ACH @ MLA: The Porous Scholarly Edition

Co-sponsored with the MLA Committee on Scholarly Editions

Co-organizers: Susan Brown (MLA Committee for Scholarly Editions) and  Lisa Rhody (Association for Computers and the Humanities) 

Date: Friday, January 4, 2019
Time: 10:15 – 11:30 AM
Room: Hyatt Regency, Gold Coast
Session: 245
Social Media: #MLA19 #s245

The following information is also available as a Google Doc, which will be used for public note taking and sharing during the session:

The Porous Scholarly Edition

Has the scholarly edition become more porous as a result of the digital turn? This panel offers reflections and provocations on the way that the boundaries of scholarly editions have changed or should change. Presentations and discussion will address such questions as:

  • In what ways can editions be dynamic, in terms of temporality, media, or delivery?
  • What are innovative ways of handling multiple versions of various kinds?
  • How do hyperlinking and other digital technologies affect the putative boundaries of the scholarly edition?
  • How is “external” content, whether manually or automatically harvested, related to scholarly editions?
  • How is the authority or singularity of the editor changing in the context of digital scholarly editions?
  • What role might citizen scholarship play in relation to scholarly editions?
  • How ought credit to be handled when digital editions involve collaboration with others, whether they are scholars, students, designers, or technical contributors?
  • How does annotation impact digital scholarly editions?
  • In what ways are editorial control and processes impacted?

The Committee on Scholarly Editions and the Association for Computers in the Humanities have selected for a collaborative session three presentations that focus on the ways in which scholarly editions have become more porous as a result of the digital turn. Porousness can pertain to the production of base texts, paratexts, an expansive array of contextual content, and intermedial relationships between primary and secondary materials. Presenters will consider how innovations in versioning, linking, community annotation, editorial authority, and ephemerality impact the extent to which digital editions can be porous—from production to delivery, through reception, iterative revision and instantiation, impacting modes of contribution, workflow, quality control, and authority.

Each presentation will advance debate and understanding of the digital scholarly edition through diverse perspectives covering manuscript, print, and digital textuality related to editing texts from the 19th to the 21st century, and minimal to extensive infrastructure. Presenters explore topics such as variation, collaboration, and ongoing revision, challenging the fixity of the text. Porous editions can reject the model of the comprehensive (and extensively funded) definitive scholarly edition in favour of more open, participatory, agile, or accessible editions. Conversely, authoritative base texts can become, with the affordances of ongoing versioning, a basis for textual play, interactive pedagogy, and public engagement.

All three panelists see the digital scholarly edition as porous, but they approach questions of participation and authority so variously that the boundaries of the “scholarly” as well as the edition are called into question, as well as positioning themselves very differently in relation to digital tools, infrastructure, funding models, and professional norms.


Defiant Computing: Editing for Social Justice

Amanda Gailey (
University of Nebraska, Lincoln

In “Defiant Computing: Editing for Social Justice,” Amanda Gailey will discuss a variant of minimal computing called “defiant computing”: doing digital humanities, particularly digital editing, in ways that defy the Marcusian efficiencies of corporate technology, the neoliberal university, and the racial, gender, and class structures they help perpetuate. In a minimal computing or defiant computing environment, traditional editing projects might be impossible, which in turn may prompt renewed attention on noncanonical, overlooked, radical histories and documents at a scale that individual scholars or small team could manage in their own research time, using methods that are not labor intensive, or at least that don’t direct the labor to marking up document features and metadata that are secondary to the social, political, scholarly or pedagogical interest in the document. “Defiant computing” prioritizes creating human and student readable texts rather than machine readable or machine aggregated. Labor would concentrate on annotation and explication rather than features of interest almost exclusively to specialists. Distribution would consider contexts beyond the web, considering PDFs and print copies as viable deliverables that emphasize the social justice of making the documents available for lay readers and students over labor-intensive textual apparatuses or digital markup. A sustainable, digital editing economy that would value smaller scale projects that can be managed by teachers and researchers defiant computing would avoid third-party oversight and entanglements except via peer review, would explore and preserve alternative humanistic communication and distribution modes with global teachers and scholars, especially those who even in our own communities have been historically shut out of the logic of efficiency of the academic-industrial complex.

Amanda Gailey: I am an associate professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where I teach American literature and digital humanities, specializing in digital editing and theory. I am also a political activist who focuses on social justice, gun control, and academic and intellectual freedom. My first book, Proofs of Genius: Collected Editions from the American Revolution to the Digital Age (Michigan 2015) was about how collected editions functioned politically in American literary history. I am currently working on a book about the history and future of academic freedom in the United States.

