The rapidly evolving blend of literature and technology that we see at present is well documented in Kenneth M. Price’s article, “Electronic Scholarly Editions”. Readers who are familiar with the author will approach the piece acutely aware of Price’s view in relation to the digital humanities. Through his association with the NINES initiative, Price has secured his seat upon one of the field’s most innovative projects. A literary pioneer of the Digital Age, Price is well placed for such an examination.
“Mere digitising produces information; in contrast, scholarly editing produces knowledge.” This statement is worth emphasis, as there is a critical distinction to be made between the digitising of a work, and ensuring that that work has intrinsic value in terms of its scholarly contribution. In this respect, initiatives like NINES have ensured the value of their content through the introduction of peer-review systems which function in much the same way as their traditional counterparts.
Price outlines a number of the unique benefits that arise through the use of electronic scholarly editions. The most prominent of these is the provision of multiple versions of texts. No longer must we analyse work based on what it is that the publisher decides is best for release, but instead, can examine the text in an incremental fashion. The Walt Whitman Archive, in which Price has involvement, is a prime example of this: a digital repository where criticism can be based on the original script, as well as those changes that were made between inception and final publication. In addition, Price points toward technology’s distinct advantage in terms of audio and visual content. Scholars of Old English, for example, can view high-definition scanned reproductions of manuscripts, no longer constrained by the inferior quality of print, or by the restrictions in physically accessing such materials.
However, Price strives for balance throughout, and is just as quick to identify the shortcomings of electronic scholarly editions. His major criticism of this particular mode of delivery is concerned with the expertise and number of individuals required to produce such an edition. Here, I would disagree with him on one minor point. The emergence of the digital edition has brought with it requirements for a variety of new expertise, and furthermore, has blurred the distinctions between the duties of all those involved in textual production. But to cite this as a criticism of the electronic mode, and not the physical, is slightly inconsistent. Those boundaries that do exist can be traversed through familiarisation with the necessary technologies, while the boundaries that exist in terms of print are equally difficult to overcome. Returning to NINES as an example: consider replicating that project in print form.
Price’s familiarity within this arena shows when he states that “it is of the utmost importance that electronic scholarly editions adhere to international standards”. Here, I am firmly on the side of Price, whose experience with NINES has clearly taught him the necessity of standards. Without such standards, the virtual realm of the scholar would be transformed from a tree of knowledge into a jungle of information, through which the very act of traversing would prove too daunting a task for even the most determined of academics.
Progressing from the standards debate, Price addresses the issue of cost, and the simple fact that, while many of the materials that are offered in digital form are often free, they are not free to produce. This is becoming increasingly problematic, particularly in the current economic climate, where scholars are increasingly tempted to opt for electronic editions in favour of more pricey physical editions. Price suggests a solution in the form of state funding, but like any funding that originates in national government, one cannot be overly reliant on its continued appropriation. There is of course the possibility of offering electronic scholarly editions at a small fee. Consider a peer-reviewed and scholarly wiki, perhaps on the scale of Wikipedia. Access to such a wealth of knowledge, for an annual fee, is something that would appeal to great number of people. All that would be involved in achieving such a vision would be collaboration; as NINES has shown, achieving this might mot prove as problematic as one might first suspect.
“Dr. Kenneth M. Price–University of Nebraska-Lincoln.” Web. 17 Feb. 2011.
Rydberg-Cox, Jeffrey A. Digital Libraries and the Challenges of Digital Humanities. Chandos Publishing (Oxford) Ltd, 2005. Print.
Schreibman, Susan, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth. A Companion to Digital Humanities (Blackwell Companions to Literature & Culture). Wiley-Blackwell, 2008. Print.
Siemens, Ray, and Susan Schreibman. Companion to Digital Literary Studies (Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture). Hardcover. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Professional, 2008. Web. 17 Feb. 2011.