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Assistive potencies: Reconfiguring the scholarly edition in an electronic setting

, University of Virginia, United States

University of Virginia . Awarded


This dissertation makes the claim that electronic scholarly editions have the potential to produce more reliable scholarly texts than their print-based antecedents. It consists of an introduction, four chapters, and a brief conclusion. It originated in my work creating the Elwood Viewer, a sophisticated software browser written to display TEI encoded documentary editions produced by the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive. Following Willard McCarty's suggestion, I have attempted an "intellection of praxis" in order to draw further benefit from that work.

Computing conventions in place when path-breaking projects were launched to create electronic scholarly editions nearly two decades ago continue to skew efforts to produce editions that live up to the promise of the digital medium. The development of the printed scholarly edition on a "scientific" basis over the course of the nineteenth-century has eventuated in an instrument that did not scale well to the largest, and in most cases most significant, editorial projects undertaken in the twentieth-century. Print has been the incubator of the idea of the scholarly edition and a medium in which a tremendous amount of useful work has been accomplished. The electronic medium, however, holds the hope of the scholarly edition's fullest realization.

What I call "assistive potencies" invested in future electronic scholarly editions will issue from a combination of scholarly convention, individual acts of editorial creativity, and carefully engineered computer programs informed by insights drawn from cognitive science, particularly as developed in theories of distributed cognition. Our goals as editors should include well-designed software that equips the scholar and the computer to play complementary roles drawing upon the particular strengths of each. For example, the electronic scholarly edition, through careful interface design can insure the enhanced reliability of its text by coordinating the display of images of lines of text as they occur in manuscripts with the edited transcriptions of the same lines. Powerful search capacities in tandem with well-crafted display of image and text are capable of empowering an edition's reader to test the basic assumptions upon which an edition is based in ways that are not feasible for printed scholarly editions.


Lyman, E.W. Assistive potencies: Reconfiguring the scholarly edition in an electronic setting. Ph.D. thesis, University of Virginia. Retrieved November 28, 2023 from .

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