A scholarly edition is not a new phenomenon but there has been an increase in scholarly editions that are now developed as digital editions. These editions are now more popular, especially with funding agencies who are more likely to back digital editions rather than print (Jewell 28). Through the digital medium, these editions are available to the public to access them from the comfort of their own homes. However, this ease of access raises some questions. Is the audience aware that what they have accessed is a scholarly edition? Is an online edition held in the same esteem as a print edition from a library? And how can an institution present their work online as a digital scholarly edition?
“The computer is a tool, and tools are facilitators.” (Jewel, 29).
This quote from G. Thomas Tanselle presents the role of the digital medium in scholarly editions. The focus of the scholarly edition is still on the information, the digital is simply used as a way to present the material. While the scholarly methods may be the same, the digital medium has changed the way that audiences use these editions. (Jewel, 33). Andrew Jewel and Peter Robinson have both commented that while there has been great progress made, there is a need for more technological developments to allow scholars to achieve more with their editions. As Tanselle pointed out, the computer and its system are only the tools and it is the edition itself that holds the focus. The style of editing and compiling a digital edition has not changed drastically but these new tools have changed the way they can be used.
In his article about scholarly edition in the digital age, Robinson goes into great detail to discuss the developments in technology which have made these new editions possible. He also presents an individual concept of Textual Communities which would allow several editors from across the globe to work together in a “collaborative editing environment’ (Robinson, 30). But how do all these new developments contribute to a digital scholarly edition? Now that these editions are available on the web, anyone with access to an internet connection can easily access these editions. They now have certain expectations that were not present with a print edition. The technological world is expanding and developing at a fast rate and the public expect everything online to keep up to speed with this. Although they may not understand the workings of XML, DET or RDF like Robinson does, there is a certain expectation that there are little to no limits to what computers can now do (Robinson, 10-29).
So how can these expectations of the public be met? Robinson believes that “computing systems need to respond to the needs of the scholar” (44). Jewel is in agreement that while there has been great development in the area, there are still scholarly challenges that are not being met (34). This begs the question of whether scholars simply must wait for these new technological advancements to be made. But this may cause problems concerning the reputation of the editions they are publishing online. Online research is a still a relatively new phenomenon and academics and student’s alike are wary of using online sources. During my three years as an undergraduate, I reached for books and journals instead of online sources because they seemed more authentic. I was not aware of scholarly editions that could be found online, and I may not have been able to identify what was considered a scholarly edition and not simply a collection of information on a website. This is a challenge for those developing digital scholarly editions. The public need to be made aware that these digital editions are the work of academics and scholars and should be held in the same esteem as print editions in a library or archive.
These challenges, I believe, are what scholars need to focus on and try to overcome. The public need to be made aware of these digital scholarly editions and if possible, they should attempt to acquire the help of cultural and heritage institutions on board to promote their online work. The general public are not all luddites; they are becoming more engaged with online research due to information such as the Irish census records becoming available online for them to access without a visit to the archives. However, it needs to be made clear that the information being presented to them is coming from a credible source. Information about many different topics can be now found online so it is possibly more challenging for academics to present work online where they may be contradicted by someone with an opinion who has nothing credible to back up their views. However, I do believe that people are embracing the digital and are looking to the web for credible information. A space has been made for scholarly editions online and it is growing (Pierazzo, 16).
It must be made clear that while the digital scholarly edition may not have been perfected yet, it is still a huge development in academic writing and editing. There are more opportunities available with a digital edition in comparison to a print edition; the addition of pictures, charts and graphs which are difficult to incorporate into print. While there is definitely a need for more development in technology and computing when it comes to digital scholarly editions, the progress made cannot be overlooked and it can only develop further into the future.
Jewel, Andrew. ‘Digital Editions: Scholarly Tradition in an Avant-Garde Medium’. Documentary Editing, vol. 30, 2008-2009, pp 28-35. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libraryscience/183/. Accessed 6th Nov. 2017.
Pierazzo, Elena. ‘Digital Documentary Editions and the Others’, Scholarly Editing: The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing, vol. 35, 2014. http://scholarlyediting.org/2014/essays/essay.pierazzo.html. Accessed 6th Nov. 2017.
Robinson, Peter. ‘Some principles for making collaborative scholarly editions in digital form’. Digital Scholarly Quarterly, vol. 11, no. 2, 2017. http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/11/2/000293/000293.html. Accessed 6th Nov. 2017.