CEDAR (Critical Editions for Digital Analysis and Research) is a digital humanities project based at the University of Chicago. It is a collaboration among faculty members from several departments and schools, together with postdoctoral and Ph.D. student research assistants and expert advisers from other universities. We are using selected materials from three well-known and influential literary corpora that have long histories of transmission and translation: the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Hebrew Bible, and Shakespeare’s plays. A fourth, less well known group of literary texts from 17th-century India will also be used, consisting of poems written in Middle Bengali and Sanskrit. The goal of the project is to develop, test, and document new methods of digitally representing, displaying, and analyzing manuscripts, textual variants, and diverse editorial readings and translations, enabling views of these data that are not possible using traditional printed editions, with explicit representation of all the intra- and intertextual relationships a scholar may wish to note.

The result is a tool for philological research that goes beyond existing tools to facilitate the most rigorous textual scholarship, on the one hand, and the teaching of complex texts and their histories to students, on the other. In addition to the Sumerian and Akkadian (Babylonian) versions of the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, the first eleven chapters of the Book of Genesis have been chosen as a test case from the Bible, and The Taming of the Shrew and Hamlet (Act I) from the Shakespearean corpus. (In the case of Shakespeare’s plays, “manuscripts” includes the earliest printed editions, with all their variants.)

A Shared Environment for Scholarly Work

CEDAR makes use of the University of Chicago’s OCHRE database platform, a powerful, thoroughly tested, and well-supported computational environment for scholarly and scientific research. The OCHRE platform has been developed over the past several years with funding from the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure of the National Science Foundation. Technical support, including user training, legacy data conversion, and long-term data hosting, is provided by the OCHRE Data Service. OCHRE is currently being used by more than 60 multi-person research projects at 17 universities in North America and Europe. It can integrate and manage large amounts of data of all kinds—textual, numeric, visual, sonic, cartographic, etc.—and it has many tools for cleaning, interlinking, displaying, and analyzing a project’s data; publishing the data on the Web; and archiving it for long-term accessibility using open, standardized formats. The OCHRE servers are monitored and backed-up by professional system administrators in the University of Chicago’s Library and Research Computing Center.

Scholars in the humanities have long needed a technically sophisticated and well-maintained computational environment that can accommodate all kinds of information and perform the most complex scholarly tasks, and is also sufficiently flexible and customizable to serve a wide range of scholars in different fields of research. A shared environment of this kind will enable economies of scale that make it possible to sustain and enhance the software over the long term, because there is a common code-base that works for everyone. This is in contrast to the incompatible code-bases that underlie the motley assortment of idiosyncratic and often short-lived software applications currently used in digital humanities, most of which serve only a few scholars and are not sustainable.

The CEDAR project demonstrates that the same underlying data model and software can be used for research on very different literary corpora written in different historical periods using different languages and writing systems, and studied today by different communities of scholars. Digital images of original manuscripts as well as digitized transcriptions, translations, and commentary are all stored in the same database, constituting a well-organized, curated, and reusable body of data. Moreover, the OCHRE platform used by CEDAR can easily exchange data with other digital tools for literary studies via widely used standards such as the TEI textual markup format and the Semantic Web standards of the World Wide Web Consortium. Contributing scholars have password-protected access to CEDAR data to build, enrich, and analyze critical text editions using a graphical user interface. Meanwhile, a lightweight open-access Web browser app (currently under development) will make it easy for scholars and students everywhere to view and search the CEDAR text editions. The result will be a new kind of online critical edition that is not closed off but can continue to grow and be supplemented by additional commentary, translations, and images.


We are grateful to Paul Funk, not only for his generous financial contributions to the CEDAR project, but also for his intellectual contributions as an active member of the CEDAR technical staff and as an aficionado of early modern English literature. The project is supported also by a grant from the University of Chicago’s Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. The development of the OCHRE computational platform used by the CEDAR project has been supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure.