So let's talk about the state of amateur editions as it was, as it is now, as it may be, and how that relates to the people in this room.
a quote from the past. This was written in 1996, representing what I think may be a familiar sort of consensus [scholarly] opinion about the quality of amateur editions, which can be summed up in the word "ewww!"
Ordinarily people will be talking about three different things:
- They can be talking about projects like Paul's, in which you have an institution who is organizing and running the project, but all the transcription, editing, and annotation is done by members of the public.
- Or, they can be talking about organizations like FreeREG, a client of mine which is a genealogy organization in the UK which is transcribing all the parish registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials from the reformation up to 1837. In that case, all the material--all the documents--are held at local records offices and and archives, who in many cases are quite hostile to the volunteer attempt to put these things online. Nevertheless, over the last fifteen years, they've managed to transcribe twenty-four million of these records, and are still going strong.
- Finally, amateur run editions of amateur-held documents. These are cases like me working on my great-great grandmother's diaries, which is what got me into this world [of editing].
Soldier Studies. Soldier Studies is entirely amateur-run. It's organized by a high-school history teacher who got really involved in trying to rescue documents from the ephemera trade.
being sold on E-Bay. He sees the documents that are passing through--and many of them he recognizes as important, as an amateur military historian--and he says, I can't purchase all of these, and I don't belong to an institution that can purchase them. Furthermore, I'm not sure that it's ethical to deal in this ephemera trade--there is some correlation to the antiquities trade--but wouldn't it be great if we could transcribe the documents themselves and just save those, so that as they pass from a vendor to a collector, some of the rest of us can read what's on these documents?
A little bit more shocking is that -- you know, he's dealing with people who have scans--they have facsimile images--so he says, we're going to use that. Send us the first page, so that we know that you're not making this piece of correspondence up completely, fabricating it out of whole cloth.
Okay, so how much use is that to a researcher?
He's talking about things like Project Gutenberg, but that's pretty much what we're dealing with right here. How much confidence could a historian place in the material on this site? I'm not sure.
Here's an example of an amateur edition which is in a noble cause, but which is really more ammunition for the earlier quote.
Papa's Diary Project, which is a 1924 diary of a Jewish immigrant to New York, transcribed by his grandson.
What's interesting about this -- he's just using Blogger, but he's doing a very effective job of communicating to his reader:
here is a six-word entry. We have the facsimile--we can compare and tell [the transcript] is right: "At Kessler's Theater. Enjoyed Kreuzer Sonata."
So the amateur who's putting this up goes through and explains what Kessler's theater is, who Kessler was.
So he's taken this six-word diary entry and turned it into something that's fascinating, compelling reading. It was picked up by the New York Times at one point, because people got really excited about this.
So we have people in the comments who are going off and doing research and contributing.
FromThePage, my own crowdsourced transcription tool, I invited friends of mine to do beta testing.
I started off with an edition that I was creating based on an amateur print edition of the same diary from fifteen years previously.
If you look at this note here, what you see is Bryan Galloway looking over the facsimile and seeing this strange "Miss Smith sent the drugg... something" and correcting the transcript--which originally said "drugs"--saying, Well actually that word might be "drugget", and "drugget" is, if you look on Wikipedia, is a coarse woolen fabric. Which--since it's January and they're working with [tobacco] plant-beds--that's probably what it is.
Well, I had no idea--nobody who's read this had any idea--but here's somebody who's going through and doing this proofreading, and he's doing research and correcting the transcription and annotating at the same time.
Kriegstagebuch von Dieter Finzen, who was a soldier in World War I, and then was drafted in World War II. This is being run by a group of volunteers, primarily in Germany.
What I want to point out is, that here is the entry for New Year's Day, 1916. They originally post the German, and then they have volunteers who go online and translate the entry into English, French, and Italian.
So now, even though my German is not so hot, I can tell that they were stuck drinking grenade water.
What's the difference between things that amateurs seem to be doing poorly, and things that they're doing well?
I think that it comes down to something that Gavin Robinson identified in a blog post that he wrote about six years ago about the difference between professional historians/academic historians and amateur historians. What he essentially says is that professionals--particularly academics, but most professionals--are particularly concerned with theory. They're concerned with their methodologies and with documenting their methodologies.
This is something that amateurs, in many cases, are not concerned with -- don't know exist -- maybe have never even been exposed to.
How can we get amateurs--doing amateur editions on their own--to move from the things that they're doing well and poorly to being able to do everything well that's relevant to researchers' needs?
I see three major challenges to high-quality amateur editions.
The first one is one which I really want to involve this community in, which is ignorance of standards. The idea that you might actually include facsimiles of every page with your transcription -- that's a standard. I'm not talking about standards like TEI -- I'd love for amateur editions to be elevated to the point that print editions were in 1950 -- we're just talking about some basics here.
Lack of community and lack of a platform.
How does an amateur learn about editorial methodologies? How do they learn about emendations? How do they learn about these kinds of things?
Well, how do they learn about any other subject? How do they learn about dendrochronology if they're interested in measuring tree rings?
