Editing Modernism in Canada


December 6, 2012

Oh, the Irony!

This is a relatively short note about something that has been nagging at me for some time. Over the course of the first part of my EMiC-funded project – to digitize and create a database of the poetry, prose, essays and life writings of George Whalley – I have learned a great deal about editing for an edition, and specifically about the ways in which the digital environment facilitates versioning. It has occurred to me over the course of my work and while attending various conference panels on digital editing that perhaps we, as digital editors, are less attuned than we should be to recording the genesis of our own projects for institutional memory. The process of putting together a digital edition seems potentially endless. Whalley’s writings could easily take a lifetime to collect, digitize, and describe, let alone tag in TEI, explicate and annotate, and visualize using visualization tools. I wonder whether there is any sort of protocol for recording our editorial choices for the next person who takes up work on the author we are working on, or whether siloing and/or lack of such protocol dictates that scholars newly approaching the subject lose out on all justifications of the hard work done before, and have only the finished product from which to infer method. I think the issue of erasure of the “versions” of a digital versioning project is immediately relevant in light of the rapidity with which digital technologies are changing; if versions of a project could be saved as the project advances, it might be easier for future scholars to decipher (and repeat or diverge from) the modus operandi of their predecessors when attempting to migrate the final version to an updated information management platform.
What do people think of this? Is there a way to record the steps of digital production as there are on paper? Or are we stuck with the final product? Are we at risk of losing the justification of our work due to the erasure of genesis markers online?

4 Responses to “Oh, the Irony!”

  1. Anouk says:

    Hello Alana,

    I think these are excellent points, and they make me think that we need something for editorial projects like Wikipedia’s “View History” tab where it’s possible to see all the changes that have been made, by who, and for what reason. Editors do explain some of their choices in forewords/prefaces and footnotes, but obviously can’t go into detail on every tiny thing or the editorial apparatus would be far larger than the text itself. But of course it is the tiny things that become enormously important when you are working on an edition, and to know the rationale behind previous editors’ decisions would be extremely helpful.

    I agree that the fact that we don’t have this kind of protocol set up is due to siloing, but I think is probably also due in no small part to the way that the academy is set up as a competition. Scholars are motivated to present a piece of work, eg. a scholarly edition, as something entirely new and groundbreaking compared to the last edition (eg. in book proposals – otherwise why would a press bother spending money publishing something that is not wildly different from the last edition?). Whereas the model you set out is much more collaborative, in seeking to build on previous work rather than distinguish oneself from it sharply. I think it’s a tribute to DH as a field that it poses so many challenges to the way academic institutions operate, and one of these is the way that it seeks to foster, and value, collaborative ways of working.


  2. afletcher says:

    Thanks Anouk! I was thinking exactly of something like the “View History” tab. There must be some way that changes can be recorded digitally (as their traces are recorded on paper), so that we need not make extensive notes each time we make an editorial choice, but our individual changes would leave a record for future scholars to puzzle out. As well as providing a basis or historical collaboration, I think this would even help scholars to distinguish their work from previous editions, as the editorial choices would be clearly available to agree with or refute, and these specifics could be brought up in a book proposal.

  3. admin says:

    Hi Alana,
    The HCMC at the University of Victoria uses a Version Control System called SVN which records every edit of every file in the system. I think you might find this a useful tool for your work. There’s a bunch of work being done right now in this field (it’s a question we’re working with at the Modernist Versions Project too). If you’re coming to DHSI this year, I’ll show you the system. But basically, you’re looking for a Version Control System like SubVersioN.

  4. afletcher says:

    Thanks for that great tip! The SVN sounds like exactly what I’m thinking of. I’d love to see the system at DHSI this year.

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