Working on the Aus-e-Lit Project frequently makes me consider the possibilities of my position in front of the screen supported by a suitable machine. I am certainly not the first to consider these possibilities. In his important book From Gutenberg to Google (2006) Peter Shillingsburg dreams of an electronic resource that provides everything a literary scholar could hope for:
[I]f one had comprehensive scholarly compilations of the documents of a knowledge area, beauty of presentation, imaging, collation on the fly, constant self-check for authenticity, writer's tools for annotational linking, multiple forms of output (to screen, to print, to XML, to WORD, to TEX, to PDF, to others), sound, motion, decent speed, decent holding capacity, user-friendly interface, quick navigation to any point (three clicks or less), and scholarly quality - and if one had these capabilities in authoring mode, augmenter's mode, and reader's mode, in a suite of programs with similar interfaces all workable on multiple platforms so that they were not too difficult to learn or to port from one set of equipment to another, and so that the tools developed for one archive could be easily adapted for use with another archive - then we would have something to crow about. (91)Something to crow about, according to Shillingsburg, because we only have 'multiple experiments that rarely talk to each other and are not easily transferable. The dream that Shillingsburg describes is what he has called an 'electronic knowledge site', a collaborative enterprise that will outlive its originators by providing a resource that 'can grow and develop through changes in intellectual focuses, insights, and fads and accomodate new knowledge in configurations that may augment or correct rather than replace the work that went before.' (95) Shillingsburg's book is worth a reading not only for this view of possibilities, but also for its acknowledgement of the economic, technological, physical and cultural realities of scholarly work.
Gutenberg to Google is also important for its direction to digital projects in Australia, the USA, Great Britain and Europe. One of the most interesting is the HyperNietzsche Project which will soon be available on-line as NietzscheSource. Delivering digital images of manuscripts, books and articles and supporting the authorship of essays, commentary and critical editions, NietzscheSource promises to be an important example for any project that aims to deal with print-based modes of expression. Of particular interest to Aus-e-Lit in its third stage of development will be the organisational structure of a 'dynamic ontology' that maintains a record of the complex relationships between digital objects while at the same time enabling linear sequencing according to genetic, chronological or thematic criteria.
A core group of strong and enduring digital projects will inform the development of Aus-e-Lit. The NINES project at the University of Virginia is already informing the technical and conceptual thinking of the Aus-e-Lit team. When it comes on-line in the near future, NietzscheSource will offer another significant inspiration as we move towards an idea that's not far removed from Peter Shillingsburg's notion of an 'electronic knowledge site'.