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(Lisa Gitelman’s comment inspired this blog post title — rhetorical suppleness is necessary to revise our thinking about scholarly editions. Also, Martha Nell Smith has been thinking about this since at least 2007 [and earlier]. See Addendum below the OED definition below.)

On March 16, 2:30-4:45 (though I attempted to conclude us at 4:15), 16-18 passionate, interested people attended my seminar on Redefining the Scholarly Edition (with digital-ness in mind). We debated many things, but most adamantly the conversation turned to binaries and exclusions (hence why I did not qualify the attendees as scholars, professionals, or amateurs). We had a wiki (restricted access) set up to provide some additional readings and a way to document our gathering. I invite seminar participants to continue the conversation on our wiki.

The room was set up to privilege the speaker, lectern, screen, and white boards. I took 45 minutes to set up the seminar, my arguments, the over-arching questions for the day, and some points of rupture. (Matt Kirschenbaum very smartly advised me to teach to the conflicts, something I took to heart.) Lest this seminar become a long treatise on my ideas, we began with introductions and interests. The participants ranged from curious graduate students to senior faculty/experienced practitioners of print and digital editing. Interestingly many of the younger scholars were hungry for introductory material; most wrote in their statements that they were actively engaged in producing digital archives/editions but had never had a course or compiled a reading list on the field.

Since this was a new meeting format for STS, I wasn’t quite sure how to structure it. The seminar is a well-trod classroom format but this would be a room full of enthusiastic interested audience members who I wanted to engage in conversation for over 2 hours —  with each other.

After about 45 minutes of remarks, a dimly-lit Powerpoint, and a discussion regarding the failures of current scholarly editions specifically in terms of my digital archive, we opened the floor to discussion, which ranged from defining the archive, access, canon formation, translation/transcription, encoding (linguistic only), newspaper poetry, speech transcription, user interface and layering of data, rescue, multi-media of literary texts, organizational principles, amateur/professional binaries, and metadata curation.

What follows are my raw notes, slides, and some itinerant scribblings culled from the discussion. I invite the participants to revise/amend my notes, continue the conversation.


I began my work in Digital Humanities by accident — I wanted to save these little books from vituperous 19th century reviewers. And no one was really working on them about 10 years ago.  Voila! Instant dissertation, but only after I learned some textual theory, a little digital theory (but very little in those days) and some rudimentary Frontpage with frames.  I even had to amass my own collection of these little books because no one had an extensive enough collection for me to make large, sweeping historical gestures about their worth and their contents’ contribution to British literary studies.  So, I started scanning to avoid opening and closing these books, to arrange the data (in hand-coded HTML pages) so I could look at a glance and make connections.  David Greetham, let me do it, even encouraged me, for one of his seminars.  What happened afterwards, as with many of these projects, was that it went public, became a chapter in my dissertation and grew into a project that required server space, database, metadata, continuity, and more. The project also continuously still asks the question (but does not answer): what is a scholarly edition or even an archive?

The metadata and transcripts of the Forget Me Not Archive have become part of the Poetess Archive, which is primarily a database in TEI.  It’s not an edition.  And, it’s much wider in literary scope.  And it has momentum, funding, server space, database designer, a NINES exec, web designer and a handfull of editors and graduate students working on it, including myself.  We haven’t yet figured out how to successfully combine the aesthetics of the Forget Me Not Archive with the rich data in the Poetess Archive.  Do we preserve the connections that I’ve made or do we present raw data?  Recently, Laura Mandell, added visualizations and will now start accepting Collex exhibits as articles for the accompanying Poetess Archive Journal. (


My ideas about “archive” are based upon Derrida’s mal d’archive and my experiences as a student archivist at Fales Library. The following story is one that explains this idea of dumping stuff into the archive, an idea that I wholeheartedly fight against in new instantiations of “archive”:

In attempt to construct an archive of himself, Eddie Ellis donated his papers to Fales Library, a collection project in which I participated along with Mike Kelly. A newspaperman and author, Ellis was the author of twenty-two million words in a diary begun in 1927.  This massive tome contained detailed “semi-historical” entries every day of his life until his death in 1998. He “published approximately one percent of his seventy-volume diary in 1995 in a single volume entitled A Diary of the Century: Tales From America’s Greatest Diarist” – as noted in his obituary in the New York Times.

