Elena Pierazzo on Digital Scholarly Editing


Elena Pierazzo from King’s College gave an introduction to Digital Scholarly Editing. She started by reminding that text editing started a very long time ago. At the Library of Alexandria, Scholars discovered that if you compare (‘collate’) two copies of a any given work, these were different. Very different. The main objective has not changed since then. Reconstruction of the “correct” version of texts. But what is the “correct” version of a text? And first of all, what is a text? Answers to these questions obviously depend on the context.

Textual transmission is an act of communication. Pierazzo suggested to start with a working definition for what is a text : a linguistic architecture that conveys a message.  Editing assumes that textual transmission is an act of communication. A source is transmitted through a channel to a receiver. To do this you need a code for transmitting and code for receiving. But the code of sender and the code of receiver is never exactly the same.

The context and the medium. If textual transmission is an act of communication, then two things are very important for the transmission: The context (Jakobson) and the channel/medium (McLuhan). Reading a text on a scroll, a codex (manuscript), a  printed book, on the screen of a computer or on the screen of a mobile are not the same thing. The channel plays a crucial role in the transmission and hence the reception of the text.

Noise. In textual transmission, “noise” is present at many levels : in the writing system, in the writing conventions, in the style of writing (rhetorics), in the support (damaged by fire, eaten by mice, etc.), in the screen colours, in the pronunciation (that affect writing), in the language (in translation), in the involuntary mistakes that add to all the other effects.

Variation is unavoidable. Textual transmission is texual variation. Variation is determined by differences of channel, code, context and the noise. Variation is unavoidable. Editorial theories and methods provide different ways on how to make sense of the variation. They provide different definitions of what correct means.

The dual nature of texts. “If the Mosa Lisa is the Louvre, where is Hamlet?” (Bateson 1972). Texts are both immaterial and material. Immaterial because they can be separated by their support and they are transmittable. But they are also embodied in physical objects: documents. What is a document ? It is a physical object that contains some sort of information.

The multidimensionality of texts. Immaterial and material dimensions of texts can even be subdivided. The immaterial dimensions include the linguistic dimension (text, grammatical rules), the semantic dimension (what the word means), the literary dimension (style, rhetorical features). The material dimensions include the graphemic, iconic and codicological dimensions. Each of these dimensions can be studied separately. This leads to a more precise definition of text : A text is a multidimensional message that conveys a set of meanings transmitted by various codes (dimensions) which are potentially understandable to at least one group of receivers holding the capabilities or the interest to decipher at least of such code.

The text-document axis : Theories about scholarly edition can be sorted on the Text-document axis starting with  stemmatics, social text, genetic criticism (consisting in editing every single stage of the creation of the work), new Philology. Different forms of edition can also be sorted on the Text-document axis : texts on the web (neo-platonistic texts), reading editions, critical editions, semi-diplomatic editions, diplomatic editions, ultra-diplomatic editions (page mimics the edition), fac-similé editions.

Editing is dematerialising. The editor describes documents, tells stories about them. The level of dematerialisation determines the style of scholarly editing.

Elena Pierazzo then showed several examples of situations where the document is more important than the text itself, situations where there is no text. These are real challenges for scholarly editions.

She discussed what changed with the arrival of computers in the way we published, the way we read, the way we use and prepare editions and discussed the new paradigm of the editor as an encoder. Encoding is interpretation and in the digital world, interpretation takes the form of encoding.  Digital editions are getting powerful and different from their printed counterparts.

However, the view of texts as one Ordered Hierarchy of Content Objects (OHCO, 1990) is not valid anymore.  Texts are not just chapters, sections, verse, plays. OHCO model only one dimension of text at the time. The problem is that XML also implements a very hierarchical view of texts. This is a highly simplified idea of texts.

Pierazzo concluded that every edition is an hypothesis – the point of view of an editor – insisting on the fact that there is nothing objective in any edition.

2 thoughts on “Elena Pierazzo on Digital Scholarly Editing

  1. Pingback: Sabine Susstrunk’s Intro Lecture to Gallerie dell’Accademia | Digital Venice

  2. Pingback: Digital Humanities Venice Fall School 2013 | Mostly DH and networks

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