Let's go check out Wikipedia!
dendrochronology, you don't really have a starting place, a "how to". If you look up the letter X, you get this wonderful description of how 'X' works in Catalan orthography, but it presupposes you being familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet, and knowing that that thing which looks like an integral sign is actually the 'sh' sound.
Now if amateurs are trying to do research on scholarly editing and documentary editing in Wikipedia, they have a different problem:
no article on documentary editing.
no article on scholarly editing.
These practices are invisible to amateurs.
Well--going back to crowdsourcing--one example is by participation in crowdsourcing projects. Crowdsourcing projects--yes, they are a source of labor; yes they are a way to do outreach about your material--but they are a way to train the public in editing. And they are training the public in editing whether that's the goal of the transcription project or not. The problem is that the teacher in this school is the transcription software--is the transcription website.
This means that the people who are teaching the public about transcription--the people who are teaching the public about editing--are people like me: developers.
So, how do developers learn about transcription?
Well, sometimes, as Paul [Flemons] mentioned, we just wing it. If we're lucky, we find out about TEI, and we read the TEI Guidelines, and we find out that there's so much editorial practice that's encoded in the TEI Guidelines that that's a huge resource.
If we happen to know the people in this room or the people who are meeting at the Association for Documentary Editing in Ann Arbor, we might discover traditional editorial resources like the Guide to Documentary Editing. But that requires knowing that there's a term "Documentary Editing".
So what does that mean? What that means is that people like me--developers with my level of knowledge or ignorance--are having a tremendous amount of influence on what the public is learning about editing. And that influence does not just extend to projects that I run -- that influence extends to projects that archives and other institutions using my software run. Because if an archive is trying to start a transcription project, and the archivist has no experience with scholarly editing, I say, You should pick some transcription conventions. You should decide how to encode this. Their response is, What do you think? We've never done this before. So I'm finding myself giving advice on editing.
The other thing that amateurs need is community.
Community is important because community allows you to collaborate. Communities evaluate each [member's] work and say, This is good. This is bad. Communities teach each [member]. And communities create standards -- you don't just hang out on Flickr to share your photos -- you hang out on Flickr to learn to be a better photographer. People there will tell you how to be a better photographer.
We have no amateur editing community for people who happen to have an attic full of documents and want to know what to do with them.
her interviews with the managers of online museum collections--non-institutional online "museums"--found that people are coming up with "intuitive metadata" standards of their own, without any knowledge or reference to existing procedures in creating traditional archival metadata.
There's no platform that will guide them through best practices of editing.
What's worse, if there were one, it would need a "killer feature", which is what Julia Flanders describes in the TAPAS project as a compelling reason for people to contribute their transcripts and do their editing on a platform that enforces rigor and has some level of permanence to it -- rather than just slapping their transcripts up on a blog.
- Crowdsourcing tools ignore documentary editing methodologies. If you're transcribing using the Transcribe Bentham tool, you learn about TEI. You learn from a good school. But almost all of the other crowdsourced transcription tools don't have that. Many of them don't even contain a place for the administrator to specify transcription conventions to their users!
- As a result, the world remains ignorant of the work of scholarly editors, because we're not finding you online--because you're invisible on Wikipedia--and we're not going to learn about your work through crowdsourcing.
- So you have the public get this attitude that, well, editing is easy -- type what you see. Who needs an expert? I think that's a little bit worrisome.
- The final thing--which, when I started working on this talk, was a sort of wild bogeyman--is the idea that new standards come into being without any reference whatsoever to the tradition of scholarly or documentary editing.
"A Transcription Notation for Genealogy", was submitted.
Here we have what looks like a fairly traditional print notation. It's probably okay.
Where is your work in this bibliography? It's not there.
Where is the Guide to Documentary Editing? It's not there.
So here's a new standard that was proposed the month before last. Now, I hope to respond to this--when I get the time--and suggest a few things that I've learned from people like you. But these standards are forming, and these standards may become what the public thinks of as standards for editing.
The road to the utopia that Peter described I see as in part through partnerships between amateurs and professionals: you get amateurs participating in projects that are well run -- that teach them useful things about editing and how to encode manuscripts.
Similarly, you get professionals participating in the public conversation, so that your methodologies are visible. Certainly your editions are visible, but that doesn't mean that editing is visible. So maybe someone here wants to respond to that FHISO request, or maybe they just want to release guides to editing as Open Access.
As a result, amateurs produce higher-quality editions on their own, so that they're more useful for other researchers; so that they're verifiable.
And then, amateurs themselves become advocates -- not just for their material and the materials they're working on through crowdsourcing projects, but for editing as a discipline.
So that's what I think is the road to utopia.
Back in Shillingsburg's "Dank Cellar" paper, he describes the problems with the e-texts that he's seeing, and he really encourages scholarly editors not to worry about it -- to disengage -- [and] instead to focus on coming up with methodologies--and again, this is 2006--for creating digital editions. He says that these aren't well understood yet. Let's not get distracted by these [amateur] things -- let's focus on what's involved in making and distributing digital editions.
Is he still right? I don't know.
Maybe--if we're in the post-digital age--it's time to re-engage.