When we first arrived to his Manhattan apartment, Ellis logged me into his diary after inquiring my name, hobbies, field of study and personal religious beliefs.  There I was, instilled in the archive created by Eddie Ellis – not a physical archive like the papers we were collecting for storage, but an archive of language and remembrance stored in a handwritten, pre-bound daily diary.  The entire contents of a tiny, front room held his life’s diary, scattered in voluminous, unordered disarray.  Ellis had chosen to donate his life/papers to Fales Library, NYU for some specific reason. So, Mike Kelly, Assistant Librarian at Fales, and I pillaged drawers, closets, desks, boxes and pictures.  On the second day of literally chucking loose papers into preservation-quality boxes, we were forced to make an executive decision of quite a delicate matter:  I chanced upon a white plastic garbage bag buried behind three stacked boxes.  In our all-inclusive quest, we were taking everything now with the intention of sorting later.  Without thinking, I opened the large bag, curious of its contents: It was filled with various sexual toys. At that same moment, Kelly opened a closet in the tiny room and found two decades’ worth of stag magazines.

We giggled quietly at our own embarrassment and tried to figure out what to do with the material artifacts we had just found. Considering the infatuation with the history of pornography in this country and the recent permanent archival installments of sexual instruments in a major archival institution, we questioned the exclusion of these cultural objects.  But, we were to collect only the papers of Eddie Ellis for our library’s archive and not the material remnants of his life.  We left the magazines and the plastic bag intact in Ellis’ apartment and never mentioned them to him.

Our decision to exclude remnants of Ellis’ (or some acquaintance’s) better days of sexual promiscuity contaminates the “total” archive of the man, Eddie Ellis, because we did not collect this information in any permanent document, like notes in a Finding Aid.  This archival information has been lost in selecting the contents of the archive itself.  The human “official” institutional memory has been erased as well:  I no longer work at Fales; Mike has probably forgotten about it; and Eddie has since died.

The ideological existence of the archive as a house of memories engenders the act of making and creating a history.  But, I contend that the institutional archive – meaning actual archives which are a part of major research and university libraries – collects and creates a visible continuum of specific pasts or histories which are contaminated with a process of provenance, acquisition, and preservation.  The archives are physical embodiments of this specifically constructed memory, not re-writing history but in essence writing over multiple historical constructs. Eddie Ellis’s “library” (his diary manuscript), represents this man’s desire to record every moment and person with whom he intersects.  Why else would he enter me into his diary, especially when he was two to three months away from dying of emphysema?  His questions to me held an urgency, a desire that he knew could never be fulfilled.  Other than those questions, he never spoke to us but continued to work in a room adjacent to ours.  His diary became his legacy, his archive. Borges’s metaphorical fantasy of the library becomes Eddie Ellis’s attempt to process and subsume the world into his imagination and reconstruct it for a reader (or a sceptic), essentially creating his own Borgesian version of a “total book.” Like Borges’ quest, the archivist’s – Ellis’ in this case – desire to contain a “total” archive is an inevitably doomed quest to possess history under one domicile, one house.  Our (meaning the library’s archive’s) quest is also doomed because the archive will never be complete as is evidenced by our decision to not gather up certain elements of Ellis’ life.

A book, a printed bound work, represents its own archive, in an attempt to contain, order, and disseminate knowledge. The body of the object is marked with its own truth-values, beyond the written language between its covers. Its “bibliographic codes” reveal sociological and mechanical clues relevant to the book’s history, i.e., production and provenance. These “`unsightly’ features present in an old document, such as folds and creases, water stains, insect holes, grease, and ink splotches, [which] are integral to the document’s history and authenticity and should not be removed for merely aesthetic reasons,” admonishes John Baker, a historian of the New York Public Library.


