vika zafrin's dissertation work

Proceed straight to reading RolandHT

What am I looking at here?

RolandHT is my dissertation work. It consists of two parts, integrated in the interface you'll see if you click the link above. One is a hypertext—you can get to know Roland by following threads of recurrent themes, imagery and characters present in the story bits you'll find. The other is a series of critical essays about what I did and why.

What's a Roland?

He's not a what, he's a who.

Roland is a semi-fictional character who has been with us for over a thousand years. The “semi” in there is hanging by a thread: the only documentary mention of a Roland is a passing one in historian Einhard's Vita Karoli Magni (Life of Charlemagne), written sometime after 814 CE. Einhard describes a devastating 778 ambush upon Charlemagne's men by the Basques, in the Pyrenees. Among the soldiers who died in that battle was a count Hruodlandus, captain of the Breton March.

Dealing with traumatic loss, whether a millennium ago or now, engenders art. We know two things about Roland's entrance into the French epic lore: So, even though some three hundred years passed between Hruodlandus' death and the earliest Song of Roland manuscript we have, it is clear that the epic poem was kept alive in the interim by way of oral storytelling.

As I've said in just about every paper I've given on Roland, he has not left us since. The character has been appropriated by most European cultures, and has even made his way into North America. Stories, rock songs, comics, films, operettas and all manner of visual arts (sculptures, stone carvings, paintings, drawings) about him have been more or less continuously created in different parts of the West for the last thousand years.

More information about this guy's provenance is in the critical chapter of my dissertaion titled "This Was Roland." There are also a few posts in the “rolantht” category on my blog, Words' End.

Dissertation abstract

A substantial body of work was inspired by, and spun off from, the original French Roland legend. These works span many genres and forms—theatre, live and puppet; poetry; prose (novels); children's literature; cinema; sculpture; painting; drawing; music; comics; hypermedia. They form a corpus, which has to date not been studied as a whole. This dissertation defines the Roland corpus and electronically traces the themes, motifs and imagery common to its constituent works. The result is a semantically-encoded hypertext written in XML and ported to HTML. In it, passages drawn from corpus objects are interlinked and navigable through a web browser. The semantic encoding allows for indexing, semantic searching, and the creation of visualization tools for the corpus.

RolandHT is aimed at an audience of Roland scholars, medievalists, students of literary corpora, and computing humanists. Once defined, the corpus will be opened for discussion by the scholarly communities as a whole; its electronic form foresees easy dissemination and inclusionary participation by interested parties.

(More about the methodology is found here, if you're interested.)

Interface: The next generation

The final version of the RolandHT interface was first put up in late January 2007. It was the result of a collaboration between myself and Ethan Fremen. It can be viewed with any XSLT-aware browser, such as Firefox, Safari or Opera. Using Mozilla's built-in XSLT engine made the design much easier; we figured, if we had to constrain you to a browser, a free, open-source one is as benign as it gets. If you know of other software with which the work can be viewed, please let me know both the browser and the operating system(s) on which you've used it. I'm particularly interested in finding out whether Internet Explorer has caught up to us yet.

There's a help section, too.

What went before

The first iteration of the project, which became my Master's thesis, is archived here. Before you click on the link, beware: this one is only viewable using Internet Explorer 5.0+ on a machine running Windows. Your browser also needs to allow popups (there'll be only one, two if you click on the question mark which opens up a little help file).

I know, I know. Such narrow platform compatibility, and infuriatingly tethered to Windows at that. Why did I do this? Because it was a quick patch that fixed a slew of problems. The new interface is a wholly different design, and redesigning the old version was impractical.

Master's thesis archive of critical essays

Because the above is not universally accessible, I have archived here re-formatted versions of the critical portion of the thesis. The remainder is wholly incorporated into the the new RHT interface discussed above.
Last modified on 30 December 2009.