Editorial Studies?

Where and for what purpose does one engage in the study of scholarly editing?

The Bernese scholar of German Studies, Otto Sutermeister (1832-1901), proclaimed in the «Illustrated Luxury Edition»(«Illustrierte Prachtausgabe») that regarding the novels of Jeremias Gotthelf he had been sticking «everywhere to the original way of reading» as well as to «the pure undistorted text». In the same breath he emphasized of course, that it posed no contradiction for him to publish only a part of the works, and even then, in an abbreviated format, because he wanted to edit a ‹living Gotthelf›. He went on to say that he had only omitted the parts that were already deemed as«offensive» in the contemporary view, and that this had nothing in common with «falsification, refinement or aestheticization» of the original text`. Mr. Sutermeister himself has «done nothing, which the old man» – about whom he had already been raving for about half a century earlier – «would not have approved of himself». 

The Swiss edition philologist Hans Zeller (1926–2014) thoroughly did away with this active naivety on the part of the editor Sutermeister, who had claimed an intimate familiarity with ‘his’ author. In lieu of editorial interventions, Zeller introduced the concept of preserving the authorised text, by revealing its various renditions and its genesis. It is not least due to his work on the poems of Conrad Ferdinand Meyer that modern editorial scholarship was thus graced with a key stone achievement, namely through the inclusion of all the author`s fingerprints in the formative stages of his works. This proved to be instrumental in alleviating scholarly editing from its former back burner status as a mere supporting discipline into an accepted and fully established scholarly category. This process of `scientification` had by then already been established in the field of classical philology, Bible philology and Medieval Studies.

Notwithstanding the philological achievements in the 19th and 20th centuries, the present time marks a distinctive step forward. Indeed, contemporary scholarly editing currently undergoes a development that brings it right into the digital realm. Whether it is a book- or a web-edition: Generally, scholarly editing is approached by first defining the perimeters of philological foundation, followed by data modelling, and complemented by the selection and evaluation of suitable editing-tools. Finally, one settles for apt partners to provide the technical support needed to establish the basis forpublication, long term data storage and availability maintenance. While book editions have traditionally aimed at a clearly defined target audience (professional audience, student body, teaching personnel), the digital publication poses new challenges to identify the proper range of potential audiences.

Nowadays, the foundation of editing comprises of assessing the differentiated user requirements for the text and commentary, and of the Graphic User Interface design. A major challenge are the required digital competencies: in the fast-paced digital medium, yesterday`s freshly uploaded edition is out of date if it has not been shaped with a keen eye for tomorrow`s demands.

There is no doubt about the purpose of editorial studies: it is the methodologically guided preservation of a cultural heritage that is set out in writing, and to do so while meeting the challenges at the dawn digital age. Even if the demand for textual scholars is smaller compared to the teaching personnel, there is still a small labor market. Within the European context Switzerland takes a leading role when it comes to editorial scholarship. Due to a renewed surge in the field of critical editing, some significant major scholarly editions are currently under way, which are dedicated to face thechallenges of the digital age. These projects include   the scholarly editions of authors such as Johann Caspar Lavater, Robert Walser and Jeremias Gotthelf.

Since 2011 the University of Bern, in collaboration with the Swiss Literary Archives (SLA – Schweizerisches Literaturarchiv), has been offering the only Master`s degree study program in editorial studies in Switzerland. Students are introduced to both the theory and practice of editing, including digital edition-technology. The curriculum of this transdisciplinary study course comprises of contents from classical and new philological, as well as musical and historical disciplines. A special asset of the degree program is the selective range at the intersection of archive and edition. This is particularly attractive due to the local proximity to the SLA. PD Dr. Irmgard Wirtz and the SLA team impart the know-how to students on how to practically deal with literary estates and pre-mortem bequests. Via an internship, which marks a component of the study program, students are presented an opportunity toward academic specialisation. These placements are often made either at the SLA, within the Bernese edition projects Parzifal or Jeremias Gotthelf, as well as at other institutions at home and abroad. Amongst these are the Telemann-Edition in Magdeburg, Germany; the Valle-Inclán-Edition in Santiago de Compostela, Spain; at the Österreichisches Literaturarchiv in Vienna, Austria; or yet at the Max-Frisch archives in Zürich, Switzerland.

Furthermore, the SLA also supports practical master theses. Some cases in point are: The concept of an edition of Carl Spitteler`s Russlandbriefe (Letters to Russia), or the work on Emil Ludwig`s autobiographical texts. The Bernese edition philology studies – in collaboration with the SLA – may offer the students insights into the entire scope of the subject, starting with the literary archive and through to the digital working techniques and presentation. This approach permits educating the student to cultivate the cultural heritage free from any active speculation. 

(This text appeared originally in German in the periodical of the Swiss Literary Archives “Passim”, No. 24, 2002, and was translated into English by Roland Kübler.)