Turning to my work as an editor, I described the dilemma, the inadequate representation of literary annuals in a digital environment. Then, I had to explain why:

An archivist generally preserves these markers, even at the expense of user access, because they provide information about the book’s unique history.  In a capacity different than my work on Ellis’ collection of papers, I became an archivist of a nineteenth-century literary genre and started the work of creating its bibliographic and literary history of an entire genre. By wrapping beauty, literature, landscape art, and portraits into an alluring package, British editors and publishers filled the 1820s with one of the most popular and best-selling genres, the literary annual. Published yearly around November and sold for a considerable sum, these beautiful objects were given as tokens of friendship and love in middle-class England. Despite being accused of causing an “epidemic” and inspiring an “unmasculine and unbawdy age,” the annuals captivated readers in early nineteenth-century England. The annuals survived, even thrived, from the attention offered by their readers despite – or as I argue elsewhere,13 because of – their “feminine” writing and over-saturated, beautiful form.  Even literati Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Tennyson begrudgingly embraced both the genre and its overwhelmingly feminine audience. The genre has been much maligned by twentieth-century scholars; my task has been to discover the multiple layers of memory built into these varied books.

This particular literary genre is an example of the contradictory nature of an archive: each volume is a resident within the genre’s overarching archive of mass-produced femininity but each is also unique for its bibliographic codes and user’s markings, e.g., aging process, inscriptions, or annotations. The bibliographic code, as George Bornstein points out, “corresponds to the aura and, like it, points to the work’s `presence in time and space.’” The aura authenticates the object’s fragmented moments of production, creation, and dissemination in a historical continuum. In this (or any) archive, though, what moment is being preserved? The moment of writing, printing, author’s essence/presence, reader’s consumption, commodified exchange after passage of time, moment of commodified touch, or moment of possession?  Which layer should be privileged, archived, or preserved?  These are the questions that plague not just a physical archivist but also de-stabilize the definition of archive itself.

I created an archive to exhibit the nineteenth-century archives: “Forget Me Not: A Hypertextual Archive of Ackermann’s Nineteenth-Century Literary Annual.” This Hypertextual Archive reveals more than an object or artifact from the nineteenth century.  It reveals/unveils works which are hidden behind inadequate catalogue entries and rare book library doors as well as rendering a re-presentation of a different work – the digital work – and presents it in an archive of images and a collection of Forget Me Nots. A hypertextual or digital rendering allows an archive to expand, replicate and affect more than the singular user of the material object; and, because of its possibilities for expansion, the digital archive comes closer to Borges’ “total book” than any other type of critical edition.

Within the Hypertext, the contents (editor’s preface, table of contents, table of engravings, engravings, inscription plates, poetry and prose) and bibliographic elements (bindings, covers) of the 1823-1830 Forget Me Not volumes have been transcribed, scanned and digitally reproduced to illustrate the inseparable importance between authorship and textual object. Though the Forget Me Not was published yearly from 1823-1847, the Hypertextual Archive ceases with the 1830 Forget Me Not because it is during this year that the intent, publication and market reception began to heavily impact the production of these popular volumes.  Though they did not fall from public favor, the genre became riddled with imitators and sub-genres of the original literary miscellany begun by Rudolph Ackermann and improved by Alaric A. Watts.

The Hypertextual Archive is structured in frames: a stationary, permanent left frame for navigation and a right frame for viewing the Archive’s contents.  After entering the Archive through the primary Index or Home page, the user is automatically taken into the frames structure and the “Introduction” where each navigation choice in the left frame is defined.  The “Introduction” also chronicles the evolution of the site with monthly updates from January 2003 to the present.  The “Histories & Rationale” section offers a truncated history of literary annuals as well as the theoretical rationale for re-presenting the Forget Me Not in its digital form.  The Archive also includes contextual material that identifies the literary annual within the nineteenth century in a section entitled “Genre’s Context.”  This section includes a yearly chronological list of annual titles (to exhibit the genre’s prodigious publication), a list of titles, publishers and editors of all literary annuals published in England through 1830, a list of prominent (i.e., canonical) authors’ contributions to annuals, a selection of contemporary reviews from various periodicals and a selection of general comments by and about publishers, editors and contributors to literary annuals.

