What is textual scholarship?

Literary studies and linguistics concern working with texts, but commonly as bearers of specific information – an item of knowledge, an opinion, a message, a style, a language of symbols, a rhythm, rhymes, and so on. In textual scholarship, we turn our attention directly to the texts as phenomena and study their origin, transmission and transposition from one medium to another (i.e. from manuscript to print, or from printed books to electronic texts).

Textual scholarship in this context serves as a collective designation for several related disciplines:

  • Scholarly editing (the science of the publishing of literary works and documents
  • Book and media history (specifically, the history of textual media)
  • Digital text theory
  • Sociology of literature
  • History of libraries and reading

The book is also a medium. A core question for the members of the research group is: which dimensions of textuality can themselves be revealed on transmission from the printed book, which has governed our concept of text for the last 500 years, to digital media? What has been, but is no longer, concealed or taken for granted? How can we study texts that are accessible in digital form?

Textual scholarship has wide-ranging implications for the understanding of textual content – including the analysis of literary works – and for literary history. Scholarly editing reminds us that a literary work consists of numerous variants and versions, and that an edition (including the scholarly edition) is also always an interpretation. The bibliographic understanding of the media’s co-meaning contributes to anchoring the literary analysis in actual empiricism – and to widening the concept of text. Digital text theory’s insights into the principles for text encoding can help to tighten up the demands for cogency in interpretation and provide new perspectives for analytical methods. The sociology of literature and the history of libraries and reading can help to question the canonical history of literature by pointing to the literature that was actually printed, sold, borrowed and read.