Digitization and its Place in the History of Cathleen ni Hoolihan

As a final look into my copy of Yeat’s Cathleen ni Hoolihan, it is important to compare and contrast the physical copy of the text with a digital facsimile of the same edition. Digitization is a large trend in archival sciences, and has been gaining force in the book community. Digitization is a relatively effective way of preserving texts, and of enabling exponentially more readers to access those texts that might otherwise never leave the libraries or collections in which they are housed. While these digital copies are helpful for readers, they do not fully represent the texts that they are scanned from. While the digital copy of the first edition of Cathleen ni Hoolihan does contain all of the same text and paratext, its format as a digital entity changes the way readers interact with it. This can have a large effect not only on way the play is interpreted, but also on the context in which we understand the play.

The first striking problem with the digital facsimile is the orientation of text on the webpage. Because of the way that books are bound, the pages were scanned in imperfectly, resulting with the text on each page being shifted over, creating infuriating margins. This might not seem to affect the meaning of a text, but it significantly inhibits the reading of the material, which means it is important to this conversation. Because of this sub-optimal scanning, there are cut off phrases, lost potential marginalia, other formatting issues. Individually, these small changes might not affect the reading of the document, the combination of these small changes leads to a very large impact on the readability of the text, and the resemblance to the source material.


Another difference between the digital copy of Cathleen ni Hoolihan and the collector’s edition I have been working with is the material. My edition of Yeat’s play is printed on vellum, which has a very recognizable feel and appearance, which contributes to how this play is read. However, the digital facsimile is scanned from one of the first editions printed on paper. The material on which something is read can be as significant as what is actually written in some cases, so this difference is likely impactful to the reading of this text. In addition, reading this text on a computer as opposed to on a page is also a very different experience, as one must scroll through pages sequentially instead of being able to jump around. This forces a reader to either read is in order, or to scroll for minutes at a time to find the passages they need.

While the digital facsimile is problematic in many ways, it is still a very beneficial thing to have. While reading the first edition on vellum might be the best way to read this play, there are also only eight copies in existence. This first edition is extremely hard to come by, and it is unreasonable to expect everyone who reads Cathleen ni Hoolihan to read it on a first edition. This is where the digitization of books is at its best, as it allows people from all over the world to have access to a book that might otherwise only exist in acadamia.