Works, Documents, Texts
and Related Resources for
Institute for Textual Scholarship, University of
Centre for Textual Studies, De Montfort
A common trope in discussions of scholarly
editions in digital form is to praise, on the one
hand, the extraordinary potential of electronic
editions while, on the other hand, regretting that
so few actual electronic editions come anywhere
near realizing this potential (Robinson 2005).
The potential is well-known: an explicit hyper-
textual structure, publication in a distributed
network environment, escape from the storage
limit of the printed medium and possession of
multiple layout possibilities (such as normalized
and diplomatic transcriptions juxtaposed to
The difficulties are also well-known: among
them, the need for a formal, comprehensive
and efficient encoding scheme to underpin
scholarly editions in electronic form. The
Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines provided
a crucial element, by supplying namings,
specifications and structure for key components
of electronic editions: thus the specialized
lower-level elements for manuscript description
and critical apparatus, along with higher-level
elements such as msDescription and facsimile.
However, the TEI does not address two areas,
crucial for the full encoding of scholarly editions
in electronic form:
The naming of components of the editions:
thus, of the works edited and their parts; the
source manuscripts or print documents and
their parts which carry the texts of the work
The relationships between the components:
thus, between the documents, the texts they
carry, and the works which those texts
This paper reports on a scheme prepared by
the authors, designed to provide a solution
to the problems proposed in both areas.
The provision of a shared epistemological
framework for handling works, texts and
text sources (cf. Buzetti 2009) will also
facilitate the shift from stand alone publishing
frameworks to shared distributed on-line
environments, enabled by powerful and flexible
Virtual Research Environments (Fraser 2005,
Dunn et al. 2008).
This framework will advance interoperability,
long a problem area in electronic texts.
Interoperability has been defined by IEEE
as “The ability of two or more systems or
components to exchange information and to use
the information that has been exchanged”.
recent briefing paper by Gradmann identifies
four different levels of interoperability, one built
on the top of the other. From the bottom these
levels are technical/basic, syntactic, functional
and semantic. While technologies such as TCP/
IP, HTTP and XML already provide sound basis
for interoperability at the lower levels, much
work is still to be done at the top levels. The
semantic frame for interoperability offered by
this scheme speaks to this need.
Semantic issues in networked publication
systems are advanced by the work done in the
last years on the ‘Semantic Web’ (Berners-Lee
et al. 2001), which has recently evolved into
the Linked Data initiative (Berners-Lee 2006).
The Semantic Web seems to have survived its
own hype, having finally entered the plateau of
productivity phase, as happened for XML some
years ago. The ontological level of the Semantic
Web stack, represented by the OWL language,
has presented a steep learning curve, due partly
to its roots in Description Logic and First-Order
Logic (Gruber 1993), but also presents at the
same time the greatest potential.
The relationship between textual scholarship
in its electronic dimension and ontologies
has not hitherto been much apparent, as
textual scholars using digital methods have
focussed rather on the related, but separated
field of Library and Information Science
(Vickery 1997). However, ontologies have much
to offer the textual editing enterprise. Both
‘recensio’ and the construction of a stemmatic
graph are implicit formalizations that would
benefit from the adoption of an explicit
modelling. Moreover, both Sperberg-McQueen
and Peter Shillingsburg implicitly hints at the
potentialities of an ontological approach in
scholarly editions, the former when writing
about the “infinite set of facts related to the
work being edited” (Sperberg-McQueen 2002)
and the latter about “electronic knowledge
sites” (Shillingsburg 2006).
In the world of digital humanities and electronic
editions proficient uses of ontologies have
already appeared, such as the Discovery
projects, also leveraging existing
standards from related sectors such as IFLA’s
(Mimno 2005) or the cultural heritage
(Ore et al. 2009).
Substantial work is now being done on
implementing an actual interchange and
interoperability framework for electronic
editions, and arbitrary portions of them, of
the kind, in (for example) the COST Action
A first proposal by Peter Robinson
(Robinson 2009) was based on the Kahn/
Wilensky Architecture (Kahn et al. 1995),
having therefore a naming authority together
with a series of key/value pairs identifying
portions of an electronic text, which therefore
could be exchanged over the net thanks to
a protocol such as the one established by
the OAI-PMH standard.
