January 04, 2016 by Amanda Visconti

The future of a thing is a return to its values

I keep pulling the same tool out of my bag this year: does the thing we've built match the values behind why we built it?

  • Must a dissertation have written chapters? (No.) Or is the value of a dissertation that it lets you practice and prove the values and skills your scholarly field needs its members to share, and are there other methods for doing that than writing a proto-monograph? (Easy answer: yes & yes, see my example at Dr.AmandaVisconti.com)
  • Must a digital edition focus on the same methods as a scholarly print edition? Recension, conjecture, work at the word-level (or below) of a text are key methods for many scholarly editors, but work that pushes the field of textual scholarship ahead can also look like a museum exhibit, iPad app, or experimental code: what matters is attention to the core values of textual scholarship, like clearly arguing for your methodology, establishing the authority of your text, etc. (see Section 4: Reimagining Editions in my recent whitepaper for lots more plus real examples!)

Separating original values from how they ended up manifested—and not making the mistake that the final artifact is the same thing as the originating values—has been a productive thought experiment for me this year. (Of course, I don't ignore questions about how those "originating values" came together in the first place, and how they might be altered or replaced for the better...)

Dr. Jennifer Steenshorne just distributed a short survey on the future of scholarly editions via the HUMANIST listserv; you can contribute to the survey yourself here! She writes that the survey is for a round table discussion at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, "Documentary Editors Engage the 21st Century".

Since the survey got me to summarize some thinking about digital editions vs. scholarly digital editions over the past year, I share my answers here as well. All question headings are from Dr. Steenshorne's survey.

"How do you define a digital scholarly edition?"


I think using "scholarly digital edition" (SDE) for something that digitally approximates a scholarly print edition is useful for our community: we want an easy way of calling out when the same (or digital counterparts of) scholarly activities of versioning, recension, word-level decisions, etc. are involved.

Differently, a digital edition* to me is a broader category sitting above the SDE, meaning *any* digital work (site, performance, museum exhibit) that show it values the same values motivating scholarly editing activities as an SDE, but possibly in different and often experimental ways: that is, imagining other means of manifesting textual scholarship's core values (authority, clearly defined and discussed methodology...). Unlike a scholarly digital edition, digital editions are a more open term allowing scholar-creators to experiment with new ways of manifesting these core field values.

"What are the most useful buzz words or concepts (like Big Data) in digital humanities, particularly for scholarly digital editions?"


Public literature, participatory edition/archive, citizen scholars, meaningful crowdsourcing, linked open data, exportable data, web annotation. I'd like to see more room for discussions of textual materiality, screen essentialism, e-lit and artistic design, interface design, user testing and usability, audiences, diversity (what authors get edition projects funded & popular; who makes editions and who gets the credit; the audiences for which editions get made).

"What are the most annoying or overused buzz words or concepts (like Big Data) in digital humanities, particularly for scholarly digital editions?"


(Aside: I like and understand what this question is asking, but I'm a tiny bit uncomfortable with IDing "buzz words", as thinking of something as "buzzwordy" is an easy way to dismiss it instead of at least acknowledge that someone is thinking critically about it, and it probably has a history of critical thought stretching back way before it became popular enough for people not involved in it to randomly hear about it (e.g. I'm a digital humanist, and I've both seen others dismiss DH as a buzzword, and encountered people actually using it as a buzzword "the funders will want to see us include"). I know it's shorthand for "I wish we'd talk about this thing more too/instead if time is limited", but shorthand isn't the most useful thing if it has a high misfire rate for interpretation... so it's something I want to notice and be careful about using myself.)

But things I wish we'd talk about more—and on the flip side, the concepts I think distract from the discussions I wish we were having? I'd like to see more room for discussions of textual materiality, screen essentialism, e-lit and artistic design, interface design, user testing and usability, audiences, diversity (what authors get edition projects funded & popular; who makes editions and who gets the credit; the audiences for which editions get made).

I've moved from TEI/textual markup to work focused on the things I listed above, so sometimes I'm sad when a conversation about digital textual scholarship means a discussion solely focused on markup instead of also including other aspects of textual scholarship, but on the other hand I'm extremely privileged and happy that such strong work on textual encoding exists and continues, and that I feel like I can focus on other aspects of a textual project knowing this area of textual work has both a past and a rich present of strong exploration.

"What are some of the most exciting new scholarly digital edition projects you have seen and why?"


  1. The Shelley-Godwin Archive is doing interesting work in involving editors at different stages of expertise (from students on up) and signaling to users what degree of quality a given set of markup guarantees (instead of hiding everything from public use until it's all 100% checked by a professional editor).
  2. The SHORE consortium is bringing together a number of key scholarly editors, edition developers, and scholarly period societies so that when one edition develops a new tool (e.g. Infinite Ulysses' social annotation), all participating editions will share the same technical backend and can therefore also use the new tool. Additionally, we'll start to gather a dataset of both scholarly and public literary annotations across the literary periods (medieval, modern, Victorian...) and be able to learn new things about digital reading and research. The first example site fully migrated into SHORE is CoveCollective.org (currently under alpha testing, but there's a consortium meeting and public talks at Purdue in May 2016).
  3. The RIDE digital edition review journal is building scholarly review for SDEs that is aware of technical and design work as a critical component.
  4. InfiniteUlysses.com uniquely invites the public into the critical conversation around James Joyce's challenging novel Ulysses via user-authored social annotation. Additionally, the edition experiments with mechanics for social curation and moderation of the annotations, and attempts to personalize the annotations displayed to each reader's expertise, needs, and interests.
  5. My recent digital dissertation was based around this project—"'How can you love a work, if you don't know it?': Critical Code and Design toward Participatory Digital Editions" used entirely digital humanities methods (design, code, blogging, user testing) to create and analyze various theories about public and social digital editions (especially those supporting social annotation).
  6. To explain why InfiniteUlysses.com is a digital edition but not a scholarly digital edition, part of my whitepaper on the Infinite Ulysses project and dissertation around it deals directly with a number of edition and edition-like objects (PDF link and see Section 4: Reimagining Editions).

"What would you like to see more of in scholarly digital editions?"


Things related to making our hard scholarly effort reach people outside the professoriate (editions for new students, for new readers; a more public literature, enabled by textual scholarship plus digital humanities), and to making sure that work lasts in an accessible form beyond the next decade.

You can annotate this blog post via Hypothesis by clicking this link: https://via.hypothes.is/http://literaturegeek.com/2016/01/04/scholarlydigitaleditions. Eventually I'll set up canonical URLs so these annotations show up on the blog's front page as well...