The following principles were written by Peter Shillingsburg and distributed at the MLA meeting in Toronto, December 1993. They may be used to provide a broader context for the Guidelines for Electronic Scholarly Editions adopted by the MLA's Committee on Scholarly Editions, similar to those which exist for printed scholarly editions.

Please send comments to ese@ra.msstate.edu

General Principles for Electronic Scholarly Editions

1. Usability: The Ideal Standard of usability must be that the archive be as easily available as possible to all potential users who have a sufficiently sophisticated computer system to take advantage of electronic scholarly editions. We do not want to make this difficult.

At first I thought that meant that the electronic edition should be packaged and sold or distributed in multiple forms: on floppy disks, tapes, CDs, and laser disks, and with separate forms for Macs, DOS, and UNIX. And in the short haul, I believe that will be the case. It seemed clear that the archive and navigation system as a whole should be designed to take advantage of all the capabilities of desktop computers in their most advanced configuration; but I thought, as well, that the archive must be "available" in some of its basic forms to the least well-equipped user. I suppose that idea results from the democratic principle and the hope that the work of the editor will be available to the greatest number of people. We all know that in the print world, few of us have been able to afford the full-scale scholarly edition of all the works we study. Even our libraries have trouble supplying a whole intellectual community with all the full-scale scholarly editions they should have purchased. So it seemed good to aim for wide distribution of electronic editions.

Reflection suggests that there are serious problems with the idea of distributing electronic editions on disks, CDs, etc.---or at least with the idea of making that the primary mode of distribution---the one determining the standards of data capture and storage.

The first problem with it is the need to create multiple forms for different platforms and different levels of computer power and auxiliary drives. That means duplication of effort for every archive that is created.

The second is that, once distributed, any further improvements to the archive would either be foregone by previous purchasers or new editions would need to be distributed.

A third is that the multiple stand-alone concept requires that each user's computer must be big enough to house sophisticated multi-media software AND the whole archive in order to have maximum utility.

So, at the moment, the First Standard of Electronic Scholarly Editions appears to be: That Electronic Scholarly Editions be Data Bases attached to a Network. There are a number of distinct advantages to this thought.

  1. There will be one location for the archive where current updates will be made and will be simultaneously available to all users.
  2. The integrity of the archive will be protected by its single location.
  3. Each user will need the navigation software for his or her own machine, but will not have to have room for the whole archive.
  4. Each user, having the resident network access software, will be able to access all standardized electronic scholarly edition archives, no matter where in the world the archive is maintained. With standardization of network access, users will NOT have to buy new software every time a new archive is created.
  5. Archives can be made available at any location on the networks and be maintained and updated locally by the editor. There will be no need for a centralized library, though there can be one or more if they are wanted.

Of course, archives could be made available whole to users capable of handling them, and spin-offs in the form of disks, CDs, and even printed texts could be produced as publishers or purchasers saw the need or opportunity.

2. Transportability: The largest problem for the concept of electronic editions when approached from the tradition of print editions---each user with a single final copy of the work---is that nothing, at the moment, is platform-independent: if it works on UNIX, it won't work on DOS or Macintosh. The software system and the archival materials for Electronic Scholarly Editions should be PLATFORM-independent.

At the moment Network Access seems to be the most feasible long-term way to achieve platform independence. I say long term because the networks are currently unable to carry "real time" video, but that will change before long. In addition, we should be looking at progress in the handshaking department between IBM and Macintosh which make it possible to use a single machine in either mode. That may be another solution, but it would be available only to persons with the "right" kind of machine, and that is a concept I would nudge us away from.

The question can be seen as an alternative between developing an EDITION that is available in a different form for each platform, or of developing ACCESS to the Edition from many platforms. I favor the latter.

Because HyperCard for Macintosh and ToolBook for DOS and VNS (Virtual Notebook System (Rice U.) or MOSAIC (U. of Illinois) for UNIX and other hypertext and multimedia authoring systems have been developing, as they must, for specific platforms, it has been natural to think of developing an archive with one of these software and hardware configurations in mind. DynaText has recently been touted as a viable alternative, for it has a different version for each of the three main operating system. But it is currently proprietary (expensive) and lacks some of the graphic capabilities of other systems. No system to date incorporates collation capabilities with graphics. But the standard we aim for must in some sense be universal. And it may be that ACCESS to the editions rather than the EDITIONS themselves is what needs to be Platform-Independent.

Once we find or develop the adequate software authoring and navigational software---adequate in the sense that it lets us do all the things that users of scholarly electronic editions want to do---then the Archive version of the software and the User versions of the software can be linked. Users will have software resident at their personal work stations, the network will connect them to the individual archives, and the data-base version of the software will make use of the archive available regardless of the platform (hardware) the user happens to have.

