Report: Digital Scholarly Editions as Interfaces Symposium

The symposium Digital Scholarly Editions and Interfaces took place on 23 and 24 September 2016 at the Karl-Franzens University in Graz. The conference was organized by the Center for Information Modelling and DiXiT. The topic of the symposium was theory and practice of interfaces in the context of digital editions.

An interface is a point where two systems meet and exchange information. The interface directs the interaction between the two parties, simplifies the exchange and hides unnecessary complexity. In the context of digital editions, a distinction is made between the graphical user interface (GUI) and the data interface or application programming interface (API). The first interface is created for the human user to interface, for instance, with an electronic text, to view digital facsimiles of a manuscript, to listen to an audio track, etc. On the other hand, the data interface is used to exchange data and metadata between different systems. The data interface or API is primarily intended for electronic processing of a digital edition.


Georg Vogeler at the opening of the symposium

The two keynote speakers came from different research fields and illustrated the topic from different angles. DOT PORTER is a curator at Digital Research Services at the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. During her keynote (see the transcript), she presented the results of her latest survey on the use of digital resources by medievalists and put it in relation to her previous surveys conducted in 2002 and 2011. A clear trend is the increased use of digital resources in medieval studies. However, at the same time the number of researchers using digital editions has not increased that much. Therefore Dot asked the question: ‘Do we create editions that scholars need?’ The second keynote speaker was STAN RUECKER, professor at the ITT’s Institute of Design, Chicago. His research focus is on information design, visualization and the future of reading. Stan gave a keynote with a strong focus on creative design processes. He showed experimental interfaces from various projects he is involved in, for example haptic interfaces from the INKE project and a 3D interface for theatrical productions. His keynote illustrated the experimental and innovative approaches of interface design to create digital resources in an user-oriented design. So far very little of these developments are considered during the design process of digital scholarly editions.

To what extent developments from design studies can be included into digital scholarly editions was the topic of the presentations by JAN-ERIK STANGE (watch Jan-Erik’s talk) and ANNA-MARIA SICHANI and GINESTRA FERRARO (watch Anna-Maria’s and Ginestra’s talk): how can professional designers support humanities scholars in the creation of interfaces for scholarly editions? It became clear that two things are crucial: (1) ways of collaboration and communication(!) between the scholar and the designer need to be improved (STANGE) and (2) the interface design has to have a more important role already in the planning phase of digital editions (SICHANI and FERRARO). This means also that money has to be allocated for collaboration with professional designers from the planning phase on.

In her keynote paper DOT PORTER stressed the importance of ‘good data’ over a fancy interface (data over interface). PETER ROBINSON pushed this line of argument even further by emphasising that the highest priority of an editor should be the quality of the edition’s data (watch Peter’s talk). In his opinion, an edition should be based on accurate and high-quality data that is available to everyone and can be reused by the community. “Make your data as smart as possible!” – elaborate interfaces could also be programmed by others. Even though everyone agreed on the importance of ‘good data’, it has to be kept in mind that not all users of a digital edition can work with the “raw” code (e.g. a XML/TEI view). Some users need an interface and the question is how far should an editor be involved in the interface design process? Or in other words, to what extent does the user interface influence the scholarly work and predefine further research approaches?

TARA ANDREWS und JORIS VAN ZUNDERT suggested that the interface is part of the editorial argument and that it can be seen as an interpretation of an edition (watch Tara’s and Joris’ talk). WOUT DILLEN suggested that the editor and interface designer may act as guide for users, as an attractive, user-friendly and intuitive interface enables easy access to otherwise very complex data and expert knowledge (watch Wout’s talk). STEFAN DUMONT emphasized that digital interfaces can be particularly suitable for editing certain genres. At the example of editions of letters he illustrated how the user interface can allow manifold access to the content of letters (watch Stefan’s talk). DUMONT also stressed the importance of technical interfaces by presenting correspSearch, a web service that crawls metadata of letters from APIs of various editions in order to create a central register of letters. Another paper dedicated to editions of letters was given by RICHARD HADDEN. He presented a network graph that he developed for the analysis of the Letters of 1916 corpus and demonstrated how it can facilitate the navigation of otherwise highly complex connections between letters.