Various indexes comprise the “FMN Contents” section, including the Forget Me Not’s contributors, poem titles, prose titles, engraving titles, engravers and artists.  Each lists the various types of contributors and contributions to the 1823-1830 volumes and is arranged alphabetically.  (Unfortunately, the Hypertextual Archive is not searchable except on individual pages.)

The following section, “FMN Contents,” offers facsimiles (scanned images) of various elements from each Forget Me Not volume 1823-1830.  In addition, each facsimile has been transcribed and enriched with hyperlinks.  The transcribed table of contents for each volume links each contributor’s name to his/her contributions to all of the literary annuals, and some prose and poetic contributions (very few) have been included and are accessible through a hyperlinked title in the same transcription. In addition, each volume’s engravings have been included in that year’s master page. Detailed bibliographic descriptions of each volume are also included in this section.

A non-frames Site Index, a link to the Updates, the Bibliography/ Works Cited, Acknowledgments and a Guestbook are all included in the “General Information” section – a section which deals with the administrative portions of the Archive.  The Archive was constructed in HyperText Mark-up Language (HTML) using a simple Web design program, Microsoft FrontPage. In the spirit of making lesser-known works accessible to all scholars, I chose to “go live” with the Archive. Because I was the Webmaster for the Women’s Studies Certificate Program at The Graduate Center CUNY, I was able to attach the site to their Web pages, but only until the day I graduated from the University’s doctoral program in English Literature. Now, the Archive resides on the University of Miami, Ohio servers where it will stay permanently, or at least until we can decide how to implement this social, dynamic edition that Ray Siemens, et al are proposing.


At this point in the seminar, we moved to some major questions to consider during our time together:

  • Major questions to consider:
    • content (literary and visual)
    • editorial production: collaboration, crowd-sourcing
      • who manipulates content?
        • control, flexibility, creativity, and reuse. It’s a tale of the tension between content creators and content users (Dan Cohen)
        • Participatory engagement (Josh Greenberg)
      • Social edition promotes collaboration or amateurism?
      • ESTC just announced (over Twitter) revision to include user-driven content (3/16/11)
      • Dickens Journal online offers crowd-sourced documentary editing opportunity
      • opportunity to mix book history & bibliography? (Eggert statement) – or are we already doing this?
    • Much of this conversation results from engaging conversations with David Greetham over the past 8 or 9 years about Derrida’s mal d’archive, contamination and now in my enthusiastic annotations of his Pleasures of Contamination
      • DCG = poetics of exclusion but focuses on supporting documents (where to stop?)
      • KDH = complicate to more than documents & into “garbage” literature (literary annuals & multi-author works)

More Questions to Consider:

