Electronic Textual Editing

A book proposal to the Modern Language Association’s Publication Committee





The Modern Language Association's Committee on Scholarly Editions and the Text Encoding Initiative Consortium propose a jointly sponsored and jointly edited volume, Electronic Textual Editing.  The purpose of the volume would be to provide practical guidance, theoretical perspectives, example texts, and useful tools for those interested in producing scholarly editions in electronic form. 





The Modern Language Association's Committee on Scholarly Editions (CSE) serves as a clearinghouse for information about scholarly editing and editorial projects, offers advice and consultation to editors on request, honors excellence in editing by awarding emblems to qualified volumes, and promotes dissemination of reliable texts for classroom use and among general readers.  The CSE has its origins in the Center for Editions of American Authors (CEAA), established by the Modern Language Association in 1963 to coordinate, evaluate, and fund editorial work in the United States.  The CEAA was succeeded in 1976 by the Committee on Scholarly Editions, a change in name that Thomas Tanselle described as indicating a “broadening of ... scope . . . .  [N]o longer limited to editions of American authors, it now provides simply a ‘Center for Scholarly Editions’--editions of any kind of material from any time and place--and it has shown itself to be concerned with promoting greater contact between editors in different fields"  ("The Editing of Historical Documents," Studies in Bibliography 31 [1978], 1-56).  Beginning in January of 2002, the CSE will be co-chaired by Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, a medievalist from Notre Dame University, and John Unsworth, an Americanist and postmodernist from the University of Virginia, where he is also Director of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities.


The Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) is an international and interdisciplinary standard that helps libraries, museums, publishers, and individual scholars represent all kinds of literary and linguistic texts for online research and teaching, using an encoding scheme that is designed to be maximally expressive and minimally obsolescent.  The TEI began in 1987 as a research effort cooperatively organized by three scholarly societies (the Association for Computers and the Humanities, the Association for Computational Linguistics, and the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing), and funded by substantial research grants from the US National Endowment for the Humanities, the European Union, the Canadian Social Science Research Council, the Mellon Foundation, and others.  In December 2000, a new non-profit membership organization called the TEI Consortium was set up to maintain and develop the TEI standard.  The Modern Language Association is one of the charter members of the TEI Consortium.  The Consortium has executive offices in Bergen, Norway, and has hosts at the University of Bergen, Brown University, Oxford University, and the University of Virginia.  Lou Burnard (of Oxford) is its European editor, and Steve DeRose (of Brown) is its North American Editor.  John Unsworth serves as Chairman of the Board of the TEI Consortium. 


For some years now, the CSE has been grappling with the need to provide some kind of guidance and peer review for electronic scholarly editions.  Draft "Guidelines for Electronic Scholarly Editions,” based on the CSE’s guidelines for scholarly editions in print, were approved in September of 1997 by the Committee, and in 1999, the CSE commissioned a group of editors of electronic editions to review the draft guidelines and comment on them.  That group included Jerome McGann (editor of The Complete Writings and Pictures of Dante Gabriel Rossetti: A Hypermedia Research Archive), Morris Eaves (one of three editors of The William Blake Archive), Hoyt Duggan (editor of The Piers Plowman Electronic Archive), Lou Burnard (European editor of the Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines and the TEI Document Type Definition), and Daniel Pitti (editor of the Encoded Archival Description Guidelines and Document Type Definition).  The outcome of those meetings was a recommendation to the CSE that there should not be two sets of guidelines--one for print, one for electronic--but one set of guidelines, with three parts: basic principles that apply to all scholarly editing, matters that vary according to editorial perspective or the nature of the materials, and technical matters that vary according to the medium of publication.  


Plan of the volume:


The proposed volume would begin with the revised CSE guidelines, which are divided into Principles, Sources and Orientations, and Practices and Procedures.  Those three divisions would then be repeated as section headings for a series of essays on, and examples of, electronic textual editing.  We anticipate that the volume might be 500 pages in length, or about 250,000 words.  In the back of the volume, we would include a TEI CD that would contain the nearly 1400-page TEI Guidelines in electronic form, the TEI DTD, sample marked-up texts showing how to apply TEI to different kinds of texts and different kinds of editing problems, and free software to enable the use of the TEI DTD in the production of electronic editions.  The volume would be co-edited by Lou Burnard (TEI), Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe (CSE), and John Unsworth (CSE and TEI). 


