Editio ex machina - Digital Scholarly Editions out of the Box

  1. 1. Alexander Czmiel

    Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften (BBAW) (Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities)

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the most part, digital scholarly editions have been
historically grown constructs. In most cases, they are oriented
toward print editions, especially if they are retro-digitized. But
even “digital-born” editions often follow the same conventions
as printed books. A further problem is that editors start to
work on a scholarly edition without enough previous in-depth
analysis about how to structure information for electronic
research. In the course of editing and the collection of data, the
requirements and wishes of how the edited texts should be
presented frequently changes, especially when the editor does
not have a chance to “see” the edition before it is complete.
Usually all the data is collected, the text is edited and the last
step is to think about the different presentation formats.
One of the fi rst steps in the production of a digital scholarly
edition should be to analyze what kind of information might
be of interest to a broad audience, and how this should
be structured so that it can be searched and displayed
appropriately. The crucial point in the process of designing the
data structure should be that different scholars have different
intellectual requirements from resources. They are not always
happy with how editors organize scholarly editions.
Michael Sperberg-McQueen demanded in 1994, “Electronic
scholarly editions should be accessible to the broadest
audience possible.”[1] However, current scholarly editions are
produced for a certain audience with very specialized research
interests. The great potential of a digital scholarly edition is
that it can be designed fl exibly enough to meet the demands
of people with many different viewpoints and interests. So why
not let the audience make the decision as to which information
is relevant and which is not? Some information might be of
more interest, other information of less interest or could be
entirely ignorable.
Imagine a critical scholarly edition about medicine in ancient
Greece provided by editors with a philological background.
A philologist has different needs relating to this edition than,
e.g., a medical historian, who might not be able to read Greek
and might be only interested in reading about ancient medical
practices. Who knows what kinds of annotations within the
text are of interest for the recipients?
The digital world provides us with many possibilities to
improve scholarly editions, such as almost unlimited space to
give complete information, more fl exibility in organizing and
presenting information, querying information, instant feedback
and a range of other features.
We have to think about how we can use these benefi ts to
establish a (perhaps formalized) workfl ow to give scholars
the chance to validate their work while it is in progress and
to present their work in progress in an appropriate way for
discussion within a community. This would not just validate
the technical form of the work, but also improve the quality of
the content, often due to ongoing feedback, and improve the
intellectual benefi ts.
On the other hand, digital editions should be brought online
in an easy way without weeks of planning and months of
developing software that may fi t the basic needs of the editors
but in most cases is just re-inventing the wheel. If needed,
digitized images should be included easily and must be citeable.
As it might be about work in progress, all stages of work must
be saved and documented. Therefore, a versioning system is
needed that allows referencing of all work steps.
Finally, it is necessary that the scholar is able to check his or
her work viewed in various media by the click of a button - for
example, how the edition looks like on screen or printed, or
even with different layouts or website designs.
What is the potential of such a system? It offers an easy way
to present the current state of a work in progress. Scholars
can check their work at any time. But this is not useful without
modifi cations for the special needs of certain digital editions
and special navigation issues. Nevertheless, it can be used as
base system extensible by own scripts, which implement the
needs of a concrete project.
And last but not least, such a system should offer the possibility
of re-using data that is based on the same standard for other
projects. This is especially true for more formalized data, such
as biographical or bibliographical information, which could be
used across different projects that concern the same issue or
the same period.
This paper will give a practical example of what an architecture
that follows the aforementioned demands would look like.
This architecture gives scholars the possibility of producing
a scholarly edition using open standards. The texts can be
encoded directly in XML or using WYSIWYG-like methods,
such as possible with the oXygen XML editor or WORD XML
The “Scalable Architecture for Digital Editions” (SADE)
developed at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences
and Humanities is a modular and freely scalable system that
can be adapted by different projects that follow the guidelines
of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI)[2] or easily use other XML
standards as input formats. Using the TEI is more convenient,
as less work in the modifi cation of the existing XQuery and
XSLT scripts needs to be done. Scalability of SADE relates to the server side as well as to
the browser side. Browser-side scalability is equivalent to the
users’ needs or research interests. The user is able to arrange
the information output as he or she likes. Information can be
switched on or off. The technological base for this functionality
is AJAX or the so-called Web 2.0 technologies.
Server-side scalability is everything that has to do with
querying the database and transforming the query results into
HTML or PDF. As eXist[3], the database we use, is a native
XML database, the whole work can be done by XML-related
technologies such as XQuery and XSLT. These scripts can be
adapted with less effort to most projects’ needs.
For the connection between text and digitized facsimile, SADE
uses Digilib[4], an open-source software tool jointly developed
by the Max-Planck-Insitute for the History of Science, the
University of Bern and others. Digilib is not just a tool for
displaying images, but rather a tool that provides basic image
editing functions and the capability of marking certain points
in the image for citation. The versioning system at the moment
is still a work in progress, but will be available by conference
Documents can be queried in several ways - on the one hand
with a standard full text search in texts written in Latin or
Greek letters, and on the other hand by using a more complex
interface to query structured elements, such as paragraphs,
names, places, the apparatus, etc. These query options are
provided by SADE. Furthermore, all XML documents are
available not rendered in raw XML format, and so can be
integrated in different projects rendered in a different way.
SADE could be the next step in improving the acceptance of
digital editions. Texts are accessible in several ways. The editor
decisions are transparent and comprehensible at every stage
of work, which is most important for the intellectual integrity
of a scholarly edition. The digitized facsimiles can be referenced
and therefore be discussed scientifi cally. The database back end
is easy to handle and easy to adapt to most projects’ needs.
A working example, which is work in progress and extended
continually, is the website of the “Corpus Medicorum
Graecorum / Latinorum”[5] long term academy project at the
Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities[6].
This website exemplifi es how a recipient can organize which
information is relevant for his or her information retrieval.
Other examples can be found at http://pom.bbaw.de.
[1] Cited in http://www.iath.virginia.edu/~jmu2m/mla-cse.2002.html
[2] http://www.tei-c.org/index.xml
[3] http://www.exist-db.org/
[4] http://digilib.berlios.de/
[5] http://pom.bbaw.de/cmg/
[6] http://www.bbaw.de/
Burnard, L.; Bauman, S. (ed.) (2007): TEI P5: Guidelines for
Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange. <http://www.tei-c.org/
Buzzetti, Dino; McGann, Jerome (2005): Critical Editing in
a Digital Horizon. In: John Unsworth, Katharine O’Brien
O’Keeffe u. Lou Burnard (Hg.): Electronic Textual Editing. 37–50.
Czmiel, A.; Fritze, C.; Neumann, G. (2007): Mehr XML – Die
digitalen Projekte an der Berlin-Brandenburgischen Akademie
der Wissenschaften. In: Jahrbuch für Computerphilologie -online,
101-125. <http://computerphilologie.tu-darmstadt.de/jg06/
Dahlström, Mats (2004): How Reproductive is a Scholarly
Edition? In: Literary and Linguistic Computing 19/1, S. 17–33.
Robinson, Peter (2002): What is a Critical Digital Edition? In:
Variants – Journal of the European Society for Textual Scholarship
1, 43–62.
Shillingsburg, Peter L. (1996): Principles for Electronic
Archives, Scholarly Editions, and Tutorials. In: Richard Finneran
(ed.): The Literary Text in the Digital Age. 23–35.

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Conference Info


ADHO - 2008

Hosted at University of Oulu

Oulu, Finland

June 25, 2008 - June 29, 2008

135 works by 231 authors indexed

Conference website: http://www.ekl.oulu.fi/dh2008/

Series: ADHO (3)

Organizers: ADHO

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