17.540 author's summary of Scrittura e filologia

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Mon Jan 19 2004 - 04:06:15 EST

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 540.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

         Date: Mon, 19 Jan 2004 08:29:46 +0000
         From: "Domenico Fiormonte" <d.fiormonte@mclink.it>
         Subject: summary of new book: Scrittura e filologia

[Following the announcement of Domenico Fiormonte's new book in Humanist
17.531, I contacted him and requested a detailed summary, which he has
provided below. Authors' notices of publication are of course welcome on
Humanist, summaries such as this one even more so, especially in the
case of books whose original language is not English. --WM]

"Scrittura e filologia nell'era digitale" [Writing and philology in
the digital age] is a theoretical and historical introduction to
digital textuality.

The book is the result of seven years of research conducted in Italy,
Spain, UK and the US, and originates from my PhD thesis at the
University of Edinburgh (2001). In consequence of my studies in
the UK and US, I was able to include a substantial amount of
Anglo-American research.

The volume is divided in two main parts, with a Conclusion and an
Appendix: "Scriptures and technology" (chapters 1-3), and "Towards a
digital philology" (chapters 4-6). The Appendix, "Digital resources
for philological studies", is an abridged version of "E-Philology".
This is a new section of the Digital Variants web site, where you'll
find more than 100 resources (web sites, software, CD-ROMs, etc.) on
digital philology listed and annotated. See
(Work on this site is still in progress. When the English version
is ready, I will announce it on Humanist.)

The fist part of the book centres on a critical account of the
history of electronic writing, given in chapter 2. It is introduced
by a summary of the role of technical artifacts in the construction
and development of written cultures (ch. 1) and followed by an
analysis of the most known and used forms and structures of digital
textuality (ch. 3). Especially chapter 1 is not as ambitious as it
sounds -- I have tried only to offer a bibliographic map of the
complex interdisciplinary roots of studies in the influence of
technology on knowledge.

The second part of the book focuses on and explicates the cross-
fertilization among the fields of cognitive psychology, textual
criticism and humanities computing. In chapters 4 and 5 I deal
controversially with issues related to the digital representation and
preservation of documents. (More about them in a moment.) In chapter
6 I present the teaching experiments and philological tools developed
in Edinburgh from 1997 to present day; these are now available on the
DV web site.

Let me try briefly to summarize some of the main arguments in the
second part. I grew up within the Roman school of Informatica
Umanistica, and my interest lies in the material and genetic aspects
of the text. At the University of Rome "La Sapienza" all of us have
since our intellectual infancy been deeply affected by Italian
contemporary textual criticism, especially that of Gianfranco Contini
and Cesare Segre. (Probably Contini, well beyond his enormous
scholarly merits, has been the most influential Italian academic
after Benedetto Croce.) Segre's linguistic structuralism and
Contini's "critica delle varianti" constitute the theoretical
background of many Italian computing humanists. The prestige of these
intellectuals established in Italy the lasting dominance of philology
on any other humanistic discipline. This is a key factor, in my
opinion, for understanding the importance in Italy of the studies on
the digital representation of the text ("la codifica").

However, I think that as a result of SGML/XML disputes, visual,
material and compositional features of writing have been largely
overlooked (with two big exceptions: Giorgio Raimondo Cardona,
linguist and anthropologist, and Armando Petrucci, our greatest
palaeographer). I was therefore greatly encouraged when few years
ago I read the number of CHUM dedicated to image-based humanities
computing. In my book I support the idea that we should reground
electronic philology and liberate ourselves from what I dare to
define as the 'information retrieval bias'. (See, among others,
Jerome McGann's ideas and the French school of "genèse du texte".)
Before building our tools, we should start considering the text not
just a structural and informational entity, but also a semiotic and
'dialogic' object.

What I have been trying to explain to my markup-oriented friends is
that these models have not only theoretical but also political and
cultural consequences. If we look at national and internationally
funded projects, we see that SGML/XML is the dominating technical and
theoretical paradigm for constructing all major textual repositories.
   But can there exist a textual criticism and bibliography independent
of historical, material and cultural forms? Besides, can we consider
any textual phenomenon independent from the language in which it is

These are some of the issues debated in "Scrittura e filologia
nell'era digitale". I don't know how many Humanist members read
Italian, but I hope that some of the people whose research I
discussed in my book will have time to comment on it.

The publisher generously agreed to send about 40 copies of the volume
   to foreign scholars. I really hope that this effort will produce at
least one or -- God forgive my *hybris* -- two reviews in languages
other than Italian.

People interested in reviewing the book, can contact the publisher
at: bollatiboringhieri@stilema-to.it
Web page: http://www.bollatiboringhieri.it/

Thanks for your interest

Domenico Fiormonte
Professore a contratto di Informatica umanistica
Universita' di Roma Tor Vergata / Universita' di Roma La Sapienza

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