The CSE’s revised Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions are appended to this proposal, in their current state: the Committee is still fleshing out some of the examples in the second part, and as part of the production of this volume would commission the production of the checklist and glossary for electronic editions in part three of the Guidelines.  It is worth pointing out that the Guidelines  are designed to cover both print and electronic editions, and therefore, including them in their entirety in this volume means including some material that is only relevant to print editions; however, it is possible, and even likely, that future print editions will be derived from electronic editions, so the inclusion of this material in the volume, while not pertinent to all editors, may well be pertinent to some, even many. 


Chapters 4, 5, and 6 will be composed of contributions from a number of different authors, invited to contribute by the editors.  Possible authors for the various topics are identified in brackets, in those sections of the outline.  Potential contributors are listed because they are either experienced editors of scholarly editions, or because they are experienced editors of electronic scholarly editions, or because they have in-depth knowledge of the tools and techniques used in designing and delivering electronic editions.



1.         Foreword  (an essay identifying the continuities between the history of textual editing and its future in electronic form, and/or discussing the appropriateness of electronic media to the activity of textual editing)


2.         Editors’ introduction (introducing the aims of the volume as well as the history and goals of the CSE and the TEI)


3.         Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions from the Modern

Language Association’s Committee on Scholarly Editions (attached)


4.         Principles


Why We Edit  [Bob Hirst]

Why We Edit in Electronic Form [Paul Eggert]

What is Text? [Allen Renear, Jerome McGann, Susan Hockey]

What is Markup? [Dino Buzzetti]

Description, Analysis, Procedure [Daniel Pitti]

The Concept of Open Source in Electronic Scholarly Editions [Matt


Explicit and Consistent Editorial Methodologies [Morris Eaves]

Achieving Accuracy in Electronic Editions {Hoyt Duggan]

Documenting Editorial Principles and Practices [Julia Flanders]

            Critical Apparatus in Electronic Editions [Greg Crane]


5.                  Sources and Orientations: Examples


Medieval Manuscripts [Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe]

Documentary Editing: Letters and Personal Papers [David Chesnutt]

Illustrated Texts [Kevin Kiernan]

Poetry [Ken Price]

Prose [Peter Shillingsburg]

Plays [Michael Best]

Mixed Media [Jerome McGann]

Newspapers [Ron Zweig]

Philosophical Texts [Claus Huitfeldt]



6.                  Practices and Procedures


Effective Methods of Producing Machine-Readable Text from

Manuscript and Print Sources [David Seaman]

Entity Management and Entity Naming [Daniel Pitti]

Writing Systems and Character Representation [Christian Wittern]

Parsing: what it does and doesn’t catch [Kirk Hastings]

Options for Rendering and Presentation (and the feedback to markup)

[Sebastian Rahtz]

Search Tools (and the feedback to markup) [Greg Crane]

Databases and Markup: Which to Use When [Gary Simons]

SGML or XML: Which to Use When [Lou Burnard]

When not to use TEI [Michael Sperberg-McQueen?]

Rights and Permissions in an Electronic Edition [John Unsworth]

                        Collection and Preservation of an Electronic Edition [Dan Greenstein]



7.                  The TEI CD


The TEI Guidelines (P4, XML and SGML compliant)

Free XML document editing, DTD editing, stylesheet editing, formatting, browsing, and delivery tools.

Limited or demo versions of commercially available tools for same.

Sample Electronic Texts (referred to from essays in the volume)



Competing Titles:


There are many books on hypertext, hypermedia, cyberculture, and the like.  This volume would not compete with those, as it has a much more specific focus, on textual (or scholarly) editing in electronic form.  If we focus only on books that overlap in that narrower area, the number is small:


Shillingsburg, Peter. Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age: Theory and Practice. University of Georgia Press, 1986.


Robinson, P. M. W.  The Transcription of Primary Textual Sources Using SGML.  Oxford: Office for Humanities Communication, 1994.


Finneran, Richard J., ed. The Literary Text in the Digital Age, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.


M. Deegan & K. Sutherland, eds., The Electronic Text: Investigations in Method and Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.


Susan Hockey, Electronic Texts in the Humanities: Principles and Practice, Oxford University Press, 2000. 


