Category Archives: Editing

18th connect and the sustainability of scholarly collaboration

An interesting discussion has broken out on Early Modern Online Bibliography (henceforth, EMOB) regarding Bob Markley’s and Laura Mandell’s 18thConnect project.  In their discussion Eleanor Shevlin made an interesting distinction:

Also, it might be useful to distnguish between tools that serve as delivery systems (I regard Project Muse and JStor and the like as such) and those that perform additional, often quite different functions such as acting as finding aids, invitations to reconceive textual landscapes, and more. In this second category I would place ECCO, EEBO, and even, though decidedly quite different, Google Books. When I find and download an article from say, JStor, I do not give too much thought to its printed form that served as the source for the PDF. My response to texts found in ECCO and EEBO is quite different–and I am spurred to ask questions about the materiality, the tactile features lost in digitization, the accuracy of the information provided in notes/records, and much more.

My first thought was that it might be hard to maintain this distinction, which I think is more about varieties of use than about inherent capacities of technologies; we can always use a shovel to stir our tea.  I also remember sitting in a graduate bibliography seminar many years ago with the man described as the “pope of textual editing,” and being told over and over again that xeroxes needed to be checked word-for-word against originals (because of the danger that xeroxes wouldn’t operate simply as “delivery systems”).  And at the time, I thought this was just another example of his Tragic Sense of Life, though nowadays I’m much more sensitive to this question of how media technologies affect our views of “content.” 

But I also understand what she’s talking about, I think: that a breakthrough technology like the ESTC, for example, made possible for the first time very different views of our period’s publishing than ever before (an argument that Paul Korshin, for one, made here in 1998).  And the 18thConnect project is attempting to pull together a group whose impact could have the potential to do what the ESTC did for our scholarship.

One of the obstacles, however, that I think the 18th Connect folks might run up against is something I saw mentioned in Sharon’s EMN post regarding Web 2.0 models of scholarly collaboration and sustainability, where she quotes Cohen and Rozenzweig’s pertinent warning about collecting history online:

Collections created on the web through the submissions of scattered (and occasionally anonymous) contributors do have a very different character from traditional archives, for which provenance and selection criteria assume a greater role. Online collections tend to be less organized and more capricious in what they cover.

None of this is to say that these projects shouldn’t be attempted, but that the scholars involved (and the scholars using it) might reflect further about how to work against the digital media’s inherent tendency towards diffusion by thinking of institutions, structures, protocols that would lend greater cohesion and flexibility to a project like this.  I wish them the best, and hope to hear more soon about the continued development of the project.


A Scottish Classic?

[x-posted from my 8353 blog] 

Courtesy of the Scotsman, via Jenny Davidson’s Light Reading:

In any ordinary understanding of the word, the Boswell papers had indeed been “lost”. Millions of words of the young Laird of Auchinleck’s prodigious output, including most of his terrific journal and large unpublished sections of the Life of Johnson, had been known to reside somewhere in Malahide Castle in Ireland, the home of Boswell’s great-great-grandson, Lord Talbot de Malahide.

For a number of reasons, the family was not desperate to release them. They had little idea of the scholarly, literary or pecuniary value of the cache – but they did have an all-too-vivid understanding of their ancestor’s kenspeckle reputation. Before handing the manuscripts to Isham, Lady Talbot carefully inked over every indecorous word, phrase and passage in the collection (it took American experts 18 months to delete her deletions).

All of which brings us to 2007 and an Edinburgh publishing house. Birlinn has published To the Hebrides, containing Samuel Johnson’s Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland and James Boswell’s Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides. The most devoted reader could be forgiven for suppressing a yawn. How many more Johnson and Boswells in Caledonia do we need? The answer is one more. And the reason is Isham.

I haven’t seen this new dual-author version of the two texts, but I can imagine how using might have affected our discussion of Boswell and Johnson’s contrasting styles.  Who ever said that bibliography was a dull, pedestrian subject, when it involves mucking around in the stables looking for manuscripts? 

The newly chronologized form offered by this version is also interesting to me, because it simply acknowledges and facilitates what Boswell and Johnson readers (and have they ever been separate audiences) have always done: working back and forth between the divergent accounts.

How much do you want to bet that the “unedited” (or de-Maloned) version of these two texts becomes the standard classroom edition in the next 5 years, along the lines of the newly republished, de-fictionalized “novel-reduced-to-memoir” On the Road

There should be a term for this phenomenon: how about Post Facto Memoir, when a published text is re-edited to make it appear less polished, less narratively shaped, and more like a daily journal?


What would you like to see in new editions of novels?

Strictly hypothetically, if a publisher were to produce a new line of 18c novels, what would you like to see in terms of editorial policy?

There are of course a dozen ways to buy, say, Robinson Crusoe. The market is competitive. You have the Penguin edition, the Norton, the Oxford World’s Classics, the Bedford Cultural Edition, and the Broadview. There are still others for general readers–Signet, Barnes & Noble, Everyman, etc.

