11.000 Letters!

Yesterday, I checked the numbers while preparing a talk about the NorKorr project. We now have metadata from 8979 letters delivered to CorrespSearch, the correspondence metadata aggregator and search engine. There are another 2.409 letters in the pipeline, which we hope to deliver by the end of the year. This amounts to more than 11.000 letters – quite the achievement!

We started slowly in 2019 when my colleague Ellen Wiger added metadata from scholarly editions of correspondences from bokselskap.no, the Norwegian Society for Literature and Language’s publication outlet. We got our next “big” delivery when Ellen added two letter collections from lokalhistoriewiki.no, the wiki run by the Norwegian Institute for Local History. These were letters from Norwegian emigrants to their families back home and correspondence between Ivar Kleiven and Kristian Prestgaard.

In 2022, things sped up a bit: I applied for a small grant from the University of Oslo’s Teksthub+DH to hire a developer part-time for three months to help harvest the correspondence metadata from the Edvard Munch digital scholarly edition, eMunch.no. My colleague and head philologist at the Munch Museum, Hilde Bøe, wrote a blog post about how this project came into being and the challenges of extracting the metadata from it. We also presented the scripts our developer, Loke Sjølie, created for the task. At the end of 2022, we delivered the metadata of 8.527 letters from eMunch.no to CorrespSearch, where they were integrated into their ever-growing collection of letters. At the time of writing this post, there are 235.942 letters added to CorrespSearch that can be explored!

Right after the Edvard Munch correspondence had been harvested and the CMIF (Correspondence Metadata Interchange Format) files had been created, the Center for Ibsen Studies and the University of Oslo joined forces. They, in turn, hired Loke to harvest the correspondence metadata from the Henrik Ibsen Wiritngs Online edition, ibsen.uio.no. Both editions, eMunch.no and ibsen.uio.no, were similar enough to re-use the scripts Loke had created. The Ibsen correspondence metadata could be harvested with a simplified version of the Munch correspondence code. Enriching these with both GeoNames and VIAF (Virtual International Authority File) was necessary to fit into the CMIF data model and make them useful for CorrespSearch. There are still some minor issues around the Ibsen dataset; however, we plan to release the data CMIF-compliant by the end of the year.

There is more data from digital scholarly editions to be harvested. Several correspondences have been published on bokselskap.no, which haven’t yet been integrated into CorrespSearch. Namely, the correspondence between Sigrid Undset and Nini Roll Anker, Kitty Kielland and the family Lie, and Ebbe Hertzberg and Poul Andræ. There are also letters by Harriet Backer and Elisabeth Koren, published only recently.

Another more extensive collection of letters we intended to include right from the beginning of the project is the correspondence of Norwegian modernist painter Nikolai Astrup. KODE Bergen, the Art Museums and Composers’ Home, has recently published the catalogue of their Astrup collection, including some 400 pieces of correspondence in facsimile and transcription, including commentary and a translation into English. The archival collection with the letters can be browsed on the Nikolai Astrup website.

The next phase of NorKorr will be to gather correspondence metadata from printed editions. I have created a bibliography of 165 editions containing letters and correspondences. I will apply for another small grant to get these hand-coded into the CMIF format using the CorrespSearch CMIF Creator.

Edvard Munch in CorrespSearch

The NorKorr-eMunch project has delivered metadata of 8.527 letters to and from Edvard Munch to the CorrespSearch service. The letter metadata can be browsed on CorrespSearch.

This collection gathers most of Munch’s correspondence held in the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway, and contains all letters (including postcards) from the digital scholarly edition of Edvard Munch’s Writings, eMunch.no.

Loke Sjølie from the University of Oslo library developed the Python script to scrape the XML-TEI encoded letters from eMunch.no. It is available in the project’s GitHub repository.

The team will soon publish a data paper about the Munch correspondence and archive the CMIF (correspondence metadata interchange format) dataset of letter metadata on the University of Oslo’s data repository, dataverse.no.

A postcard from Ingse Vibe to Edvard Munch from 25th June 1906. The picture displays a beach scene with two people walking in the shallow water and a pier with a boat house at the end. The postcard is written and drawn on.
MM K 1198, p. 2. Munchmuseet. Letter from Ingse Vibe. Dated 25. 06. 1906.

Harvesting metadata from the correspondence of Edvard Munch

At NorKorr we are currently building a script to harvest and consolidate metadata from the correspondence of Edvard Munch.

