Modern Language Association (MLA) Committee on Scholarly Editions, White Paper, Considering the Scholarly Edition in the Digital Age

The Modern Language Association’s (MLA) Committee on Scholarly Editions’ white paper Considering the Scholarly Edition in the Digital Age is a fabulous resource for those creating and working with scholarly editions, as well as for more generally thinking about how we evaluate, validate, and value digital work. From the white paper:

Further conditions that apply specifically to a digital scholarly edition include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • it must note its technological choices and be aware of their implications, ideally using technologies appropriate to the goals of the edition (see fit between methods and goals, above), in recognition of the fact that technologies and methods are interrelated in that no technical decisions are innocent of methodological implications and vice versa;
  • it should be created and presented in ways ensuring greatest chance of longevity — a challenge the address of which involves infrastructural, financial, and data representation issues (such as the use of widely accepted, open standards);
  • it should readily respond to the challenge of maintaining the scholarly ability to be referenced in view of the ways that interfaces change over time; and
  • >where possible, it should attend to possibilities of sampling, reuse, and remix, supporting approaches to the formation and curation of the edition such as reconstructing and documenting instances of texts and textual change over time, like algorithmic construction and reconstruction (with possible extensibility, including external data); in doing so, it should attempt to balance considerations for intellectual property and labor with the goals of achieving open access and reusability.

These are added to the “minimal conditions that mark an edition–in our terms–as a scholarly edition now”:

  • it must account completely and responsibly for the textual landscape it represents;
  • it must fully describe and justify its editorial methods;
  • it should reveal the processes by which it was created and disseminated (including data, data structures and constraints, and algorithmic or dynamic processes), and it should include a record of changes and updates made to the edition over time, which otherwise tend to remain invisible in the digital environment;
  • it should reveal the judgment and scholarship, the editorial rationales and processes, on which the edition is based;
  • it should evince a rigorous standard of accuracy and consistency in applying a particular editorial approach, set of theoretical premises, or method;
  • it should demonstrate the appropriate fit between stated methodology, stated goals of the edition (e.g., reconstructing authorial intent, reconstructing the social text, etc.), and the nature of the existing textual witnesses;
  • it should contain a detailed textual introduction or editorial policy statement, as distinguished from a critical introduction, that outlines these aspects; and
  • it should include consideration of how the edition can circulate and function as a scholarly resource over time.

The requirement on explicitly including technical choices and implications is critical for sustainable and reproducible research, and for building infrastructures, technical and human, including a broader community of practice to engage widely for translational and public scholarship. This is an excellent document. Congratulations and thanks to the Committee on Scholarly Editions for their work!


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