Norwegian) and will, thanks to translations of the metadata, provide a multilingual key to the Nachlass which is predominantly in German and English.

In May the Wittgenstein Archives in Bergen organised a meeting for the EU network COST Action, 'Open Scholarly Communities on the web'.

The objective was to create a virtual infrastructure enabling scholars in the humanities to engage in collaborative research and to publish their results on the web. The meeting discussed how these resources could be used for higher education e-learning.