by Whitney Trettien

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For several centuries, print has silently structured the humanities. The monograph has framed how scholars communicate their ideas; the critical edition has mediated their interactions with texts.1 The emergence of networked digital technologies has thrown print's influences into sharp relief, catalyzing new research at the intersection of book history, media studies, and digital humanities.2 At this crucial moment of transition, the present collection takes a long view of literature's remediation, asking:

If scholars do not understand the mechanisms and markup responsible for bringing them the texts that they interpret, the impact of these new technologies on criticism will remain as little known as the print edition's influence was to earlier generations. There is no better time than now, as institutions undertake the long process of digitizing literary culture, to understand what texts have been and what they could be in the future. By precisely locating technology's transformative effect in the history of seven literary works, this collection argues that a text and its material instantiation collaborate in the production of meaning; thus excavating a work's publishing history reveals the striations of its significance to readers over time. The title of this collection has dubbed these excavations "literary archaeologies" as a nod to "media archaeology," a growing interdisciplinary field that shares these essays' interest in dredging the deep, forgotten histories of earlier media ecologies.3

An explicit focus of these excavations is the pivot from print to digital. Contra the rhetoric of openness on the web, digitization often obscures as much of a literary work as it reveals. As these essays demonstrate, platforms like HathiTrust, Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and digital editions all imply a theory of textuality in their architecture and design, whether their designers have recognized it or not. By carefully close reading digital remediations of all types alongside their printed forebears, the authors model the ways in which humanistic forms of inquiry can contribute to the ongoing conversation about the past, present, and future of literary and historical research.

Publishing Process

This collection began as an assignment for the graduate seminar "Digital Editing and Curation," which I taught in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in Spring 2016. The prompt was part of a longer trajectory tracking the history and theories of textual criticism in the English literary tradition, from W. W. Greg and the New Bibliographers to sociologies of the text, unediting, and digital humanities. During the course of our discussions, there emerged an interest in publishing these literary archaeologies, as we were calling them, online. This digital publication would give these essays a wider audience while enabling us to test first-hand how new technologies are changing processes like peer review. The present collection is the product of that experiment.

To ensure that this collection would serve as a high-caliber scholarly resource, each essay underwent a tiered, multi-step review process. First, each draft received comments from both me and another student in the course. Authors then had a week to make revisions, after which time their revised drafts were made publically accessible via a CommentPress site hosted on MLA Commons. During this second phase, I and the authors invited scholars with expertise in the relevant areas to review the essays on the CommentPress site, using email to target specific individuals while disseminating the link more widely on social media. By the end of the month-long review period (March 20, 2016 to April 20, 2016), thirteen readers had left 128 comments — a larger, more diverse, more detailed, and more quickly received body of feedback than would have been possible from the two or three readers typically solicited to vet an edited collection from an academic press over the course of many months.

As the essays were being reviewed, the authors began to design the collection's website. This process was collaborative, iterative, and values-oriented. Although the present website does not fulfill every initial design goal, it strives toward accessibility, sustainability, and utility. After its completion, the authors uploaded their revised essays and collectively released this publication on May 17, 2016. Any revisions added after that date will be noted here.

Technical Colophon

This site is built using HTML and CSS/CSS3, with some minor use of Javascript to insert links. It is hosted on a standard LAMP stack. The responsive accordion framework on the homepage was adapted from Michael Ferry's work. All markup and media files have been reposited with the Internet Archive and can be accessed here.

Creative Commons License Literary Archaeologies, Print to Digital is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Works Cite

[1] Laura Mandell, Breaking the Book: Print Humanities in the Digital Age (Malden: Wiley Blackwell, 2015).

[2] Matthew Kirschenbaum and Sarah Werner, "Digital Scholarship and Digital Studies: The State of the Discipline," Book History 17 (2014): 406-58; Alan Liu, "The Meaning of the Digital Humanities," PMLA 128 (2013): 409-23.

[3] On media archaeology, see esp. Jussi Parikka, What is Media Archaeology? (Malden: Polity, 2012). The "literary archaeology" is an emerging genre; see for instance Bonnie Mak, "Archaeology of a Digitization," JAIST 65.8 (2014): 1515-26; Paul Duguid, "Inheritance and Loss? A Brief Survey of Google Books," First Monday 12.8 (6 August 2007):; Whitney Trettien, "A Deep History of Electronic Textuality: The Case of English Reprints Jhon Milton Areopagitica," DHQ 7.1 (2013):