Peter Shillingsburg "Scholarship and/or Technology: Computing Textual Studies": A keynote address at the Fifth Symposium on Textual Scholarship (2008) at the Centre for Textual Studies, De Montfort University

I begin with an apology for having invited myself to give the Key Lecture today. In my defence I wish to say that I asked two other persons to give the lecture and was turned down, the first time in a timely manner and the next in what I would call a leisurely manner. Some of you know that I frequently state that in order to be invited to give a Key Lecture one must have spent a lifetime in textual studies--young people and johnny-come-lately's need not apply. Now, for the 5th annual Symposium, having already used up, so to speak, eight grey-haired scholars for the job, nine if you count Kathryn, and given the shortness of time and the fact that one must respect the dignity of eminent scholars by asking them well in advance, I found I was the only remaining available candidate for the job, my own third choice. Well, at any rate, that illustrates how rational animals rationalize decisions.

Today is my last public act as a member of the DMU faculty. My first thought was to retire, which I did last December, hanging on by my fingernails, so-to-speak, by persuading DMU to hire me part-time--which is why I am still here. In the meantime, however, I have accepted a new post as the Svaglic Professor of Textual Studies at Loyola University, Chicago, where I begin work this August. And that is another reason to grab the chance to give a Key Lecture this year, or forego the chance forever.

I have asked all previous Key Lecturers to tell us a little something of what they have learned in a life as a textual critic, what they might do differently, or how things look from their present position. I have also suggested they could do anything else they might want to do instead. So, some of what I will say today may take a retrospective view or have a nostalgic tone. The outline of my remarks is on the screen. (Slide 1)

The title of my presentation today: Scholarship and/or Technology, suggests three options: Scholarship without technology, technology as a substitute for scholarship, or scholarship and technology in some kind of mutual embrace. The romantic in me hopes for the embrace, though I've seen ample evidence of the exclusive approaches--sometimes evident in throw-away comments such as ‘Humanities Computing is an oxymoron’ or ‘That old moron just can't get with the new technology’. So, I added a subtitle: Computing Textual Studies. I hope that strikes you in a way similar to the effect of saying Computing Wisdom. Or Computing Creativity--as something that is so difficult and so complex that it cannot be done, but also with a sense that because it cannot be done is not a good enough reason not to try. The Humanities prides itself on its complexities and ambiguities and even its mysteries; so, how can computing the humanities be anything but reductive? Computing prides itself with its precision and the comprehensive organization of all research questions into component questions that can be answered with YES or NO or alternatives and complexities that can be sorted through in series of IF / ELSE paths. Its watchword is control. It would seem then that humanities scholarship and technology, as represented by computing, would present difficulties in communicating and in mapping shared goals.

But another way of looking emphasises the fact that scholarship in whatever field and particularly in Analytical Bibliography and Textual Studies must adhere to the rules of evidence which at the least require comprehensiveness and verification of facts and carefully articulated analysis of inferences before the announcement of conclusions. In fact my first scholarly endeavour in analytical bibliography may have prepared me for my first extended encounter with computing. The subject was William M. Thackeray's The History of Pendennis for which only 18 pages of manuscript survive, but was first published serially over a two-year period at the mid-19th Century and subsequently in three other editions, each with unique authorial readings. But it was the first English edition that provided the bibliographical training ground, where I soon found that every bibliographer before me had made easily exposed false assumptions about the production processes and the meanings of the narrow swath of evidence they had chosen to view. Following the models provided by Fredson Bowers in The Principles of Bibliographical Description and avidly snapping up the then hot debates about the proper definitions of edition, printing, issue, and state--where objects that were the joint product of authorial activity, printing activity, binding activity, and publishing activity were desperately being shoved into one hierarchy of categories in a descriptive bibliography--I eagerly collated multiple copies of the first edition, using the Hinman Collators in three States and the British Library and the Lindstrand Comparator in many other libraries, to develop my full analytical bibliography of the first edition of Pendennis. It was thirty-two pages long in typescript. I thought it covered all the permutations of sheets printed from standing type and sheets printed from stereotyped plates cast from that standing type, and sheets printed after the stereotype plates had been damaged and repaired, and of bindings in wrappers, publisher's trade bindings and bespoke bindings as well as 20th Century reconconstructions by antiquarian dealers simulating pristine originality. I was a human computer of analytical bibliography. Nobody, but nobody on the face of the earth was interested in that much detail about The History of Pendennis. One publisher to whom I sent the 32 pages as a sample of what could be done in a full-scale bibliography of Thackeray's works, sent it back with a note saying they were interested in brief descriptions of use to book collectors.

Fredson Bowers in those days was not only the guru of descriptive bibliography; his editions of Beaumont and Fletcher, Thomas Dekker, and his consultation work with the Nathaniel Hawthorne edition and the establishment under his eye of the Center for Editions of American Authors was elaborating the most exciting new editorial methods. My supervisor made me read everything Bowers wrote--but when I started developing migraine headaches, which seemed to come only when I was reading Bowers, I confess I began to fudge a bit. There was another reason to fudge, however, because imposing Bowers's principles of editing onto the materials I had for Thackeray was making me unhappy. I won't go into detail of why that was so; suffice to say that CEAA editions were designed (in the interest of full disclosure) to reveal what the scholar had done and had the unintended consequence of obscuring what the author had done. Nevertheless, having finished my scholarly edition of Pendennis as my PhD thesis, I was approached by one of my examiners who was setting up a press to publish scholarly editions. That is how I became the general editor of the Works of WM Thackeray. That is how I became interested in computer collation programs which in the early 1970s already included the work of Penny Gilbert, Margaret Cabbannis, and the then famous prototype known as Project OCCULT; the Ordered Computer Collation of Unprepared Literary Text [by] George R. Petty, Jr. [and] William M. Gibson. Memory is a wonderfully inventive thing, so I've used it to create this picture of where I was then: A human metronome, doggedly pursuing facts, and unhappy with how I had been trained to deploy them, and having the luck of an NEH grant to hire a programmer to develop a better collation program.

