A catalogue of digital editions

July 18, 2013, 10:30 | Short Paper, Embassy Regents F

The focus of my doctoral studies at the UCL Centre for Digital Humanities is the creation of a digital edition of the oldest surviving manuscript of S. Augustine's De Civitate Dei. The manuscript dates back to the early fifth century and most of the existing, scarce research we have predates the 1950s. Its much debated provenance and authorship, due to it being contemporary to Augustine himself, are as intriguing as its rare palaeographical features and marginalia. My research seeks to, firstly, examine best practice in the field of digital editions by collating relevant evidence in a detailed catalogue of extant digital editions. The catalogue records features, scope, philological as well as technological aspects of each edition and aims at becoming a collaborative scholarly endeavour for the benefit of the Digital Humanities community. Secondly (and consequently), lessons learnt from the catalogue will inform the production of an electronic edition of De Civitate Dei, which will include transcriptions of the text and the scholia, high-definition images, a short critical apparatus, as well as background information and links to relevant resources.

What makes a good digital edition? What features do digital editions share? What is the state of the art in the field of digital editions? Why are there so few electronic editions of ancient texts?

To address these questions, I have collated relevant evidence in a detailed catalogue of digital editions. Amongst other things, the catalogue makes a distinction between scholarly and non-scholarly editions; provides a list of tools used; open source and open access projects which will help flag up potential data links; funding bodies which will serve as a popularity record; digital humanities standards compliant projects (TEI, Creative Commons License, linked open data, etc.); and texts under examination as well as their repositories as a means of assessing which countries, areas or cultural institutions are more actively digitising.

Why does this project bring to the Digital Humanities community? A catalogue of digital editions is greatly beneficial as it provides:

  • an accessible, unique record of which texts have had digital editions created and the historical period they belong to;
  • a data bank of features, tools, licences, funding bodies and locations;
  • an insight into past, present and future projects;
  • the possibility of viewing trends or patterns (e.g. what time periods are most covered or which institutions produce the largest number of digital editions);
  • a platform where collaborators can engage in live discussions and update information as it becomes available;
  • a means of identifying which areas need to be improved.

The editions I include in the catalogue come from numerous sources and their selection follows basic criteria: the electronic texts can be ongoing or complete projects [1] , born-digital editions or electronic reproductions of print volumes. These were gathered from existing catalogues [2] , lists, such as Projects using the TEI [3] , RSS feeds, [4] publications (articles, reviews and books), Google Scholar alerts, tweets, word of mouth, web browsing and chaining.

Data is carefully collected and assessed both quantitatively and qualitatively. Content analysis is being carried out along two parallel tracks: a passive approach, whereby I contact each team with a short questionnaire aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of both the production and user ends of the project; and a more active, observational examination of the electronic editions through website and related publications analysis.

The catalogue has been produced using existing tools, Google Spreadsheets and Google Fusion Tables, whose progressive development offers new opportunities in the field of data collection and visualisation. This choice was dictated by a number of factors, namely cost, ease, collaboration, functionality and output. [5] Google Spreadsheets and Tables also provide inbuilt sharing and communication tools, opening up possibilities for live, collaborative and synergetic work.

Once all the data has been analysed, it will be possible to establish the state of the art in the field of electronic editing, draw up a best practice profile and make reliable inferences from which further research can stem and develop.

To date, the catalogue showcases some three-hundred digital editions (this is the estimate figure for July 2013), collected and examined over a period of ten months. Of course, there are many more editions left to include and, indeed, many more to come.

However, interesting facts are already beginning to emerge: several projects, for instance, have not set up analytics as a means of studying usage; projects urging the digital reunification of manuscript fragments are often internally fragmented themselves, having split the project between institutions rather than centralising the material for easy retrieval and management; and TEI guidelines are not as widely adopted in the field of digital editions as we might think.

While initially collated for personal research purposes, I am developing the catalogue into a larger resource, available at: https://sites.google.com/site/digitaleds. The website enables people to report bugs and errors, comment and make suggestions for improvement. Although initially curated by myself, a wider group of administrators is envisaged for a more reliable and smoother experience: regular and prompt updates, continuous support and wider outreach. Scholars can join the project as administrators or editors by contacting the author.

The ultimate aim of the catalogue is not only to be used as a project reference tool but also to bring together scholars in the field, thus systematically and collaboratively creating a unique bank of data which would figure alongside other prominent Digital Humanities resources such as centerNet, the Digital Classicist Wiki and the various associations (ADHO, ACH, ALLC, etc.).


1. Still active on the web

2. Dr. Patrick Sahle's Catalog of Digital Scholarly Editions (available at: http://www.uni-koeln.de/~ahz26/vlet/vlet-about.html); Dr. Paolo Monella (available at: http://goo.gl/smy6p, section 2.2); Dr. Cinzia Pusceddu (available at: http://www.digitalvariants.org/e-philology); Dr. Aurélien Berra (available at: http://philologia.hypotheses.org/corpus); the Monastic Manuscript Project (available at: http://earlymedievalmonasticism.org/listoflinks.html#Digital); Hunter College (available at: http://goo.gl/cBjci); the Digital Classicist (available at: http://goo.gl/r8eUt and http://goo.gl/GSpLl) and the Associazione per l’Informatica Umanistica e la Cultura Digitale wikis (available at: http://www.digitalclassicist.org/wip/index.html). Another notable catalogue is UCLA’s Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts which, however, records some 3126 fully digitised manuscripts as opposed to digital editions (available at: http://manuscripts.cmrs.ucla.edu/index.php ).

3. Available at: http://www.tei-c.org/Activities/Projects/index.xml (Accessed: 2 March 2013).

4. The Ancient World Online (available at: http://ancientworldonline.blogspot.co.uk/); arts-humanities.net (available at: http://www.arts-humanities.net/); Digital Classicist seminars (available at: http://www.digitalclassicist.org/wip/index.html).

5. The data can be exported in different formats: Microsoft Excel (.xlsx); Open Document Format (.ods); PDF Document (.pdf); Comma Separated Values (.csv); Plain Text (.txt); Web Page (.html).