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Commissioned Review

Commissioning Editor: Rebecca Welzenbach, School of Information, University of Michigan.
Accepting Editor: Peter A. Stokes, University of Cambridge.
Received: 2009-08-07
Revised: 2009-08-13
Published: 2009-09-01

Keywords: Burnard, Lou; O'Brien O'Keeffe, Katherine; Unsworth, John; critical editions; editorial theory; review.


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§ 1    As editors continue to transition from the production of scholarly print editions to electronic editions, we must remember the roots of our labors and frame our work by looking behind us and ahead. We must position ourselves so that we can see our editorial past and understand how the body of print knowledge informs the ever-expanding nexuses provided by electronic editing. Electronic Textual Editing serves as a watershed collection of essays that asks important questions about this shift and that offers the responses of seasoned editors of electronic editions.

§ 2    This volume contains "Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions" with an annotated bibliography of the key works in the theory of textual editing, both produced by the MLA's Committee on Scholarly Editions. A "Summary of Principles" for scholarly editing follows and then the twenty-four articles are equally divided into two categories: "Sources and Orientations" and "Practices and Procedures." An extensive list of works cited, including those websites mentioned throughout the text, and a thorough index conclude the volume. The publishers also include on CD-ROM in a plastic sleeve the complete text of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) P4 guidelines.

§ 3    The articles run the gamut from theorizing and conceptualizing an electronic edition to specific markup strategies and copyright concerns for editors. For example, articles discuss the virtues and drawbacks of standoff markup (Crane), the challenge and benefits of rhyzomatic editorial approaches (Gants), when not to use TEI markup (Lavagnino), the benefits and limits of OCR technology (Fenton and Duggan), how best to deal with document authentication (Berrie et al.), the clarity offered by drama-specific tags (Gants), and the licensing of one's edition to users (Case and Green). Authors present these argument within discussions treating library systems and journal databases, and electronic editions in Old Norse, classical Greek and Latin, Biblical studies, Philosophy, modern Dutch, and medieval and modern English.

§ 4    The articles in this volume highlight three main points. The first, evoked in the introduction and by Tanselle, Buzzetti and McGann, Rosenberg, Parker, and Deegan, is that the medium, or materiality, of the scholarly edition may now differ in its electronic form, but that the same principles and goals that have applied to print editions throughout the past two centuries—intellectual rigor and transparency of method (Parker), preservation, access, dissemination, and analysis-interpretation (Buzzetti and McGann, 53)—are equally necessary in preparing an electronic edition, whether online or distributed on CD. The second, and corollary, point is that forethought and planning are just as important when preparing an electronic edition as a print one, because of problems as disparate choice of method (Kiernan; Fenton and Duggan), document architecture (Gants; Vanhoutte), time encoding (Vanhoutte) and business plans (Eaves), textual reliability (Berrie et al.), and the limitations of using XML as well as working effectively with collaborators (passim). Finally, these difficulties are further complicated by how we are newly conceiving of the customary relations between the edited text and its reader-user (Fraistat and Jones, 116) because the electronic edition need not remain bound to the linear print model. On the contrary, we are now confronting issues such as multiuser virtual-reality environments (Fraistat and Jones, 116). We will most likely see more editions that incorporate images, streaming audio, MOOs and Wikis, bi-directional links, and other self-expressive features that scholars and students alike will generate because electronic editions afford them a more interactive role.

§ 5    Burnard et al. succeed in presenting an excellent primer to thinking about how to conceive and prepare an electronic edition. Throughout, they address preliminary theorizing and then offer an array of hands-on examples that allow the reader to see the struggles and success of scholarly forays into electronic editing. I understand the practicality dividing the volume into the two categories mentioned above, but it was not necessary since most of the articles discuss the sources, orientations, practices, and procedures that this volume addresses and which comprise the creation of an electronic edition.

§ 6    Although this text is an excellent resource, and the principles discussed and modeled and the questions raised apply to many texts in many languages, there is no mention of editions in Asian or Slavic languages, and French, limited to the Roman de la Rose Digital Library at The Johns Hopkins University, is the only Romance language discussed. Absent are those such as the Charrette Project <http://www.mshs.univ-poitiers.fr/cescm/lancelot/>, begun 1990 and seminal in electronic French-language studies, and the Cantar de mio Cid <http://www.laits.utexas.edu/cid/> which has combined image, transcription, translation, and streaming audio in one site, thus exemplifying how the potential multiplicity offered by electronic editions can be utilized for research and in the classroom. A complement in future editions of this volume would be a more thorough index of the different software mentioned in articles. This list is incomplete and it might serve readers well to have a separate index of these items, like there is for the hot links mentioned. Finally, and although the editors have no control over this aspect, the accompanying CD did not run in either a Mac or PC.

§ 7    Despite these minor shortcomings, Electronic Textual Editing is a welcome and needed compilation of clear and concise articles in a single volume on the theory and praxis of electronic editing. In her closing paragraph, Marilyn Deegan rightly concludes that [a]nyone who has read this far in this volume is well equipped to begin an editing project with most of the tools they need at their fingertips (370). This is because editors invited contributions from scholars who have been at the forefront of humanities computing for years. And they do not disappoint.