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The Library of Digital Latin Texts (LDLT)

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Within the next year, the Digital Latin Library, in partnership with the Society for Classical Studies, the Medieval Academy of America, and the Renaissance Society of America, will launch The Library of Digital Latin Texts (LDLT), a series of digital critical editions of Latin texts from all eras. The DLL will provide the encoding guidelines, infrastructure, and platform for publishing these texts, and the learned societies will be responsible for receiving submissions, reviewing them, and deciding whether or not to publish them. Policies and procedures for this endeavor are still in development, but it seems worthwhile in the meantime to explain what we mean by “digital edition” so that prospective editors can begin preparing submissions.

The term “digital edition” has been applied to a wide variety of projects, from simple web pages with just a text and some notes to multimedia projects that include transcriptions of multiple manuscripts, digital images of manuscripts and editions, visual representations of textual data, links to other resources (e.g., maps, encyclopedias, etc.), special tools for reading and analysis, and other features. For examples, browse Greta Franzini’s Catalogue of Digital Editions. This capacious meaning of “digital edition” allows scholars to design, build, and publish resources that highlight the special characteristics of certain texts, but it also complicates the implementation of uniform criteria for the evaluating projects and the development of reliable, stable outlets for their publication. It also frustrates efforts to query, compare, and reuse information from multiple projects, since the data is stored in any number of formats.

Trying to accommodate every vision for a multimedia edition would rapidly exhaust the DLL’s resources and practically guarantee that the LDLT would be a repository of unique, isolated projects. Instead, we aim to publish a uniform collection of texts that can be stored, retrieved, viewed, queried, and analyzed with reliable, predictable results. Since the LDLT will provide a platform for publishing many texts of many different kinds (e.g., prose, poetry, fragments, etc.), we have opted to focus on providing high quality texts and the features commonly found in traditional critical editions, i.e., a preface, an apparatus criticus, an apparatus fontium et testium, and indices. In addition, we have made provisions for including the sort of material traditionally published separately as critical notes or extended textual commentary. Anything beyond this set is considered outside of the scope of the LDLT itself, but—and this is important—that does not preclude the use of LDLT data for more specialized projects.

Although we are sacrificing some features of digital editions for the sake of standardization and uniformity, LDLT editions nevertheless provide a host of useful features within the DLL environment, and their open availability encourages the development of still more. The DLL’s web-based “reading room” is one example of a feature-rich environment. For example, users can view the text with an inline, interactive critical apparatus that allows them to swap variant readings in and out of the text to evaluate them in situ. Filters allow users to decide for themselves what kind of information is displayed in the apparatus. If orthographical variants are not of interest, they can be removed from the display. The same goes for morphological and lexical variants. Sigla for manuscripts are linked to manuscript descriptions in the preface so that readers always have ready access to that information. Names of scholars cited in the apparatus are linked to items in the bibliography so that there will not be any confusion about the citation. In some cases, the bibliography will link to a digital version. Thanks to our collaboration with the Open Philology Project, the Alpheios reading aids have been updated and implemented so that definitions and morphological analysis are available by clicking on a word in the text. The DLL also has a downloadable application for working with sophisticated visualizations of the information in LDLT editions.

All of this is possible because LDLT editions are not just text files. They are, in fact, databases. Specifically, they are XML files encoded according to guidelines that we have developed specifically for critical editions. For the sake of reliability and stability, the guidelines are based on the standard established by the Text Encoding Initiative. A pre-release version of the encoding guidelines is available at  https://digitallatin.github.io/guidelines/LDLT-Guidelines.html. We understand that working with XML may be intimidating or daunting for some. That is why we are developing some tools for converting text files to XML with minimal need for working directly with the raw code.

Since LDLT editions are databases, their information can be used and reused in a variety of ways. The reading room described above is an example. Since it allows readers to manipulate the edition’s data, it cannot be said to be the edition. Rather, it is only a presentation of the edition’s data. Similarly, users may analyze an edition’s data with our data visualization application, but the visualizations themselves are not part of the edition unless an editor has incorporated a specific one into the edition for illustrative purposes. As editions are added to the LDLT, the LDLT itself will become a database that users can query not just for philological analysis, but also for information about people and places mentioned in the texts.

But those are just examples of how the DLL uses the data from LDLT editions. Our definition of a digital edition does not preclude the use of LDLT edition data as the basis for more elaborate multimedia projects that are beyond the scope of the LDLT. Indeed, since LDLT data will be openly available, anyone may reuse it as the basis for other projects, provided that the source is acknowledged in accordance with the open license under which the data has been published. In this way, LDLT data can serve multiple purposes.

The guidelines for submissions to the LDLT should be available soon. In the meantime, if you wish to know more about the project, send your questions to info@digitallatin.org.