Cutting the Gordian Knot: Sustaining Digital Scholarly Editions

paper, specified "short paper"
  1. 1. Laura C Mandell

    Texas A&M University

  2. 2. Bryan Tarpley

    Texas A&M University

  3. 3. Susan Brown

    University of Guelph

  4. 4. Nicholas Laiacona

    Performant Software Solutions LLC

  5. 5. Shawn Moore

    Florida SouthWestern State College

  6. 6. Lynda Pratt

    University of Nottingham

Work text
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Recent work on digital scholarly editions by Elena Pierazzo (2011, 2016), Hugh Cayless (2010), and Joris van Zundert and Peter Boot (2012) describe the complex array of choices confronting editors of digital scholarly editions who wish to preserve their work beyond the life of current platforms, tools, and even standards. Here we describe a preservation model developed by the ARCScholar Digital Publishing Cooperative during tenure of a planning grant (February 2018-January 2019) awarded to Texas A&M by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Digital preservation is really two-pronged: libraries are working on the technological infrastructure, in the broadest sense, for maintaining assets (National Digital Stewardship Alliance, 2014), while creators and publishers of digital editions must use established standards in order to prepare the content so that it can be accessed and used via this infrastructure. ARCScholar is doing the latter.
The Advanced Research Consortium or ARC ( consists of a community of scholars that began to approach digital aggregation in 2003. In that year, Jerome McGann organized a steering committee to launch his Mellon-funded project, NINES, or the Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-century Electronic Scholarship ( NINES served as a model for launching — focused on the preceding century — and the Mellon-funded MESA community, the Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance ( This group of field-specific scholarly communities and online-finding aids needed to create an overarching organization that would make available for other groups the technical model spearheaded by NINES, provide infrastructure and programming support, and negotiate on behalf of all the groups with vendors that might contribute data. ARC is that organization.
ARCScholar, a subsidiary of ARC, is a digital edition publishing cooperative focused on helping publishers of digital editions, both large, institutionally backed publishers and scholar who have published their digital editions on the Internet without institutional support (peer-review, sustainability plans). Our goal is to make those digital editions interoperable and preservable in the most findable way possible, which is in keeping with the mission of ARC.
During our planning grant, we created a process for preserving digital editions in university libraries’ digital asset management systems. The model has been developed at Texas A&M which has a Fedora 4 repository. We are creating a preservation model based upon on one edition, the Digital Donne Variorum.
The Variorum Edition of the Poetry of John Donne, edited by Gary Stringer, won a prize from the Modern Language Association in 2015-2016, and the press release explicitly mentioned the value of Digital Donne (Stringer, 1995). The
Variorum, both print and digital, was created using primarily assets held by the Cushing Memorial Library at Texas A&M University. The Digital Initiatives Group at TAMU-L created a pipeline for ingesting the TEI files of the edition that is stored in their instance of Fedora 4. Next, the metadata librarians are in the process of creating a catalog record of the digital edition that will appear not only in the local library catalog but in other library catalogs that use EBSCO’s Discovery System (EDS). The record will contain a) a link to the current, live digital edition; b) a link to the downloadable TEI file and its schema; and c) a IIIF Manifest of the manuscript page images available on a IIIF server (Figure 1):

Figure 1.
We will be working with Cushing directly so that the IIIF Manifest references the page images digitized by TAMU-L which reside on their IIIF server. This would allow future researchers to access the page images along with TEI transcriptions (saved as “annotations” in the IIIF manifests) so that, once the Digital Donne website no longer exists, users can still access the edition through software such as Mirador (Figure 2):

Figure 2.
Although enabling access to Digital Donne via EDS and eventually WorldCat does make the edition findable outside of its home institution, more is needed. Findability is critical to digital preservation: the more that digital content is accessed, used, and downloaded, the higher the probability of effective preservation. In order to maximize discoverability, access, and use, we also need to go beyond making metadata available. Future researchers may not know that the information they need is connected to authors, titles, dates of specific digital editions. In other words, the information needed in the future may be part of the content of a digital edition that is not exposed by its metadata. Fedora 4 natively exports RDF Triples: Resource Description Framework statements about the object which render the digital edition findable via the semantic web. However, the triples automatically generated by Fedora 4 reveal metadata only. We are setting up a SPARQL endpoint for ARCScholar that allows depositing much more detailed RDF, exposing the content of the edition as well as its metadata. For instance, in the case of
The Collected Letters of Robert Southey, published by Romantic Circles (Pratt, et al., 2009), we would like future generations of scholars to be able to find letters that British Poet Laureate Robert Southey wrote to Humphrey Davy a scientist, creator of the Pneumatic Institute, and developer of electricity. Beyond the life of any particular platform, the research embedded in scholarly editing would then be preserved for and discoverable by future generations.

Cayless, H. (2010).
Ktêma es aiei: Digital permanence from an ancient perspective. In Gabriel Bodard, G. and Mahony, S. (eds),
Digital Research in the Study of Classical Antiquity. Aldershot: Ashgate Press, pp. 139-50.

National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA). (2014).
National Agenda for Digital Stewardship, (ccessed 9 May 2019).

Pierazzo, E. (2016).
Digital Scholarly Editing: Theories, Models and Methods. New York: Routledge Press.

---. (2011). A rationale of digital documentary editions.
Literary and Linguistic Computing: 26.4. doi:10.1093/llc/fqr033

Pratt, L., et al. (eds). (2009 to present).
The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. (accessed 9 May 2019).

Stringer, G. (ed). (1995 to present). Digital Donne. (accessed 9 May 2019).
Van Zundert, J. and Boot, P. (2012). The digital edition 2.0 and the digital library: services not resources.
Bibliothek and Wissenschaft 44: 141-52.

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Conference Info

In review

ADHO - 2019

Hosted at Utrecht University

Utrecht, Netherlands

July 9, 2019 - July 12, 2019

436 works by 1162 authors indexed

Series: ADHO (14)

Organizers: ADHO