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Chapter 10The textual habitat: The development of new knowledge environments

Chapter 10
The textual habitat: The development of new knowledge environments

Brent Nelson, University of Saskatchewan: brent.nelson@usask.ca

INKE Research Group, University of Saskatchewan

Accepting Editors: Brent Nelson and Richard Cunningham

Abstract / Résumé

In contemplating the design and implementation of new knowledge environments, what can we learn from book history and from the natural world about how environmental systems form, develop, and thrive? This essay uses the theory of ecodynamics to theorize the development of new knowledge environments for academic study, with illustrative examples from the history of the Christian Bible, and concludes by deriving some principles for those of us working to develop new digital scholarly resources.

En contemplant la conception et l’élaboration de nouveaux environnements de connaissances, que pouvons-nous apprendre de l’histoire du livre et du monde naturel sur la façon dont les systèmes environnementaux se forment, se développent et prospèrent? Cet article fait appel à la théorie de l’éco-dynamique afin d’élaborer une théorie d’élaboration de nouveaux environnements de connaissances pour les études universitaires, avec des exemples illustratifs de l’histoire de la bible chrétienne, et conclut en obtenant quelques principes pour ceux d’entre nous qui tentent d’élaborer de nouvelles ressources numériques érudites.

Keywords / Mots clés

Ecodynamics, book history, Bible, polyglot, Brian Walton, design

For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life
in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are
John Milton, Areopagitica

One of the most important developments for textual studies in the twentieth-century was the theorizing of technological change in communication media, most notably in the transition from orality to the written word (Ong 1982), from manuscript to print (Eisenstein 1979), and from print to new media (McLuhan 1962) and ultimately from all these to digital media (Bolter and Grusin 1999). These examples are only the most famous voices for each epoch of transition out of which have grown literatures that collectively account for one of the defining features of textual studies in the 21st-century: our Janus-like posture, looking backward to reading technologies in manuscript and print, and simultaneously forward to what might be accomplished in new media. The ideas presented in this chapter grew out of work conducted on the textual studies team of the Implementing New Knowledge Environments project (See the Introduction to this volume). One term in this project's name, "environment," is very helpful in framing this pan-media view. It serves to defamiliarize a range of artefacts that by virtue of their ubiquity and elegant functionality are almost invisible to us as readers and researchers. It helps us to think of the book, or any other container for readable content, not as a static object, but as a dynamic site where we execute a wide range of actions in the pursuit of knowledge. I therefore offer "environment" as a theoretical term that can help us break out of accustomed ways of thinking about reading objects in order to consider print and electronic media not as two sides of a great divide, but as species occupying common ground. The book, no less than the computer screen, is a reading environment. Taking this theoretical term in a metaphorical direction, it might be helpful to transport our thinking for a moment to the realm of biology for some guidance as to how we might think about the development of healthy, thriving reading environments.

When we think of knowledge environments, there is a range of possibilities for what we might imagine. Much of our work on the textual studies team of INKE focused on the reading object—the material document—as an environment. In doing so, we borrowed from a rather different domain for our governing metaphor: we thought in terms of architectures of the page, of the codex, or, less often, the scroll (Galey et al. –"Beyond remediation," 2012). We thought of the elements of architecture that are involved in presenting the text and it's supporting apparatus to assist the reader in navigating and interacting with that text. Part of our work as textual scholars in INKE was to build a knowledge base of such elements, which we call ArchBook: Architectures of the Book (Galey, Archbook). The architecture of the page, whether in print or manuscript, implies a planned and rationalized arrangement of elements set down by a primary agent or collection of agents, quite distinct from the often seemingly haphazard additions and impositions of later agents: annotators, for example. But when we think more broadly in terms of environment, different kinds of spaces present themselves: the desk, for example, populated with note pads, pens, sticky notes, scissors and paste, and of course, books, strewn about, some sorted in piles, perhaps another propped open with a book stand—a whole range of devices and elements that support our reading and writing work as scholars. This desk often resides in an office, lined with books, papers, a filing cabinet, and of course, a new creature introduced into this habitat not so long ago, a computer, together with its peripheral devices. And, not too many steps from our offices (for those of us who are academic readers), is the library. Over the centuries, the library has been a lively and diverse knowledge environment. One might think of the early modern libraries of men like John Dee, teeming not just with books and manuscripts, but globes, maps, navigational instruments, natural specimens, and alchemical apparati (Sherman 1995, 30-38). Citizens of the early modern republic of letters "haunted the massive, classical libraries that patrons preferred where busts of the heroes of letters stared down from the laden shelves; gazed politely at the rhinoceros horns, skis, and Etruscan weapons artfully heaped on the walls and shelves of cabinets of curiosity" (Grafton 2009, 11). Taken one step further, this collective knowledge environment includes the broader user community and its support system: in our case, the academy and all of its supporting infrastructure, from universities to granting agencies to publishing bodies, and the values they inscribe.