The interface design of genetic editions was also a recurrent topic: the paper of HANS WALTER GABLER and JOSHUA SCHÄUBLE illustrated by the example of Virginia Woolf’s “Sketch of the Past” how a modular editing and research environment (using TUSTEP) can allow for collating witnesses and visualizing text composition across document borders. ELLI BLEEKER and AODHÁN KELLY emphasized how design can be used to appeal to diverse audiences. They presented their digital museum exhibition of Raymond Brulez’ Sheherazade. This exhibition is not a scholarly edition, but it is an access point for the broader public to engage with the literary estate of the Brulez’ oeuvre, i.e. reconstructing the genetic pathway of the work through video clips.

The debate on theoretical aspects of the interface was enriched through reports out of editing projects. EUGENE W. LYMAN, CHRISTOPHER M. OHGE and JAMES R. GRIFFIN III (watch James’ talk) shared their experiences when trying to reflect certain research aims in the interface and to meet the user’s needs at the same time. NARVIKA BOVOCON, ALEN AJANOVIC and PIJA BALABAN and ELINA LEBLANC illustrated their ideas on interfaces of editions and their users in the poster session. But again, who are the users?

WOUT DILLEN identified in his paper three main user groups could be identified: (1) the informed users, who is familiar with the subject and materials presented (2) the not-informed user, who is not familiar with the materials at all, and (3) the meta-user who is familiar with the content or texts of a digital edition and primarily interested to process the encoded data and electronic texts. Building on the question of who uses digital editions and for what purpose, it was also discussed which type of digital edition brings the greatest added value to users or how digital editions can be systematically improved. User behaviour studies were presented by FEDERICO CARIA and BRIGITTE MATHIAK who showed insightful screen recordings of users trying to navigate through digital editions to perform certain tasks. ALEXANDER NUSSBAUMER spoke about an evaluation framework he and his colleagues set up to evaluate the CULTURA online environment and he reported on the results of the user evaluation (watch Alexander’s talk).

Another point that was discussed by some presenters is the importance of making the TEI/XML data available to the user. HUGH CAYLESS presented a new approach in order to overcome the semantic loss when XML gets transferred into HTML. By using HTML custom elements, CSS and JavaScript the data model can be pushed to the surface in order to enable readers to interact directly with it, manipulate it, and use the results (watch Hugh’s talk). However, many users still might want to read texts online as they did in print. Therefore, it has to be kept in mind that what the human reader reads is only one possible representation of a TEI document. TEI markup is in the first place not addressed to and to be read by humans, but is rather meant to be processed by computers. And the computer is clearly faster and more efficient in processing this data (ARNDT NIEBISCH, watch Arndt’s talk). The output of a reading text via a reading interface is of course also useful, but we also need interfaces that help us navigate the huge amounts of data that are currently being produced.

SHANE MCGARRY highlighted in his paper that humans read different in a digital environment and the traditional close reading is augmented by alternative reading modalities such as non-linear, radial and distant reading. JEFFREY C. WITT emphasised that digital scholarly editions should not be viewed as electronic reading environments (watch Jeffrey’s talk), but as a set of data that is encoded according to widely accepted standards (i.e. IIIF and SharedCanvas) and can be used together with other data sets. Using the example of the LombardPress, Jeffrey showed how such a networked edition might look. A tool that tries to push the boundaries of interface design for complex editions is the new Edition Visualization Technology (EVT 2.0). Two developers of the EVT, CHIARA DI PIETRO and ROBERTO ROSSELLI DEL TURCO, presented the latest release at the conference and discussed how it tries to overcome issues in the presentation of complexity that usually accompany interfaces of text-critical editions (watch Chiara’s and Roberto’s talk).

The symposium was a great event to exchange ideas, to learn of international experts from different areas of the Digital Humanities and to discuss over acute research questions and problems of digital editions and their interfaces. The conference has shown that there are still a great number of questions that have to be discussed further, for instance the role of the editor in the design process and in how far the graphical user interface of a digital edition is part of the editorial argument. It is hoped that some of these points will be discussed further on a follow-up event in the near future.

The report was co-authored by Roman Bleier, Carina Koch, Frederike Neuber and Gerlinde Schneider

The symposium was organized by: Georg Vogeler, Christian Steiner, Walter Scholger, Gerlinde Schneider, Frederike Neuber, Helmut Klug, Selina Galka, Hans Clausen, Martina Bürgermeister and Roman Bleier.

A publication of an edited volume on “Digital Scholarly Editions as Interfaces” including many of the papers is planned for 2017.


