1. Definition of Edition
Editing is a 2000 year-old activity which purpose is to transmit correctly a message and make it available to the public. Textual transmission is thus an act of communication : the message pass from a sender to a reciever through channels (scroll, codex, ...). However, between the source and destination, the message suffers a loss of precision due to noises such as the writing system or writing conventions, pronunciation, mistakes. Textual variance was discovered at the Library of Alexandria. How to avoid mistakes ? What is correct ?
Document and Text
A document is a physical object containing information. It can be transported, but not transmitted.
Text can be defined as a linguistic architecture that convey meaning and can be understood by someone. Text is immaterial and transmittable, in this way very similar to music. A text also possesses multiple dimensions : linguitics, semantics, style, etc.
Both text and document are complementary, like yin and yang, and the medium of transmission influences how we receive the message1.
So, is digital edition a new medium ? A new method ? Or a new discipline ?
2. Publication : digital and/or print
How we edit, publish and read has changed. Before, books were the only medium for editions, now we also find digital or dual editions (digital and print).
Here are a few issues arising from digital editions, with practical examples.
Edition is a mean of conservation for the inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania or the frail Jane Austen manuscripts. But is digital safe ? Should we print those editions ?
Digital editions offer the possibility to correct mistakes. The Henry III Fine Rolls Project is a dual edition, but the digital one is more up-to-date than the print one.
Are scholarly edition to read or to use ? In some case the edition is designed as a tool for research, for example the Codex Sinaiticus or the Van Gogh Letters editions. Other editions are meant to be read : for instance the iPad apps from Touch Press containing edition, notes and recorded readings of T. S Eliot's poem « The Waste Land » and Shakespeare's Sonnets. There is a growing market for digital editions on kindle or iPad, but especially in the US. The question is : what do readers really want ? According to Porter's 2013 survey, printed books are still favoured over digital editions among medievalists.
3. Preparing a digital edition
Editing, in xml, word and even in print, is actually encoding an interpretation of the text.
There is two approaches to preparing a digital edition :
- The computer is a « magic box » : it does everything, but the editor doesn't understand how it works.
- The editor is the encoder. In this case the difficulty lies in learning not only editing principles but also the digital components such as html, css, xml, etc.
The Text Encoding Initiative
« The Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) is a consortium which collectively develops and maintains a standard for the representation of texts in digital form ». The TEI Guidelines define an xml format allowing to embed markup in a text and encode semantic aspects.
The advantages are various : keeping the complexity of the text, quality control, a maximum flexibility. This flexibility unfortunately makes it difficult to build tools adapted to TEI documents.
Non-linearity representation is a challenge for the TEI, based on the OHCO model. A book is composed of chapters divided in paragraphs, divided in sentence, and so on, like a Russian doll ! It is a highly simplified model of text which doesn't take into account the reality of multidimensions. This is why in the new TEI of 2011, it will be possible to encode the text and/or the document with a set of tags (surface, zone, line) and coordinates to link them on the page.
4. Social Edition
Social editions are based on crowdsourcing, for instance the Transcribe Bentham or the Devonshire Manuscript projects. The Devonshire Manuscript is a wikibook that anyone can edit, but what is the authoritativeness of such an edition ? On the other hand, Bentham's transcriptions are verified by an expert, but the « crowd » is limited since 16 motivated people only were the main contributors. Ancient Lives14 is another example of crowdsourcing transcription. The public is asked to decipher greek papyri and transcribe the fragments letter by letter.
Digital documentary edition are very successful because of the computer's representation ability. It can be interactive (with the possibility to browse the manuscript) and thus more fun, attracting a broader audience. The Homer Multitext Project15, Nietzsche Source16 or the Proust Prototype17 are good examples.
Gamification is a good way to engage the public ! Gamification can be induced through competition as in the Bentham project. The more you contribute, the more points you receive.
In conclusion, to the question « is digital edition a new medium, method or discipline ? », the answer is not clear yet ! However, digital editions certainly change the way we think of our work, how and why we do it.
A List of Digital Editions
Inscriptions of Roman Tripolitania
Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts
Henry III Fine Rolls Project
Van Gogh Letters
The Sonnets by W. Shakespeare (TouchPress App)
The Waste Land for iPad (TouchPress App)
The Devonshire Manuscript
Homer Multitext Project
Les manuscrits de Madame Bovary