Tuesday, May 23, 2006

How ancient texts can help us with Gutenberg

Last night I was watching one of those interminable CBC presentations about how the the future is here. This was about e-books and how they were going to revolutionize the publishing industry. The usual sort of nonsense about how in five years printed publishing will be dead and no one will care.

"Authors of the world digitize all you have to lose is your chains"

This brings up a rather nitpicky question from the M.A. student in the room. How the hell are we supposed to cite these texts? In the Chicago manual of style the standard format for web site and electronic file citations looks like this.

Jenson, Alison S. "Audience and Web Design." 1999. (21 January 2000)

I've always enjoyed entering the date on which you visited the page. I'm pretty sure somebody wants lost a citations source and simply created a reasonable looking address and when the prof complained told him/her that the web site must've been shut down.

Unfortunately Gutenberg is of course made up of public domain texts where the page numbers have been removed. In fact it's part of their boilerplate that the text is not from any particular edition so don't come complaining to them if there's a mistake. But if someone happens to be citing for example Complete Project Gutenberg Abraham Lincoln Writings there's going to be a problem citing just the file. Yes I know that if it happens to be a direct quote the professor can simply type in part of it into their Web browser and search but it still very problematic for anything other than direct quotation.

Yes the Lincoln example gives information on where the writing comes from but still the student would have to meld together multiple citation formats.

So how can ancient sources help us? Well in most notation ancient sources are cited by line or verse for instance this Bible citation.

Ps. 139. 13-16 NAB (New American Bible)

The same is true for non biblical texts. The better sort of English translations include this information as well. It would be easy enough for Gutenberg to include such information in their text possibly a new version could be posted if people do not want to be bothered by the numbers. Gutenberg would likely be big enough to set up this change and improve their position as the gold standard in free texts online.

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