Thomas Crombez, Genetic Criticism and the Auto-Saved Document, at DH Benelux.
Focusing on a case study from contemporary theater, Crombez addresses some important questions for textual criticism while dealing with born-digital documents. I will not enter into the details of his project, but will just summarize some of the issues that an editor faces with this kind of material, inspired by Crombez’s presentation, a related chapter of the The Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship (2013)1 and including some of my own ideas.
Working on a virtual version of an author’s computer seems the most common approach to born-digital texts (attention to sensible data!). The first complication is the technological obsolescence and the fragility of migration paths (digital dark age), which are common problems in digital preservation projects. Scholars could have a role in assuring that documents remain legible and accessible in the future and they cannot stand out from technical implications: as a medievalist has to be able to “decode” a manuscript, textual scholars working on born-digital documents have to be able to identify the main technological issues involved in such projects. One would also pay attention to automatically generated data (for instance, a computer clock can be wirdly settled) and to the organization of files and folders.
One of the most interesting questions is: what is a version? Is it what the author explicitly marks as a version? Or every saved document? And what about google.doc and softwares in which one cannot save? Should the edito indentify a main version or consider materials in accumulation?
p.s.: have also a look at The .txtual Condition: Digital Humanities, Born-Digital Archives, and the Future Literary by Matthew Kirschenbaum and The Materialities of Close Reading: 1942, 1959, 2009 by David Ciccoricco !
1 Track changes: textual scholarship and the challenge of the born digital Matthew G. Kirschenbaum and Doug Reside, in The Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship, ed. by N. Fraistat and J. Flanders, Cambridge 2013.