Technical Approach

Mill Library background image

Mill Marginalia Online aspires to digitize all pages within the John Stuart Mill Library containing any mark or annotation while offering users a chance to view these individual pages within their larger textual contexts by providing links to already-available full-text versions of the marked books. The site employs a hybrid of a SQL and noSQL database, one that capitalizes upon the former’s speed in filtering and querying and the latter’s flexibility and ease of updating. Thus, a simple differentiation between verbal and nonverbal forms of marginalia is married to a Json field containing a readily expandable set of categories and subcategories that both allows for more precise identification of the myriad types of marginalia found in the Mill Library, and accommodates the discovery of new forms of marginalia as the data is collected. This hybrid approach permits such additions without requiring the consequent updating to the pre-existing dataset and large-scale data migrations that would otherwise be necessary in an SQL-only database.

The project also employs a non-relational, relatively simple, and comparatively flat metadata schema that assigns marginalia the role of primary artifact, rather than classifying it as the secondary attribute of the book in which it appears. This self-conscious reversal of the hierarchies that underlie both TEI and conventional library cataloguing foregrounds the moment of human:book interaction and highlights that unique portion of Somerville’s Mill Library, the verbal and nonverbal marginalia, which holds the most promise to generate new knowledge. The project schema, too, is easily updated as new forms of marginalia are discovered.

Together, the hybrid database and metadata schema allow for multi-faceted searching of all verbal and nonverbal marks, which means that scholars interested in both Mills’ readerly judgments, writerly influences, and intellectual networks can consult and compare not just their annotations, but their broader strategies of marking their books. Even scholars without a singular investment in John Stuart or James Mill, but instead a diverse set of interests in cognitive approaches to textual studies, histories of reading practices, and literary aesthetics should find empirical evidence to support their research. Knowledge of the nineteenth century is literally inscribed in the margins of the Mill Library, and Mill Marginalia Online seeks to make that knowledge as accessible and broadly useful as possible.