The Educational and Social Impact of Digital Scholarly Editions

Post by Anna-Maria Sichani and Elena Spadini

The Workshop The Educational and Social Impact of Digital Scholarly Editions was held in Rome on the 24th of January 2017, in combination with the AIUCD (Italian DH) Annual Conference and of the EADH Day. The main focus of the workshop was the impact of DSEs inside and outside the classroom: how are/can digital editions be used in the educational context and how/if they reach the broader public. The workshop was initially an idea and initiative of Fabio Ciotti, and two DiXiT ESR fellows, Elena and Anna-Maria, helped organising it.

As we are sure a lot of us do, we started writing this report looking back at the abstracts. Literally, at *all* the abstracts at once. We did not actually read, but “reveal” them using Voyant Tools (here with the corpus loaded). This seems in line with the topic of the AIUCD Conference that follows the workshop, ‘The reverse telescope: big data and distant reading in the Humanities‘ (and it gives us the possibility to recall that an Italian version of Voyant Tools has recently been released).

The “revealed” texts shows, among others, the frequency of words occurrences (also visualized in the word cloud) and we’d like to comment on some of those.

DATA. While this word seems to occur a lot, most of its occurrences are to be found in the first abstract (James Cummings, Martin Hadley, Howard Noble, ‘It has moving parts! Interactive visualisations in digital publications ). A key point of this talk is in a sentence from the abstract itself: “Often editors feel they do not have any ‘data’ but only ‘text’, but they are wrong”. All this data can be used for creating visualization that helps the edition to be successful in conveying its message inside and outside the classroom and the school.

SCHOLARLY. How much “scholarly” an edition (or, more in general, the result of a research project) should be in order to communicate in and outside the classroom? It was clear during the whole day and brightly summarized in the last keynote, by Silvia Orlandi, that the two components (high research standards and dissemination to general public) are not alternatives, but different sides of the same coin. If one withdraws the scholarly rigour in the research project, the dissemination would not work neither.

STUDENTS. During the workshop students of different levels intervened and were also constantly mentioned as both creators and users of DSEs: for instance, we had two presentations from undergraduate students who talked about their own experiences with DSEs in the classroom, while high school students were taken into account in the dissemination of various projects. Surprisingly (or not!), those who teach to young students witnessed their controversial approach to digital resources and tools. On the one side, young students are certainly familiar with digital technologies; on the other side, they are not used to trust them, to consider them as authoritative knowledge resources or serious methodologies. We can learn from this that, in the use and creation of digital editions and other digital research products in the classroom, it is fundamental to stimulate the students’ critical understanding and awareness towards “the digital”.

PLATFORMS (and tools and applications). The need for tools able to guide students (mainly in the educational context) in approaching digital editing was evident throughout the workshop. Three contributions focus on platforms and tools for creating, contributing, playing around with digital editions: the WikiPlatform, Philoeditor and the TEI Processing Model Toolbox.

Let’s go back to our Voyant results. If we only look at adjectives and verbs (not at nouns) in the list of most frequent words, we get something like ALLOW, ABLE, USE, AVAILABLE, but also CRITICAL, DIFFERENT, NEW, INTERACTIVE, COLLABORATIVE.

We would like to read this selection of most frequent adjectives and verbs in terms of the empowerment of the user of digital editions. The (re)use that one makes of the edition cannot be passive, mostly when we are approaching this object for the first time: students, as well as the broader public, need to touch, edit, interact, collaborate, play with the edition and, possibly, understand what’s happening. This seems to be a fundamental requirement for the use of digital editions, both inside and outside the classroom.

Our editions – and, even before, our project – should be alive, collaborative and engaging, in many different ways. We encouraged the workshop participants to put together their ideas about living editions in two “brainstorming dominos”.

These activities were intended to spot the connections between digital editions (or its components) and didactic goals in various disciplines in the Humanities (literature, history, art history, textual criticism, etc.), as well as digital editions and creative industry, GLAM and general audience.

The day was opened and closed by two enlightening keynotes from Agiati Benardou, Senior Researcher at the Digital Curation Unit, ATHENA R.C. and manager of Europeana Research (don’t miss Europeana Research news, including their Grant Programme!), and Silvia Orlandi, Associate Professor of Latin epigraphy and scientific coordinator of the European project EAGLE (eehi, EAGLE Media Wiki just won the DH Awards as Best suite of tools!). The workshop was well received by experienced researchers in Digital Editing, stakeholders as well as educators and students, reminding the ties that bound digital scholarship and Digital Scholarly Editing to education and community.

This workshop proved to address two important issues for a better comprehension and critical development of digital humanities and in particular researches about scholarly digital editions.Of course, what we mentioned here is just a tiny selection. But you can find out more looking at the book of abstracts, or at the slides of the presentations hosted on the DiXiT website together with materials from other DiXiT events.

Again, thanks to all the participants!


Elena Spadini

Elena Spadini is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie research fellow at Huygens ING. Her project, as part of the European DiXiT Network, pursues digital scholarly editions, as regard the scientific and technical aspects: She is currently working on encoding and transcribing tools, semi-automatic collation, modelling textual variance. She hold a Ph.D. from Sapienza Università di Roma, with a dissertation on the old French prose Lancelot; studied at Sapienza, at the École nationale des Chartes and at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, specializing in romance philology and digital techniques applied to textual criticism. Her research interests include medieval literature, the history of textual criticism and the history of digital humanities.

1 Response

  1. Linda says:

    Great summary! Thanks, girls!

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