At this point we are not far from a biological metaphor for a theoretical construct of the reading "environment." Indeed, somewhat ironically, it is the computer—a mass of plastic, metal, and wires—that brings a new sense of life to our notion of a reading environment. Unlike the manuscript or printed book, the computer has its origins not in organic matter, but in a stew of chemicals and synthetic materials, and yet it brings dynamism and complexity that force us to seek new metaphors for thinking about the new reading possibilities that it affords. Despite its artificial materiality, we think of its manifestations, particularly on the World Wide Web, in organic terms. David Weinberger, for example, muses that "[k]nowledge now is the unshaped web of connections within which expressions of ideas live" (Weinberger 2011, 118; second emphasis mine). Knowledge exists in the flow of dynamic relationships: it always has. Jerome McGann (2001) expresses this in terms of textual studies and the digital archive: "Aesthetic space is organized like quantum space, where the 'identity' of the elements making up the space is perceived to shift and change" (183); therefore, "what is needed is a dynamic engagement with text and not a program aimed at discovering the objectively constitutive features of what a text 'is'" (206). So, how do we characterize that dynamic nature when it comes to reading environments? In what follows I turn to ecology in order to think productively about the complex interplay of elements in the development of new technologies and processes.

Rethinking the digital reading environment from a textual studies perspective

Although Kevin Kelly, in writing about "what technology wants," goes beyond metaphor to argue that technology is indeed a living and evolving organism, propagating itself regardless of human agency, for us, the whole point is to consider the human agent, as reader and producer of materials for reading, as part of this ecology (Kelly 2010, 128-9 and passim). An ecosystem is defined as a complex set of relationships among the living resources, habitats, and occupants of a particular space (Campbell et al. 2006, 2; See also Boulding 1983, 109). The health and effectiveness of a natural environment is dependent on various needs being supplied in relationships that are dynamic and complex. In constructing a theory for human systems some thirty years ago, Kenneth Boulding extended this definition to the artefactual world in order to explain the dynamic of relationships between people, organizations, and things. Social evolution, including cultural systems, is "essentially a continuation of biological evolution in the field of human artefacts" (Boulding 1983, 111). Boulding coined the term ecodynamics to explain the "ecological/evolutionary aspect of total systems" in the interplay between elements and influences both within and from outside any given ecosystem (Boulding 1983, 108). More generally, then, an ecosystem is "a set of interacting populations of different species, the population of a species being defined as a set of objects, or elements of some kind, which are similar enough to be interesting as an aggregate" (Boulding 1983, 109). This definition works quite well for reading spaces, and by reading I include the full range of activities and processes that are involved in complex or professional reading, from navigation to annotation to comparison, to name only a few examples.

