Publication Details

Berrie, P, Eggert, P, Tiffin, C & Barwell, G, Authenticating electronic editions, In Burnard, L, O'Brien O'Keeffe, K & Unsworth, J (eds), Electronic Textual Editing, 2006, p 269-276, New York: The Modern Language Association of America.


A book is generally seen as a trustworthy carrier of text because, once printed, text cannot be changed without leaving obvious physical evidence. This stability is accompanied by a corresponding inflexibility. Apart from handwritten marginal annotation, there is little augmentation or manipulation available to the user of a printed text. Electronic texts are far more malleable. They can be modified with great ease and speed. This modification may be careful and deliberate (e.g., editing, adding markup for a new scholarly purpose), it may be whimsical or mendacious (e.g., forgery), or it may be accidental (e.g., mistakes made while editing, or minor mistranslations by a software system). The nature of the medium makes the potential effect of these modifications greater because the different versions of the text can be quickly duplicated and distributed, beyond recall by the editor. Does the electronic future, then, hold in store something akin to medieval scribal culture? If this lack of control is the risk, will scholars be willing to put several years of their lives into the painstaking creation of electronic editions of important historical documents or works of literature and philosophy?