Edition Practices

Edition Practices in Comparative and Historical Perspective


Edition Practices is a research project funded by the Anneliese Maier Research Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the hands of Prof. Dr. Glenn W. Most (Pisa/Chicago), associated with the Chair of Ancient Christianity of Prof. Dr. Christoph Markschies at the Faculty of Theology at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. It poses the question what practices have been used in the edition of texts in different cultures and periods, and how can studying them help us to edit texts better ourselves in the future.



Research approach 
Until recently, questions of the methodology and history of text editions were of interest to very few people besides the small number of scholars who were actively engaged in editing texts themselves. But in the past decades three developments have radically changed this situation: Digitalization: The digital revolution has begun to transform profoundly the ways in which texts are conceived, prepared, and presented.

Not only does this open up new perspectives for possible methods of scholarship which would have been inconceivable until recently; it also provides a vantage point outside of the traditional book form from which the advantages, constraints, and disadvantages of the media current hitherto and of the procedures based upon them can be recognized more clearly. What will be the effects upon future textual editions of the (possibly) infinite storage possibilities of digital data (but also of the as yet unresolved challenges of archiving for digital media), the ease of cancellation of texts (but also of the difficulty of recuperation of what has been cancelled), or the emancipation from the medium of the page and its constraints regarding the choice and spatial discrimination of variants (but also with new questions of longevity and access)? And by contrast, how much influence did traditional writing materials and instruments have upon the methods scholars developed in order to edit texts? Cross-cultural comparison: As the world has grown more interconnected in the process of internationalization and globalization especially in the last half century, scholars belonging to different cultural and linguistic traditions have begun to engage with one another more systematically than ever before. The result is that the possibility has begun to open up for even those who work in the philologies of individual countries or languages – traditionally among the most nationally focused of humanistic scholars – to compare and discuss procedures and goals in the hope of arriving at a genuinely global concept of the practices of textual scholarship. Although this inter-cultural dialogue is still in its infancy, it can be expected to develop strongly in the coming decades. Practices in the history of science: As long as the history of science tended to focus especially upon the discovery of concepts and the invention of devices in the natural sciences, the humanities seemed to offer little of interest to many historians of science. But in the past several decades, the history of science has turned ever more to the study of practices such as observation, description, classification, and organization, and in doing so has discovered deep and unexpected affinities between branches of scholarship that used to be complexly intertwined but in the past several centuries have been divided into humanities and natural sciences. The techniques of textual scholars offer an exciting new field of study for the historian of science who wishes to understand the development of rational procedures for the preservation, restoration, transmission, and analysis of knowledge in various cultures over thousands of years.
These three recent developments make the time seem right for a detailed historical and methodological comparison of a specific philological procedure, textual editing, among, at the very least, the Greco-Roman, Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit, and Classical Chinese traditions. What does it mean to edit a text, and how have texts been edited in different periods and in different cultures? How have the concrete philological procedures involved – such as collation, correction, treatment and indication of variants, impagination, and publication – been conceived, practiced, and taught? Which practices are more widely represented and which ones are more local, and why? Perhaps now we are finally in a position in which we can begin to understand how the canonization of texts that were indispensable for religious, scientific, legal, educational, and other institutions in cultures throughout the world favored the production of more or less critical editions of texts created by the highly trained members of scholarly communities that spanned centuries and continents.
No work has been done hitherto on the history and methodology of textual editions from a truly global perspective, systematically comparing the Western traditions (and those that engaged in fruitful dialogue with them) with other traditions that were more remote either in time (Mesopotamian, Egyptian) or in space (South and East Asian). It is in this global perspective (for which no single tradition can be posited as the correct or standard one), and in the focus on the specific scholarly practice of textual editing (and not on the much larger and more diffuse realm of Classical scholarship in general) that a new contribution can best be made, building upon the excellent work that has already been done but advancing it further.
Why Berlin?
Since at least the early 19th century Berlin has been a city filled with scholars editing texts, and today as well there are scores of individuals and groups involved in editing all kinds of texts, not only literary but also documentary and musical (to name only these), in languages ranging from Assyrian, Greek, and Coptic to Classical and Modern Arabic and Chinese, drawn from cultures all over the world and from all historical periods from earliest antiquity to the present day. In the 19th century, Berlin was the center of the development of modern methods of textual edition in Classics: Boeckh, Lachmann, and Wilamowitz – scholars who made fundamental contributions to the theory and practice of text editing – all taught there. But Berlin also was (and remains) a center for the study of the Christian tradition of textual editions, which made fundamental contributions to the practice of textual edition, starting with Origen and Eusebius and continuing well beyond modern students and editors of this tradition like Mommsen and Harnack (who were professors there). Moreover, already in the 19th century Berlin scholars were moving beyond Greek and Latin to develop authentically intercultural editions: August Dillmann founded Ethiopian Studies, and today as well one of the specialties of Berlin Classics and Theology is the edition of Christian and Gnostic texts in Oriental languages like Coptic, Ethiopian, and Mandaean. For the historian of such practices, the many Nachlässe of such scholars in Berlin offer exciting possibilities for inspecting their techniques of text editing in action by examining their research materials and manuscript drafts.
Today, Berlin remains a place in which monumental text editions are embedded in a variety of institutions – and not only within the traditional linguistic and chronological limits of Classical Greek and Latin: one thinks for example of the Aristotle center and of the new Byzantine extension of the Corpus of commentaries to Aristotle, of the publication of Arabic translations within the Corpus of Greek medical writers, of the edition of the Corpus Coranicum in relation to Jewish Studies. But nowadays, even though specialists in the different philologies share many of the same practices, with interesting variations, the barriers of language, disciplinary specialization, institution, and tradition do not always make it easy for them to exchange their experiences with one another and to see their own work in a wider theoretical and comparative context. Recent years, to be sure, have seen some very promising first steps, for example the project on Zukunftsphilologie, created recently at the Wissenschaftskolleg; I would hope to build upon such beginnings and develop them further. At the end of this project, I would hope that there would not only be a clearer sense among both practicing editors and theoreticians of editing of the many dimensions of the practices involved, but also that the many people who are editing texts in Berlin would know one another better and feel themselves part of a rich and substantial network of like-minded experts.