Edvard Munch’s correspondence comprises approximately 12 000 letters to and from Edvard Munch, where 10 000 are in the Munch Museum (around 6 000 incoming letters addressed to Munch and 4 000 letters and letter drafts by Munch) and 2 000 in other institutions or on private hands. We still discover new letters at auctions or on private hands, so the number of letters is still growing.

MM.N.00830, Munchmuseet. Letter to Karen Bjølstad dated 8.5.1899.

The museum has set up the website emunch.no where we aim to publish not only the correspondence, but all of Munch’s writings which include diaries, notes on art, literary sketches and fragments, prose poems, various lists and so on. We have published 80 % of Munch’s own texts and 60 % of the letters he received.

Unfortunately, today we are in a situation where we have conflicting sources for the metadata. The website is built on XML and XSLT technologies, and all register files containing metadata were originally created through export-to-XML from the project’s databases. When the museum’s databases were consolidated into a single database and migrated to a new software, we lost the export-to-XML functionality. Since then, there have been two sets of metadata for Munch’s writings, where both have been updated. The intention was, of course, that the two sets were to be identical, but as often happens we have forgotten to update one or the other. Today, the two sets have many differences, and it is not given which source has the correct data. A third source is a spreadsheet we use in our ongoing work of updating and revising the dating of Munch’s letters and letter drafts. We work in a spreadsheet because it is more time-efficient than using our database and because the database cannot easily handle the order of the dated letters.

The data from the spreadsheet will eventually be incorporated into the database, and the differences between the XML register files and the database will also be consolidated. We are also working on a solution where we once again can publish directly from the database to the website. For the current process of creating a CMIF XML file we need a script which does the consolidation for us. The script is being developed by research assistant Loke Sjølie and can be found at GitHub (https://github.com/Loke-git/MXML).

As a result of the script development process, we have discovered duplicated letter entries, and errors and invalid date formats. We revise and correct our metadata, but we also need to look at how we deal with non-existing dates, e.g. November 31st or February 29th in non-leap years.

MM.K.00242, Munchmuseet. Letter from Gunnar Heiberg dated 29.02.1895.

The Norwegian Institute of Local history (NLI): Norgesbrev and Kleiven-Prestgard correspondance

The latest additions to the NorKorr corpus are letters from The Norwegian Institute of Local history (NLI). The Institute’s main purpose is to promote local and regional historical activity in Norway. NLI is responsible for the websites lokalhistorie.no, lokalhistoriewiki.no and historieblogg.no, and publishes sources and handbooks, as well as other aids for historians. NLI also organises seminars and conferences related to local history topics.


Lokalhistoriewiki has a large collection of so-called “Norgesbrev”, that is letters sent from Norway to friends and family who had emigrated to North America. 85 of these letters have been transcribed, (the transcriptions are available – in Norwegian – at the Lokalhistoriewiki website), and metadata from these transkriptions is now intergrated in the CorrespSearch interface.

Correspondance: Ivar Kleiven and Kristian Prestgard

The letters between Ivar Kleiven (1854-1934) and Kristian Prestgard (1866-1946) have also been added to the NorKorr corpus and metadata is now searchable at correspsearch.net.

The  Norwegian politician, historian and poet Ivar Kleiven (1854-1934) from Vågå and the journalist Kristian Prestgard (1866-1946) from Heidal met at Telemark Folkehøgskule in 1885–86. Kleiven lived in Vågå all his live, but Prestgard emigrated, first to Denmark and in 1893 to America. They met only once after Prestgard left, in the summer of 1927, but they wrote to each other – about work, culture, home life, politics and more.

From XML to CMIF

The aim of the NorKorr project is to aggregate and provide correspondence metadata from Norwegian editions of correspondences from different projects, institutions and collections in a format that can be ingested by CorrespSearch.

So far we have included metadata from 12 digital editions (approximately 400 letters) in CorrespSearch . Among them are letters from National Library in Norway’s source edition series NB kilder and letters from other e-books published at bokselskap.no.

All of the letters are encoded in TEI P5 XML. To get the letters registered and integrated into the CorrespSearch web service we create a CMIF file based on the metadata already recorded in the correspDesc element in our XML files. The CMI format used by CorrespSearch is developed by the TEI Correspondence SIG and is a reduced subset of the TEI Guidelines and the TEI element correspDesc.

Digital edition, bokselskap.no
Example from the CMIF file
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