As previously mentioned, in collecting and cataloguing scholarly editions to serve as an empirical basis for deeper analysis, I have been working with my own definition for many years now. This definition simply reads:
Edition ist die erschließende Wiedergabe historischer Dokumente.
In German, this works quite well. Unfortunately, however, it relies on the central, yet untranslatable, term erschließen, which encompasses any activity that increases the amount of information concerning a specific object and thus enhances its accessibility and usability. Depending on context, words such as develop, open up, deduce or infer may be used to render this concept in English. They do not cover the wider notion intended here, however. To capture the basic idea that all of these processes involve making thoughtful, reflective and reasonable judgments about the objects of study, the word critical may not only be an approximation but an even better label for the concept. Thus, I propose the following definition:
A scholarly edition is the critical representation of historic documents.