Summer Research Leave: Ethica Complementoria Digital Scholarly Edition – Redux

My position as a senior academic librarian allows me to take 20% of my work time for research, so either one day per week or seven and a half weeks per year. For 2023, I will take the research time in blocks of two weeks spread out over the year. I just finished the first two weeks. My previous plan was to work on the data paper about the Edvard Munch correspondence metadata project; however, my colleague and co-author was unavailable before the summer. So instead, I decided to return to another project, the digital scholarly edition of the Ethica Complementoria.

This project was inaugurated in 2012 when I applied for a Marbach Weimar Wolfenbüttel Research Association scholarship. Initially, the Ethica was supposed to be a part of the Georg Greflinger Digital Archive Edition, but my research revealed that it is unlikely that Greflinger had anything to do with the first prints of the Ethica until 1656. Thus, including them in the Greflinger edition wouldn’t make sense. In the years following my research stay in Wolfenbüttel in the fall of 2013, I focused my research on the print history and the genealogical relation between the different prints and their revisions and additions. I published a monograph on the subject, including a descriptive bibliography, as an online publication with the Herzog August Library in early 2018. Around the same time, I completed three transcriptions of Ethica prints: the editio princeps from 1643, the print by Heinrich Werner, previously considered the first edition, and the 1660 print by Johann Naumann in Hamburg. These were nearly ready for publication, and I made an agreement with the German Text Archive to integrate them into their extended corpus and host the other edited texts of both the Greflinger and the Ethica editions.

2018 was a tough year in my life; the last thing I wanted to worry about was proofreading the texts. Another five years would go by until I could set aside time to finish the work, and I was shocked to see that someone else had published a study edition of the Ethica in the meantime. An endeavor that was unknown to me and nowhere announced, nor had the editor contacted me.

I feel crushed in situations like that (it’s not even the first time). The years I spent on this project, the countless hours I used to make sure all my claims were supported, and all my transcriptions were not only checked with a digital copy but with the original print and all its surviving copies. I often paid for the many visits to libraries across Germany since they were not part of my research ‘day job.’ And I feel stupid for not working faster, for not cutting corners and releasing texts before triple-checking everything so that unsupported claims are not perpetuated and solidified, and the majority of arguments are from authority, without checking what the bibliographers and scholars had as actual evidence and how sound their arguments and conclusions were. I feel stupid for not pushing myself even harder and sitting through more hours on hours staring at a screen proofreading transcriptions with XML markup in tiny fonts until my eyes, my neck, and my head hurt from the strain, and I get migraines which leave me bedridden for days. I feel stupid for not spending even more money on the project and hiring someone to do the work for me. I feel stupid for not abandoning the project when I realized many years ago that I could not keep my time plan but had to work in small increments with long pauses. I feel stupid for talking about the project openly and publishing all my research in open access, online, for everyone to see and use but still regarded as ‘second class’ by large parts of the scientific community in the traditional humanities.

The last few days, I’ve had time to contemplate and grieve. But I decided not to throw in the towel.

During the last ten days, I finished proofreading the edited text of the 1643 print. I started the automatic transcription of the Danish translation and its German source text, this time done by a research assistant, with funding from the University. I went through all my old files, dating back to 2009, sorted them, re-structured them, and shared them either online in my GitHub repository for the Ethica Complementoria digital scholarly edition or in private repositories for internal use only. I started a post-factum data management plan for the project to prevent hiccups and time loss next time I do a work sprint for the project. And I decided not to shut up about the project: I will keep blogging and microblogging, publishing everything open access, making my research, the edited texts, and all accompanying data and materials easily findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable.

I will publish the digital scholarly edition: iteratively, over a long period of time, but steadily, confidently, and with high scientific quality: transparent, intersubjective, accountable, well-reasoned, and open and honest about the level of certainty for my decisions. This is what I believe scholarship is all about. Especially textual scholarship.