“ePhilology: When the Books Talk to Their Readers”, by Crane, Bamman, and Jones, explores the evolutionary direction ePhilology may take in the digital humanities. For those, like me, who fall under the category of neophyte, Philology can be loosely defined as the study of literary texts and of written records.
In their essay, Crane et al. focus on the use of digital technology in the study of classics but, unfortunately, this is where the trouble starts. Without a background in classics, one will find the examples and references they use almost futile. Bear in mind that effort is required in understanding their argument, but a little effort goes a long way.
Crane et al. lay the foundation of their essay with a print-digital dichotomy, with apparent favouritism falling on the side of digital culture. They argue the weaknesses of print culture as being static, inadaptable “to the needs of their varying users” (Crane et al. unpaginated) and restricted.
Subsequently, Crane et al. propose six features that “distinguish emerging digital resources” (unpaginated). These can be summarised as accessibility, link-ability, use-ability, learn-ability and adapt-ablility, and these are expanded upon throughout the essay with examples such as: TLG and Ibycus.
However, Crane et al. muddy the water when they demonstrate how the transition from print to digital culture is not as clear-cut as initially perceived. Subscription barriers and advertising-based revenue restrict scholarly activity and these “limitations support the practice of print culture” (unpaginated). The solutions to this being: Project Gutenberg, Google Library and OCA (open content alliance), which have contributed vastly to open source distribution.
All in all, two phrases sums up Crane et al.’s argument and they are: “print publication freezes documents” (unpaginated) while “digital publication only begins its functional life after publication” (unpaginated). The ability of a document to evolve and be dynamic over time is exemplified in the example of Wikipedia which has sparked much heated debated about its reliability.
However, this community-driven open domain requires a “new kind of editor” (Crane et al. unpaginated) which shifts the demand from human methods to automated methods. This places greater restrictions on the altering of texts, in an inappropriate manner by illegitimate users, thus increasing the reliability of material content.
Consequently, the development from print to digital is not a simple copy-and-paste task but, instead, it is “creating a wholly new, qualitatively distinct infrastructure.”