Research in theology in the digital age: opportunities and limitations
Neele, A. C.
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Digital text repositories in the field of theology and history, including the works of John Calvin (1509-1564), are promising tools assisting scholars with comprehensive search capabilities, collaborative projects, annotations, and editing options. This paper discusses a case study of the opportunities and limitations of online scholarly archives of primary sources concerning the works of Calvin with particular attention to research, education, and publication.1 The phenomenal increase of digital archives in the field of humanities over the last decade has been nothing short of astounding.2 However promising these digital repositories may seem, a critical assessment of their opportunities and limitations for research, education, and publication is indispensable. The Europeana project currently includes over 15 million digital sources from over 1,000 archives in the European Union (Europeana 2011), the HathiTrust Digital Library, which preserves and provide access to material scanned by Google, the Internet Archive and other partner institutions include 9 million volumes (HathiTrust 2011), and the collaborative partnership of Google with the Universities of Michigan, Harvard, and Oxford has produced thus far over 15 million books online (Wikipedia 2011). Furthermore, national initiatives such as e-rara, a Swiss digital library dedicated to providing free online access to rare antique Swiss books and prints (E-rara 2011), and Gallica, a French collaborative project (Gallica 2011), contain millions of historical resources, such as books, manuscripts and maps previously only locally available. Concurrent with this extraordinary increase of digital resources is the fading away of early criticism about the quality of web-based historical resources for both commercial and open-access archives – though not without facing new inquiries about the creation, dissemination and preservation of scholarly digital archives (Jones 2007:1-10; 2008:54; Hadro 2008:25; Feijen & Horstmann 2007:53; Heery & Powel 2006:6-21; van den Sompel 2006:12). Furthermore, many projects of digital critical editions compete constantly for sufficient grant funding to sustain an open access policy,3 or have to seek for commercial alternatives to continue their scholarly endeavors. These trends in the digital landscape impact and increasingly will impact the way of research, education and publication of theological studies, which can be illustrated by a case-study and survey of the works of the French / Swiss protestant reformer, preacher, teacher, pastor, and theologian John Calvin (1509-1564). His works, in part or whole, are now available through a growing number of various portals on the worldwide web, either as open access, such as the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Gallica) (BNF), Bayerische Staats Bibliothek (BSB), e-rara, Internet Archive (IA), and Google Books (GB), which all have been conveniently aggregated in the portal of the Post-reformation Digital Library (PRDL 2011) hosted by the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies, or subscription-based, such as the Institute for Reformation Research at the Theological University of Apeldoorn (IRR), the Digital Library of Classic Protestant Texts (DLCPT), and Early English Books Online (EEBO). Although some students and scholars of Reformation studies, and Calvin studies in particular, are fairly at home in the digital world, others are bemused. Therefore a brief examination of a selected number of digital primary sources of Calvin, restricted to 16th century editions – the Calvini Opera excepted, may suffice to acquaint one with the research opportunities and limitations both for open access and subscription based.