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Social Digital Scholarly Editing

Note: this conference report is being written live and therefore will be full of typos. I also tend to stop writing when I get really interested or bored so these notes should not be considered complete. The conference site is at

The formal welcome began by the Vice-Dean Parkinson talking about the fact that we are on Treaty 6 lands that transferred land from the native peoples without their knowledge.

"We stand on Treat 6 land."

The Chair of English mentioned the significant role that has been played by the department of English at the University of Saskatchewan.

Paul Eggert: The Reader-Oriented Scholarly Edition and the Work

Eggert promised that he would be controversial. He referenced Ray Siemen's article on modelling the social edition. Eggert feels the model Ray proposes is not adequate as it misses what a scholarly edition is. He wanted to try again to sketch out fundamentals. What is a scholarly edition and does the advent of the digital change what we think it is. He listed some key ideas:

  • Edition as transaction: the edition is a transaction between editor and reader, not an objectification of the text

For the Germans the text is a system and therefore you don't want to mess with any component, but restore the history of the text. Anglo-American editors instead focused on recovering the authorial text and preparing an aesthetic experience.

For Eggert editors from both traditions ignored the material nature of the text or the needs of the readers. Ironically the audience didn't want either in the time of high theory. There is a tension between the archival function and the interpretative that wasn't recognized. These fancy editions got satirized as the cemetery of variations.

Eggert wants to reconceive the edition as more reader oriented than work orientated. He wants to understand the work as emerging in reading - a transaction. It possesses documentary stability but not hermeneutical stability. The work is a regulative concept - the work regulates the reading for those who know the game of reading.

  • If the work concept is regulative idea of conduct then we shouldn't think of it as an engagement between editor and original, but an engement between editor and reader.

The editor should think of proposing an argument. Editing in the work and not on it. The digital perspective exposes what editors were doing all along, but some of the attention to readers has been left to publishers and book designers. Editors have had to expand the horizon beyond verbal sequence to design features. Introduction of the reader into the theory equation introduces instability - could we end up with as many editions as reader/editors.

The argument of editor is instantiated in the edition - but is it understood as intended? The editor tries to:

  • To make the work present to the reader in some defensible fashion.

He talked about what is "natural" to print and to the digital. It seemed natural to weave the archival and the editorial together in print (a book both archives and provides a new edition), but in the digital they don't need to be woven together. You can preserve the text separately from making edit

He then talks about Gabler's idea of text as being a function of documents not authors. Eggert feels that Gabler too is missing the reader and that he is trying to isolate editing from life. Instead editions and editing are part of an ongoing process.

The consequences of his account is that there is no outsider position.

I asked a question about how Eggert's reader-centric model of editing differenciates between editing and other communicative acts. He very nicely answered the question by agreeing that editing is in a class of communicative acts that still references documents.

Wendy Phillips-Rodriguez: Social, Digital, Codicological Editing?

Phillips-Rodriguez edits Sanskrit texts. It is one thing to use digital tools to make an edition, it is another to use digital tools to present an edition. She showed the Digital Shikshapatri - a text by an Indian holy man that is largely accessed devotees. These devotees came to worship before the text - a different type of seeing, or reading. For an academic library such visitors were a shock. The Bodleian is not set up for these visitors. The digital text helps meet some of the needs of these visitors. It was a fabulous example of a form of "reading" we don't think of.

She then discussed the dangers of paying attention to readers. Readers can be demanding and can know their needs better than an editor. To what extent does an editor want to constrain or regulate the variety of materials considered part of an edition? She asked if all the variety of resources that matter to readers are taken into account, what counts as an edition? Could you have an edition without an editor? Editions in the wild?

She ends up arguing that editing is what editors do. The best decision is a decision taken.

Peter Robinson: What Digital Humanists don't know about Scholarly Editing, and Scholarly Editors don’t know about the Digital World

Peter set out to talk about the misunderstandings between these two communities who like each other so much, the digital humanists, and the scholarly editors.

  • When we think we understand the other, we don't
  • Even more dangerous is when you think the other understands you

Digital humanists have a couple of misconceptions about scholarly editing. For Peter one misconception is that we think scholarly editing is a matter of Unsworth's primitives - of archiving. For Peter an archive is not an edition. An edition involves decisions. He feels that too many miss that.

He wants to end the collaboration between the two. He doesn't want to have to depend on digital humanists that mediate his work. He wants to do the interpretation.

