The bibliography of the Hebrew Book (BHB) database is an essential reference tool for Jewish studies, made available by the National Library of Israel. Yet, similar to many other library resources, it functions mainly within the limited search paradigm, in which the user is always conceived as looking to find a specific book, or several books, and the user interface is there to help in the retrieval. But the valuable data collected, years of expert work that were put into this knowledge base can also be used differently when liberated from the search interface and made available for enrichment, analysis and visualization.
In the framework of the project DiJeSt, with Dr. Yael Netzer and Dr. Kepa J. Rodriguez, we prepared the Bibliography of the Hebrew Book database for “Distant reading” by processing date and place of publication, and modelling the data according to standard ontologies. For now, I am sharing a part of it as a passover treat, along with some notes on the promises and perils of distant reading datasets.
In the following map you can see all the places documented in the BHB where Haggadah editions were printed, with their languages of translation. By pressing the side button, a legend will open that will help you explore. Clicking a pin will also open the details of an edition published in that place.
When data is available for distant reading, we can often see historical, geographic and other patterns that are more difficult to perceive when looking at records more closely. Interesting outliers are also more visible this way: why were English translations printed in Hannover, or Fuerth? or a Judeo-Arabic translation in Vienna?
Each of this colored points that catches the eye may be a trigger to exploration of fascinating stories. Some of these stories, dealing with the translation to English, make the subject of Avraham Roos’ dissertation, and along with other experiments with knowledge visualization of the Haggadah translation phenomenon, can be read on his website.
What does this view reveal? and just as important a question: what does it conceal?