This addressed the
first need stated above, for agreed conventions
on naming. The second need, for formal
expression of relationships, is addressed by
the adoption of the Linked Data paradigm.
While keeping the use of the Kahn/Wilensky
Architecture for the labelling system, and
using a URN-like syntax compatible with
the Semantic Web requirements, an ontology
representing the entities involved together with
their relationships has been developed.
The main entities of this ontology are:
‘Work’: Canterbury Tales, and ‘WorkPart’, the
first line of the Canterbury Tales;
‘Document’, the Hengwrt or the Ellesmere
manuscripts, and ‘DocumentPart’, a page,
folio or quire, which might carry an instance
of the ‘Work’
‘Text’: a single instance of a work, or work
part, in a document or document part. Thus:
'The Canterbury Tales'
as it appears in the
, the Hengwrt
The three-fold distinction between ‘Work’,
‘Document and ‘Text’ reflects the fundamental
scholarly distinction between the ‘Work’,
independent of its realization in any object;
the ‘Document’ which might carry an instance
of the ‘Work’; and the ‘Text’: the instance of
the work in the document. Digital resources
such as ‘Image’ or ‘Transcript’ are related to
‘Text’ and ‘Document’ and their parts, using
relationship such a ‘hasImage’, ‘isTranscriptOf’,
or ‘transcribedFrom’. Basic properties such as
“isPartOf” or other properties from existing
vocabularies, such as Dublin Core,
been used, so to guarantee compatibility with
other schemes in the best possible way. The
resulting RDF can be stored in a triplestore and
made available on the web, so to allow further
uses from third parties without the need to
establish exclusive protocol verbs.
This paper will present the methodological
thinking behind the development of this
ontology for the interchange of electronic
editions of literary texts, starting from the first
proposal until the more recent developments.
The ontology will be contextualized with the
existing related standards, particularly FRBR,
CIDOC-CRM and the recent OAI-ORE
gross-grained vocabulary for the reuse and
exchange of digital objects developed by
the Open Access Initiative) and with the
similar initiative of the Canonical Text Service
which recently also added
an ontological dimension to its basic syntax
(Romanello et al. 2009).
Berners-Lee, T., Hendler, J., Lassila, O.
(2001). 'The Semantic Web'.
(2009). 'Digital Editions and Text
Text Editing, Print and the Digital
Deegan, M., Sutherland, K. (eds.).
Ashgate, pp. 45-61.
Dunn, S., Blanke, T.
(2008). 'Next Steps for
E-Science, the Textual Humanities and Vres'.
(2005). 'Virtual Research
Environments: Overview and Activity'.
INTEROPERABILITY. A key
concept for large scale, persistent digital
(1993). 'A translation approach
to portable ontology specifications'.
Kahn, R., Wilensky R.
Framework for Distributed Digital Object
Mimno, D., Crane G., Jones, A.
'Hierarchical Catalog Records: Implementing a
Ore, C., Eide, Ø.
(2009). 'TEI and cultural
heritage ontologies: Exchange of information?'.
Literary and Linguistic Computing.
(2005). 'Current Issues in
Making Digital Editions of Medieval Texts—
or, Do Electronic Scholarly Editions Have a
(2009). 'Electronic Editions for
Text and Genre in Reconstruction.
McCarty. W. (ed.). Cambridge: Open Book
Publishing, pp. 183-201.
Romanello, M., Berti, M., Boschetti,
F., Babeu A., Crane G.
Rethinking Critical Editions of Fragmentary
Texts by Ontologies.
Sperberg-McQueen, C. M.
How to Teach Your Edition How to
From Gutenberg to
Google: Electronic Representations of Literary
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Vickery, B. C.
Such as the European initiative DARIAH <
Which constitutes also the basis for the Handle system
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Hosted at King's College London
London, England, United Kingdom
July 7, 2010 - July 10, 2010
142 works by 295 authors indexed
XML available from https://github.com/elliewix/DHAnalysis (still needs to be added)
Conference website: http://dh2010.cch.kcl.ac.uk/
Series: ADHO (5)