What do scholarly editors need to know? Peter believes that the editors need to give up control. If editors want to take control from the digital humanists (by which I think he means the technology managers) then they have to also be willing to give up control.

The digital humanities centers are taking control of texts as they are the coin of relevance.

For Peter we have solved all the technical problems, so now editors have all the choices digital technologies give us. So what do editors do with these choices. Peter doesn't think there needs to be any changes to what editors do as editors. He doesn't think editing as decision making will go away.

He believes that anyone who wants to be an editor should have the tools. He believes the tools should allow others to be invited in, but he doesn't think that we will get social editions (in the sense of crowdsourced editions.) He thinks readers still want others to make the decisions and

We can have a few boutique projects, but that will mean we also get lots of wild projects with no scholarship. He wants there to be a continuum between the libraries putting things up through to the massive Google-like sites to the boutique editions. I think Peter thinks there is a better way than isolated boutique projects isolated from the big stuff.

He made a comment about Transcribe Bentham and the amount of funding it got as an example of the dangers of lots of money going to different projects that aren't scalable. He thinks we are close to a pont where you can doing editing without needing a digital humanities center or a big grant.

He wants to argue for the value of editing independent of arguing for new tools and so on. One should not have to make the case that you are developing a new tool or new method in order to value editing. Editing should be valued in and of itself. I can't help wondering if editing is valued outside the editing community? There is the danger for all of us (editors and dhers) that governments will interpret the will of the public as not wanting any investment in the humanities at all.

He also argued for lots of tool development and exchange of ideas about tools. That, for me, is one of the things that digital humanists do, not scholarly editors. He is imagining a different relationship between the tool makers and editors. Instead of the pairing of dher and editor working on a project he imagines a separation - a different relationship.

This launched a discussion about the politics of funding and so on.

Where are interpreters in this? Do interpreters need editors any more?

Meg Meiman: Documentation for the public: social editorial practices in the Walt Whitman Archive

Meiman leveraged the idea of intermediation to understand the Whitman archive. The Whitman archive is an example that shows how e-texts can be more social. In the metadata you can have a much more nuanced description of the people involved and provenance. The archive shows the shift from an idealized text to an intermediated text.

She pointed out that the Whitman archive has a generous "conditions of use". Most of the archive are licensed under a creative commons license.

Ken Price: The Place of Editing in the Emerging Research Environments of Our Time

Ken started by commenting on how many of our editions are embedded in larger systems. He then turned to crowdsourcing and how that might benefit editorial tasks. He mentioned the Transcribe Bentham project and Martin Mueller's work with students. He talks about Ray Siemen's efforts to use social media to edit. Ken wondered how much they gained from social media.

He then applied these ideas to the Whitman archive. They have done little with the more popular forms of crowdsourcing. Whitman himself was controversial, which creates problems. Response to Whitman is unpredictable in a way that may raise issues for crowdsourcing the archive. The Whitman article in the Wikipedia is an example of what can happen. This doesn't mean that crowdsourcing shouldn't be tried, just that it needs to be done carefully.

Daniel O'Donnell: Every thing that rises must converge: On the merging of the cultural heritage, textual scholarship, and popular science sectors

Dan started by talking about how scholars rarely consider readers other than other scholars. We tend not to consider speaking to popular audiences. Digital technology is changing this in that it makes it possible for our work to be accessed by a broader public, even if we didn't imagine the public as readers.

All sorts of forms of openness, however, do engage publics. There is evidence that the public wants in. Governments are also stressing openness. Our field as digital humanists is ahead of the curve - we have a sense of the obligations of the academy. Now online editions can be inherently attractive to a broader public. We forget just how interesting these online editions to publics.

Dan then talked about the new responsibilities to be responsive that come with connecting with new publics. Editors have to worry about sustainability, they have to worry about responding to all sorts of letters, they have to worry about crowdsourcing.

Dan feels we are increasingly being asked to be like museum curators. Editors have to do things that they didn't have to before.

  • Digital textual editing (and dh more generally) is really a paradiscipline that draws on other disciplines. He talked about a convergence of interests.
  • There is an obligation to pay attention to what it means to work with the public. Public engagement needs to be taken more seriously.
  • We can learn from museum studies about working in public.
  • Digital humanities and scholarly editing are leading the humanities in a new relationship with the public. The digital humanities may increasingly just become the humanities.
  • We also have an obligation to return knowledge to the communities it comes from.