Boulding (1983) emphasizes that a precise, analytical taxonomy of species is essential to understanding any ecosystem. This, incidentally, was the principle work of ArchBook and the INKE textual studies team as a whole, but Boulding also seeks to explain change and development within a given system and its constituent elements, and that is the focus of this chapter. The conditions of the ecosystem and its constituent species are always changing and developing. The change and development of species depend on two things: 1) the genotype, which contains the genetic "know-how" that is able to organize the process of production, and 2) the phenotype, the realization or manifestation of the potential contained in the genetic structure (the chicken in relation to the egg). Genetic structure is manipulated and expressed by four processes:

  1. Replication, whereby the DNA which codes the genetic information attracts like atoms and radicals (atoms, molecules, or ions that are likely to take part in chemical reactions) to itself and then splits off what first seems to be a mirror image, and the mirror image replicates the original DNA.
  2. Recombination of different components of the DNA (e.g. through sexual reproduction) whereby genetic aspects of a species are combined to create new genetic structure.
  3. Mutation, the reconstitution and redefinition of an element through some intervention causing a "failure" in the replication process.
  4. Selection, a process of ecological interaction, the outcome of which is that some species thrive, expand, and develop, while others falter and contract.

An outcome of success in the selection process is a niche, which Boulding (1983, 110-111) describes as an "equilibrium [i.e. stable] population in an ecosystem." A corollary to this is the empty niche, which is a species that would have equilibrium population if it existed: it is, in a sense, a gap in the system waiting to be filled by a particular species or element that will thrive within the dynamics afforded by that system (This summary is based on Boulding 1978, 9-24).

Boulding's ideas have been adopted and applied to a variety of human systems, from athletics to business to journalism (Lewis 2010; Peltoniemi and Vuori 2004; Sawy et al. 2010). There is also a strain of eco-psychology and developments in ecology itself that have contributed models (quite apart from Boulding) for understanding the complexity within dynamic systems (See for example Ulanowicz 2005). In these contexts, the concept of ecodynamics has been used to promote the idea that certain systems involve complex and sometimes hidden dynamics of interplay between elements, although much of its application bypasses Boulding's mapping of human systems onto the biosystems paradigm I have just outlined. For the development of the book as reading environment in the context of larger social systems, however, this mapping works quite well. I want to posit that elements of book architecture have developed out of the DNA of the language and texts that they support: that the phenotype—the manifestation of an element in a reading environment—arises organically out of textual structure, the genotype. That is, there is potential in any text that, under certain circumstances, informs the expression and formation of that text in a document. Over time, certain genetic codes have arisen in the book—textual divisions, tables of contents, running titles, indexes, cross-references, notes and annotations—in response to the DNA of texts themselves, and they have arisen in a complex interplay with other elements in the reading environment, most importantly, the producers and readers of these texts. Jerome McGann (1991) has already introduced to textual studies the idea of the bibliographic code, drawing on communication theory to talk about the non-verbal signifying structures of the page (See chapter 2, particularly 57ff). Here I pursue John Milton's conceit of books as living things (in my epigraph) and look to the genetics of how these structures develop.

The ecodynamics of new reading environments

So, how do elements of book architecture evolve? Sometimes it is by replication: certain elements become established in the book environment and are repeated in seeming mirror images of their predecessors, although we recognize that in reality, this seeming identicalness often belies important though subtle alterations and adaptations. Think, for example, of the table of contents, replicated over and over in books since the sixteenth-century, but in varieties of form and complexity, until it assumed a fairly standard, simple form by the end of the twentieth-century. Sometimes elements have altered by means of recombination: this has happened from time to time with tables of contents that take on the DNA of an index or a detailed outline. And, elements also mutate, altering their structure to take on new forms—as, for example, tables of contents or chapter headings that break apart and take a new form as running titles (For examples see Nelson 2013). And, crucially, there is the dynamic of selection. Some new forms are adopted, others not. (It is unusual for a book not to have a table of contents). Some are employed in certain kinds of books, where they have a certain utility, but not in others. (It is rare for a novel to have an index, but common in a biography of the novelist). Some systems are developed and then immediately die out, never to appear again, sometimes because they are designed to meet peculiar needs in uncommon circumstances. And, crucially, some elements arise, seemingly out of nowhere, to supply previously empty niches and became so ubiquitous and persistent that they seem entirely natural to the system, an inevitable expression of the DNA of the text.

