Electronic Publication (Electronic Texts)

As with many activities related to scholarly research, the production of electronic editions and archives - and the associated focus on technologies to assist with that process - has been closely (though not exclusively) entwined with developments associated with the World Wide Web since the mid 1990’s. As the data available to users of the Web has exponentially grown, so has the expectation that material previously only to be found by browsing library stacks should automatically become freely available to all online. In some senses this has actually happened with initiatives such as Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page) which provides reading copies of a significant number and range of publications, but it quickly becomes apparent that there is little by way of scholarly apparatus to describe the derivation or the potential inaccuracy of these resources. As such, they are problematic to wholeheartedly endorse as source material on which to base serious and sustained research.

The main alternative to online publishing has been (and in many cases still is) putting material onto a CD (or DVD) but some would argue that this method of delivery creates as well as solves problems. At a recent Methods Network seminar on ‘Text Editing, Scholarship, Books and the Digital world’, (http://www.methodsnetwork.ac.uk/redist/pdf/es3_2rapreport.pdf) one of the conclusions reached by participants was that publishing on CD was expensive and that the media are prone to failure sooner or later, resulting in time-consuming and expensive wrangling between the publisher and the consumer. On the basis that the consumer will want the electronic version to act as a surrogate printed copy, and would naturally expect a printed copy to last a lifetime, any lack of robustness in the electronic version was understood to be very significant in terms of user satisfaction, even after a considerable period of time had elapsed between the purchase and use of the item.

This issue need not, however, be an inhibiting factor to publication, just as issues to do with technological obsolescence of web based materials need not represent insuperable obstacles to the long term viability of online resources. The key to avoiding such issues is by building in sustainability at the outset, so that new releases of the material, either for re-publication onto new more stable media, or for release into new editions of web browsers (where older code is deprecated to the point where it no longer displays effectively) is not only possible but built into the strategic project plan. The first of these contingencies might be accommodated by technical strategies and will be addressed in later sections of this paper. The second, involving ‘planning’, is rather more difficult to prescribe, relating as it does to more uncertain territories to do with budget availabilities, the effectiveness and audience for the resource, and the perception of the value of the product and its scholarly contribution – none of which will necessarily be predictable at the commencement of a project.

Despite, or perhaps because of these difficulties, it may be useful to look at some exemplar projects that have been influential models for electronic publishing and have also helped to shape the use and development of tools for the processing and manipulation of text. (The appendix in the full version of the working paper has short descriptions of the following four projects)

A great many other projects could equally feature on this shortlist, including the work being carried out to present the 28th edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (http://nestlealand.uni-muenster.de/), an initiative that Peter Robinson describes as ‘perhaps the most elaborate and ambitious of all current electronic edition projects’. (http://www.digitalmedievalist.org/article.cfm?RecID=6)

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