BOOK AND SOFTWARE REVIEWS
Deegan, Marilyn and Sutherland Kathryn. Text editing, print and digital world. Farnham: Ashgate, 2009. xviii, 205, pp. ISBN 978-0-7546-7307-1. £55.00.
The world of literary editing and scholarship always fascinated me by the enormous amount of work put into the improvement and exploration of the books created by others. The most impressive of all the jobs that I used to observe as a child was editing of novels, short stories and poems for a literary journal. That inexplicable work that required one to sit still at the desk and mark the text for hours was my father's job. But even less comprehensible was the work of his friends, literary scholars who worked hard to publish editions of a book that was already published several times before. Moreover, the books even did not bear their names, at least not in the visible places.
At present this very traditional job is under radical transformation because of technological developments. The changes in the job required developing new theoretical and methodological as well as practical approaches to the editorial work and to scholarly research.
The participants in the workshop of the Arts and Humanities Research Centre (AHRC) ICT Methods Network have submitted their papers for publishing in this volume edited by Deegan and Sutherland.
The papers are divided into two conditional parts of theory and practice. The division is conditional as, in several cases, papers on practical and methodological solutions are presented in the first part. However, they are of more abstract nature than the papers in the second part, mainly, relating to the examination of particular cases or reporting on interesting projects.
As I have read the volume from cover to cover, I have a mixed impression of the whole. It is not quite clear what audience the volume intends to address. Several papers (e.g., by Pierazzo, Dahlström or Buzetti) are meant for highly specialized expert audiences. The others, like the papers by Bree and McLaverty, Ore, and Rouechè, seem to be written for a wider public that could be interested in this specific area of digital publishing.
On the whole, I enjoyed the attempts of the authors to be critical about the emerging digital environment and its usefulness for the publishing of academic editions, be it the complete works of a classical writer, newspapers or inscriptions. It is not taken for granted by most of the authors that the digital environment is better for this type of publishing. It provides the editors with new possibilities, but how useful they are to serve the purpose of editing and the needs of the reading public remains to be seen (see chapters by Sutherland, Vanhoutte, Bree and McLaverty). In several cases the authors find strong arguments in support of a traditional printed edition that overshadow the advantages presented by digital environment. On the other hand, several projects present clear cases for digital editions as the best solutions to the task at hand.
This healthy approach of most of the authors to examine the cases from several perspectives makes the book worth reading.
I will leave the assessment of each separate paper to the readers. Most probably readers will select one or two of the chapters meeting their interests and needs. It is quite possible as the book is already available on Google books and the texts will be searchable without any problems.
I would also recommend the institutions working with digitization of different texts and objects to acquire it and become acquainted with its contents. It will help to develop a sober view on the need for digitization as well as on its possibilities.