A key factor in this process is the human agent, both as a selector of species in reading environments and as generator of new forms, previously in the role of publisher/printer, but increasingly in the role of editors and textual scholars working in the digital humanities. Before we get too far into the theoretical possibilities of ecodynamics, it is important to recognize that almost every environment on the planet must contend with this one overwhelming agent of influence and change, and this is no less true of the reading environment. Humans are shapers of their environments as tool makers, but we are also shaped by it and the tools we make. We coevolve with our tools in a process that Katherine Hayles (2012) calls technogenesis, a relationship of "continuous reciprocal causation." The human agent is, of course, a central factor within a given textual environment, and sometimes human agency comes from outside the environment to inform it as well—in the form of economic interests, for example. In the long history of reading technology, users have been significant agents in the design and development of reading environments; they have responded to a keen sense of their own needs as users of particular kinds of texts in particular contexts. After a long period during which the role of turning content into published form was managed largely by professional publishing houses, we have now returned to a situation where professional readers are taking responsibility for their reading environments. The highly motivated agent must be answered by a highly motivated and highly evolved environment.

One domain where these dynamics can be easily recognized is that of the Christian Bible. The Bible is a highly evolved reading environment that, in its more complex forms, covers a large range on the environmental scale: it began as several collected books and has, in the modern era, grown to include between its covers a whole library in some cases, often incorporating large amounts of related material in diverse forms, such as commentary, indexes and concordances, diagrams, maps, charts, images of various kinds—what Timothy Beal refers to as "value-adding supplements" (Beal 2011, 54 and passim). Some of the most significant enhancements, however, were in the primary text itself. A Bible issued by publisher Louis Klopsch at the turn of the 20th century introduced red lettering to mark the words of Jesus. As the story goes, "[O]n June 19, 1899, while composing an editorial, [Klopsch's] eye fell upon Luke 22:20":

'This cup is the new testament in my blood, which I shed for you.' Seizing upon the symbolism of blood, Klopsch asked Dr. Talmage [his editor] if Christ's words could not be printed in red. His mentor replied: 'It could do no harm and it most certainly could do much good' (Eng 1986, 13-14).

This typographical expression in red ink was a realization (phenotype) of the genetics of both the text and the reading community that produced it (genotype): the words of Jesus are part of the genetic code of the New Testament, and the particular value of the community of users of this document (followers of Jesus) helped create the conditions in which this bibliographic innovation would thrive, a new niche in Bible production that would last for decades. The red letter edition became "a solid fixture welcomed and demanded by vast numbers of Christians" and was "a venerable Bible asset for eighty-five years" (Eng 1986, 14). This new species in the reading environment was, in fact, not wholly new, but rather an adaptation of the medieval practice of rubrication in manuscripts, the use of red ink pigment to mark important elements or breaks in the text to aid the reader's location of them. The old form was also an expression of the makeup of the text, but the needs of a new set of conditions in the late nineteenth-century led to an adaptation of the form. And yet, there is something quite different about this new species that is not reducible to any genetic origin, a mutation of sorts that finds an empty niche and thrives.

Aspects of this development in typography—in particular, the desire and resulting mechanism to mark sections of text bearing a particular kind of importance—found other expressions, not all of which survived. A different red-letter version, published by Oxford University Press in 1910, marked instead passages in the Old Testament that were understood to pertain to Jesus and in the New Testament passages cited by Jesus from the Old Testament. Although it was frequently reprinted, it never became a ubiquitous feature the way Klopsch's did (Herbert 1968, 457). One species found a niche in a reading environment; the other did not. The precise conditions that were favourable to one and not the other are not clear, but one might speculate. While Klopsch's device provided new functionality that spoke to the values of a wide readership, the 1910 edition duplicated functionality that was available elsewhere (in the cross-reference) and that was valued in a more specialized form of reading. The difference is in function: the first encourages a form of continuous reading (meditation, as implied by Klopsch) that is conducive to a devotional purpose; the second facilitates discontinuous reading that is more suited to a scholarly purpose, the collation and comparison of texts. Klopsch's form of the red-letter edition thrived for generations of Bible reading but has waned in recent years, suggesting again a shift in desire and need in the reading environment.

