28th-29th April 2022: TOWARDS A LIBRARY OF BABEL? Reflections on the (In)Completeness of Digital Archiving


A hybrid conference organised by the “Transcultural Studies in Humanities” PhD School

and funded by the Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department of Excellence

Literature scholars often think of digital libraries as a chimeric monster, something akin to Borges's Library of Babel, the famous fictional library containing every possible book, made by all the possible combinations of letters and punctuation. The problem with that library was that any coherent phrase hid in stacks of nonsensical and erroneous volumes, a challenging notion for both librarians and readers. This analogy leads us to several questions: how do we store and use texts in a digital library? Are there any differences between physical libraries and digital archiving processes? Is digital archiving just archiving on a bigger scale, or is it something qualitatively different? Can a digital library ever be complete, and if so, what are the criteria to evaluate its completeness? And, last but not least, what is the relation between a complete digital archive and the literary-cultural analysis we could perform on it?

With all these questions in mind, this conference would like to accomplish two goals.

  • First, we intend to challenge the notion of literary data interpretation in the light of the complexity of constructing digital archives.
  • Secondly, we wish to raise awareness about these new rapidly-expanding digital libraries, with the help of digital librarians and researchers.


The conference will feature 3 panels.

Each panel will be followed by questions coming from the audience.

1st Panel: 28th April 2022, 2.00 pm - 5.00 pm (CET)

Bureaucratic perspective on digital archives

Prof. Isabel Galina (National University of Mexico / University College London) and Prof. Glen Worthey (University of Illinois / HathiTrust Digital Library) will give us an overview of copyright issues and legal deposit regulations for digital libraries.

2nd Panel: 29th April 2022, 9.15 pm - 12.15 pm (CET)

Technical and literary aspects concerning the digital archive

Prof. Francesca Tomasi (Università di Bologna) and Prof. Huw Jones (University of Cambridge / Cambridge Digital Library) will provide an essential theoretical framework to understand what a digital library is, how it works and what it can offer to literature research.

3rd Panel: 29th April 2022, 2.30 pm - 5.30 pm (CET)

Literary case studies: how do we create and use a digital archive in order to conduct literature research?

The research projects conducted by Elisa Bolchi (Università di Ferrara) and Prof. Christophe Schuwey (Yale University) will help us shed light on new digital research practices applied to two literary giants: Virginia Woolf and Molière.