The Battle We Forgot to Fight: Should We Make a Case for Digital Editions?
Several years after the publication of Peter Robinson’s provocative essay on digital editions of medieval texts, which addressed the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive among other projects, many new editions have been produced, but very little seems to have changed with regard to their acceptance and diffusion among ‘traditional’ scholars: especially in non-Anglo-Saxon countries, many colleagues are sticking to usual practices and producing printed editions; others are starting to look into the Digital Humanities field, but are sometimes scared away by what is perceived as ‘technical complexity’, the amount of learning required to use digital tools and methods. There is surely a growing interest in digital tools for editing (notably TEI-based text encoding, which allows easy web publication by means of XSLT style sheets or other tools, see f. i. the EVT software: < http://evt.labcd.unipi.it/ > ), or to help the philologist in doing part of the hard work (such as semi-automatic collation software, see f. i. the CollateX tool: < http://collatex.net/>), but this does not always reflect an interest in the potential of digital editions themselves (indeed, these tools are often used to create new print editions). There remains a lack of consensus about what a ‘digital edition’ is or should be. Methodological uncertainty adds to technical complexity and fragmentation to form a formidable access barrier. Should we encode less and agree on a precise definition, then, and make the point in favour of the digital edition with renewed energy and in no ambiguous terms? In this article the author surveys the status quo of the digital philology discipline and exposes the major roadblocks towards greater acceptance of digital editions. (RRT)