The development of the cross-reference warrants further attention. It was the famous printer Stephanus (Henri Estienne) who first introduced verse divisions into the whole of the Bible in 1555, completing a referencing system that would become universally adopted, beginning with the Geneva Bible in 1560, and continuing to today. This referencing system was the completion of a long historical process of breaking the Bible into structural units, a process that germinated in the genetics of the text itself and grew under the influence of the readers of that text and their hermeneutical habits (See Stallybrass 2002, 44ff, especially 72; See also Beal 2011, 114ff). One could argue that textual division—beginning with the introduction of breaks between words in Greek, then breaks into units of sense (sentences), argumentative units (paragraphs), and larger units of content (chapters, etc.)—were potential in the genotype of the text, and that these were expressed as particular genetic traits in the structured representation of that text. This is true, of course, for all texts. This particular text, however, has a further genetic element—its internal referencing—which led to a mutation of a book-chapter structure to a book-chapter-verse structure. There are, for example, many cases where Jesus refers back to a passage from the Old Testament, as in Matthew 4:4 in his first refutation of Satan's temptation after forty days in the wilderness: "But he [Jesus] answered and said, 'It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that procedeth from the mouth of God." The reference is to Deuteronomy 8:3. There is also an implicit typological connection here between Moses in the wilderness and Jesus in the wilderness. Thus a key function in reading the Bible is intra-textual navigation, following explicit cross-references, as well as allusions, as for example between verses treating a common theme or idea. These features of the text became new elements in the explicit structure of the page, expressed as the now familiar cross-references in either the margin or the foot of the page. The nature of a text that continually points to other locations in the text created the conditions, an empty niche, that would be filled with an added level of structural breaks to enable increasingly precise methods for locating passages: first as paragraphs (Figure 1), then as spatial alpha-markers (Figure 2), then as verse divisions, and after that, added alpha markers to further divide large verses. Of these various mutations, one survived and is almost universally applied today: the verse divisions first introduced by Stephanus (Figure 3).

Figure 1: Paragraph breaks in a medieval manuscript. Image courtesy of the Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Paragraph breaks in a medieval manuscript. Image courtesy of the
                                Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Figure 2: Alpha-markers in an early printed Bible. Image courtesy of the Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Alpha-markers in an early printed Bible. Image courtesy of the
                                Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Figure 3: Stephanus's verse divisions, with cross-references in the margin. Image courtesy of the Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Stephanus's verse divisions, with cross-references in the margin.
                                Image courtesy of the Fisher Rare Book Library, University of

There are many ways in which the Bible correlates material. One of them is signaled in a cross-reference in the same passage from Matthew, identifying two other places where the same incident is reported, in Mark 1:12 and Luke 4:1. The nature of this particular sub-set of the Bible—the Gospels and the parallels between them—was expressed early in the biblical environment. Eusebius (c.260-339 CE), for example, devised a system for identifying and navigating between parallel passages in the Gospels by breaking them into numbered sections (marked in the margins of the text), and then correlating these numbers in columns to indicate passages that any four, three, or two of the Gospels had in common (Grafton and Williams 2008, 195-8). The result became known as Eusebius's canon table, which became a popular feature in New Testament manuscripts. The canons remained influential into the early modern period. Bernhard Richel's 1475 Bible, for example, reproduced Eusebius's canons in the margins of the text and provided a harmony table of the Gospels (See Saenger 1999, 36 and pl. 17 and Specht 1993). The history of Bible production is full of such developments. Over time the Bible evolved into a complex reading environment, growing in large part out of the genetics of the text—the kind of text it is and the methods by which it is read, and thus what was required in order to read it.

