Kenneth M. Price’s article, “Electronic Scholarly Editions”, addresses the advantages and disadvantages of digital scholarly publication as a method of preservation of scholarly editions. Price is a Professor of American Literature and is very much involved in the digital humanities. He is co-director of the Walt Whitman Archive with Ed Folsom, which involves editing Whitman’s works online. He also co-directs the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He begins his article by pointing out the cost and time put into digital editions and states that it remains an “attractive medium” for editors, despite its uncertainty as a method of preservation. Price specifically concentrates on scholarly editions. He states that “[m]ere digitizing produces information; in contrast, scholarly editing produces knowledge”.
The first concern Price raises about electronic editions is the lack of dedicated qualified staff to carry out the task of converting content. He says that academics tend to neglect editing because literary and cultural theories are given priority by the academy. The scholarly editions Price refers to are often termed “archives” on the net, and there are many such examples available such as the William Blake Archive, the Dickinson Electronic Archives, and the Einstein Archive Online. Digital archiving “blends features of editing and archiving”. Price believes that the edition is only part of the archive: the archive itself contains much more. For example, the Walt Whitman Archive contains many tools and resources such as letters, transcriptions, images, manuscripts, audio clips, etc. It is much more than a mere edition, it is an interactive history.
Price presents a good argument for the production of electronic scholarly editions. He lists the advantages as follows: they are capacious, and hence allow scholars go beyond the limits of print publishing; depth and richness can be added through the use of art, colour, audio and video clips; they also add depth of meaning to a text and bring a wider readership to the edition. Digital editions allow a greater scope for editing, or perhaps lack of editing, as all versions of a text can be included along with commentaries from authors and editors alike. A text no longer has to be whittled down to the author’s final intended text. All versions can be included and readers can debate the eligibility of each one. According to Price, with censorship and social pressures removed, a text’s true values and meanings can be questioned. However, editorial decisions are not removed. There are still issues such as database design and mark-up of texts to be decided on. Other disadvantages, Price suggests, include the possibility of bias. The way an edition is presented plays a key role in its interpretation. While Price openly admits that electronic scholarly editions can be challenging to produce, he embraces these challenges and sees them as attractive: “I would argue that these very challenges contribute to the attraction of working in this medium”.
Price goes on to describe the difference between digital library editions and electronic scholarly editions, using the Wright American Fiction project as an example. While this section does not add much to Price’s argument, it does offer some insight into the amount of work put into an undertaking such as the Wright American Fiction project. Price raises an interesting point here which is the possibility of releasing digital editions as a work-in-progress. The advantages of this lie in its searchability, however the stability of an electronic edition is affected by its ever-changing nature.
Price dedicates a large section of his article to “unresolved issues and unrealized potentials” of digital editions. He believes that the full potential of electronic editing can only be reached by adherence to international standards, such as those set out by the TEI and the EAD. Price also points out that “scholarly work may be free to the end-user but it is not free to produce”, something which is very easy for the reader of an electronic edition to forget. Electronic scholarship is lacking in funding, which is essential to its future development, and there is also the problem of undefined roles: “Traditional boundaries are blurring before our eyes as these groups – publishers, scholars, and librarians – increasingly take on overlapping functions”. However, Price once again turns the negative into a positive: “While this situation leaves much uncertainty, it also affords ample room for creativity, too, as we move across newly porous dividing lines”.
Price, while able to see the challenges facing digital scholarship in the future, is ever-optimistic. With proper funding, he believes, electronic editions will expand audiences and, while not replacing paper-based articles, they will certainly contribute to their informative value and to the preservation of texts. Price sums it up well in his own words when he says it is “a field of expansiveness and tremendous possibility”.