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Bergenmar, Jenny, University of Gothenburg, Sweden,
Olsson, Leif-Jöran, University of Gothenburg, Sweden,


Arguments for investing time and resources in digital scholarly editions are often based upon the cultural and literary dignity of the authorship (Shillingsburg 2004). In the case of Selma Lagerlöf, as in the case of for example Ibsen, one can argue that her authorship is one of the most important in Swedish literary history and one of the most well known internationally of all Swedish authors. Following this line of argument, literary scholarly editions tend to be focused on single, canonized authorships, and since letters to the author and translations of his/her work are not usually included, the authorship is represented in splendid isolation.

From Work to Reception

We will discuss why and how the Selma Lagerlöf Archive (SLA), which makes the Selma Lagerlöf collection at the National Library of Sweden accessible and provides digital scholarly editions of her work, aims to create a broader historical context, including the intensive contacts within networks of European women translators and writers which were important for her success in Europe. What the research on Selma Lagerlöf until now lacks, is a more complete mapping of these patterns of dissemination, and also, of course, evidence of reception of her work in different countries. This has consequences for the Selma Lagerlöf Archive too. Charting the translations is not a small task, and investigating legal rights to be able to publish these translations online is perhaps even more difficult. This also needs to be a collective effort, since the source material is spread over Europe and written in different languages.

Collaborative Methods

The Selma Lagerlöf Archive’s participation in the COST Action ISO901 ‘Women Writers in History: Towards a New Understanding of European Literary Culture’ (2009-2013), facilitates the discovery of unknown or forgotten connections between European women in the literary field. By standardizing ‘author’ and ‘work’, but not ‘reception’, the Selma Lagerlöf Archive and the WomenWriters database ( can exchange information on these levels. ‘Reception’ is expressed as a relation between ‘author’ and ‘work’. Thus the ‘author’ can function in different roles – as ‘reader’, ‘critic’, ‘admirer’ etc. ‘Work’ can be specified by type – ‘letter’, obituary’ etc. This is a flexible model, since it covers many different kinds of research material, and there is no need to agree on a common definition of ‘reception’, which would not be adequate for all research material and research questions of the projects using the database.

By way of microservices that are currently being developed, the metadata in the xml-databases of SLA, can be shared within the agreed frame of Women Writers-database, in addition to our other APIs. This collaboration benefits the SLA in two ways. Considering the international reach of Women Writers-database, it may function as an important output to the otherwise limited target group of SLA. SLA can also collect the relevant data on translations or receptions registered in the WomenWriters database and thereby making the time consuming task of finding and registering this information unnecessary.

The development of microservices follows the collective work carried out in COST Action ‘Interedition’ (van Zundert 2011), where the Selma Lagerlöf Archive also participated (although Sweden was not formally a member). The modular microservices developed will vary in implementation language and platform, but will be web-accessible to other services using REST-like interfaces. As for now, the Selma Lagerlöf Archive has not yet developed any standard format tool for visualizing the connections between European women writers, but evidently this will be an important task for the future and a powerful method for rewriting the European map of literary history.

Comparing Translations and Reception Documents

An inventory of translations is a first step towards discovering the mechanisms of dissemination of this – and other – authorships. But a qualitative analysis of the translations to different languages and of reception documents such as reviews, are also necessary for understanding the different national and cultural contexts in which the authorship was used. A possible tool in the qualitative analysis of the European translations of Selma Lagerlöf’s work is the development of Juxta and CollateX, which was also previously carried out in ‘Interedition’. The modularisation initiated in the previous COST Action ‘Open Scholarly Communities on the Web’ known as the Gothenburg model, had the objective to transform the collation from a ‘black box’ to a clear process with discrete chainable steps.

The web service versions of the collation step of Juxta and CollateX are primarily used interactively for comparing variants of Selma Lagerlöf’s work online within our own interface. But in addition to this, it allows for any electronic texts to be compared, thus creating the possibility of comparing different translations. Collation of translations is usually as laborious as collation of variants, but in this way we can more effectively trace how Selma Lagerlöf’s work has been transformed in different translations. Since the German translations were often used as sources for other European translations (for example to Czech and Russian), it is important to examine to what extent the translations were rewritten to accommodate to the cultural climate. For example, some of the German translations were explicitly directed towards the Heimatkunstbewegung, which can be described as a precedent to the Blut und Boden-literature in the 1930s (Ljung Svensson 2011). It is a question still unexplored, how this ideological rhetoric was translated into other languages, nations and ideologies.

The possibility of comparing electronic texts through collation may also be applied for other purposes than showing the deviations between two editions or translations. It can be used to discover similarities between texts. One ambition of the COST Action ‘Women Writers in History’ is to bring data together, which has, up until now, been dispersed among different archives, physical and digital. This allows for a quantitative approach in estimating the reach of female writers activities in Europe. The collected data will also be used qualitatively, for example in exploring patterns in the reception of women writers by critics, and if these patterns correspond to specific themes in the literary texts. Provided that the reception documents (for example reviews) are in the same language and in an electronic format, reviews might also be compared through the microservices, in order to find out if certain ways of describing female authors, or focusing on certain themes in their texts, recur. The same method – although still at an experimental stage – may be used to compare texts by different female authors as a shortcut to discovering common topics or themes. The advantage of this method is that the researchers don’t have to know beforehand what to search for, as when you search electronic texts for certain keywords. Similarities may appear that researchers would not have imagined.


In order to revitalize the field of scholarly editing, the author’s work must be presented as nodes in cultural networks, involving different contexts and countries, where the texts were received, used and transformed, as well as different agents and institutions, participating in the dissemination of the authorship. This kind of scholarly editing is feasible if existing databases and tools are used to share and compare data. This method of working emphasizes both the text as a social object and digital scholarly edition as a collaborative activity (Robinson 2009).


Ljung Svensson, A. S. (2011). Jordens dotter. Selma Lagerlöf och den tyska hembygdslitteraturen/Die Tochter der Erde. Selma Lagerlöf und die deutsche Heimatliteratur um 1900, Göteborg och Stockholm: Makadam förlag.

Robinson, P. M. W. (2009). The Ends of Editing. Digital Humanities Quarterly 3(3).

Shillingsburg, P. (2004). Hagiolatry, Cultural Engineering, Monument Building, and Other Functions of Scholarly Editing. In R. Mondiano, L. F. Searle, and P. Shillingsburg (eds.), Voice, Text, Hypertext. Emerging Practices in Textual Studies. Seattle, Washington: U of Washington P, pp. 412-423.

van Zundert, J., et al. (2011). Interedition: Principles, Practice and Products of an Open Collaborative Development Model for Digital Scholarly Editions. Book of Abstracts DH 2011, June 19-22, Stanford,