Case study: The London Polyglot

A useful case for illustrating the development of complex reading environments is Brian Walton's Biblia Sacra Polyglot (1655-7). Timothy Beal says of the polyglot Bibles, "These works were revolutionizing biblical criticism and translation, empowering scholars everywhere to study and compare all the available biblical manuscripts and variants for themselves, to assess the value of various ancient and modern translations, and to produce new ones" (Beal 2011, 126). In other words, these polyglots were print-delivered prototypes of the modern digital archive. Brian Walton (1600-1661), sometime Bishop of Chester, produced a six-folio-volume polyglot Bible from 1652 through to 1657, soliciting the help of several scholars, including such luminaries as James Ussher, Abraham Wheelocke, John Selden, and Meric Casaubon. The frontispiece to his massive work depicts Walton in his own knowledge environment, his study, surrounded by books that give an iconic representation of the complex genetics of his own polyglot Bible (Figure 4). The frontispiece alludes to a long historical development that arose out of the nature of the Bible as a multilingual collection with a transmission history that includes, as its principle languages, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, and secondarily, Latin. Walton's depiction of himself working on his edition of the Bible situates him in the context of a library that tells of a particular textual tradition, beginning with another church father, Origen (185-253 CE)—not only his commentary, but also his work on the Hexapla. Walton cites Origen as a precedent in his "Advertisement" (quoted in Todd 1821, 34). Walton also describes the more recent polyglots: the Complutensian, Antwerp, and Parisian. Origen recognized in the textual condition of the newly-forming Christian Bible a niche for a new species of document, the parallel-text edition, for the purpose of comparing various linguistic versions to facilitate the work of correcting and establishing the biblical text. Origen's Hexapla nicely illustrates the interplay of human agency and environmental factors. His design and implementation of the Hexapla (a complex parallel-text edition comprised of the Greek text of the Septuagint plus five or more forms and versions of the Hebrew text), while attributable in large part to the agency of a highly motivated individual and his textual community, grew out of a particular set of circumstances and conditions that made this development in page architecture not only desirable but possible, introducing to reading environments new and complex elements of form that persisted through time. The description that follows relies entirely on Grafton and Williams (2008; See especially 86-92ff).

Figure 4: Detail from Walton's frontispiece. Image courtesy of the Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

 Detail from Walton's frontispiece. Image courtesy of the Fisher Rare
                                Book Library, University of Toronto.

Origen inherited in Greek culture a philological-grammatical tradition that placed a high value on textual studies and the need to establish authoritative texts. This scholarly value resonated strongly for a fledgling community of believers who based their belief on a particular book with a complex origin and textual tradition. A key factor was human agency, not only that of Origen's inventive mind, but also that of Origen's like-minded patron Ambrose of Caesarea, a wealthy disciple of Origen. Ambrose provided not only the material conditions and resources to enable the work, but also a common scholarly purpose: "to engage in textual studies and to correct texts," as Origen put it (Grafton and Williams 2008, 79). These conditions and purpose presented Origen with a unique imperative for his time and place: the need to facilitate study of a Greek text, the Septuagint, in the context of its origin in another language, Hebrew (Grafton and Williams 2008, 82). Not only was Origen dealing with multiple witnesses, but with multiple witnesses across more than one language. To facilitate the work of comparing these witnesses, and therefore correcting the sacred text, he developed a technically demanding and resource-intensive reading environment consisting of a six-column layout across a full two-page opening (Grafton and Williams 2008, 86). The result was a bibliographic form to match the state of the art in textual studies, pushing the technical and logistical limits of book technology of the time to produce a significantly new bibliographic structure and a highly evolved reading environment (Grafton and Williams 2008, 102-112, 130-31).

