Building a Sustainable Digital Edition Ecosystem

This is the first in a series of posts about each of the teams that will be attending SCI 2016, and their projects. This one was submitted by R. Darrell Meadows.

Frederick Douglass portrait

Longstanding documentary editions like the Frederick Douglass Papers are beginning to find important pathways toward building a sustainable digital edition ecosystem. The NHPRC is proud to support the editing and publication of all of Douglass’s writings. To learn more, visit the Frederick Douglass Papers Edition at

What are the goals of your working group and how do they fit the theme of this year’s Institute?

This TriangleSCI 2016 workgroup will explore the array of challenges and opportunities facing the digital edition. Over several days of intensive discussion, the group will identify immediate next steps and potential collaborations that can help to build a sustainable digital edition publishing ecosystem—one in which more and more projects are working in similar ways (leading to greater interoperability), in which a wider range of actors and institutions are participating (sharing skills, costs, and a shared commitment to the work), and in which the products of these efforts are discoverable, intelligible, usable, and freely accessible to researchers and the broader American public (in ways that will facilitate new research and learning at all levels).

By providing a forum for documentary editors, historians, archivists, publishers, and other digital humanities professionals to collaborate and discover together viable solutions and pathways toward a sustainable, open-access publishing ecosystem for digital editions, the working group also seeks to ensure that efforts are rooted in the practical realities of project design, work plans, management, costs, and related challenges facing all of these stakeholders. Our working group addresses, for an important sub-field within the scholarly communication ecosystem, the need for “scholars, universities, and funders” and others “to help re-align the incentives and economics” that currently guide the production of scholarly digital editions.

Who is on your team, and what are you hoping they will contribute to the project?

Participants in our working group are historians, digital humanists, editors, archivists, technologists, and university press/library publishers. As such, they represent some of the key professional groups whose knowledge, expertise and perspective have much to contribute to these discussions, and the new insights for building a sustainable future for the digital edition that we expect to emerge from them. Participants are:

  • Tenisha Hart Armstrong, Associate Editor and Associate Director, Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Stanford University
  • Hugh Cayless, Digital Humanities Senior Programmer, Duke University Libraries
  • Julia Flanders, Director, Digital Scholarship Group, Northeastern University Library
  • Ondine Le Blanc, Director of Publications, Massachusetts Historical Society
  • Darrell Meadows (organizer). Director for Publishing, National Historical Publications and Records Commission
  • Daniel Powell, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow with the Digital Scholarly Editions Initial Training Network (DiXiT ITN)
  • Joshua Sternfeld, Independent scholar and Senior Program Officer, National Endowment for the Humanities, Division of Preservation and Access
  • Rebecca Welzenbach, Director of Strategic Integration and Partnerships, University of Michigan Press/Michigan Publishing
Photo of airplane flying over a wagon train

Digital technologies are driving significant changes in the digital edition publishing ecosystem. Our working group brings together a wide range of voices to learn more about and share how we can effectively collaborate and navigate, in practical ways, the shift toward a sustainable digital edition ecosystem.

What do you look forward to most from SCI, and what do you hope to accomplish through the Institute? What are your plans for next steps after the Institute this fall?

We are delighted at the opportunity and eager to engage in this wide-ranging exploration of the challenges and opportunities facing the digital edition. Intensive discussions will explore six core issues or challenges facing the digital edition: (1) users and uses of documentary editions; (2) ecosystem change; (3) editions, scholarship, and the historical profession; (4) work flows and common ways of working; (5) cost models and sustainability; and (6) best practices.

We also have a number of objectives for continued outreach, dissemination, and follow-on activities. First and foremost, the conversation will help the workgroup participants and other TriangleSCI 2016 participants to better understand the current state of the digital edition publishing ecosystem, and to identify immediate next steps and potential collaborations. The workgroup will outline a series of medium- and long-term goals, and map out a working agenda for subsequent convenings which the NHPRC will sponsor either individually or in cooperation with other entities and funders. We expect this conversation to result in at least one white paper, and to help inform the strategic direction of the NHPRC’s Publishing Historical Records in Documentary Editions program. Ideas emerging from this conversation will also be shared in participants’ own (or their institution’s) blogs, publications, talks, and other dissemination activities. Last but certainly not least, we expect that participation at TriangleSCI will shape our engagement with and across the full spectrum of professional groups that make up and will contribute to the emerging digital edition ecosystem.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your project or participation in the Institute?

All of the participants in this working group feel the urgent need for what we believe will be an important, forward-looking conversation, and wish to extend our thanks to Triangle SCI for this opportunity. We are thrilled and honored that our working group was selected. It is only through collaborations like these–spanning across professional groups—that we will be able to build the kind of sustainable digital edition ecosystem we want and need.

Screen shot from ePADD interface

With the growing proliferation of born-digital collections, there will be ever-greater need for projects that ensure these research collections are not only discoverable and visually accessible, but appropriately intelligible and usable. Pictured here is the NHPRC-funded tool, ePADD, developed at Stanford University Special Collections & University Archives. Tools like ePADD will open new possibilities for collaboration across a variety of professional groups in the creation of born-digital editions. (Visit the EPADD site at