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A Diet of Worms in the Digital Age

Satisfactory Essays
A Diet of Worms in the Digital Age

I can’t prove it, but there is no doubt in my mind that textual arguments have been raging in scholarly circles for as long as there has been text to debate. In my mind’s eye I can see them: ancient Sumerian scribes lecturing each other about clay types and wedge depth; early Semitic peoples voting “no” on the vowel; medieval European scribes boldly pushing forward with punctuation, spaces between words, and the lower-case alphabet, and having heated debates on the long-term viability of the capital letter. And then came the printing press! Can you imagine the contention! What bold new vistas were opened up for scholarship! But anyone could publish anything—no matter what the quality! And surely, this spelled the doom of calligraphy.

With the advent of the digital age, scholarly textual debate has simply entered a new phase. At issue here: what is the potential of digitally-powered scholarship, and how can that potential be realized? What approaches should we take in terms of format and methodology?

William H. O’Donnell and Emily A. Thrush (“Designing a Hypertext Edition of a Modern Poem”) discuss the issues involved in designing hypertext editions of literature. Specifically, they refer to the edition of Yeats’s “Lapis Lazuli” that they designed. The main work to be studied, they feel (be it “Lapis Lazuli” or something else), must not be cluttered with visible links. They have devised a method of windowing that anticipates the modern “frames” format of Internet documents, and stress that any attempt at electronic analysis of a work of literature must be intuitively structured, easy to use, and customizable. Their edition of “Lapis Lazuli” appears well-constructed and functional and seems to have fairly broad appeal, but it seems also to be intended more as an aid to understanding the poem than as a tool for scholarly research. This distinction separates this article somewhat from the others considered here, though the basic format could be applied to other projects.

Peter Shillingsburg (“Principles for Electronic Archives, Scholarly Editions, and Tutorials”) frankly admits that what we all secretly want is to have every conceivable kind of information—textual, visual, audio—related to a given topic all sorted for us and available right at our fingertips. This is, of course, impossible, but he feels that electronic editions of scholarly works have the potential to come closer to that ideal than any other medium. He systematically lays out the main problems facing those who create electronic editions and suggests some ways to address them.
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