Electronic Textual Editing: Principles [Burnard, O'Keeffe, Unsworth ]

Scholarly editing as a discipline encompasses interlocking sets of procedures that must be responsive in various ways to the nature of the material to be edited, to developments in the theory of editing, and to the technical possibilities and limitations of the medium in which a text is to be published. If the horizon of texts to be edited has changed little in the last quarter century 1 the same cannot be said for the theory of editing such texts or for the publication possibilities opened up for them by electronic editing. While in these two areas the practice of scholarly editing has seen prodigious change in the last two decades or so, the principles and goals of this form of editing (as opposed to its particular procedures or techniques) have, nonetheless, remained essentially the same. The challenge posed in articulating them, given the possible range of editorial theory and the bourgeoning developments in electronic editing, is both simple and daunting: in the face of significant differences in textual materials (by date, medium, genre, mode of dissemination), textual theories (author-centered, social-text, reception-oriented, etc.), and manner of publication (print-based or electronic), how best to articulate the principles that underlie the endeavor common to them all?

The Modern Language Association's first corporate involvement with scholarly editing was the Center for Editions of American Authors (CEAA), established in 1963 to coordinate, evaluate, and fund editorial work in the United States on texts by American authors. Recognizing the limitations inherent in the charge of the CEAA, the Modern Language Association reorganized that body in 1976 as the Committee on Scholarly Editions (CSE). This committee's change in name and charge reflected a broader interest in textual editing of material from any period or language covered under the general umbrella of the MLA. Since 1976 the CSE has itself developed in order to respond to developments in editing theory and, most recently, to embrace the challenges posed by the growth of electronic editing. A broader scope requires a more general (and indeed, more abstract) statement of the principles that guide good practices in scholarly editing, across periods, languages, and methodological commitments. In light of that broader scope, the CSE revised its guidelines to present, in their most applicable form, the principles that must underlie any formal scholarly edition.

The first of these principles is, in effect, a summary of the discipline:

The scholarly edition's basic task is to present a reliable text: scholarly editions make clear what they promise and keep their promises.

The clause before the colon is the simplest statement of the principle that guides scholarly editing, and it is only slightly embellished by the explanation that follows. The CSE neither can nor wishes to prescribe the exact manner in which reliability will be achieved, but rather stipulates that a text must be reliable with respect to a clearly stated set of editorial commitments. An edition is to be judged by the scholarly promises it makes and the degree to which it keeps those promises.

‘Reliability’ would be merely a shibboleth without a set of criteria by which to establish the bases on which the editing may be trusted. The guidelines specify five criteria on which to build the trustworthiness of any scholarly edition:
‘Accuracy’ is the goal of any scholarly edition. For it to be reliable, the text that it ‘makes’ in the process of editing must be a faithful representation, whether the goal is ‘best text,’ ‘documentary text,’ or ‘social text,’ to name some common editorial approaches. Whatever theory of editing may drive the text, a comprehensive proofreading plan is required to ensure that the scholarly text so carefully established through numerous iterations of the editing and production process has been purged of errors and typos.
Adequacy and Appropriateness
‘Adequacy’ and ‘appropriateness’ are the goals at two distinct points in the process of editing. In the preliminary stages of designing an edition, adequacy and appropriateness are measures of the fit between editorial principles and practice and the textual materials to be edited. At the stage of writing the introduction to the edited text, adequacy and appropriateness are goals for documenting editorial principles and practice.
Consistency and Explicitness
‘Consistency’ and ‘explicitness’ are required of a scholarly edition with respect to the methods used in establishing its text. Editions must make explicit the principles upon which their texts are founded, and those principles must be clearly followed in the text that is subsequently produced. Consistency is the measure of agreement between editing principles and edited text.

The first section of the CSE Guidelines, "Principles," has been designed to be the briefest and least frequently revised section in that document. This section deliberately offers no medium-specific advice and no advice that applies only to editions of certain kinds of material or editions in certain editorial traditions. By design, it speaks only to general and enduring principles, acting as an introductory overview for readers new to editing and as a general reminder for those with some experience. And throughout, it prompts editors to consider and make explicit their methodology. Tanselle 2 offers a convenient statement of these ideas. In keeping these principles severely spare, the CSE has hoped to provide a starting point and a frame of reference for the widest possible range of scholarly editing projects. From these few principles held in common, editors embark on the many-forked paths of decision-making in producing a text.

See, for example, Matt Kirschenbaum's discussion of the challenges that will be raised when we come to doing scholarly editions of born-digital, multimedia texts (“Editing the Interface.” )
(“Statement.” , 27-28).

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