Walton, in his "Advertisement" to his Biblia, published a couple of years prior to the work, describes a similar intent to that of Origen, namely "to preserve those sacred oracles in their original purity, freed, as much as may be, from all possibility of error that may arise, either by the negligence of scribes, and injury of times, or by the wilful corruption of sectaries and heretics" (Todd 1821, 32). Walton frames the growing challenges of heterodoxy in post-Reformation England in terms of scholarly editing. As did Origen, Walton lived in a time that saw great advances in textual studies—new documents to consider, new editorial and philological methods—and also urgent needs. In the wake of the new translation authorized by King James, many English scholars shared a belief in the vital importance of Hebrew and the continuing importance of cleansing Christianity of forged and corrupt texts (Grafton 2009, 4-6). To do this work, scholars needed a particular kind of reading environment to enable a particular kind of reading: "the comparing of [ancient translations] together hath always been accounted one of the best means to attain the true sense in places doubtful, and to find out and restore the true reading of the Text where any variety appears" (Todd 1821, 32-33). Among the other points of reference in Walton's frontispiece are various instantiations of the Bible in the polyglot tradition, including the Complutensian Polyglot (produced in Alcalá de Henares, Spain, 1514-1517), Guy Michel Le Jay's Paris Polyglot (1645), Sebastian Münster's Latin-Hebrew Bible (1634) and others (on the Complutensian Polyglot, see Gibson 1993, 84-5). Equally significant is his referencing of Stephanus as the printer who was responsible for the modern navigational structure of the biblical text. Walton was interested not only in bringing diverse content into a single reading space, but in enhancing the accessibility and functionality of his book. In his "Advertisement," Walton sets out his rationale for this new edition. While praising the accomplishments of his predecessors, Walton also points out the shortcomings he will remedy, including more and better texts than were previously available as well as improved access to these materials. First, his will be significantly cheaper and more compact to make it practical for private libraries. Second, he offers a textual apparatus (which is lacking in some of his predecessors) and other "helps" (supplementary study aids) that are more pertinent and "exact" than those of others (Todd 1821, 42). Third, and most importantly, he says, it will feature an improved interface apt for the work of comparison: "The several languages shall be printed in several columns, whereby they may all be presented to the reader's view at once; whereas in the other Editions divers great volumes must be turned over to compare them together" (Todd 1821, 42). None of the previous polyglots had brought so many texts into a single opening. This is the feature that is highlighted in the "Approbation" attached to the advertisement and signed by James Ussher and James Selden, who commended (based on preliminary proofs) its design "in several columns" and the "method and order, wherein the ... languages are digested" (Todd 1821, 45). Like Origen, Walton thought a great deal about the reading environment he would create and how it would function as a system for reading. Its complex page architecture was enabled by the combination of (relatively) new environmental possibilities in print but also a new need, a niche that invited this particular expression of the content.

In addition to the text itself, the Biblia contains an extensive 102 folio-page prolegomena to volume one, which Peter Miller describes as being "divided into sixteen discourses that begin with the nature and origin of language and letters, turn to the history of the Bible's editions and conclude with detailed discussion of the history of each of the nine versions and the variations within and between them" (Miller 2001, 467). Walton also provides a textual apparatus that is designed to meet the principal needs of his targeted reader. In his advertisement and prospectus, Walton explains that he plans to omit many of the grammatical and lexical "helps" present in earlier polyglots, considering them unnecessary because there are so many "extant since, and those more exact" (Todd 1821, 42). What he offers instead is a separate textual apparatus of "Various Readings of all former Editions and Copies in all languages, (a work of as great use to the reader, as if he had all the former Copies and Editions)" (Todd 1821, 42). This is an early rationale and plan for executing what approaches a modern variorum edition. He goes on to list several other textual and philological helps to comprise what would be a complex and multi-functional textual apparatus. His Prolegomena would also include commentary: for example, Grotius's annotations on the Old Testament in the volume containing the apparatus (Miller 2001, 474).

