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Digital scholarly editing

In the research phase and in the production and publication of scientific critical editions digital techniques can play an important role. A number of different stages can be distinguished in this process, which are discussed briefly below. For a more detailed description of these stages, please consult Robinson [full title] (about old manuscript variants) and Kegel and Van Elsacker (2004) [full title] (about modern literary work).

  • Preparation
    When digitizing manuscripts or prints, the material is usually scanned or digitally photographed first. Handwritten sources must then be transcribed from the original copy. Relatively recent printed materials can often be converted to a text file using optical character recognition. A correction phase is always required; the duration of this phase depends on  the age and quality of the original material. For older material, this technique still needs to be improved.
  • Collation
    An important part of creating a critical edition is the so-called collation of the various (handwritten and printed) versions. This means that the different versions are closely compared with each other so that the differences can be accurately determined. These may relate to character, word, sentence and/or paragraph level. Automating this process, which maps the  history of a text, as it were, has many advantages. First, computers are very accurate and do not tire when comparing data. Depending on the number of versions involved, this can be very important. In addition, the computer has the ability to manipulate the textual variants, allowing you to alternate the central text that variants are compared with. Moreover, computers make it easy to search within the various versions. These are powerful tools for editors wishing to produce a single critical edition based on different versions of a text.
  • Analysis and processing
    The results of the process of collation are often the starting point for further analysis. Saving them in a database allows complex search and comparison tasks  to be performed on them for further analysis (see e.g. Robinson, 1999). In the Hermans ' project (see Kegel e.a., 2004) the output was converted to XML-TEI format. A dynamic research environment was created on the basis of these data, in which the editors could supplement the textual data with all sorts of extra information, such as documentation of their working methods and a typology of the variants they found. Important advantages of keeping textual variants and added information in XML format are (i) that the material can serve as a direct copy for publication (both in print and electronic) and (ii) that the material can be (re)used in various ways.
  • Production and publication
    Although most critical editions are still published on paper, electronic publication can offer a number of advantages, especially in terms of making the text accessible through various search functions and through the presentation of different versions (digital facsimile, diplomatic view, critical view and/or manuscript variants) and glosses. This is especially attractive in the case of complex texts; certain textual variants and/or glosses can be made visible in various windows by means of hyperlinks.


A well-known computer programme for the collation of texts is Collate, developed by Peter Robinson for the analysis of variants in for instance the Canterbury Tales (see above). Collate has now almost reached the end of its service life; it will be succeeded by the programme CollateX, which is partly being developed by Huygens ING (the Dutch research institute of History and Culture). Other well-known programs that support editing areTUSTEP and Juxta.
Interedition provides an extensive overview of relevant software to support various phases of the editing process.


Transcribing, editing and annotating manuscripts is increasingly becoming a process that involves multiple collaborating researchers. eLaborate a programme developed by Huygens ING is an online application that allows researchers to share scientific material with each other and to support joint working on text critical research.

More information is a website intended for anyone who deals with the (digital) editing, publishing and analysis of sources and texts in the broadest sense of the word. The site provides access to editions, information on tools, background information, practical advice and popular opinions.

The Flemish Centrum voor Teksteditie en Bronnenstudie (CTB) conducts scientific research in the disciplines of textual criticism, text editions, dialectology and the research of historical linguistic corpora. It makes considerable use of text and information technology that it partly develops itself.

The aim of Interedition is to promote the interoperability of the tools and methodology we use in the field of digital scholarly editing and research.

Other topics in this section: Digital heritage   Digital archaeology   E-literature   Language technology