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Hans Walter Gabler

The NeDiMAH Experts’ Seminar on Digital Scholarly Editions, held at the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands in The Hague in November 2012, was one of the most substantial and concentrated gatherings around a given subject I have ever, I think, attended. Nor is this an idealised memory: it is now fully borne out by the essays deriving from that Seminar assembled in the present volume, each of which is a fresh and much deepened take on the topics addressed in The Hague.

To explore the subject ‘Digital Scholarly Editing: Theories and Practices’, as this volume is now titled, is to map out the range of demands that digitality makes on textual criticism and editing today. It is also to envisage fresh conceptualisations for the future of these twin disciplines foundational to the humanities. The ‘scholarly edition’ lives in our present time, and will in the future live more uncompromisingly yet, in the digital medium. In consequence, the systemic triplet on which it relies, the hop, step and jump of textual criticism, editing and edition, needs in important respects to be reconceived. It needs to be re-comprehended in terms of the medium. While the scholarly edition will remain, as it has been, the fruit of state-of-the-art investigative and critical text-focused scholarship, its form and mode of presentation will cease to be the book. As a digital scholarly edition, it is, and will increasingly be, established through text-critical methodology and editorial execution rendered digitally operative in a technically fully digital environment. So, too, the digital scholarly edition will be used: it will be studied and explored, mined and enriched wholly in the digital medium. By no means, though, will this end the symbiosis of text and book. Yet in the digital age, great potentials of innovation lie in the separation of the material medium of the transmission of texts, and the digital medium of the use of editions. Texts as texts depend for readability, and indeed enjoyment, on their presence and simple, since culturally ingrained, availability in the materiality of the book. But texts as texts are not the be-all and end-all of scholarly editions.

An edited text is by its nature a dialogue staged and conducted by an editor (or editorial team) with ‘the text’ of a work as it has commonly been transmitted in variant material texts. The edited text that an edition offers is thus the product of concordant labours of criticism, textual criticism and editing. Comprehensively, these constitute the scholarly edition’s concurrent discourses, which are traditionally understood to be oriented towards the texts of the given work and its transmission, on the one hand, and towards the mediation and elucidation of the work on the other. In terms of the text orientation, the edition’s pivotal discourse is commonly the edited text, towards which are correlated (to give them their traditional names): the textual apparatus, formalised and with its specific information abbreviated into symbols, the textual notes, phrased in natural language, and collations from preceding editions of the given work, usually recorded in lists. The argument, or rationale, for the edition is given in the Editorial Introduction. This whole aggregate of discourses is held together by a common reference grid. To facilitate the mediation and elucidation of the work, moreover, the edition’s reference system equally allows the linking-in of all manner of commentary substance into the edition.

A scholarly edition, then, is relationally coordinated throughout. The medium which in our time allows modelling the relational structure of editions is the digital medium. The task ahead is therefore to realise the scholarly edition as a digital scholarly edition. This demands exploring the medium’s potentials to their full extent. At present, editions realised in a digital environment still tend to remain largely imitative of scholarly editions in print. What the medial shift requires however is a thorough re-conception, and in consequence re-modelling. The scholarly edition used to be an end product, going public when all textual and critical scholarship was done. The digital scholarly edition, by contrast, may from the moment it is technically stable be opened up as a shared enterprise. It may so already in its still ongoing process of content enrichment become generally accessible as a dynamically interactive knowledge and research site. A digital scholarly edition conceived as a research site will thus, from within the Digital Humanities, set an example for what computer science presently strives for: HCI—human computer interaction.

This, in all prefatory brevity, is the conceptual background to the essays assembled in this volume. In their range of reflection on theory and practice, they substantially advance the maturing of digital scholarly editing into the innovative cultural technique that, from out of the humanities, it is already well on its way to becoming.