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The London Job – An Introduction to DiXiT and Social Editing

[This post is cross-posted with the newly-created DiXiT Blog, on which all project participants will be posting about their research for the next three years.]

When one turns to the Pythia of our age, Google, and enters “textual editing” as a search term for images, an interesting set appear.

From left to right, they are

  • The logo of the Textual Editing Framework, a framework designed to create model editors for textual notations.
  • A still shot of a video of Elena Pierazzo, president of the Text Encoding Initiative Council, teaching a course on Digital Textual Editing at DH Summer School 2013 in Bern, Switzerland.
  • The cover of the book Electronic Textual Editing, an anthology edited by Lou Burnard, Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, and John Unsworth.
  • A student with a Macbook laptop, an external monitor, and a towering microfilm reader (presumably editing some text).
  • A cropped medieval painting of a wizened old man, likely a monk, consulting a book placed on a pedestal in front of him.

These images, taken together, do a fairly good job of providing a snapshot of current debates, trends, arguments, and issues in what we broadly consider to be “digital scholarly editing.” After all, editors do something quite established (the monk & his book), often with cutting edge tools (the Textual Editing Framework, the laptop), sometimes with very old tools and materials (the microfilm reader), the results of which are often disseminated in seemingly dated forms (the scholarly collection on Electronic Textual Editing). Social_RedAt the same time, digital scholarly editing is a field of inquiry constantly in redefinition, in argument, and in propagation (the new media form of a video recording of a lecture devoted to changing ideas of what a scholarly edition is and can be). The manner of inquiry (querying Google) is also telling: it relies not on my personal knowledge of the field, but upon the collected “wisdom” of untold writers, image uploaders, programmers, software developers, scholars, and so on. The contours of textual editing as suggested by these images are fundamentally social.

The Digital Scholarly Editions Initial Training Network (DiXiT) seeks, in its own words, “to train a new generation of scholarly experts in the multi-disciplinary skills, technologies, theories, and methods of digital scholarly editing in order to explore and better understand the relationship between the goals of traditional scholarly editions and new computational methods and technologies.” coffeepic_circle_crop Me at my one of my favourite activities. My name is Daniel Powell, and my corner of this dynamic, long term exploration of the frontiers of scholarly editing in a digital age is what DiXiT has identified as “social editing.” As Early Stage Researcher 9, I will be based, along with Tuomo, at King’s College London in the United Kingdom. Supervised by Elena Pierazzo at King’s and Ray Siemens at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, my next three years of research will focus on how—and if—what we traditionally think of as editing in a scholarly sense is compatible with the new realities of globally network social media, Web 2.0 technologies and platforms, and a public-facing humanities. More specifically, my thesis will address the very foundations of what we mean when we talk about social processes, editing, editions, and quality. Experiments in crowdsourcing like Galaxy Zoo, the efforts of the National Archives of Australia, and Transcribe Bentham raise foundational disciplinary questions about the way knowledge is produced in academic contexts, especially in relation to the re-vision of primary materials. Drawing on extensive experience with A Social Edition of the Devonshire Manuscript, a deep background in digital humanities work, and intensive study of early modern English book history and publication practices, this research boils down to two questions:

  1. Is the Web 2.0 model of participatory knowledge creation at all compatible with scholarly editing as we know it?
  2. What is editing, and what is the edition, when undertaken within a framework of social media, collaborative digital practices, and crowdsourced intellectual labour?

So my goal is to answer those questions, or at least refine them to the point where the textual studies community can more clearly articulate the issues raised by a digital age of scholarly editing. Throughout the next several years, updates on my research, presentations, publications, and professional activities will appear here, on the DiXiT Blog, and on my personal research blog, djp2025.com. Most content will likely be cross-posted. I can be found on Twitter [at]djp2025.

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