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Paper: Opening the Gates: A New Model for Edition Production in a Time of Collaboration

Timney, Meagan, Electronic Textual Cultures Laboratory University of Victoria, mbtimney.etcl@gmail.com

Leitch, Cara, Electronic Textual Cultures Laboratory University of Victoria, cmleitch@gmail.com

Siemens, Ray, Electronic Textual Cultures Laboratory University of Victoria, siemens@uvic.ca


In the very early days of the world wide web, but well into a period in which our community understand the positive and transformative impact that computational technique has had on scholarly editing, Fortier reminded us that literary studies is and always has been focused on the study of texts regardless of interpretive theoretical predisposition. In digital literary studies, that textual focus manifests in a number of theories about the nature of the text in general and the electronic scholarly edition in particular, and has developed such that a basic typology of electronic scholarly editions is relatively straightforward to construct via the approach taken in handling textual materials. Well into what is often called the age of Web 2.0, it is worth noting that prominent types of electronic scholarly editions were largely developed before the ubiquity of the world wide web that we now enjoy and do not accurately reflect its current academic engagement. Indeed, given that we have now entered a new phase in the social formation of the web, we can no longer ignore the influence of new networks and connections on the scholarly digital edition. Our understanding of the electronic scholarly edition requires reconsideration in light of the collaborative potential of current and emerging digital technologies; put another way, we need to extend our typology in light of new models of edition production that embrace social networking and its commensurate toolkit. We propose that, while the digital medium is most certainly a productive space in which to analyse editions (as proposed by Hans Walter Gabler), the social incarnation of the digital edition allows us to refocus our systematic analysis of texts, thus furthering the reconfiguration of the hierarchy for reading both texts and editions.

This working paper offers a new understanding of the historical underpinnings of the scholarly and digital editions, and envisions the possibilities of the scholarly social edition. It is generally accepted that there are several basic models for electronic editions of a scholarly nature, each put forward before the advent of the world wide web -- each demonstrating disparity within and among approaches in handling the text that lies at their centre. Using Unsworth’s scholarly primitives as a model for describing the set of activities common to humanities scholars, we have developed a functional definition for the strategies employed by expert readers: Analysis, Synthesis, Communication, and Dissemination. New methods of engagement are both social in nature and reflect the interrelated nature of these strategies: analysis and synthesis grow from communication that, in turn, affects dissemination, and so forth. Based on recent research concerning the reading strategies of expert or professional readers, and the current state of digital humanities scholarship, the next step in the development of the scholarly edition is one that reflects the importance of collaboration, incorporates contributions by its readers, and where the editor acts as a facilitator for user involvement rather than enjoying an unassailable final word. Our model of the social edition points to new methods of engagement in digital literary studies. The social edition embraces the collective (but without losing sight of the individual) and accepts that no edition is ever truly complete.

Despite Stephen Nichols’s call to ‘dismantle the silo model of digital scholarship,’ many digital editions, like print editions, continue to exist as self-contained units that do not encourage interaction with other resources. Instead we would argue that the social edition grows from Greg Crane‘s exhortation: ‘[w]e need to shift from lone editorials and monumental editions to editors as … editors, who coordinate contributions from many sources and oversee living editions.’ The movement toward social edition production has already begun, with projects such as EEBO interactions, ‘a social networking resource for Early English Books Online’ ( (link) ) and George Mason University’s ‘Crowdsourcing Documentary Transcription: an Open Source Tool,’ ( (link) ) which is described as ‘an open source tool that would allow scholars to contribute document transcriptions and research notes to digital archival projects, using the Papers of the War Department as a test case.’ These projects, among others, point to a growing need in the scholarly community to expand our knowledge communities using the social technologies at our disposal. With the understanding that we cannot prophesize the exact nature of the social edition at this current juncture, we do, however, wish to reiterate the importance of seeing the scholarly text as a process, and the initial, primary editor as a facilitator, rather than progenitor, of knowledge creation.

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