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Brown, S., Price, K., Siemens, R., Gabler, H., Idmhand, F., Lebarbé, T., Pierazzo, E. (2016). The Scholarly Digital Edition: Best Practices, Guidelines, and Peer Evaluation. In Digital Humanities 2016: Conference Abstracts. Jagiellonian University & Pedagogical University, Kraków, pp. 51-52.
The Scholarly Digital Edition: Best Practices, Guidelines, and Peer Evaluation

The Scholarly Digital Edition: Best Practices, Guidelines, and Peer Evaluation

This panel is devoted to two main questions: “How are the function and qualities associated with a scholarly edition changed when it is digital?” and “Is excellence in scholarly editing promoted by guidelines, articulations of best practices, enhanced peer review, or seals of approval?” The panel is intended for members of the scholarly editing community, whom it wishes to engage in dialogue about these matters, along with a wider audience of prospective scholarly editors and members of the DH community who are engaged with questions of peer review and how to foster best practices.

The immediate impetus behind the panel is “Considering the Scholarly Edition in the Digital Age: A White Paper of the Modern Language Association’s Committee on Scholarly Editions” published by the MLA in Fall 2015. The primary purpose of the white paper is to define the major elements of the “digital scholarly edition” and explore their significance for the ways editions are read, used, and evaluated. Publication of the white paper, however, raised a number of related questions that we hope to explore through this panel:

  • Are the following criteria fundamental to scholarly editing, regardless of school or approach: transparency, accuracy, appropriateness of method, clear and responsible documentation, and the exercise of critical judgment in representing a full account of the textual situation at stake?
  • Can a community­sourced edition also be a scholarly edition?
  • What is the point of scholarly editions, as we currently understand them, in an era of mass data?
  • Editions can be situated within and draw upon a much­larger­scale text archive. How are such editions related to the larger archive?
  • How might different traditions of editing be “networked” or brought together by digital means in relation to the same text?
  • How do editions relate to large­scale textual research? Must their representational precision and refined encoding be lost if aggregated through a mechanism like HathiTrust or TAPAS? How can their particular contribution­­the depths of their insights­­be maintained when incorporated within a broader cultural analysis?
  • How far might the criteria for exemplary digital scholarly editions actually also apply to exemplary digital scholarship?
  • To the extent that the standards for digital scholarly editing are formalized and programmatic could a large­scale digital scholarly corpus be produced largely algorithmically?

Peer Review

The discussion will then turn to the role of seals or hyper­peer­reviews of digital scholarly editions in a range of scholarly communities and contexts as represented by the panelists.

A seal such as that awarded by the MLA Committee provides either added weight to peer review for those publishing with a press, or a potential alternative to peer review for editions that are not published by conventional scholarly presses. One would expect that with the shift towards digital editions the number of applications to the Committee would have risen. This, however, has not been the case. Panelist and members of the community of digital editors in the audience will be asked to assess the need for such seals of approval and to consider the adequacy of general guidelines such as the MLAs for editorial work.

Panelists will reflect on questions including the following:

  • How do seals or peer review of digital editing projects operate in various contexts?
  • Can a seal to something that doesn’t reach closure in the usual way? How far along does it need to be?
  • If the seal is awarded for one iteration of a project, how do we clarify what was award worthy and what later work is beyond the bounds of the award?
  • Might best practices be better served by evaluating projects and their methodology at the beginning rather than the end of their life­cycles, so they have the opportunity to incorporate the results of the review to improve the project?
  • If a lack of peer review has sometimes plagued digital scholarship, why have digital editors not done more to avail themselves of this kind of opportunity?
  • Is the seal regarded as an additional burden­­one more hoop to jump through­­potentially delaying production and unlikely to lead to increased sales of books or increased usage of a digital edition?