  • Dynamic Social editionsas a solution to retaining some editorial control over apparatus and tools in this digital age
    • Ray Siemens, et al article addresses this
    • Ken Price addresses this to some extent in section on collaborating with broad audience
    • comes from MLA 2011 panel & will again come up in MLA 2012
    • Which editorial apparatus still valuable?
      • And what types of editions? Facsimiles part of this?
    • Inadequacy of Nomenclature: archive? Exhibit? Arsenal? (Ken Price)
      • archive = has no argument at all (as Peter Robinson suggests in his statement)
        • I would argue against this!
  • Editing via crowd-sourcing/participatory audience/unanticipated user experience?
    • No longer invisible hand of editor to reveal authorial intention
      • editorial interventions? Editorial authority? Editorial intentions?
      • Similar to Barthes’ “Death of the Author,” death of editor where editorial intervention becomes subsumed into the edition, becomes invisible?
        • Free edited text from personal touch?
        • Becomes similar to scriptor or even Foucault’s author-function?
    • Ken Price on productive collaboration?
    • Role of single, authoritative editor marginalized with digital?
      • Ken Price says both print & digital = collaboration but digital allows editor/scholar to control production and final product (“Collaboration”)
    • Original intention/authorial intention/intentional fallacy
      • digital edition moves the “edition” way beyond these
  • Digital Toolsas part of editorial apparatus
    • Ken Price calls these essential to changing the components of the publication system (11)
    • different but similar to any paratext
      • tagging entries, posts, images for searchability = most important?
      • TEI contains more metadata that’s important, but possible hidden to those who don’t “read” TEI
        • see example from Poetess Archive
    • Associations become apparent using these tools to organize
      • stop re-inventing the wheel = major tenet behind Digital Humanities
        • then why re-invent the edition by offering unorganized digital materials but also offering “user” opportunity to continue the organization and knowledge of an archive?
        • Thinking about the Emily Dickinson Archive teaching area that allows students to create their own editions
        • or Collex by NINES that allows for exhibits
          • but distinguishes between student projects & peer-reviewed/professionalized projects
        • users have unanticipated uses for digital editions (Dan Cohen)
  • Machine Reading & Humanistic Inquiry
    • distant readings a la Moretti & Jockers?
    • Visualizations of data?
      • Show Gothic fusion tables from Google?
      • Google n-gram =
  • Digital Representations/User Interface
    • Digital editions moving beyond replicating linearity of print edition?
      • Siemens, et al notes that dynamic editions need to be recognizable in navigation techniques – BUT WHY?
    • Too much noise with online/digital editions? Too much information?
    • Converse: Patrick Leary posits that whatever is online (freely available?) will eventually be the only material studied
      • my panel on feminism, politics and digital editions will get back to the politics of editing in a digital realm
      • “you edit like a girl” equivalent to the demeaning “you throw like a girl”?
  • Access/Exclusion & Canon Formation
    • access to materials – digital facilitates or hinders?
      • DCG Contamination FN6, p126
    • Exclusion
      • & I would argue politics & canon formation – as do some of our participants)?
      • Discussing laundry tickets (Foucault) or extending this to ephemeral materials discarded before their value could be assessed?
        • My literary annuals are this type of “garbage” not collected in any major research library
      • Editors still act as gatekeepers? (DCG Contamination 130)
      • who determines cultural garbage (DCG Contamination 128)
  • Opening the media
    • does digital edition open up possibility for re-evaluating and linking variant forms of media (“text”) beyond the linguistic?
      • Potential to facilitate access to bibliographic codes of the page – THE VISUAL!
      • See DCG 132

The conversation ranged from practical editorial issues to theoretical to future of scholarly editing. Lisa Gitelman, who was one of the STS plenary speakers, asks for more supple vocabulary — moving away from binaries (amateur/professional — in old sense?) See her work Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture, MIT 2006.

amateur, n.

Etymology: < French amateur < Latin amātōr-em, n. of agent < amā-re to love. Occasionally pronounced as French; often with /3ː/ for French eu; some who say /jʊə/ still keep the stress on last syllable. So with the derivatives…. (Show Less)

1. One who loves or is fond of; one who has a taste for anything.

1784    European Mag. 268   The President will be left with his train of feeble Amateurs.
1791    E. Burke Appeal New to Old Whigs 20   Those who are the greatest amateurs, or even professors of revolutions.
1802    R. L. Edgeworth & M. Edgeworth Ess. Irish Bulls xvi. 291   The whole boxing corps and gentlemen amateurs crowded to behold the spectacle.
1817    T. Chalmers Series Disc. Christian Revelation i. 54   The amateurs of a superficial philosophy.
1863    L. Atkinson Recoll. Tartar Steppes 89,   I am no amateur of these melons.


a. One who cultivates anything as a pastime, as distinguished from one who prosecutes it professionally; hence, sometimes used disparagingly, as = dabbler, or superficial student or worker. See also quot. 1862.

