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  • A New Digital Divide:Recovery Editing in the Age of Digitization
  • Jean Lee Cole

Editors trained in the acronym-rich world of twenty-first-century editorial practice rightly tout the increased accessibility, updatability, and flexibility of digital editions.1 New materials—visual and aural, as well as links to other sources—can now be integrated into editions of recovered texts, enhancing the reading experience as well as providing points of access for those who may be encountering new writers, genres, and stylistic conventions. The flexibility of presentation afforded by digital editions has allowed us to see how texts come into being through sometimes convoluted processes of revision, editing, bowdlerization, reprinting, and adaptation.2 Digital editions make tangible the contingency of a text, its embeddedness in the social relations of literary production, and, in its most radical forms, the inherent instability of the text itself. For all these reasons, I echo Martha Nell Smith, who observed in 2007: “I cannot imagine a successful edition bereft of thoughtful application of technology” (3).

However, what often gets lost in starry-eyed discussions of digital editing is this: these new practices are creating a new digital divide that is widening the daunting chasm between scholars committed to recovery work and the traditional academy. Already, recovery editors find their work as editors under-valued as scholarship and often must defend the subjects of their editorial labor—to colleagues, to administrators, and especially to tenure and promotion committees—as worthy of study. Throwing the digital into the mix, one finds on one side of the divide that the language of digital editing is foreign, and at times unintelligible, for many humanists, including would-be recovery editors as well as those who already consider recovery work less scholarly than traditional humanities research. On the other side of the divide, the desire driving [End Page 150] many recovery editors—namely, to present a usable classroom edition that can make forgotten texts accessible for students and other novice readers—has become submerged or effaced by the technological aspects of digital editing. On either side, the gendered nature of the digital divide itself, as well as the gendered division of editorial and scholarly labor, exacerbate these concerns.3

I currently have a recovery project in the works, one that arises out of my research, as so many recovery projects do. In popular magazines from the first two decades of the twentieth century, including Cosmopolitan, Collier’s, and the Saturday Evening Post, among others, I have discovered well over a hundred stories about Irish, Jewish, Italian, and Hungarian immigrants living in New York’s Lower East Side. Many of these stories have never been published in book form; taken together, they provide a wealth of evidence about the perception of so-called second-wave immigrants within the mainstream American press and may also provide perspectives from immigrants themselves. Obviously, this corpus of texts is too large to be published in a single volume. Thus an online edition would be a commonsense way to provide students and scholars access to these fascinating texts by now-forgotten but (I believe) important writers.

I have the texts. I even have a title: How the Other Half Laughs: Comic Tales of New York’s Lower East Side. I have been encouraged by various well-meaning people to submit a proposal to one of the various digital humanities centers that promise infrastructural and technical support for twenty-first-century editors. But once I start looking, I find myself confronting a seemingly unscalable wall of terminology: xml, tei, odds, dependencies, platforms.

The additional competencies required in order to create digital editions today have thrown up new obstacles for scholars attempting to bring forgotten or understudied texts back into literary history. The guidelines published by nines (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship), for example, emphasize the importance of “interface design,” “site usability,” “aggregation,” and “interoperability” (“Peer Review”). Before the digital revolution, one had to convince an editor or a publisher that it would be worth their time and money to reintroduce a text that already had been deemed forgettable by the gatekeepers of literary and historical value. Now, one not only has to demonstrate that a text...


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pp. 150-156
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