Paul Flemons: Virtual Expeditions for crowdsourcing transcription of informal natural history literature

Paul Flemons comes from the sciences and talked about crowdsourcing in Australia - his project is Biodiversity Volunteer Portal which is an application for transcribing biodiversity data and informal literature. "Crowdsourcing is an online, distributed problem-solving and production model." They use crowdsourcing to increase literacy, to develop advocates, and to save money.

Their site ( is template based and is themed around "expeditions." There are 3 levels of permissions: transcriber, validator, and admin. He talked about validation - one approach is double blind entry. His approach is to have validators who have higher access. He showed different templates.

He then talked about the volunteers. Most are between 50 and 69. They are very educated. They are motivated by contributing, not gamification. The challenge is not so much the web site as attracting volunteers as things are getting crowded. You have to have a marketing campaign. You have to give them feedback. "There is no such thing as fee volunteers, really."

He then talked about similarities between his community and ours. He wonders if his volunteers are scholarly editors. The scientific world is being encouraged to embrace citizen science - will the same be true of the humanities?

Ben Brumfield: The Collaborative Future of Amateur Editions

Ben talked about social digital scholarly editing. He started by defining himself as an amateur and showed a quote that captured the disdain for amateurs. He asked what is an amateur edition:

  • Institutionally-run editions with amateur participation
  • Amateur-run editions of institutionally-held documents
  • Amateur-run edition of privately-held documents

He gave some examples like Soldier Studies - a site that tries to save images of documents being sold. On eBay you see letters for sale - these are what he grabs (without buying them.) He doesn't live up to scholarly ideals, but does it matter to non editors?

Another thing that volunteers do well is translate. Ben quoted Gavin Robinson from a blog post, "Gentleman Amateurs."

Ben sees some challenges:

  • Ignorance of standards
  • Lack of community
  • Lack of methods - and tools
  • Lack of tutorials online

It is often the developers who are teaching people how to edit. There is no community for people to learn from.

Lastly he talked about the future and quoted Robinson to the effect that there are two futures - a dsytopia where documentary editing methodologies are ignored. Standards could emerge that don't involve academics. The road to utopia would see partnerships where amateurs become advocates for editing.

Melissa Terras: Crowdsourcing or crowdsifting? Results and experiences from Transcribe Bentham

Melissa began by talking about being an information scientist and the Transcribe Bentham project which is more than just an editing project, but is also an experiment in crowdsourcing. She talked about how much more complex what they were asking volunteers to do. In that sense it is a reception study to see what people did or could do. Their tool is based on wiki software because they wanted to give people something familiar.

She talked about the cost of a validator who checks transcriptions and decides if they are up to standard. A big part of that persons job is maintaining a relationship with the super-transcribers. She pointed out that a small number of superusers are doing most of the work. That is what crowdsourcing depends on - the superusers.

She then talked about unintended consequences. The project became important to their centre, to their university and to Melissa's career. She advises people to use special collections as a way to get attention for the digital humanities.

She ended by emphasizing how these projects are, for the information scientist, a project that also gathers data about use and reception. She gave as an example a new text analysis app called Textal that they have built.

There was a fair amount of discussion about funding for these things. My experience is that crowdsourcing projects can be done cheaply if one wants.

Day 2

Susan Brown: Tensions and Tenets of Socialized Scholarship

Susan started by talking about "The Social Life of Information" and social editing. She invoked editing in a broader sense of contribute or write. Here topic were the tensions of the changing sociologies of knowledge. Some of the challenges:

  • Credit - we are moving from singular authorities to team credits. The editor is less important in Web 2.0 projects. She showed a neat visualization of editing credits.
  • Dynamism - we can develop editions that can be used in many different ways. Susan talked about how the variants of the electronic process often gets lost. We need models better than wikis. Many projects emerge serially and that history of creation should be something that can be preserved.
  • Quality control - text editing can teach much to others about issues of reliability, accuracy, appropriateness, consistency, and explicitness. Our social tools could make it easy to control quality.
  • Data models and interfaces - the scholarly editing community is invested in a complex and nuanced data model that can constrain us. Simpler tools like wikis and blogs that don't support the TEI are more accessible. We get project silos - "multivarious isolationism" that isolates projects. We need promote interoperability. She talked about the importance of interfaces.

