From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representations of Literary Texts

Anna‐Marie Arnold (South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Gauteng, South Africa)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 20 June 2008




Arnold, A. (2008), "From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representations of Literary Texts", Online Information Review, Vol. 32 No. 3, pp. 456-457.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This book is about the development of modern scholarship in the context of electronic representation and the resulting relationship created between the author, reader and electronic literary texts. It is important to note that the reference to “Google” in the title is used in symbolic terms. Google is an example of a tool used to search for electronic literary texts on the web.

In the book, Shillingsburg explains his perspective on the development of modern communication of electronic textual representation and how this development is changing the tradition set by the Gutenberg Press 500 years ago. He points out that the changes that have come about require new standards in order to address issues such as additional bibliographical descriptors, ways to ensure the accuracy of texts produced electronically, their aesthetics, as well as the need to ensure the survival of electronic documentary texts.

The author uses his “script act theory” as a theoretical base to explain both how the reader interprets or understands texts and the process of reading. In this context, Shillingsburg points out that an author should attempt to match the reader's understanding of an electronic text with the meaning intended by the author, and that electronic communication can provide opportunities for responses from readers for further debate and communication.

The author discusses important difficulties and uncertainties about the development of the new paradigm of scholarly textual representation on the world wide web. The author explains the practical aspects such as editorial control of scholarly texts and the problems faced when editing electronic texts. He also points out that, there is a need to build a platform for the archiving of similar texts and the problem with incompatible software for accessing different platforms of existing archives. These electronic scholarly editions also need to be financially sustainable.

In a separate chapter, Shillingsburg illustrates the context, the benefits due to the wider accessibility of electronic texts and the challenges faced when moving Victorian fiction into the electronic form. He then continues to discuss different approaches to scholarly editing and aesthetic representation. He also explains the traditions in editorial style used by German and Anglo‐American editors. The author concludes with a philosophical discussion on the need to develop an infrastructure for electronic editions and the need to address the development of standards for the new paradigm of web‐based scholarly communication.

Unlike Winston's Messages: Free Expression, Media and the West from Gutenberg to Google (Routledge, 2006), Shillingburg's book does not reflect on the history of mass communication and media freedom. Shillingsburg's book is a valuable addition to the literature on the development of electronic communication. His work makes it clear that there are many benefits linked to electronic scholarly communication as a means for more scholarly debate. At the same time, the author draws our attention to many of the challenges and uncertainties ushered in by this relatively new way of literary textual communication. The author's writing style is fresh throughout. He freely shares his views and understanding on the differences and challenges faced in the processes of scholarly writing, reading and the preserving of scholarly web‐based publications.

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