Reflections on creating a Digital Scholarly Edition

The process of creating a Digital Scholarly Edition with a team of my fellow MA students began in September of 2014. In preparation for the project ahead, a series of lectures and workshops were delivered by An Foras Feasa at Maynooth University, many of which are discussed in an earlier post to this blog. In January of 2015 the project began in earnest when the practical work began on the source material.


The diary which was to become the subject of this Digital Scholarly Edition is that of Albert Woodman. A Dubliner who had worked as a clerk in the General Post Office, Woodman joined the British Army as part of the Royal Engineers ‘L’ Signal Company and left for France in 1915. In 1917 Woodman married Nellie May Valentine Preston while back in Dublin on leave, and in the coming months (January – November 1918) Woodman wrote in two diaries detailing his time at war, his observations on the conflict surrounding him, and also his thoughts of home and in particular his new wife.


On initial inspection the diary is quite a simple entity, a traditional diary consisting primarily of text in the form of handwritten daily entries and some newspaper clippings and other imagery inserted by Woodman. The most fundamental aspects were text and images, however breaking the diary down revealed a significant amount of work would need to be carried out in order to make this a Digital Scholarly Edition. The text would need to be carefully transcribed, edited and proofed; the diary pages were to be digitally scanned at the imaging laboratory in An Foras Feasa and then carefully re-mastered, cropped and edited for digital presentation. Yet still this was just the tip of the iceberg. Simply to present the diary as a digitised transcription or high quality image would be to ignore the value which can be brought to the object by the many digital tools and methods available in creating a Digital Scholarly Edition; as such a series of more technical and contextual approaches and methods were added to the project.


One such aspect of which I played a part was in expanding the value of the text as presented in a digital scholarly edition. The text was to be complimented by adding information in the form of annotation to particular sets of non-standard or notable terms; while named entities such as personal names, places and organisations were also to be assigned this added value. As such the text would have to be carefully examined to identify the terms and named entities to be annotated. This work was also further extended by research for the annotation, stylistic conventions and decision making on the extent of annotation. Questions arose in regards to what should be annotated as well as how much information should be added so as to contextualise the information without distracting the reader from the meaning of the primary source, which were the entries as written by Albert Woodman.

This aspect alone was a significant task, yet there were several other elements that were identified and explored for possible inclusion as being able to expand the value of the diary as a digital edition. Supplementary articles were sourced and written by team members, audio and video interviews with experts in related fields were taken, digital mapping technologies were examined for possible inclusion and related literature such as instruction manuals on World War I Signaller instruction and methods were sourced and examined.


While these ‘added value’ approaches were significant and utilised many aspects of the teams skills in the humanities such as careful reading, textual analysis, editing, proofing, research, contextualisation and styling, the technical aspects of building and styling the digital product were equally substantial. The decisions on the technical writing and construction of the digital project are what the digital scholarly edition is built on, and these methods are what would enable the content and shape the format and presentation of the edition.

With this in mind further departments within the project were identified that would contain the nuts and bolts of the final digital product. Methods and styles of schema, encoding, wireframes and design layouts were integral to handling both the core information and any ‘added value’ content the project team hoped to include.


In reflecting upon my experience of the process in creating a digital scholarly edition, the above topics may be described as a summary of aspects which were noted and addressed in the overall construction of this digital scholarly edition.

  • Understanding of the Source
  • Fundamental Content
  • Added Value Content
  • Technical Construction

Yet in entering the final stages of this project it is the importance of proper functionality in a project team and clear planning that is perhaps an even more striking lesson of note taken from the process. To illustrate this I would recommend recent blog posts by two of my colleagues in this project regarding the importance of teamwork and project planning relating to this project of which I am very much in agreement.

The creation of a digital scholarly edition was a new venture for the members of this project team and it was one in which each team member stepped into unfamiliar academic disciplines, furthermore the unfamiliar nature of the project posed regular questions within the team as to method. Yet the early identification of core goals, the assignment of responsibility without segregation, good communication and clear planning provided a structure which allowed progress and decisions to be made with team consultation on a regular basis.


The process of creating this digital scholarly edition has provided a valuable insight not just into practical humanities-based techniques and digital methodologies, but the processes of a functional team project. In reflecting on this process the four summarised points (Understanding of the Source, Fundamental Content, Added Value Content, Technical Construction) are vital to first assessing the challenge ahead. Yet it is also imperative that good teamwork and project planning exist so as to properly drive forward a (projected) successful project.


Dabek Meredith. “Creating a Digital Scholarly Edition: Lessons from The Woodman Diary Project.” A Digital Education, 19 April 2015. Web. Accessed 20 April 2015.

Groome, Noel. “Primary Source Images & Editing: A Case for Caution!.” Noel Groome Blog, 12 December 2014. Web. Accessed 20 April 2015

McGarry, Shane. “Perils of Project Planning.” Getting Out of the Book and Into the Digital, 19 April 2015. Web. Accessed 20 April 2015.

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