She then talked about editing interfaces and compared Author/Editor and Oxygen. Author/Editor was from SoftQuad and looked a lot like the word processors of the time (WordPerfect). The text is at the front. Oxygen is dominated by technology and looks a lot like a "guys' world" where you wouldn't edit text so much. She suggested there is a gendered aspect to this.

She ended by talking about Jeanette Winterson "The Stone Gods". Central to social editing is a deep respect for the ways texts are experienced - the materiality and the interfaces of texts. Editing has been social and will inherit the trace of print culture. We have to aim at the new, but in the intelligibility of the old.

Zailig Pollock: From Respect des Fonds to Respect de la Page

Pollock talked about the EMiC project and the editing his is doing as part of that project. He talked about the appropriate use of "archive" and how the Whitman Archive, as great as it is, is not an archive. He showed a neat environment he has been working on that uses mostly HTML and Javascript to let you explore the genesis of a complex manuscript.

Roger Osborne: Archiving, Editing, and Reading with the AustESE Workbench: The Theory and Practice of an Electronic Edition of Josephs Furphy's Such is Life

Osborne talked about an edition of Furphy's "Such is Life". He then talked about the AustESE Workbench, which is a project funded to create a set of tools for editions. "Such is Life" is a case study for this workbench. He showed some of the workbench tools, including some impressive network visualization tools that show links between documents.

Edward Vanhoutte: A bag of words. Social perspectives on scholarly editing

Edward started by saying that no edition is more social than the full-blown scholarly print edition. His first myth that he wanted to burst is that digital editions are more accessible.

Digital editions do not provide a quantitative higher level of accessible, they provide a qualitatively different form of accessible.

Second myth: the digital edition reach a wider audience.

A digital edition is not a type of edition. Digital editions are still of some other type (facsimile, variorum ...) The digital editions being created were more about the exploration of technical possibilities. They may potentially reach a wider audience, but usually reach a different audience.

Third myth: digital editions are more explicit.

The central aim of textual scholarship is to provide the humanities with the foundational data for any sensible statement about texts/works. He had a very funny bit about calling textual variants a cemetery. Cemeteries have all sorts of virtues which scholarly editions could learn from. Somehow he then concluded that digital editions are not as explicit.

Fourth myth: digital edition claims to engage readers.

He showed a CD-ROM edition that he published in 2000 that let people link passages. The user could store their annotations and send them to others in a fashion reminiscent of Vannevar Bush's hypertext trails. He then argued that no one really wanted this linking. It is a false presumption that there is a readership that wants to engage with the edition in social way. He talked about various projects he has been involved in and that led to a discussion of how professional editors are overvalued. All sorts of people want to do things with texts that editors may not have thought about.

Edward pushed the idea that print is still a great way to connect to an audience.

Barbara Bordalejo: What is meant by editing in the phrase social editing?

Barbara looked at what Ray Siemen's Devonshire Manuscript actually did as opposed to what they talked about as social. She pointed out that the social contributors couldn't actually change the transcription - the social affordances were for annotating and interpreting. Perhaps the social ideals have clouded our judgement. She seemed to be insisting on the importance of the experience of professional editors. She felt that for editorial tasks like transcription amateurs don't have much to offer.

A number of questions pushed her on the issue of the difference between transcribing and editing.

Ray Siemens: Foundations of the Social Edition?

Ray talked about how the Devonshire Manuscript project was experiment. This experiment was not trying to build on types of editions, but building on traditions of electronic textuality. They were working with the idea of the dynamic edition that brings together the dynamic text with the hypertextual edition. They experimented with different reading interfaces and to understand the tasks humanists might want to do, they checked in with an advisory board. They asked what the users wanted to do, they looked at what they actually did, and then they noticed that the users were starting to use social media tools. They got feedback where users wanted to use things they used outside their academic work in their academic work.

Ray told the story of how the experiments evolved. Important to the story was the encounter with a community (of watchers of the Tudors) interested in the text.

Joshua Sosin: Digital Papyrology, Digital Classics

Sosin talked about the evolution of papyrology and papyrological editing which was holistic (images and texts). Early infrastructure led to a collegial community with consensus about what can and should do. He mentioned the Duke Databank.

He talked about the project which is open in many ways. He described the superusers that contribute to their site.