Symposium programme:

Welcome and Introduction

Margit Reitbauer (Vice Dean of Research), Georg Vogeler (Chair of Digital Humanities), University of Graz; Thomas Rajakovics, Municipality of Graz

Keynote I
Dot Porter (University of Pennsylvania): What is an Edition anyway? A critical examination of Digital Editions since 2002

Session 1: Readability, Reliability, Navigation
Chair: Wout Dillen

Eugene W. Lyman  (Independent Scholar): Digital Scholarly Editions and the Affordances of Reliability

Christopher M. Ohge (University of California, Berkeley): Navigating Readability and Reliability in Digital Documentary Editions: The Case of Mark Twain’s Notebooks

Session 2: Visualisation, Typography and Design I
Chair: Frederike Neuber

Elli Bleeker and Aodhán Kelly (University of Antwerp): Interfacing literary genesis: a digital museum exhibition of Raymond Brulez’ Sheherazade

Hans Walter Gabler (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich) and Joshua Schäuble (University of Passau): Visualising processes of text composition and revision across document borders

Session 3: Visualisation, Typography and Design II
Chair: Christian Steiner

Richard Hadden (Maynooth University): More than a pretty picture: network visualisation as an interface for Digital Scholarly Editions

Shane A. McGarry (Maynooth University): Bridging the Gap: Exploring Interaction Metaphors That Facilitate Alternative Reading Modalities in Digital Scholarly Editions

Keynote II

Stan Ruecker (IIT Institute of Design): Task-Based Design for Digital Scholarly Editions

Session 4: How to program the interface
Chair: Martina Bürgermeister

Hugh Cayless (Duke University Libraries): Critical Editions and the Data Model as Interface

Chiara Di Pietro (University of Pisa) and Roberto Rosselli Del Turco (University of Turin): Between innovation and conservation: the narrow path of UI design for the Digital Scholarly Edition

Jeffrey C. Witt (Loyola University Maryland): Digital Scholarly Editions as API Consuming Applications

Session 5: Theoretical implications
Chair: Anna-Maria Sichani

Arndt Niebisch (University of Vienna): Post-Human Texts? Reflections on Reading and Processing Digital Editions

Peter Robinson (University of Saskatchewan): Why Interfaces Do Not and Should Not Matter for Scholarly Digital Editions

Tara Andrews (University of Vienna) and Joris van Zundert (Huygens Institute for the History of The Netherlands): What Are You Trying to Say? The Interface as an Integral Element of Argument

Federico Caria (University of Rome La Sapienza): Evaluating digital scholarly editions: a focus group

Poster session
Chair: Hans Clausen

Narvika Bovcon, Alen Ajanović and Pija Balaban (University of Ljubljana): Designing a graphical user interface for digital scholarly edition of Freising Manuscripts

Elina Leblanc (Grenoble-Alpes University): Thinking About Users and Their Interfaces: The Case of Fonte Gaia Bib

Session 6: User oriented approaches I
Chair: Aodhan Kelly

Christina M. Steiner, Alexander Nussbaumer, Eva-C. Hillemann and Dietrich Albert (Graz University of Technology): User Interface Design and Evaluation in the Context of Digital
Humanities and Decision Support Systems

Jan Erik Stange (University of Applied Sciences Potsdam): How close can we get to the reader? Co-creation as a valid approach to developing interfaces for scholarly editions?

Ginestra Ferraro (King’s College London) and Anna Maria Sichani (Huygens ING): Design as part of the plan: sustainability in digital editing projects

Session 7: User oriented approaches II
Chair: Elli Bleeker

Stefan Dumont (Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften): “Correspondances” Digital Scholarly Editions of Letters as Interfaces

James R. Griffin III (Lafayette College): Encoding and Designing for the Swift Poems Project

Wout Dillen (University of Borås): The Editor in the Interface. Guiding the User through Texts and Images


Further information

Official symposium website

Book of abstracts

Review of the symposium by Eckhart Arnold:



I am working at the Centre for Information Modelling in the Humanities - Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities (ZIM-ACDH) at the University of Graz. Prior to joining the team at ZIM-ACDH, I completed a PhD in the Digital Arts and Humanities at Trinity College Dublin and I worked on projects such as The Saint Patrick’s Confessio Hyptertext Stack, at the Royal Irish Academy, Versioning Machine and the Letters of 1916, at Maynooth University.

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