Paul Eggert, in his essay “Apparatus, text, and interface”, argues that creating an edition of text is “inevitably a critical act” (104). Eggert states that every edition necessarily embodies an argument about the text that dictates the editor’s approach to the work (98). This process of mediation means that no text reaches its audience without being framed in some manner to fulfill a specified purpose or goal (98).
“Digitizing Literature: lesser-known works by female writers in Britain’s Romantic age” is no exception to Eggert’s assertions. In the interest of perpetuating transparency – a key value of scholarly works, specifically that of the digital realm – this brief editorial statement will outline several of the most important viewpoints, lenses, and arguments that have shaped this evolving, digital anthology.
Selected Works: as noted in the explanatory title, this digital anthology focuses solely on the works of British, female authors writing in the Romantic period, which is roughly between the end of the French Revolution until the middle of the nineteenth century. There are several reasons why this anthology boasts such a tight focus. Firstly, in order to keep the content specific, connected, and manageable, a defined focus was absolutely necessary. Secondly, the creator & editor of this digital anthology is a English literature scholar whose area of interest lies in works written by women during this revolutionary time period in Britain. The works of the Romantic period have long garnered scholarly and popular attention. However, this notoriety was attached mostly to the “Big Six”: William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord George Gordon Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats. All poets, all male. The objective behind this edition, therefore, is to break the mold by bringing critical attention and exploration to works written by females during the time period in a myriad of literary genres.
Reading Texts: at the centre of each edition featured in this digital anthology is a reading version of a literary text. The choice to provide a reading version of the text, as opposed to a diplomatic transcription of manuscript works to merely link to an outside source that transcribes the work, to three-fold. Firstly, it was important for all of the editions to mirror each other in style, format, and content. By sticking to a reading text, it did not matter whether the work was extant in manuscript form or not, each text would be presented in the same manner. Secondly, the intended audience of these editions (undergraduate students) are much inclined to need a version of the text they can closely and easily read than a version that preserves the editorial process of the author. Finally, by providing a transcription of the text directly on the website, rather than linking the reader to another source, editorial control of the text was retained. This editorial control ranged from what source the text was transcribed from, to what version of the text was used as the basis for the reading version, to providing individualized annotations formulated for the intended audience.
Annotations: Kathryn Sutherland, in her essay “Anglo-American Editorial Theory”, discusses the divergent qualities of British and American editorial traditions in print throughout history as they were influenced by both theory and practice. At the end of her essay, Sutherland questions the state of digital, editorial theory – acknowledging that while it is certainly in its infancy, more work needs to be done to establish a standard practice that is effective and viable.
Obviously, this digital anthology is not the platform to theorize digital, editorial theory. However, in response to Sutherland’s pivotal claim and in order to address some of the technical limitations and hurdles “Digitizing Literature” has run into with annotations on WordPress.com, it is important to briefly discuss the specific editorial practices adhered in this anthology.
Sutherland breaks down the two major schools of thought when its comes to editorial theory by defining the “Anglo” approach as favouring layered texts with multiple versions and annotating using footnotes and the “American” approach as creating an ideal version of a text and employing endnotes. The editions in this anthology were designed with the intention of reflecting the “Anglo” approach. While one specific version of the text is privileged as the reading version, many of the texts only have one version and, if they have multiple, the additional versions are included through hyperlinks or appendices. This is an attempt to gesture towards the importance and impact of all versions of the text by acknowledging that each publication makes its own intervention into the reception history of the text.
When it comes to annotations, including contextual information in footnotes privileges them in comparison to endnotes as it encourages readers to consult the annotations while reading in order to supplement and enhance their understanding of the text. Unfortunately, WordPress.com does not support any plugins that allow for “true” footnotes, such as hovering text boxes or page jumping. Because of this, an innovative approach was designed to mimic the use of footnotes by hyperlinking annotations and prompting them to open a secondary browser tab. It is the intention of that approach that the reader will keep both the tabs open during the reading of the primary text, thereby allowing them to quickly flip back and forth between the text and the notes. While this is certainly not ideal, nor does is provide a complete digital equivalent to printed footnotes (more of a footnote/endnote hybrid), it is the most effective and viable solution available at this time. “Digitizing Literature” is actively seeking other alternatives in hopes of remedying this problem in the near future.
Critical Apparatus: Peter Shillingsburg, in From Gutenberg to Google, draws critical attention to the various lenses used by scholars to present information to their readers. Shillingsburg calls for audience accountability in consuming critical information by actively working to understand the viewpoint of the writer. Below is a listing of the categorical approaches to literature most often used by scholars:
- Literary History: origins, revision history, publication history
- Contextual History: cultural, historical, biographical, political, social contexts
- Reception History: how the text was transmitted and disseminated over time
- Discourses of Criticism: feminism, post-colonialism, Marxism, psychoanalytic
At the introduction to each of my contextual appendices, I have included a brief statement that categorizes the critical apparatus into one of Shillingsburg’s groupings. Not only does this further the intention of the anthology to be transparent in the impetus behind its scholarly work, but it also will help reader’s to decipher whether the information contained in that appendix is pertinent to their individual interests, thereby streamlining their research process.
This digital anthology was built using WordPress.com and is designed based on the “Suits” theme. The impetus behind selecting this web publication tool was three-fold. Firstly, the interface is very user-friendly and, being an English scholar and not a technology buff, this made the learning curve much more manageable. Secondly, WordPress.com works well with text. These editions focus on providing a unique, digital experience for reading class works of literature. Given that many of the pages are text-heavy, it was important that the website presents text in a readable and aesthetically appealing manner. Finally, I had the opportunity to receive generous tutorial instruction from other literary scholars who had manipulated WordPress.com’s blog style to create a static website that could easily host digital editions. Following the guidelines that if-its-not-broke-don’t-fix-it, I decided to follow their same formula to create my digital anthology. Not only did this automatically create for me a network of scholars whom I could turn to for troubleshooting advice, but it also allowed my edition to fall into the (albeit very loose and relatively undefined) industry standards for this type of digital, textual project.
One of the biggest benefits of mounting an anthology online is that the internet supports multi-dimensionality while the page is rather limited in what it can reproduce effectively. Because of this, I designed all of my editions in order to maximize the advantages of the digital realm by providing lots of hyperlinks, both within and outside the edition, and presenting various medias (text, pictures, slideshows, videos) in unique ways to aid in the reader’s ability to engagement with each work. Below is a brief list of some of the medias, digital tools, and plugins that appear across the editions in this anthology:
- Poll Daddy
- Juxta Commonsbeta
- WordPress.com Media Slideshow
- Static Images from Various Internet Archives
Eggert, Paul. “Apparatus, text, interface: how to read a printed critical edition.” Textual Scholarship. Ed. Neil Fraistat and Julia Flanders. Cambridge: Cambridge, 2013. 97-118. Print.
Shillingsburg, Peter. “Manuscript, book, and text in the twenty-first century”. From Gutenberg to Google. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print
Sutherland, Kathryn. “Anglo-American editorial theory.” Textual Scholarship. Ed. Neil Fraistat and Julia Flanders. Cambridge: Cambridge, 2013. 42-60. Print.