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World-Renowned Scholar and Digital Humanities Specialist to Visit U.Va. Sept. 9-12

UPDATED, Sept. 9, 12:30 p.m., to correct dates of visit.

The University of Virginia’s Institute of the Humanities and Global Cultures will host its first Distinguished Visiting Scholar of the year Sept. 9 through 12. Sukanta Chaudhuri is professor emeritus at Jadavpur University and coordinator of “Bichitra: Online Tagore Variorum,” an online archive of the works of Bengali poet, playwright and artist Rabindranath Tagore.

Chaudhuri will give a talk about the project, “Many Tagores: Travels through a Variorum Website,” on Sept. 12 at 2:30 p.m. in the Scholars’ Lab’s electronic classroom, room 421 in the Alderman Library.

Tagore was the first non-European author to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. He influenced many subsequent modern poets, such as Pablo Neruda and William Butler Yeats, who wrote the introduction to the first English translation of Tagore’s poems.

“Bichitra” – which means “variety” in Bengali – was launched in May at a ceremony that included President of India Pranab Mukherjee. The project was funded by India’s Ministry of Culture as part of a national celebration of Tagore’s 150th birthday.

“Bichitra” can claim several groundbreaking firsts in the world of literature and the digital humanities. According to the Calcutta newspaper, The Telegraph, it is “the largest database in the world of original texts by a single author … boasting of 47,520 pages of manuscripts and 91,637 pages of materials from printed texts.”

Chaudhuri said, “Bichitra is seven times the size of the [Martin] Heidegger manuscript archive, which at 20,000 pages is the second-largest such project.” The website comprises all of Tagore’s literary works in Bengali and English – more than 50 books of poetry, along with several plays, volumes of short stories, two autobiographies, musical dramas, songs and more.

The project team combined Jadavpur University students from the humanities and the computer science department, who completed the project in two years – an astonishingly short amount of time for the amount of material contained within it. They developed their own collation software to aid scholars in comparing several different versions of a work, since “practically no work of his survives in less than three or four versions that need to be taken seriously,” Chaudhuri said.

Another first: the software was written to be used with a non-Western language, Bengali, but it can be customized to work with any language.

India’s Ministry of Culture and Jadavpur University’s School of Cultural Texts and Records produced a video about Bichitra that can be viewed here.

Chaudhuri taught at Presidency College from 1972 to 1991 and has been teaching at Kolkata’s Jadavpur University since 1991. He has written several books, including “Renaissance Pastoral and Its English Developments” and “Infirm Glory: Shakespeare and the Renaissance Image of Man.” Chaudhuri was educated at Presidency College, Kolkata and the University of Oxford, where he specialized in early modern English literature.

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