Digital Darwin: Editing The Loves of the Plants as a Case Study of the Theory and Practice of Digital Editions
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Digital scholarly editing is an evolving field that allows for the rendering of complex print works that are rife with paratextual material. Erasmus Darwin’s The Loves of the Plants represents this kind of paratextually complex work: it is an eighteenth-century scientific poem of approximately 2000 lines, added to which are illustrations and extensive footnotes. Existing editions of the poem are 1) incomplete, presenting only a portion of the text, 2) lacking annotations, or 3) strip it of some of its paratextual elements, such as the footnotes or illustrations. This paper explores the use of digital editing methods to render Darwin’s most popular poem into the first-ever complete critical edition of part of Loves; using copy-text editing theory in the tradition of Greg and Bowers, an eclectic edition was created. A full transcription and annotations are included. Using the Text Encoding Initiative P5 Guidelines, a digital edition of the Front Materials, Canto I, and Interlude I was also created. The digital edition component of this project can be viewed at: http://alanarigby.wix.com/digitaldarwin. The password is “Snow Grimalkin”. The paper then explores the theory and practice of digital editing, charting its history from inception to present day applications. Ongoing debates in the field are discussed. Three other digital editions – Peter Robinson’s The Canterbury Tales Project; Morris Eaves, Joseph Viscomi, and Robert Essick’s The William Blake Archive; and Martin Priestman’s The Temple of Nature – are surveyed in detail with a focus on the various techniques for representing complex paratextual content. The essay concludes with the realization that digital editions have the capacity to overcome some of the pragmatic limitations encountered when creating scholarly print editions, especially in terms of representing paratextual content. However, this capacity comes with its own challenges and digital editors must, like editors of print, be rigorous in defining editorial goals and limiting scope. Also like print editors, digital editors must also maintain transparency in the application of their principles.