Initial Responses to the Social Edition

It seems to me that the project we are about to undertake occupies a contentious space in academia: we will soon be navigating an intellectual space (the realm of the digital humanities), which seeks to democratize knowledge (broaden access) and also simultaneously establish itself as authoritative, reliable, in the simplest terms, correct. We will be exploring a new, or at least new-ish, frontier whose borders and boundaries are still being negotiated. Both academic/ethical and practical issues are wrought by the nature of this work. The issues, I have thus far ascertained, largely revolve around the unstable relationship between authorship and collaboration. Some of the questions that are immediately brought to my mind are as follows: who will receive credit for an undertaking that is inherently collaborative? Is our modern understanding of authorship outdated, in this new, democratizing age of digital scholarship? Are collaborative, digital projects as credible as their paper predecessors? Should anyone be able to contribute to digital scholarship? Does the dynamism (constant editing) of digital scholarship make it more or less credible than traditional scholarship? How do we cite digital scholarship, in light of its collaborative and dynamic nature? How will academic institutions respond to collaborative, digital, academic projects, such as those found on Wikisource? Will they embrace or discredit them?

Both the content and form of “The Devonshire Manuscript/General Introduction” ( some light on a number of the aforementioned issues. In the discussion of the Devonshire Manuscript, the author(s) posit that our modern understanding of “authorship, with its sense of ownership of and singular control, [is] anachronistic and particularly unhelpful when dealing with literature of earlier periods” (“Public and Private, Personal and Communal” in “The Devonshire Manuscript/General Introduction”). This assertion, though applied to 16th century works, seems, nevertheless, to be evermore pressing in our current age of increasing scholarly digitization and open access editing of/contribution to these online works. This claim makes me wonder whether our entire academic paradigms of citation, accreditation, and authorship will have to be reconsidered. Has digitization truly brought about the death of the author, as Roland Barthes famously proclaimed almost 50 years ago? Perhaps, more interestingly, is open access, digital scholarship bringing about the death of the editor?

In “The Devonshire Manuscript/General Introduction,” the authors suggest revising the modern, singular characterization of authorship to include acts of mediation (compilation, revision, adaptation, and publication). Leah S. Marcus, for example, recommends that academia adopt “a process of ‘unediting,’ a systematic exposition of the various layers of editorial mediation of any given Renaissance text” (“Public and Private, Personal and Communal” in “The Devonshire Manuscript/General Introduction”). The adoption of this practise would, in essence, broaden the definition of authorship to include acts of editing; it would uncover each layer of mediation, exposing the ways in which editing shapes a text’s meaning. In the context of our digital social edition, a forum that relies on open access editing, all these layers of editorial mediation are concealed. The significance of the editor in influencing textual meaning is diminished. In fact, according to the page “What is Wikisource?”, editors of a Wikisource text are to assume, what is called an “NPOV” (neutral point of view). The editor is no longer an acknowledged individual (with biases, opinions, and motives) but instead a concealed, anonymous community. Does this transformation engender greater neutrality through the expansion of editorial voices? Or does it lead to a less credible, less factual text?


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2 Responses to Initial Responses to the Social Edition

  1. Pingback: The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes

  2. jason.boyd says:

    This post raises a number of issues that are also addressed in Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy.

    The NPOV philosophy of Wikimedia is problematic, because it does not examine the inherent bias in the belief in NPOV. NPOV is really a matter of debate and community consensus, but it is fluid and not essentially “neutral”.

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