Reading Jerome McGann’s “The Rationale of Hypertext” sheds light on the connection between scholarship from the pre-digital to the digital. While it may seem as though there is a complete break between these two forms of research (especially with articles like Brennan’s bust of the digital humanities), there is a certain degree of continuity, and in fact, the digital can work towards more nuanced humanities research that exceeds prior bibliographical limitation. We are no longer simply bound by pages of books or of physical archives located in hard to reach spaces, but research and scholarship can be “hyper.” As Mcgann says, “An edition is ‘hyper’ exactly because its structure is such that it seeks to preserve the authority of all the units that comprise its documentary arrays. In this respect a hyperedition resembles a fabulous circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” In other words, hypereditions make it possible for texts to be networked in different ways. There is no longer a singular text with all the authority, but all texts are multiple and open to critical examination.
The critical edition with its commentaries and additional elements are also examples of a hyperedition, and the shift towards digital technology resembles the shift from manuscript to printing. The anxieties surrounding these transformations in media reproduction repeat themselves, but it is precisely this similarity in situation that exemplifies why the move towards the digital in humanities scholarship is not as jarring as we might think. The digital is not going to replace critical thought like critical editions did not stop scholars from taking up critical engagement with the texts themselves. It is rather that the digital can facilitate a different organization for texts that also encourages critical thinking and inquiry. At the same time, McGann is careful to point out that the hypertext does not mean that it texts are completely ungoverned by any organization, but that such texts are governed and controlled by the users themselves. This puts the control of scholarship in the digital age back into the hands of those making the inquiry. We are not bound by the genius of the text’s author or by previous annotators or critics, but that the digital can assist us in determining our own structures of inquiry.