Edwards – Question 1
1Is digital representation of archival materials making print representation obsolete? Are there specific ways you see the two working in tandem?
A. S. G. Edwards
Professor of Medieval Manuscripts, School of English – University of Kent
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 I should say, at the outset, that I approach all these questions from the perspective of someone primarily interested in the study of later medieval English literary manuscripts and printed books. From such a perspective, matters do not seem as straightforward as the question suggests. The issue is not a binary antithesis between digital or print but between the differing implications of the digital and the actual. What do you lose/gain as you move from “the real thing” to any form of surrogate representation, including the digital? Obviously, there is much of the material form of the original that neither digital nor print surrogates can adequately represent; size, shape, and color register among the most obvious aspects of the inadequacy of any form of surrogate. And much depends on the aim of a print representation. Is it to attempt to find some facsimile purportedly equivalent to the original? If so, questions of fidelity may arise, as was the case, for example, with the 1911 facsimile of the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which shows evidence of being retouched by a modern artist as well as other inappropriate interventions.1 Or does a print representation seek to offer some form of quasi-facsimile version, attempting to use the resources of typography to represent the original? That is, to offer a transcript constrained by various editorial conventions that may involve the expansion of scribal contractions and the systematic insertion of punctuation, paragraphing, and capitalization. Or is it to produce an edition, critical or otherwise, that may or may not entail the examination of a range of other materials, readings from which might be inserted into such “archival materials”? Such questions present themselves irrespective of whether the materials are being delivered in a print or digital form. The obvious way the two forms work in tandem is through some digital form of the original being linked to some edited form of the text that is also available online. This can be done successfully in relation to single manuscripts; the online facsimile of the Middle English Auchinleck manuscript is an excellent model, with clear linkage from original to transcript to other forms of supporting annotation.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 But in saying this, it is necessary to reiterate the larger question of fidelity to the original noted above. The problems of color fidelity in digital reproduction raise complex questions of representation, while any form of facsimile reproduction is unlikely to be able to represent size faithfully, and creators of facsimiles are not always candid about the problems.2 Indeed, no surrogate can be viewed confidently as an actual faithful facsimile of the original, but rather it should be seen as a pragmatic attempt at a representation of the original verbal and decorative forms.
- ¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0
- See, for example, Daniel Woodward’s comments in “The New Ellesmere Chaucer Facsimile,” The Ellesmere Chaucer: Essays in Interpretation, ed. Martin Steven and Daniel Woodward (San Marino, CA & Tokyo: Huntington Library & Yushodo, 1997), 4-5. [↩]
- See, for example, Norman Hammond’s interesting letter in the Times Literary Supplement, July 5, 2013, 6, and the atypically detailed discussion of the problems in The Vernon Manuscript: A Facsimile of Bodleian Library, Oxford, Ms Eng. Poet. a. 1, with an Introduction by A. I. Doyle (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1987), viii. [↩]