1786    European Mag. Dec. 421/1   Dr. Percival‥writes on philosophical subjects as an amateur rather than as a master.
c1803    A. Rees Cycl.,   Amateur, in the Arts, is a foreign term introduced and now passing current amongst us, to denote a person understanding, and loving or practising the polite arts of painting, sculpture, or architecture, without any regard to pecuniary advantage.
1807    Edinb. Rev. 10 461   It was not likely that an amateur‥should convict these astronomers of gross ignorance.
1827    T. De Quincey Murder in Blackwood’s Edinb. Mag. Feb. 203/2   Not amateurs, gentlemen, as we are, but professional men.
1862    B. Hemyng in H. Mayhew London Labour (new ed.) Extra vol. 221/2   This class [of prostitutes] have been called the ‘amateurs’, to contradistinguish them from the professionals, who devote themselves to it entirely as a profession.
1882    Boy’s Own Paper 4 807   Our amateurs are improving, and the interval between them and the professionals is growing beautifully less.
“amateur, n.”. OED Online. November 2010. Oxford University Press. 17 March 2011 <>.

Neil Fraistat offered his utopian ideal for scholarly editions: provide data for editors, scholars, “amateurs” to create their own version of editions.

Addendum: Following this comment, I discussed the Emily Dickinson Archive section where anyone can create an edition of ED’s materials — an especially cogent point since ED didn’t edit her own work. The “Introduction” to the Rotunda edition of ED’s correspondence has been available since early 2008 and discusses exactly this idea of user-generated editions (by Martha Nell Smith — no password or subscription via the press necessary to read the introduction). Martha also made a similar argument in the lead article of the Textual Cultures, “The Human Touch Software of the Highest Order: Revisiting Editing as Interpretation,” (2:1, Spring 2007, 1-15):

Abstract: A rigid set of orthodoxies, a “right” way of doing editorial business, need not inform our practices in order for them to be principled, rigorous, and reliably according to standard. Instead the rule that should continue to inform all of what we do is the lesbian rule, lesbian not in the sense of Showtime’s The L Word series but in a seventeenth-century architectural sense. That lesbian rule was/is the principle invoked for difficult challenges in construction (such as arches, irregular corners, and the like) and thus is a principle that is pliant and accommodating in its faithful adherence to standards. In order for editorial praxes to obtain the rigor and sharp discipline required of principled methodologies, our pliant and accommodating standards need also to be more interdisciplinary and take into account the “messy” facts of authorship, production, and reception: race, class, gender, and sexuality. This essay extends some of my previous observations about technologies and texts to argue that embracing messy humanity in all its diversities, even as we embrace new technologies, is no longer a luxury for our community, it is a necessity.

Friday’s plenary by Will Noel about the Archimedes Palimpsest Project, spectral imaging, collaboration, and user interfaces addresses/implements all of the issues we raised during the seminar. MITH worked on the interface for this project, too.

I was impressed with the Digital Dos Passos Media Archive in its attempt to move beyond the established language of scholarly editions. We briefly touched on Jon Saklofske’s “NewRadial” article and his revision to existing metadata in the Blake Archive. We looked at TEI mark-up and header information that is not revealed to the user.

But this is not the extent or richness of our conversation, only the beginnings. And, of course, there were many, many perspectives outside my narrow 19th-century focus.

Kirstyn Leuner, a graduate student at University of Colorado Boulder, reflects on our meeting and the concluding ideas about revising the vocabulary (not the scholarly edition format itself):

I think to honestly and seriously try to imagine and concretely describe a solution — and this would also perhaps address Harris’ question about what to do with the data in her own Forget-Me-Not archive — is an important step that would take us out of the theoretical and into the practical –> to that space where theory goes to praxes that M.K. referenced. It means not overly agonizing over the need for a new vocabulary for work in/on electronic editions/archives/objects to the point where that conversation paralyzes other conversations and plans (though certainly terminology would be helpful) — this is a place where I think our Digital Editions seminar got sidetracked. It’s easy to argue about the politics of terms but difficult to problem-solve in material and practical ways as a group. Personally, I think we should have spent that session trying to solve the problem of Harris’ database that she presented in her intro and then critiquing whatever solution we came up with.

..and with that, we concluded our time together. While we didn’t solve the issues delineated above, we did continue the long-standing intriguing conversation that (I hope) will be continued even further with comments to this post.