Electronic Scholarly Editions – Kenneth Price

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“Mere digitizing produces information; in contrast, scholarly editing produces knowledge.”

This quote sums up Price’s entire article. He is arguing that the mere digitization of texts allows us to see the text similarly to the way it would be presented to us in print form; electronic scholarly editions however allow us to engage in closer reading with the text by providing the reader access to much more than just the final product.

Price, in the article “Electronic Scholarly Editions”, states that the reason people are making electronic scholarly editions is due to their capaciousness. There is no longer a limit to what a scholar can “fit on a page or afford to produce within the economics of print publishing”.

With sufficient resources, a group of scholars has the ability to create an edition of immense quality with multiple layers of information; an edition that reveals much more than just the final product. The ability to include the material scholars worked from in order to create the edition is something I find extremely interesting. The reader/audience is not only introduced to the final piece of text/the finished work but rather can experience what went into the creation of that work as scholars can include audio and video clips, high-quality colour reproductions of art works, and interactive maps.The electronic scholarly edition thus seems to be a gateway into a new world of textual experience.

One has the ability to completely immerse themselves in the text and perhaps even the thought-process of the author/poet if multiple editions are available to view side-by-side. It is not surprising then that electronic editions have deepened interest in the nature of textuality itself.

Price states that a great deal of twentieth-century editing, and many centuries before, was based solely on finding an authoritative text based on “final intentions”. However, there tends to be numerous versions of particular texts. It’s quite astonishing that with new developments in electronic editing we may have to ability to view all versions of certain texts, specifically those deemed valuable. Price emphasises the ability of authors to take complete ownership of their work in that they have the ability to edit their piece, add in their thought-process and highlight the changes made and subsequently why they were made.

However, one must also question whether the purity of an edition can be spoiled if there are no restrictions and no limitations on the amount of changes that can be made to that particular edition. If something can be altered indefinitely then does it eventually lose all of its original quality?

Price highlights that electronic scholarly edition is an enterprise that relies heavily on the collaboration of many people. Significant digital projects cannot be undertaken alone and editors, he states, now have to deal with more issues than they would have previously with print. Collaboration with technical experts is necessary in this field of work as knowledge of technical issues is required to make collaboration successful. Electronic editing thus can be a daunting task but it is also a field of neverending possibility.

Price also suggests that because software and hardware are constantly changing and advancing, it is important that electronic scholarly editions adhere to international standards. Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), he explains, will eventually be XML only. XML, or extensible markup language, is often referred to as the “acid-free paper of the digital age”. This is due to the fact that it is platform-independent and not protected by trademark or patent or copyright is has the ability to meet the demands of long-term electronic preservation.

XML allows editors to determine which part of the text is important or of major interest by tagging or labelling the specific area of text with something known as a markup. XML allows for flexibility. In the case of the Walt Whitman Archive structural features of the manuscript are tagged. For example where there line breaks, stanzas and even where Whitman himself had made revisions to the text.

Thus, the electronic scholarly edition allows one to engage with the text in a way that is unavailable in print. It is no longer only what is on the surface that is deemed important but also what lies beneath the surface.

Price argues that traditional boundaries are blurring before our eyes and now publishers, librarians and scholars increasingly take on overlapping functions. While some may see this as negative, Price highlights that it allows extensive room for creativity. People from different areas of work can provide their own interpretation of texts, sometimes varying significantly from one another.

The electronic scholarly edition is contributing to the democratisation of learning; people worldwide with a web browser now have access to an extensive range of material that was once hidden away. We now have an extremely large library available at our finger tips-something I believe we should take advantage of and appreciate immensely.

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