  • Susan Brown’s work focuses on born­digital scholarly production and the spectrum from regular scholarly activity to editing, particularly in relation to her leadership of the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory virtual research environment. She recently joined the MLA CSE.
  • Hans Walter Gabler will discuss networked editing. The native ground for the scholarly edition in our day, and for the future, is the digital medium. The scholarly edition as digital edition is to be conceived of as processual, relational, and interactive. To open it on and as a web platform is the public beginning of its life in the body of its texts and document images, their interrelation and diachronic stratification; and equally in its body of response texts ( vulgo: commentary). Comprehensively, the digital scholarly edition should be a dynamic site for incremental enrichment through individual as well as communal research.
  • Fatiha Idmhand or Thomas Lebarbé, as coordinators of CAHIER (Corpus d’Auteurs pour les Humanités ­ Informatisation, Édition, Recherche), one of the consortia comprising TGIR­HumaNum (Très Grande Infrastructure de Recherche ­ Humanités
  • Numériques), will address the consortium’s support of digital editing projects through an
  • initial application phase, followed by micro­grants, training, and workshops. They will also address the role of CAHIER in the improvement of visibility and impact of the editions grouped under its umbrella.
  • Elena Pierazzo will speak to the issue of standards in relation to her role as recent chair of the Text Encoding Initiative, and address the extent to which, in Europe, in general, where there are so many fragmented traditions and disciplines, the possibility of a single evaluating committee or set of guidelines is not feasible. Thus regular peer review and post­publication reviews are the norm. She will address the question of whether broad editing initiatives such as DiXiT (http://dixit.uni­koeln.de) or the Nedimah research group on digital editions (which she co­chairs) and the recently announced DARIAH­EU initiative Living Sources might usefully contribute to formalizing certain standards.
  • Kenneth Price will discuss the emergence of the white paper in light of the history of the MLA committee on scholarly editions. In an earlier print­only era the committee endorsed a single model of editing, the "critical edition." Now, at a time of both print and digital editions, and in a changed theoretical environment, the committee (through the white paper) endorses a diversity of additional approaches, including genetic and documentary editing. He will also discuss the challenges of awarding a seal to digital project that may well be later amended.
  • Ray Siemens, as principal co­author with Julia Flanders, will discuss the history of, impetus for, and basic thrust of the white paper, situating it in relation to earlier, iterative interventions by members of the CSE and our community ­­ among them Peter Shillingsburg’s “General Principles of Electronic Scholarly Editions” (1993), Charles Faulhaber’s “Guidelines for Electronic Scholarly Editions” (1997), the CSE/TEI­C volume Electronic Textual Editing (2006), and its publication of guidelines and guiding questions for those preparing and evaluating editions in electronic form ­­ and more recent considerations, such as social editing.

  1. Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory. http://cwrc.ca
  2. CAHIER « Corpus d’Auteurs pour les Humanités ­ Informatisation, Édition, Recherche »
  3. Committee on Scholarly Editions. (2015) Considering the Scholarly Edition in the Digital Age: A White Paper of the Modern Language Association’s Committee on Scholarly Editions.
  4. DARIAH­EU (Digital Research Infrastructure for the Arts and the Humanities): https://dariah.eu
  5. Faulhaber, Charles. (1997) “Guidelines for Electronic Scholarly Editions.” December 1997. http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/MLA/guidelines.html.
  6. ITN DiXiT (Digital Scholarly Editions Initial Training Network). http://dixit.uni­koeln.de
  7. NeDiMAH (Network for Digital Methods in the Arts and Humanities). Scholarly Digital Editions Working Group. http://www.nedimah.eu/workgroups/scholarly­digital­editions
  8. Shillingsburg, Peter. (1993) “General Principles for Electronic Scholarly Editions.” December 1993. http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/MLA/principles.html.
  9. Siemens, Ray, Meagan Timney, Cara Leitch, Corina Koolen, and Alex Garnett, with the ETCL, INKE, and PKP Research Groups. (2012) "Toward Modeling the Social Edition: An Approach to Understanding the Electronic Scholarly Edition in the Context of New and Emerging Social Media." Literary and Linguistic Computing 27.4: 445­461. http://llc.oxfordjournals.org/content/27/4/445.full
  10. Text Encoding Initiative. http://www.tei­c.org/index.xml