None of these books intends to offer the kind of practical advice we propose providing to prospective editors, and none comes with the editorial guidelines of a major scholarly organization’s peer-review committee, or with the kind of in-depth technical guidelines and software tools that the TEI would provide.  Of the volumes listed above, the most recent is probably also the closest in spirit to what we’re proposing, but, as the review from Bryn Mawr Classical Review (http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2001/2001-07-10.html) makes clear, even Hockey’s book “does not explain how to create a text or a corpus, or how to implement various techniques.” 



Audience and Relevance to the MLA:


The advent of the Web and its rapid, global adoption as a kind of all-encompassing digital library have made it clear that in the coming generation a substantial amount of re-editing of texts that are now published only in print must and will take place, as various nations, language groups, and interest communities move their cultural heritage online.  This circumstance is an opportunity to revitalize textual editing, currently a dwindling area of expertise, beset economically by the cost of massive print editions and professionally by the unfashionable status of bibliography and textual studies.  It is also an opportunity to introduce best practices--both scholarly and technical--to those who will produce electronic texts in the coming generation.  Those of us involved in electronic textual editing projects are keenly aware of the demand for practical advice on the techniques and technology used in producing electronic editions.  The members of the Committee on Scholarly Editions are, for their part, just as keenly aware of the need to promote and disseminate best practices in textual editing, whether in electronic or print form.   We believe, therefore, that the proposed volume would provide a needed service to the scholarly community, and would be a service to the members of both the MLA and the TEI.  Moreover, this volume would serve to direct editors to the CSE for peer review and to the TEI for consulting and technical advice. 





The TEI will contribute its guidelines and the rest of the material on the CD free of charge.  There would be a cost associated with manufacturing the CD, of course, but no permissions fees for the material on it.


Don Waters, program officer at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has expressed an interest in this project, and if the MLA publications committee approves of it, we will ask Don to fund two meetings in furtherance of this publication--a first meeting which might take place as early as spring, 2002, at which the editors would assign topics to invited contributors and discuss with those contributors the overall shape and purpose of the volume, and a second meeting, about nine months later, to review drafts from contributors, discuss revisions with them, and move the volume into a final editing stage.  These meetings could be held at the MLA headquarters or (for the second meeting) in conjunction with the annual MLA convention, or at the home institution of one of the volume’s editors.  We would also ask the Mellon Foundation to provide honoraria for contributors.  It is our hope that the MLA would serve as agent of record for this grant, even though the grant would necessarily precede a contract being signed for the completed manuscript.  Administrative costs for managing the grant would be included in the grant budget, and the proposal to Mellon would be coordinated with the MLA. 





Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions

From the Modern Language Association’s Committee on Scholarly Editions



I.       Principles


The scholarly edition's basic task is to present a reliable text: scholarly editions make clear what they promise and keep their promises.  Reliability is established by



—explicitness and consistency with respect to methods, accuracy with respect to texts, adequacy and appropriateness with respect to documenting editorial principles and practice.   The means by which these qualities are established will depend, to a considerable extent, on the materials being edited and the methodological orientation of the editor, but certain generalizations can be made: 







II.      Sources and Orientations


A.        Considerations with respect to source material (with examples of why these considerations would be important in scholarly editing):   











B.        The editor's theory of text, or perspective on the text, or purpose:


Editorial perspectives range broadly across a spectrum from an interest in authorial intention, to an interest in the process of production, to an interest in reception, and editors may arrive at a given methodology for a variety of reasons.  In very general terms, one could see copy-text, recensionist, and best-text editing as being driven by an interest in authorship--but best-text editing might also be driven by an interest in the process of production, along with "optimist", diplomatic, documentary, and social-text editing.  Social-text editing might also be driven by an interest in reception--as "versioning" and variorum editing might be.  And of course, an editing practice that is primarily interested in authorship might very well be interested in production and/or reception--any good editor will be aware of the importance of all of these things.  However, when an editor has to choose what to attend to, what to represent, and how to represent it, there should be a consistent principle that helps in making those decisions. 


[Bibliographical references on specific theoretical orientations or perspectives to be provided here]


C.        Medium (or media) in which the edition will be published:


The decision to publish in print, electronically, or both will have an impact on a number of aspects of the edition, on its fortunes, and on the fortunes of its editor.  Some questions an editor should consider in choosing the medium of publication:













III.     Practices and Procedures


1. checklist for reviewers of print editions (as now exists).


2. explanatory notes or glosses on each item in the checklist.


3. checklist for reviewers of electronic editions.


4. explanatory notes or glosses on each item in the checklist.