Their next big push is inscriptions on stone (rather than the stuff on paper.) He pointed out that there are lots of inscription projects and none of them are doing things in the same way. He hopes that their new project will tempt the others to join and standardize.

He worries about ephemeral projects will get the funding instead of basic infrastructure. We also have to stop competing between digital and non-digital projects and work together. The digital humanities and traditional humanities need to work hand in hand. We could end up with a whole mess of digital and not much humanities.

Catherine Nygren: Building the Cultural Spaces of Pope's 1729 Dunciad Variorum

Nygren talked about the Grub Street project (digital edition of 18th century London.) She showed what she was doing involving representations of space. The Grub Street project is organized around a street or space associated with print culture. She has been thinking about Foucault's idea of hetertopia.

I was intrigued by how she (and the project) started not with a text, but with a physical and metaphorical space. They then sought the texts, images, maps and so on that have to do with this space.

She then turned to the Dunciad Variorum - a mock epic poem with lots of cultural references. This project is still in development. She commented on how important it is to think about the space where social editors interact.

Gimena del Rio: Repertoire on the Metrics of the Medieval Castilian Poetry

del Rio talked about the digital humanities in the hispanic world leading to her experience with the construction of the ReMetCA project. She talked about the differences between what people study under the rubric of the same subject in different countries. Different places have different local knowledge. Medieval studies suffers from a view that it is an irrelevant subject.

She showed some maps of the digital humanities that show the absence of work in Argentina and elsewhere in the Spanish world. The universities don't have the funding for digital humanities so researchers study what is being done outside of the university. She then shifted to talking about the social and her project. They try to do as much as they can with little funding. This means using things off the web, crowdediting and so on.

She ended by asking how we combine the global and local.

Brent Nelson: Group-sourcing the archive

Brent Nelson started by talking about a group-sourcing model as an alternative to crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing starts with the building of a tool that attracts a large crowd from which a group of superusers emerges. By contrast groupsourcing starts with a small group and builds the tool for that group.

He talked about how there have been crowdsourcing projects before the internet like the OED which drew on many volunteers. Many 19th century periodicals grew out of societies or other types of groups.

Then he switched to the history of the John Donne Society digital prose project. See The Society already had experience organizing themselves to voluntarily produce knowledge artefacts. They tried to build the digital prose project on that model and on the Society.

The project is not expecting lots of funding and is layered. They do a bit at a time. Their model allows people to contribute in different ways. Some contribute their time, some assign their research assistants. It reminds me of how churches draw on volunteer labour in all its variety. He mentioned the ethics of voluntary work.

He talked about the tool they are developing and how it might help maintain a relationship with the volunteers.

I got to thinking about the ethical issues and here is my sense of the issues:

  • It is unethical to force students to participate in a public project as part of a course. We need to give them a choice to not share their student work with no penalty.
  • It is unethical to take credit for work by students.
  • There is an intellectual property issue regarding the ownership of student work. By my read they own the work and can, in principle, ask for it to be removed at any later point unless they have assigned copyright. The ethical comes in if you don't inform them of their rights.

Fotis Jannidis: Social Editing, Social Editions and their Requirements in a Virtual Research Environment

Fotis talked about Textgrid which doesn't really have a social component. It is, on the other hand, infrastructure and involves many people. They have a Laboratory that is Eclipse-based and a Repository that is maintained by the library of Göttingen.

He talked about intellectual property in Textgrid and then looked at different models for organizing people. He talked about the Wikipedia model where there is a hierarchy of permissions leading up to Jimmy Wales despite participatory rhetoric. The open-source model is different in that the hierarchy is flatter, but still has a leader, and people can fork a version if they don't like the leadership. Lastly there is the crowdsourcing model.

The real challenge is how to set up texts so that they can be used by external tools and then be useful back into the system.

At the moment all three of the models have problems. We also have the old problem of overlapping or different markup.

Git gave up the notion of the privileged (library) hub. Every local hub sends stuff to who they want to. There is, however, a social convention of one hub being primary. Fotis felt we can learn from the division of technical and social conventions. The Git model might allow us to loosely connect local experiments and socially privileged repositories.

Then he talked about persistent identifiers. Then quality assurance and then workflows. Textgrid tried to implement a general workflow modul and that failed. They need to be create many sustainable workflows. People want to add crowdsourcing tools into the workflow at specific points and that creates problems. He is trying to find a way to smuggle data past crowdsourcing.



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