Maintaining textual integrity is supposedly a foundational aspect of editing, but this does not always appear to hold true when creating digital editions. By textual integrity I mean maintaining not only the content of the work, but also the formatting of the text. In Shillingsburg’s Scholarly Editing in the Digital Age this dedication to upholding the originality of the work would fall into the category of documentary or historical orientation. Followers of this editing style support maintaining the original text with the reproduction of facsimile editions or electronic archives.
In contrast to this type of editing, our work in Wikisource seems to undermine the importance of the original document by giving priority to readability. The documents we have edited, transcluded, and annotated started off with a focus on maintaining the formatting principles initially set by John Oliver Hobbes and her publisher, Thomas Fisher Unwin. But as our project has progressed, we have diverted our attention away from upholding the principles of documentary orientation in order to suit the Wikisource guidelines. This divergence is largely due to Wikisource’s focus on creating digital texts that are easy to read, making them more appealing to an audience of online consumers. We have formatted the pages in a narrower column so that the reader is not forced to scan the entire width of the screen (for an example see The Annotated The Works of John Oliver Hobbes on our Links page), and we have created hyperlinks within the document, especially in our References.
Although these editing choices have created a more reader-friendly environment that has the potential to entice wider appreciation of some long-forgotten or outdated literary texts, the dismissal of the original formatting ultimately suggests it is irrelevant to the content. As a believer in the importance of book history I take great offense to a dismissal of the printed work – after all, we cannot ignore the historical context of the work since many of the formatting choices indicate certain principles of the time that provide greater insight to the document as a whole.
Are we forsaking book history and print culture for the advantage of easy readability? What will this do to the future of literary studies if the importance of the original document is lost through widespread digitization that lacks an appreciation for the original formatting?