Dot Porter (University of Pennsylvania) has posted text and slides from her keynote at the Digital Scholarly Editions as Interfaces conference at the University of Graz. In her talk, “What is an edition anyway?” Porter offers a broader view of the conversation surrounding digital scholarly editions and their possibilities as interfaces.
Electronic and digital editions have traditionally (as far as we can talk about there being a tradition of these types of editions) presented the same type of information as print editions, although the expansiveness of hypertext has allowed us to present this information interactively, selecting only what we want to see at any given moment and enabling us to follow trails of information via links and pop-ups.
Porter moves on to discussing the “why” of editions, including results of surveys she conducted in 2002 and 2011 on usage of and attitudes towards scholarly editions. These results suggested a disconnect in how digital editions were defined: respondents conflated digitized print editions with true digital editions. Porter created a new survey in 2016 that drew out distinctions between digital, digitized, and print editions; results indicated “similar” usage patterns for print and digitized editions, with lower usage of digital editions.
So, where does that leave the production of scholarly digital editions? Porter closes her talk by discussing new ways of thinking about editions, and encouraging experimentalism and the sharing of open data. She ends with a popular saying from the University of Pennsylvania’s Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies: “Data Over Interface”:
I like it, not because I necessarily agree that the data is always more important than the interface, but because it makes me think about whether or not the data is always more important than the interface. Excellent, robust data with no interface isn’t easily usable (although a creative person will always find a way), but an excellent interface with terrible data or no data at all is useless as anything other than a show piece. And then inevitably my mind turns to manuscripts, and I begin to wonder, in the case of a manuscript, what is the data and what is the interface? Is a manuscript simply an interface for the text and whatever else it bears, or is the physical object data of its own that begs for an interface to present it, to pull it apart and put it back together in some way to help us make sense of it or the time it was created? Is it both? Is it neither?
Librarians, archivists, and others producing and supporting the production of digital editions will appreciate the ways in which Porter accommodates the complexity of what an edition is and explores user experience in this context, while advocating for the open licensing of manuscript data.
Note from dh+lib Review editors: A previous version of this post included the erroneous claim that Porter’s 2016 survey results “… indicated that 90% of respondents had used digital editions to some extent, while 78% of respondents reporting using print” as well as some unclear language. Thanks to Dot Porter for calling our attention to the error (see comment from Porter, below). The post has been edited for accuracy and to better reflect distinctions between digitized, digital, and print editions.