Apparatus vs. Graph – an Interface as Scholarly Argument (Video)

Joris van Zundert & Tara Andrews 

The codex or book is a very rich interface but, for scholarly purposes, it is limited in essential ways by its material condition. These very material limits have been instrumental in shaping and formalizing the ways in which scholarly editors re-represent historical works of literature and science, and they have led scholars to create editions that are limited and reductive as machines of knowledge (McGann 1995). The universal computer (Davis 2012) disruptively eradicated these limitations of the print paradigm and rendered a virtually unlimited space and language of signs and forms to scholars to express any and every dimension of text and textual function. The field of scholarly editing has been struggling for over two decades to come to terms with this radical freedom of expression (cf. Landow 1994, Shillingsburg 2006, Robinson 2012).
We argue that an edition of a text is not that text itself, rather it should establish a critically argued interface to the text to express a scholarly argument about the text. Being materially limited, the codex necessitated a reductive form of interface for the sake of scholarly completeness. We can demonstrate this by comparing a classic scholarly apparatus interface with a graph based digital interface expressing the same textual variation. For this comparison we draw on our experience with a use case where scholarly users required to interact with such a graph-based visual interface representing textual variation (Andrews 2013, Dekker 2014). We then argue that a digital scholarly edition can and should be less reductive in nature than print based interfaces because it can leverage the computational freedom of expression to transform the print-paradigm-informed mapping of many textual functions to one interface into a one-to-one mapping between textual function and interface.


Drs. Joris J. van Zundert (1972) is scientific researcher and developer in the field of digital and computational humanities at the Huygens Institute for the History of The Netherlands, a research institute of The Netherlands Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). He is also head of the institute’s Methodology research program, which fosters discussion and research on textual scholarship, documentary editing and their relation to digital and computational methods. A scholar of medieval Dutch literature by training, his main interest as a researcher and developer lies with the possibilities of computational algorithms for the analysis of literary and historical texts, and the nature and properties of information and data modeling in the humanities.

Prof. Dr. Tara L. Andrews (1978) is Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Bern. Her research interests include Byzantine history of the middle period (in particular the tenth to twelfth centuries), Armenian history and historiography from the fifth to the twelfth centuries, and the application of computational analysis and digital methods to the fields of medieval history and philology.