While the conditions of Walton's text and his times were crucial in his development of the parallel-text form to a new level of complexity, there is also a very large section of contextual material in the Biblia that arose out of slightly different, though related, scholarly concerns. Such scholars as Isaac Casaubon and Joseph Scalinger espoused the importance of knowledge about Jewish culture and practices in understanding the Bible (Grafton 2009, 4, 29-30). Along with his textual apparatus and textual commentary, Walton's Biblia offers several aids intended to help readers understand its cultural context. Some of these are prose, and some are graphical: maps, charts, engraved illustrations of the material culture of the Bible, many of them supplied by Wenceslaus Hollar. It also includes historical treatises and reference material on various aspects of the cultures of the biblical lands, such as coinage, weights and measures, and illustrations of architectural spaces. This Bible thus presents a rich reading environment that seeks to place in one location, on one desktop, all of the textual and contextual sources one might need to study the Bible, a complex environment of text, peritext, and paratext (Macksey 1997, xviii). It moves well beyond Origen's innovation of extending the reading surface across the opening of a codex. It extends the book beyond its covers to include the desk, even the bookshelf.

The parallel-version layout has had a consistent if sporadic presence from the time of Eusebius and Origen, sometimes with Gospels in parallel, sometimes in various linguistic versions, and in more recent times, in various English translations. In the twentieth century there was also a renewed interest in Bibles that offered complete reading environments in the form of the modern "study" Bible, with extensive notes, cross-references, and supplementary material (See, for an example, Nelson and Bath 2012). These became popular with the rise of evangelical Christianity and its high premium on personal, lay study of the Bible. In the digital environment, both these interests are expressed in Bible Hub by Biblos, which provides in a single site extensive peritextual aids: an atlas, dictionary, encyclopedia, commentary, tables of weights and measures, and more. It also offers interlinear texts (Greek with English, Hebrew with English) and its own version of the parallel-text layout: a verse-by-verse report of some nineteen English translations and paraphrases in the form of a single-column list, flanked, in the same view, by a "context" which presents the verse together with the one before it (in only a single translation) as well as a list of cross-references and a topic/keyword index, with commentary at the bottom of the page.


Textual studies have a history of tool-building, particularly in the development of complex reading environments in the scholarly edition (especially its apogee, the variorum edition) and more recently in the scholarly digital archive. In the digital medium, this is an area of new development proliferating with fresh ideas for new environments, whereas in print, these models had remained largely static for decades. As the textual studies community once again enters into a very active period of exploring new opportunities afforded by the digital reading environment, we need to give thought to the conditions that encourage new forms to thrive. Books, as human products, are of course artificial things, but insofar as our reading environments arise out of the nature of the documents they represent, and insofar as these develop and respond to the agents who are most intimately involved and implicated in them, they function like ecosystems. What, then, does this mean for developing new reading environments for professional readers? In the academy we are busy producing electronic resources and developing new forms and tools for "reading" (including the full range of activities from searching to annotating), but how many of these are catching on? How many of these are gaining a foothold in our reading environments? It must be admitted that there are very few. By way of conclusion I offer some guiding principles for thinking about the possibilities for developing and implementing new reading environments.

  1. A good environment evolves from and is expressed out of the genetics of the text and its textual tradition.
  2. Bibliographic species in this environment thrive in so far as there is a niche to support them.
  3. Changing conditions in the environment—mutations of texts into new forms, introduction of new textual species or readers, etc.—can create new empty niches, i.e. new opportunities for expression of textual genetics.
  4. Some new species are fit for a particular micro-climate, for a time, but might not thrive in other environments and historical conditions.
  5. Even a radically new reading environment must consider the genotypes of texts and their expression as phenotypes while being attentive to new niches for potential development.
  6. All biblio-species are involved with other species that inhabit an ecosystem, above all, the reader at the top of that particular ecosystem, being the most demanding consumer of textual elements.
  7. Nobody knows the genetics of a text better than the textual scholar; therefore, in the tradition of Origen, Eusebius, and Walton, the textual scholar in the 21st-century needs to take responsibility for the development of appropriate reading environments.

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