Modelling a Web Based Editing Environment for Critical Editions

poster / demo / art installation
  1. 1. Eleonora Litta Modignani Picozzi

    Department of Digital Humanities - King's College London

  2. 2. Geoffroy Noël

    Department of Digital Humanities - King's College London

  3. 3. Elena Pierazzo

    Department of Digital Humanities - King's College London

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Modelling a Web Based Editing Environment for Critical Editions
Litta Modignani Picozzi, Eleonora, Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London,
Noël, Geoffroy, Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London,
Pierazzo, Elena, Department of Digital Humanities, King’s College London,
Critical editions can be complex objects to digitise both in the output/publication process and in the production.

In most cases, for the output, there is the need to manage facsimiles, a main text (with lots of diacritics, deletions, suppressions, supplied text), an apparatus (with a very dense, conventional notation), footnotes (with cross references and bibliographic references), and conventional markings for page breaks from previous editions and/or manuscripts, in the form of other digitised text or images.

On the production side we have witnesses of the text, forming the direct tradition, in some cases followed by re-elaborations, contemporary or later translations, quotations that form the indirect tradition. This picture is usually completed by previous critical editions, commentaries, and a possibly large set of secondary references from other texts, dictionaries, biographies and prosopographical data.

The present paper will outline an attempt made at the Department for Digital Humanities, King’s College LondonFormerly Centre for Computing in the Humanities. The name has been changed in spring 2011. to produce a model for new editions and translations of all English legal codes, edicts, and treatises produced up to the time of Magna Carta, 1215.

This particular project, called Early English LawsEarly English Laws is currently in the early development stage and the first release of the resource can be found at, where a list of texts to be encoded has been made available. Funding for the project will be available only for an initial period of three years, during which an interface for the functioning of the whole repository will need to be made available together with a full image database and a number of recently published and new editions. Completion is expected to take ten years, during which several scholars from around the world will volunteer to edit a list of available laws and input their work directly into a web-based interface. This should ideally allow for a minimal amount of reworking by one or two people volunteering to review submissions., presents a situation which is even more complex with respect to what has been outlined above. This is because of two characteristics typical of legal texts:

All the witnesses of a tradition were effective binding laws in a specific place and time, including the mistakes added in the production of the manuscript copy.
Laws were constantly re-elaborated to become new laws and each of these stages of elaboration represents a fully effective law.
This means that the legal text is regularly transmitted in a number of versions, witnesses of both the direct and the indirect tradition.

As a result, each law can be represented as a universe of texts and images that relate to each other: this universe can be exemplified in the figure below, a diagrammatic representation of the so-called Treaty of Edward and Guthrum and its relations, one of which includes an Old English translation which has its own universe of relations (see figure 1)

Figure 1

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The development of the project presents a series of problems, for which a series of solutions are being tested and implemented. The Early English Laws project represents a case study of a more general issue, namely how to model critical edition from a conceptual point of view.

The main concern until now has been the need to create a conceptual model for the editions in order to identify the best structure to support the variety of content offered by the project. The difficulty here lies in trying to apply the philological terminology and needs to the level of conceptual discrimination required by the normalisation process involved in the design of a relational database schema that can be able to connect related law codes. For instance the term 'text' is extremely ambiguous as it actually implicitly conveys different concepts such as a work, an edition, a version, a transcription or a translation (Carlyle, 2006).

Failing to identify and address this issue would inevitably lead to a poor organisation of data. This, in turn, would confuse the editorial work and also generate inconsistencies, which will cause problems when developing the editorial environment and web site.

The solution to this problem is identifying each component of the text/image universe as entities, their properties and interrelationships can help to disambiguate concepts through the systematic analysis of the sample material. Borrowing elements from the FRBR model is also proving to be very useful in our attempt to discover and separate off hidden conceptual layers in our first version of the data model. The Entity-Relationship representation of the overall data model and the formal and careful definition of problematic concepts provides a shared vocabulary which helps the members of the project team to communicate with precision about the subject domain, whether they are from a programming or indeed from a solely humanistic background (Pierazzo, 2010). Moreover this conceptual data model serves as a basis for the transformation into a database schema, which will support the entire set of resources.

Given the variety of content involved in this project, this transformation into a database will be challenging as well. Indeed, the information captured by this project can be divided in two categories depending the format of its representation (see figure 2).

Figure 2

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The entities identified during the modelling process, their properties and the relationships among those entities. These are ideally stored in a relational database. The relational database is also very advantageous for the storage, editing, indexing and referencing of authority lists.
All the information found in the text of the manuscript transcriptions or the peripheral textual information such as the critical apparatus, the introduction text for the manuscript, the comments. The best format for this type of information is XML with conformance to the TEI guidelines.
The main challenge here is how can we harmoniously combine the two very different types of information within the same database management system, especially when we consider how deeply interrelated they are (e.g. an inline reference from one text to another or to an authority list will consist in inserting a primary key of relational tuples within an attribute of a TEI element).

To solve this, we are intending to exploit the XML-oriented facilities offered by recent relational database management systems to keep all the information centralised and linked up despite being hybrid in nature. Substantial custom development to the editing framework (possibly Django) is also expected in order to allow the user interface to acknowledge and seamlessly integrate the two types of data.

TEI Consortium TEI P5:, Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange, 1.7.0 (link)

Carlyle, Allyson 2006 “Understanding FRBR as a conceptual model: FRBR and the bibliographic universe, ” Library Resources & Technical Services, 50 (4) 264-273

Danskin, Alan & Chapman, Ann 2003 “Bibliographic records in the computer age, ” Library & Information Update, 2 (9) 42-43

1903–1916 “Peace of Edward and Guthrum, ” Die Gesetze der Angelsachsen, Liebermann, Felix 128–134

Pierazzo, Elena 2010 “Editorial Teamwork in a Digital Environment, ” Jahrbuch für Computerphilologie, 10 (link)

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2011
"Big Tent Digital Humanities"

Hosted at Stanford University

Stanford, California, United States

June 19, 2011 - June 22, 2011

151 works by 361 authors indexed

XML available from (still needs to be added)

Conference website:

Series: ADHO (6)

Organizers: ADHO

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None