About Us

The Workspace for Collaborative Editing is a project funded by the AHRC (UK) and DFG (Germany) between September 2010 and December 2013. It has the goal of creating an online workspace to support the production of the Editio Critica Maiorof the Greek New Testament by teams based in Birmingham, Münster, and Wuppertal and collaborators dispersed all over the world.1 The edition has been in progress since the 1990s, but the obsolescence of key tools and encodings have led to this ambitious project to connect all the different stages of the editorial process through online interfaces and shared databases.

The production of a critical edition involves the identification and selection of manuscripts to be included, the acquisition of images, the creation of full-text electronic transcriptions (which are themselves published as separate electronic editions, linked to the electronic apparatus, enabling further research in related fields), the automatic comparison of these transcriptions to generate a critical apparatus of all variant readings, the editing of this apparatus by scholarly editors to filter out ‘noise’ and prepare the data for analysis using genealogical tools, the addition of evidence from early translations and biblical quotations and the publication of the material in electronic and printed form.

The aim of the Workspace project has been to adopt existing standards and open-source solutions in order to create a lightweight architecture capable of being easily renewed and updated, so that both the data and software created may be reused by other projects. The result is an open-source browser-based environment written in Python and Javascript. The core software consists of a MongoDB database and the asynchronous web application framework MAGPY. Data is stored in JSON and made available via a RESTful interface. On top of this is a layer of applications which call the relevant data objects for the individual editing processes. The goal of transparency at every level of the editing process means that a record is kept of each object at each stage of the process, and any modifications introduced are treated as additional records rather than replacing existing data.2

The Greek New Testament provides a very specific use-case, with a large amount of data already created and highly developed editorial principles. In addition, ongoing work by existing editorial teams offers the opportunity for immediate testing in real-life situations. Developing in these circumstances can be a challenge, with the evolution of guidelines, changes of editorial practice and ‘creeping featurism’. The system needed to make existing legacy data compatible with the much more detailed XML encoding developed by the project and cater for as many known and potential scenarios as practicable. The dispersed team of editors was often called upon to codify their procedures and reach a common mind on problems presented by live data, including agreeing changes in policy. As a result, the creation of the Workspace has proceeded hand in hand with the development of different stages of the edition as a whole.

The two principal areas in which the Workspace meets a pressing need are the development of a transcription editor, which produces and allows the editing of valid XML in a WYSIWYG environment, and a collation editor which enables the scholarly creation of a critical apparatus. Both of these are browser-based, in order to enable dispersed collaborators to work with differing operating systems and contribute directly to the central data store.

The Transcription Editor has been created by team members at the Trier Center for Digital Humanities and released as open-source at the end of the project.3 Its basis is the platform independent TinyMCE package.4 A set of options for mark-up was then developed through a series of menus and shortcuts (cf. Figure 1). The aim is to allow student and volunteer transcribers not familiar with XML to work in an environment which matches as closely as possible the format of the transcriptions already published in the system. The mark-up in the browser uses HTML encoding. An export function converts this into XML matching the specifications developed by the project.5 Likewise, an import function is required in order to support the editing of existing transcriptions. Some of the problems include the encoding and display of paratextual information, normally located in the margins of a manuscript. The dialogue box for entering this information has to have the same functionality as the main transcription interface for recording unclear or supplied text, corrections and so on. The concept has therefore been developed of the “editor-within-an-editor” which makes this possible. A problem with the import of existing transcriptions is the sequence within which elements were nested within the XML. As a result, it has been necessary to establish a system of tag sequences supported by the editor. The standalone nature of the Transcription Editor and its use of an agreed set of TEI encoding means that it can be installed as a plug-in to different environments, including the New Testament Virtual Manuscript Room (NTVMR 2.0)6 as well as the Workspace for the production of the critical edition.