C21 Editions: Editing and Publishing in the Digital Age

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Humanities Research Institute


C21 Editions proposes to explore and make a direct contribution to the future of digital scholarly editing and digital publishing. When academics mention "scholarly editions", they are typically referring to expertly curated textual resources or collections, designed to bring some sense of order or meaning to a particular set of materials. Scholarly editing, and the publishing practices that bring such efforts to the public, are hugely important to culture and society, providing the artifacts and insights necessary for understanding ourselves and the past, present, and future of the world around us.

One of the major achievements of the digital humanities is the role its community has played in bringing scholarly editions to digital and web-based platforms, improving their research, pedagogical, and societal value through greater dissemination and access. However, despite all that has been achieved in the three or so decades since DH emerged, the digital scholarly edition is now in danger of becoming obsolete in an increasingly digital world. Most existing digital editions and publishing platforms mimic the structure of books, presenting static content in a page-based structure. Where some interactivity does exist, it is usually in the form of basic hyperlinks to other resources. It is quite possible that very soon, many digital scholarly editions will have been reduced to a curio of the early web.

When we look at the practice of digital scholarly editing, there is a marked lack of machine learning techniques designed to support the curation and analysis of cultural materials. There is also a marked lack of consensus and technical guidance on how best to preserve and share born-digital materials essential to our understanding culture and society in the twenty-first century. For example, it is reasonable to expect that future historians and the general public will want a critically curated edition of the former President Donald Trump's tweets, contextualised using the sea of online political, media and social discourse that his messages either responded to or prompted. However, right now, there is now readily available framework or platform for creating, presenting, and sustaining such an edition.

This is precisely was C21 Editions aims to remedy: by engaging with experts and stakeholder groups, the project will establish the methods and principles for developing the scholarly digital editions of the future.
Furthermore, it will demonstrate and support the realisation of such future editions by producing two high impact digital editions based on materials which are currently unpublished. Both editions will be used to help develop and test the project's proposed data standard for encoding born-digital texts and a toolkit for machine-assisted editing. The two editions, data standard and toolkit will be developed in conjunction with public bodies such as the National Library of Ireland and made freely available to other scholars and institutions.

In essence, C21 Editions will operate as a response to Joris van Zundert, who calls on theorists and practitioners to "intensify the methodological discourse" necessary to "implement a form of hypertext that truly represents textual fluidity and text relations in a scholarly viable and computational tractable manner". He warns that, without that dialogue, "we relegate the raison d'etre for the digital scholarly edition to that of a mere medium shift, we limit its expressiveness to that of print text, and we fail to explore the computational potential for digital text representation, analysis and interaction."


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