I margini del libro ("The Margins of the Book") is an international project to explore and catalogue dedication texts in the Italian tradition (2002-2006 supported by the SNSF and in collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences Kaiserslautern, Germany). The Electronic Archive of the Italian Dedication (AIDI), accessible online since July 2004, provides all interested parties with a continuously growing corpus of dedications in order to understand their conventions and functional strategies. The application of new technologies allows the direct use - in a kind of virtual reference library - of documents that are otherwise not always easily accessible. By bringing together scattered and little-known materials, the archive enables a broad historical and formal investigation of this genre. For each dedication, a photographic reproduction of the original edition, a transcription that can be queried in full text and a summary description can be accessed. A range of important information is divided into homogeneous groups and can be searched using an electronic search system that provides various search criteria that can be freely combined.
The central challenge in setting up the AIDI database was to process texts, which by their nature can never be fully formalised, with a view to structured data entry and retrieval: In this sense, the researchers are encouraged to strongly abstract and model the textual object, which in turn has important theoretical consequences, combined with the use of new technologies in the field of literary studies. AIDI is linked to a website (www.margini.unibas.ch) which compiles other study materials and tools on the subject: a specific bibliography, a glossary, a gallery, a calendar of events and a journal ("Margini. Giornale della dedica e altro"; multilingual and not limited to Italian works).
AIDI is also used in teaching. Students learn literary methods and skills through their practical application by participating independently and actively in a research project: both as users, who benefit from the didactically prepared materials available online and from consulting the texts entered, and as staff members, who contribute directly to the continuous development of AIDI through the tutorially guided preparation of dedication texts (blended learning). The developed system offers students the possibility to learn online exploratively, self-directed and actively, as well as to participate productively in the project by entering new dedication texts.