- Post Script
Not long before this issue went into copyediting, the executive editor, Deborah McGrady, drew my attention to an artifact of the journal’s own movement between media. When it was founded in 2012, Digital Philology was a dual-platform journal, appearing both in print and online. After several years it was evident that printed copies were superfluous, and the editorial board decided to cease print publication and move to digital distribution exclusively, beginning with volume 8 in 2019. Yet after this decision, the copyright page remains unchanged, providing information on the paper substrate that no longer supports its contents. It reads, “The paper used in this publication meets the requirements of ANSI-NISO Z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper) ∞.” The serendipity of this oversight is too good to pass over without comment.
The American National Standard for Permanence of Paper for Publications and Documents in Libraries and Archives is not a document that I had visited prior to this episode. But I am glad that I was given a reason to do so because it offered one of those instances of reverberation that validates the historian’s relevance (or the pursuit for it, at any rate). The purpose of the standard is to establish “criteria for coated and uncoated paper that will last several hundred years without significant deterioration under normal use and storage conditions in libraries and archives.”1 And after identifying the properties of such paper as well as the tests required to demonstrate them, it provides both the language that should be used to indicate adherence to the standard as well as a graphic logo of compliance, “the mathematical symbol denoting infinity set inside a circle.”
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Emblematic symbolism and anxiety over the reliability of paper are, it turns out, not just for Renaissance polymaths such as Johannes Trithemius.2 Will future copies of this journal come with a statement promising that it meets the requirements of digital permanence?
Initially, I was tempted to linger on the comedy of this statement’s persistence past the point of its utility in this journal. The symmetry is tidy: like the scribes and illuminators who retained features of the printed books they copied, the Digital Philology preserves a vestige of its printed colophon, itself testimony born of a preservationist impulse. But on reflection, what struck me as even more apt was the appearance of this statement and this emblem in copies of this journal even as it becomes an exclusively digital one. For seven years, preceding its transition, both printed and digital copies vouched that they had been produced on paper that meets national standards of durability. Anyone who minded to examine the copyright page in the digital versions of volumes 1 through 7 of this journal would be led to believe that the digital version is a facsimile, a representation of a “real” journal, which exists out there, in hard copies in the world. And perhaps, while the two always coexisted, that is precisely what the digital copies were—stand-ins for their printed counterparts, which themselves existed solely to add the necessary aura of belonging to academic print culture when skepticism about digital publication still prevailed. Now that this statement exists only for the potential of future paper versions, each issue no longer has that secondary status and emerges instead as the originating medium that it is. Or maybe not. Preparing for the future possibility of a print run, each volume is produced with front matter that replicates not only the content but also the ordinatio, mise-en-page, and font of its printed progenitor, including Uncial in the masthead to suggest its concern with medieval manuscripts. What’s more, since each article published in the journal can be read in a browser, in HTML, as well as in a downloadable pdf—each with different appearances, functionalities, and para-textual apparatuses—the status of the pdf is even less defined. Is it a simulacrum? A copy of only a notional printed version of the journal, one that is summoned only to satisfy our expectations of “journalness” or to establish continuity with the earlier volumes? As I type this postscript, I wonder...