An explanation of the data model behind Stemmaweb

I post here the slides and the abstract for a presentation I gave most recently at the conference of the European Society for Textual Scholarship in 2019. This is intended as a guide to the data model and thinking that informs Stemmaweb and its tools.

This content (both abstract and presentation) are released under a CC-BY 4.0 license, so feel free to download and share!


What are the consequences for data modelling when we think of critical edition not as a document, but as a process? Our aim in this talk is to open a discussion on the difference between treating a critical edition as a text, and treating it as an intellectual endeavour whose result is a text.

The typical digital representation of a critical edition takes the form of a document, whether it is prepared with a word processor, the Classical Text Editor, LaTeX, or TEI-based tools and specifications. While these formats can certainly represent the features of a published critical edition, there is very little that makes explicit the editorial logic behind the product.

Here we will consider a different approach, adopted in the recently-concluded SNSF-funded project “The Chronicle of Matthew of Edessa Online”, in which the logic of edition is modelled not merely in the data format, but also in the associated computer code, embedding logic that allows the editor to define custom answers to question such as the following:

  • What constitutes a reading, in what context(s)? A lemma reading? A variant?
  • How should variants be classified? What implicit hierarchy, if any, does the editor’s classification scheme have and what are the implications?
  • How should the text be subdivided, and in what order(s) should these subdivisions be read?
  • What kind of information is carried within the text, and how can that be expressed?

Most crucially, the process model allows the answers to these questions to be enforced consistently within the project, with the useful side effect of compelling the editor to reconsider assumptions that turn out not to be adequate. The result, as we hope to demonstrate, is a digital critical edition that inherently captures, not only the resulting text, but also the intellectual process by which it is produced.