3. The design of the system and the storage specifications for the archived materials must anticipate the desires of the community of textual critics and scholarly edition users:

  1. Multimedia: The E-edition should integrate text (virtual and textual), images (still, animated, film/video), sound, and color. Currently IBM's TOOLBOOK (as enhanced by the Institute for Academic Technology, Univ. Park, NC) and HyperCard Developer with QuickTime (for the Mac), and MOSAIC (for UNIX) and World Wide Web for networks seem to have the most potential. (PINK, a joint project of MAC and IBM has yet to be seen. VNS [Virtual Notebook System] is a new project at Rice University being developed as multimedia for access through the networks with user software being developed for each of the three major platforms.)
  2. Interactivity: The software design should incorporate the ideal that interaction with the material is desirable. Display of materials to a passive observer is not the only goal. The user must have liberty to navigate the materials at will. The user should have the option of entering parts of the program that are "tutorial" and that prompt the user to react to challenges and suggestions.
  3. User commentary should be attached to the archive, making a growing bulletin board that is indexed to the archive. A user with something to add to the archive or commentary to make on it, should have space to make those contributions. User-added materials should be available to other users. If possible the users' additions should be accessible from particular places in the edition (through links) AND they should be searchable separately as well. BUT the integrity of the base archive should not be compromised by users and their added commentaries.
  4. Printability: the system must give users the capability of marking texts and quoting from any part of the archive for their own use. User commentary and the archive itself must be printable. (This idea raises questions of copyright for which there are several opposing positions. The "capability" of printing and quoting from the archives and commentary should be separate from questions of charging for access or for quotations. In this system, archive developers would have the right to establish access rules or subscription rates as they see fit.)
  5. Linkings: A web or network of cross-referencing should be created. Collation, with programs like CASE and COLLATE, should link variant texts so that one can move immediately from a specific point in one version of a text to its corresponding point in another (this feature is already available in the MAC HyperCard version of CASE). Variant texts should be available in simultaneous multiple windows. Simultaneous scrolling of variant texts should be an available option. Links (through "hot spots" or menus) to annotations, glossary items, pictures, maps and texts should be available in small, moveable, quotable windows.
  6. Intertextuality--linking parallel texts and counter-texts. Parallel texts, annotations, visual contexts, and adaptations should all be linked and available in windows. Responses, sequels, adaptations for stage, radio, film and video (including screenplays), and parodies in any form should be ideal parts of archives and should be linked at least partially. It is very difficult to determine what to include and how to link. This part of the concept is very much dependent on the talent, interests, and resources of the archive compiler.
  7. Contextuality and Interpretations: archival materials should be linked to related materials in other media: Critical commentary (textual and video), interviews, letters, journals, histories, reviews.

4. Security and order: A system for protecting the original archive from user alteration must be combined with an orderly system for identifying user-created copies of any parts of the archive. The original materials must maintain integrity, but users must be free to create alternative versions. New versions should be AUTOMATICALLY and PERMANENTLY identified as new versions, NOT ORIGINAL.

5. Integrity: Archival materials must be linked to specific material sources. Provisions should be made to maintain and enhance a source copy of each scholarly edition. It seems ideal that each archive remain in process, but that the maintenance and improvement of each archive be centralized.

6. Expandability: The archive must be expandable: by the archive owner or compiler as new materials and new links seem appropriate; and by users in a parallel commentary field or bulletin board.

7. Hardcopy capability should be available for "on-demand" publishing. (The question of whether a user should pay for the privilege is separate from the question of whether the capability should be there.) This relates to the current debate about the future of hard-copy scholarly editions. The need for printed texts will continue, but an ideal electronic scholarly edition may make the printed scholarly edition obsolete. A printed text would come to be thought of as one possible version of the work more fully represented by the electronic archive.

8. The "Navigation" system should provide a user-friendly set of options and indications of the availability of the links described in section 3. It should enable a user to retrace a session's use of the archive. It must provide a way to "get back" after chasing a particular line of inquiry through several levels of the hypertext. Likewise, it should be designed to keep the user easily aware of "where" the local viewing scene is in relation to the archive as a whole. In a printed book, one always knows how far one is from the beginning or end of the book. In electronic environments the size of the whole and one's place in the whole should also be readily knowable. Further, in a printed book one can leaf forward or backward or skip forward or backward, while in the electronic environment one can move anywhere and it appears that one has moved only one screen away. There are other ways to imagine the feeling of lostness one can get in the electronic environment; this merely points to the problem.

Peter Shillingsburg
pls1@ra.msstate.edu

Please send comments to ese@ra.msstate.edu