The Principles of the Textual Communities Project

The Textual Communities project is built on some twenty years experience of creating and using systems to help scholars make editions with digital tools: see the separate post on the Background to the Textual Communities project. This experience shaped the principles upon which the Textual Communities project is based.

1. Digital editions are collaborative.

Every edition is collaborative.  Even an edition founded exclusively on the work of a single scholar becomes a collaboration, as soon as it is published, distributed and used. Digital editions have greatly increased the scope of collaboration, as the range of skills required to create a digital edition mandates that many people work together to achieve them. Further, the web permits that collaboration may extend to every aspect of the making of an edition: the identification of the sources, their transcription, annotation, comparison, analysis of their relationships, the construction of edited texts, commentaries and annotations -- all this may be done by many different people working together.  Hence the name of this project: textual communities.  Communities may be of many different kinds.  One may be a private community headed by a single scholar, working on his or her own and sharing his or her work with just a few invited colleagues,  Or, a community may be open to anyone to join, to work as best as they can on whatever they want, with everything open and visible to anyone -- and available to anyone to change.  Textual communities may follow either model, and many models in between. The rise of social networking has made us familar with many different types of online communities.  Textual communities will vary too, according to the nature of the text and the diverse groups interested in each text.

2. All work done should be acknowledged.

For two reasons:

1.      Authority is at the heart of scholarly editions.  Our sense of the reliability of any part of an edition rests on our assurance that the person who made it knew what he or she was doing.  The digital medium affords many means for assessment of individual work (for example, by user feedback); we should use these.

2.      Members of the community must know that others recognize them, that their contributions are valued, and will continue to be valued so long as the work they have done is being used by others (we hope, forever).

Online tools permit every act done by every contributor to be identfied and acknowledged.  We should do this.

3.  All work done within a community should be available free to all, without restriction.

Typically, many people may contribute in many ways to a textual community: making transcripts, collations, annotating texts.  They will expect that the work they have done will be available for others to use.  They will expect that other people will not hijack it, and deny it to others while seeking their own advantage.  The Creative Commons attribution share-alike license offers these protections and rights.  Notice that this licence does not impose restrictions commonly asserted by academic digital projects.  It does not invoke the 'non-commercial' restriction: we should encourage commercial agencies to distribute what we do.  It does not invoke the 'no derivative products' restriction: we should welcome others taking our work and remaking it any way they want.  Note too that this license leaves untouched the moral rights of anyone contributing to a community, particularly the right to object to the use of one's work in an inappropriate manner or context (on an extreme political site, for example).

4. A digital edition should encode both the text of the document and the text of the work.

That is: a digital edition should encode both the text of the document, line by line and page by page, and the text of the work which the document text instances, chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph (or, poem by poem, line by line).  One should be able to examine the text of the document, a page at a time; one should be able to read the text of the work, a chapter at a time, a poem at a time. It can be difficult to do both adequately, as digital editing tools and encodings tend to privilege one at the expense of the other.  But it can be done, it should be done, it must be done.

5. All the materials in a digital edition should be available independent of any one interface. 

It will not be enough for people to create digital resources. Textual communities must provide the facility (whether through metadata or an ontology or an API) to allow those resources to be taken up and given out through an interface completely independent of the originating community.  Of course, this cannot happen unless the materials are free of any restrictive licence, as argued in proposition 3.  

6. All the materials in a digital edition should be held in a long-term sustainable data store

Anyone who contributes to a textual community may reasonably expect that the work they do will be available for others long into the future. There are ways of achieving this already (for example, by embedding data within institutional repositories); we should avail ourselves of these.

Peter Robinson, Saskatoon, 11 November 2012


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