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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Edition Practices

Edition Practices in Comparative and Historical Perspective


Edition Practices is a research project funded by the Anneliese Maier Preis of the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung at the hands of Prof. Glenn W. Most (Pisa/Chicago), associated with the chair of Prof. Christoph Markschies at the faculty of theology of the Humboldt University 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 I think that a new contribution can best be made, building upon the excellent work that has already been done but advancing it further.


Current and future activities


Developent of a website interlinking all Berlin based edition projects

Workshops of the Berlin working group

Research colloquium with young editors

Three International Conferences:

       - Textual Variants - Textual Errors (2019)

       - Testimonium vs. Fragment (2020)

       - Layout and Impagination: The Materiality of the Text (2021)