Inviting everyone: A spectrum of meaningful scholarship between academic rhetoric and tagging

Amanda Visconti (
University of Virginia Library, Scholars’ Lab

“What if we build a digital edition and invite everyone? What if millions of scholars, first-time readers, book clubs, teachers and their students show up and annotate a text with their infinite interpretations, questions, and contextualizations?”. Approaching digital editions as Morris Eaves’ “problem-solving mechanism”s, during 2013-2015 I designed, built, and user-tested a digital edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, (now archived as a static site), to address challenges in public humanities edition design and participatory, socially annotated digital editions in particular.

Infinite Ulysses tried to welcome everyone interested in participating in interpretation of Ulysses, whether inside or outside the academy. The edition drew over 13k visitors in its first month of open beta testing, over 24k unique visitors in its first year, and was cited in The New York Times Sunday Book Review. This publicity provided a wealth of insights into how a variety of people interact with digital editions. In particular, I analyzed the set of annotations created by the site’s hundreds of user accounts with the goal of better understanding what meaningful crowdsourcing looks like for literature.

“Critical public engagement” is often defined as public interaction with the scholarly community marked by the adoption and use of scholarly rhetoric and approaches by the public. I explored whether participatory digital editions should always aim for this level of critical public engagement, instead gathering a list of potential scholarly gains from non-critical public engagement, including gains from user testing and the application of scholarly textual analysis tools to user comments around the texts usually analyzed by such tools. Using Infinite Ulysses  as a case study, this talk takes the spectrum of public humanities participation running from simply “adding a tag” through full critical discourse at the level of an advanced scholar, and argues that a rich and generative array of other kinds of meaningful participation with a text sit between those two extremes.

Dr. Amanda Visconti is the Managing Director of the Scholars’ Lab research center at the University of Virginia. Her 2015 dissertation from the University of Maryland fully acknowledges digital methods as scholarship by treating them as the dissertation instead of addenda to traditional written chapters. Her participatory digital edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses,, was cited in The New York Times and drew over 13k visitors in its first month of open beta and 24k in its first year.

Archive Edition Project: Digital Editing and Revision Annotation

John Bryant (
Hofstra University

In the 1960s, at the height of US funding for the scholarly editing of American authors, the reigning assumption of editorial endeavor was that once the variants were recorded and the (mostly) eclectic reading texts produced, the edition was done; the work was over; critics could do what they wished. The unhappy consequence was that the profession increasingly marginalized “textual criticism.” Since the 1980s, with the theoretical work of Gabler, McGann, Shillingsburg, Tanselle, and others, the always-present notion that scholarly editing requires re-editing, that it involves different modes of editing, and that it has critical consequences gave renewed validity to editorial processes. In my own work on fluid texts, I have tried to adapt protocols on the editing of versions and of revision as a phenomenon—protocols first conceived when digital technology was more possibility than reality—into a digital environment. With the development of TextLab—now generalizable for any digital editorial project—we enable users (both editors and students) to transcribe written works in revision (in manuscript or print), to code the revision sites in TEI-xml, and to annotate revision sequences with revision narratives.  This form of revision annotation has proven to be an engaging introduction to editorial process, critical thinking, and literary analysis for students, and our undergraduates in particular.

In a twelve-minute presentation (with slides), I would provide a brief overview of the Melville Electronic Library (MEL) and its fluid text editions, and then focus on how TextLab has been used to combine research and pedagogy in undergraduate classes. In doing so, I would also underscore MEL’s Archive Edition Projects structure, which in effect converts the traditional Textual Apparatus of conventional print editions into an intellectual playground that invites users to create Projects drawing upon the Edition’s texts and the Archive’s data.  With this approach, I hope that digital editions, through interactions with users and interoperability with other editions, can give added critical pleasure to the notion of “textual criticism.”

Dr. John Bryant, Professor Emeritus of English at Hofstra University, is the author of A Companion to Melville Studies (Greenwood), Melville and Repose (Oxford), The Fluid Text (Michigan), Melville Unfolding (Michigan), and over 60 articles on Melville, related nineteenth-century writers, scholarly editing, and digital scholarship. He is the founding editor of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies and has published print editions of Typee (Penguin), The Confidence-Man (Random House), Melville’s Tales, Poems, and Other Writings (Modern Library), and the Longman Critical Edition of Moby-Dick. His electronic edition Herman Melville’s Typee (Rotunda, University of Virginia) received the MLA-CSE seal of approval in 2009. He is founder and director of the online critical archive and scholarly edition Melville Electronic Library (MEL) and of Hofstra University’s Digital Research Center. In 2015, he received the Distinguished Editor Award given by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ). Currently, he is working on a comprehensive biography titled Herman Melville: A Half Known Life (Wiley).

By Lisa Marie Rhody

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