C21 Editions

Scholarly Editing and Publishing in the Digital Age

The aim of the C21 Editions project is to investigate and advance the practices of scholarly digital editing by researching and prototyping data standards that accommodate born-digital content such as social media, while also further integrating the curatorial and statistical aspects of DH by examining how computer-assisted analytical methods can be embedded into edition making. In doing so, the project will produce a range of valuable scholarly and public resources, specifically, two high impact digital editions and the reproducible frameworks on which they are based.

Tete d’une Femme Lisant by Pablo Picasso. Cubism brings different views together in the same picture. In the early 20th century it resulted in artworks that looked radically different to what viewers had experienced before.

When academics mention “scholarly editions”, they are typically referring to expertly curated textual resources or collections, designed to bring some sense of order or meaning to a particular set of materials. Scholarly editing, and the publishing practices that bring such efforts to the public, are hugely important to culture and society, providing the artifacts and insights necessary for understanding ourselves and the past, present, and future of the world around us.

One of the major achievements of the digital humanities is the role its community has played in bringing scholarly editions to digital and web-based platforms, improving their research, pedagogical, and societal value through greater dissemination and access. However, despite all that has been achieved in the three or so decades since DH emerged, the digital scholarly edition is now in danger of becoming obsolete in an increasingly digital world. Most existing digital editions and publishing platforms mimic the structure of books, presenting static content in a page-based structure. Where some interactivity does exist, it is usually in the form of basic hyperlinks to other resources. It is quite possible that very soon, many digital scholarly editions will have been reduced to a curio of the early web.

When we look at the practice of digital scholarly editing, there is a marked lack of machine learning techniques designed to support the curation and analysis of cultural materials. There is also a marked lack of consensus and technical guidance on how best to preserve and share born-digital materials essential to our understanding culture and society in the twenty-first century. For example, it is reasonable to expect that future historians and the general public will want a critically curated edition of the former President Donald Trump’s tweets, contextualised using the sea of online political, media and social discourse that his messages either responded to or prompted. However, right now, there is now readily available framework or platform for creating, presenting, and sustaining such an edition.

This is precisely was C21 Editions aims to remedy: by engaging with experts and stakeholder groups, the project will establish the methods and principles for developing the scholarly digital editions of the future.


The objectives are as follows:

  • Conduct secondary research analysis of existing digital scholarly editions, practices and theories, as well as interviews with leading experts, synthesising existing research, perspectives, and practices.
  • Produce a much-needed substantial white paper detailing the theoretical and technical state-of-the-art in digital scholarly editing, laying the foundation for the development of the future field.
  • Develop two high impact case studies prototyping new open standards for editing born-digital content and tools for computer-aided scholarly editing, using born-digital materials relating to an Irish author (to be announced), and an online edition of The Canterbury Tales using unpublished witnesses held by the University of Sheffield.
  • Work with the National Library of Ireland to determine how public cultural institutions in possession of born-digital materials can better achieve their strategic aims and disseminate such materials to the scholarly community and the general public.
  • Explore how machine learning and computational techniques can assist in the production of annotated texts and resources, as well as produce scholarly insights based on curated materials, greatly enhancing the capacity for scholars and institutions to produce large-scale, interactive, information-rich textual resources.
  • Establish User Design Groups of stakeholders who will participate in inclusive design workshops, intended to ensure that our impact case studies, born-digital editing and computational techniques are user-led in purpose and value.
  • Provide the DH and wider scholarly community with the open and intuitive tools, resources and data necessary to replicate the prototypes and approaches utilised in this project across all research and teaching.
  • Convene a free, inclusive conference to discuss the possible futures for the field of digital scholarly editing and publishing.
  • Undertake additional dissemination activities that are intended to increase the impact of the project and its outputs, such as methodology workshops, research articles, case study reports, panel sessions at international academic conferences, and presentations at relevant events.

Project Website

Project Duration

August 2021 — July 2024

Project Team

  • Michael Pidd (Principal Investigator, UK — University of Sheffield)
  • Dr James O’Sullivan (Principal Investigator, Ireland — University College Cork)
  • Professor Bridgette Wessels (Co-Investigator — University of Glasgow)
  • Dr Órla Murphy (Co-Investigator — University College Cork)
  • Dr Michael Kurzmeier (Postdoctoral Research Associate — University College Cork)
  • Sophie Whittle (Postdoctoral Research Associate — Digital Humanities Institute)
  • Matthew Groves (Senior Research Software Engineer — Digital Humanities Institute)