In this demo, I’d like to show some of the early realizations of a system of quality control and imprimatur that can travel with an edition, freeing it from the confines of a particular publisher or particular presentation. In an earlier post, I described an early conception of this idea as a “traveling imprimatur”, but of late I have had some requests for live demonstrations of how this might work in production rather than just in theory. So here I want to offer a few more thoughts about why this idea is important before offering a video demonstration of this idea working in production.
As preface, I’d like to recall why the idea of a traveling imprimatur is important and how it challenges outdated paradigms that are still unnecessarily directing how we migrate our shared cultural heritage to the new digital medium.
In a great article by Joris van Zundert titled “barely beyond the book”, he introduces an idea called “paradigmatic regression”.
Van Zundert describes acts of “paradigmatic regression” as:
“acts of shaping that translate an expression of the paradigm of the new technology into an expression of a paradigm that is already known to the user.”
(Joris van Zundert, “Barely Beyond the Book?” in Digital Scholarly Editing: Theories and Practices, eds. Matthew James Driscoll and Elena Pierazzo, (http://dx.doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0095.05), 83-106, 85)
I start with this idea because today many acts of publishing an edition online embody an act of paradigmatic regression.
The concept we are familiar with from the print world is that an edition is a thing that is experienced in one place. To experience a particular edition is to experience the presentation of this edition as represented in a particular published physical book. The experience of this particular edition is therefore exhausted by the presentation found in this printed book because this edition can be experienced nowhere else.
Accordingly, the imprimatur of an edition is tied to a particular presentation of this text, and thus is tightly with coupled with the source or publisher of this presentation. If I want to view the edition that has been reviewed and carries the imprimatur of quality control, I can only view the text in the particular presentational form offered by a single publisher because, again, there is no other way for this edition to exist. The publisher who offers this presentation gains a monopoly over the “reviewed”, and therefore “authoritative” text, because the review is associated with this particular presentation rather than the data underlying this presentation.
Today, we see acts of paradigmatic regression in the creation of digital editions because this paradigm is being re-enacted in the digital medium despite the fact that it is no longer necessary.
That is, all too often, we tend to see the essence of our edition as something that is presented on a particular webpage. If I want to experience that edition, I am required to travel to a particular page or website in order to encounter that edition.
Consequently, the way we think about review, quality control, and the imprimatur for this text continues to follow the old paradigm. A text is considered reviewed when a review is given for this particular online presentation of the edition. Thereby, the party responsible for this presentation on this particular website gains an unnecessary and often unearned monopoly over the reviewed and authoritative version of the text and the uses that can be made of it.
Thus, if you want to see the reviewed text, one is needlessly forced to view that edition in one place and in one context only. Further uses and representations of this edition are prohibited precisely because the approval of the text is tied to a particular publication of this text rather than to the text itself. The authority and veracity of the imprimatur is once again tied to the source of the presentation, that is, the publisher or the website making the text visible, rather than to the data itself.
The big difference between the print enactment of this paradigm and the digital is that, in the latter case, the imprimatur is needlessly and unnecessarily tied to the publisher rather than the text. It is no longer the medium that requires us to do this, but our “paradigmatic regression” to an older model with which we are already familiar and comfortable.
The digital medium makes it possible for us to decouple the imprimatur of a particular edition from whoever is publishing the text or whatever website at a given moment is presenting that text. In this way, the reviewed text becomes free for anyone to publish and free for anyone to make new and innovative uses of without ever loses its identity as the reviewed and authoritative text.
In the follow screen cast, I want to offer some demonstrations of this new paradigm in action and how this kind of “traveling imprimatur” can work in the real world. While still a work in progress, it is important to recognize that this is already operational and therefore technologically possible. Thus, the main obstacles to progress lie, not in technological problems, but rather in generating the social and political will to adopt a new paradigm.