If there were to be one more available, what would you like for it to include or exclude that would set it apart from the other editions? Do you and your students actually use the substantial textual and critical support routinely included in the Nortons and the Broadview editions? Do you find the current scholarly editions limiting or overwhelming? Are your students happy with their prices, the format, etc.?

Specifically, how would you feel about the return of the hardback edition? If Penguin, for example, were to publish the same text, introduction, and notes in a hardback edition with more durable paper within $5 or so of their paperback price, would you order that book for your students instead and do you think they would be glad you did?

Mamas, don’t let your kids grow up to be authors

I’m still grading, but while I work, why don’t you all take a look at the “Unsolicited” column, which is written by an anonymous editor who has some entertainingly bitchy advice for all you wannabe authors out there who don’t treat yer editors right:

I read this, and in a fit of insecurity immediately forwarded it to my editor. Apparently it reminded her of someone else, so I felt relieved. At least she replies to my emails.



Early editions in scholarship and pedagogy

Thus far I haven’t really discussed my other work. Yes, I am happily a new instructor of British Lit at Queens College, but I’m also a research fellow in a private collection of seventeenth- to nineteenth-century materials housed in the Mina Rees Library at the Graduate Center. One of my duties in the collection is to connect the items there with scholars who could make use of them, either in their own work or in their classes. In doing so, I’ve found that many of those I’ve contacted think using early editions and resources sounds like a really great idea, but they’re not exactly sure why one would take the time to do so.

In response to my invitations, scholars seem to express one or more of the following attitudes toward special collections:

1. Special collections are for book-fetishists. Let’s not get bogged down in the ooh-ahh materiality of the book when we want to talk about the ideas in the text.

2. Special collections are only useful if you’re putting together an edition. Textual presentation and variations are really only of interest to scholars of textual history.

3. Special collections are like zoos for books. We’re glad someone is preserving all those old pamphlets, maps, and out-of-print books in case someone, maybe a grad student, decides to study them.

4. Special collections are giving way to online resources that preserve older books’ images and texts. Who would go to a special collection when they can simply click around online and get the same experience?

5. Special collections librarians are probably totally swamped with appointments. Why bother them when I can get most of what I need from new editions and the scholarship of my predecessors?

These are attitudes that I think I held, to some extent, before I began working in the Eighteenth-Century Reading Room. I went to lectures held in the Reading Room and admired all the lovely bindings, wondered what was in them, and then went home. I never took the time to ask what was there and how it could be of use to me. During the only experiences I’d had in special collections, I’d oohed and ahhed over the bookness of a particularly exciting first edition, but I had only occasionally used them for research. I didn’t fully understand that one could read the things.

When I began working in the Reading Room, I spent a solid month or so getting giddy over pulling out a 1623 edition of Bacon or a beautiful little vellum-bound Sentimental Journey. I thrilled over the maps, the slips of early American money, and the letters in secretary hand, which were, at the time, unreadable to me in a magical way. When I opened the 1651 Leviathan for the first time, I think my heart stopped. That is to say, I had a big crush on the collection for a long time. Like a crush, it was both hyper-emotional and superficial, and it yielded little in the way of useful knowledge.

As time went by and I explored the collection further, I found that one could very easily find and read around on almost any topic of historical interest in the period. Because the collection is mostly non-fiction, it contains things you rarely find in new editions, like descriptions of prisons, recipes, theatrical reviews, travel journals, colonization accounts, legal documents, and descriptions of foreign lands for the curious people back home. All of these things appear in the fiction of the era and are important for our understanding of the period, yet English scholars mostly know about them from the fiction itself, or from the descriptions given us by other scholars. After spending time surrounded by piles of these books, I find they have become a cornerstone for the breadth of knowledge I’d like to gain about the era. They aren’t merely fetishes anymore.

I wonder if the fetishism of old books isn’t a product of the digital revolution. Just as, when the printing press made texts cheaper and more abundant, the idea of the manuscript text gained a certain magical, noble power, the book itself may be gaining a kind of distant, reverential regard as digital texts become the more common source of information and entertainment. As graduate students more easily find primary sources and scanned texts online, we find it less necessary to learn how to use special collections for research, and we therefore develop a silly kind of awe for old books that keeps us from using them.

I have been trying, in my small way, to bring friends in the field down to the Reading Room so they can see how easy it is to find materials of great interest and usefulness. It’s true that digital collections are amazingly wonderful and useful, and I am a great advocate for digitizing everything to make it even more searchable and universally accessible, but until we do, I hope we still find these rare items, learn from them, and keep them alive in our work.

Of those of us here, in our different disciplines, I wonder what attitudes we have toward using special collections in research and pedagogy. Do you take your students to special collections? Do they find uses for the materials? Do you use special collections for your own research? If not, why not? If so, what do you get out of the experience?