1977-78, the year I discovered the intellectual value of an embrace between textual studies and technology. Where I thought I had been unusually careful and comprehensive in my approach to textual evidence and the logical deployment of analysis and representation, I discovered, in my attempts to reduce my processes to questions that can be answered YES or NO and into sequences defined by If and Else that if one fails to be absolutely clear the program fails--it enters an endless loop or it simply jams. What I soon had to admit was that humanists tend to skip over the bits they don't understand. Rhetorical dexterity allows it. And since textual studies and indeed the whole of academic humanities, is conducted far away from emergency wards, little fudges and mistakes do not result in anyone's death. Furthermore, it is not likely that anyone will notice when you've taken a short cut or made a stab in the dark and then made it look like the results of research. Reducing my work to the unforgiving demands of a stupid computer exposed my own gaps and leaps of logic and thoroughness. Since then I have had a great deal of respect for the potential of computer technology to make humanities research better. But it does not take a rocket scientist to see that technology cannot substitute for scholarship. The computer is not a scholar. And I believe technology is at its best as a partner of scholarship not when a scholar uses a computer program but when a humanities scholar and computer scholar join forces to develop a technical tool. It is the thinking that each forces upon the other that sharpens the analytical skills of both sides.

I need to pause here briefly to pay tribute to two good friends, who both, I believe, understood for themselves and in their own ways, what I am saying. Harold Love wrote one of the earliest if not the first scholarly essay on the uses of computers in textual studies and in particular about its potential to aid collation. He was a polymath who wrote books on Chinese Opera in Australia, the biography of a Coroner, was the world's authority on scribal culture in 17th Century England, produced a superb edition of The Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, who played the cello in an amateur chamber orchestra, had a fine collection of progressive jazz, who laughed inordinately over one of his favourite documentaries on the Cane Toad invasion of Queensland (no laughing matter, I can assure you), and whose collection of early editions of Thackeray's works contained items even I do not own. He was a true scholar and his understanding of computer technology, like his understanding of literary theory, was profound and playful, practical and understated. Harold Love was among the first to see the value of computing to our field in the late 1950s. In 2006 Julia Briggs began developing one of the most demanding requirements for the embrace of computer technology and scholarship. She too was a polymath, whose ability to recall details of her reading and viewing was matched by her analytical skills and her critical imagination. Even time spent in small talk with her was worth more intellectually than many a serious discussion with others. Unlike Harold Love, Julia did not like computers. She used them, of course, and abused them at will. But she understood the goals and aims of scholarship, not just its methods; and her vision of what could be done with scholarship in the computing environment was surpassingly ambitious. In the first place, important as textual scholarship was to her, she was not satisfied with textual scholarship, any more than she was satisfied with literary criticism, or with good teaching. She wanted it all, integrated. And her "Time Passes" project combines cutting edge textual studies, literary criticism, historical research, and pedagogical expertise. Her project put pressure on whatever might be called best practice in the field of humanities computing. There was no existing computer program or presentation system that would do what she wanted done. The pressure she put on computing is best witnessed by Nick Hayward, whose doctorate in Archaeology and master's in computing science put him in a unique position to understand and implement what Julia wanted to see in Woolf OnLine.

If you use Harold Love's edition of the Earl of Rochester in print or Julia Briggs's Woolf Online (when it is launched later this year) you will be in presence of some of the best work done in our field.

It was a momentous but difficult week in August of last year when, on opposite sides of the globe, Harold Love and Julia Briggs died.

That pause leads directly into another aspect of a life of textual studies and that is intellectual debts. I have divided my debts into two categories--those people to whom I owe the energy and urgency and carefulness required by the fact that I disagreed with them, thought they were wrong, and thought I was the one to set things right. Without these folks I might have turned into a pleasant, contented, bystander. My enemy is my best friend for he keeps me on my toes. The other category of debt is to those who have set me good examples, or encouraged me on my way, or who have spent endless hours in argument that led to finer distinctions and the identity of more relevant contexts.

My favourite useful enemies include my PhD supervisor James B. Meriwether who taught me how to do research and write it up and publish it, how to detect error and (pardon the expression) bull, and how to follow my own interests rather than doing what other people were doing. What I think he got wrong was the notion that if you try hard enough you can be right, which makes everyone else wrong, and they and their errors are beneath contempt. I seriously doubt the opposite contention of Victor Cousin, the 19th Century popular philosopher, that the truth has been divided up among all the people and so we should listen to everyone in the hope of gleaning a bit of truth from them, but he is closer to being useful on this point, I think, than my supervisor.

Another is Fredson Bowers, who taught me so much about logical argument and, remarkable a man though he was, shared the feeling that there was in the end only one right way to do things--his way. (Perhaps that is a bit harsh.)

Herschel Parker, another indefatigable researcher, morally indignant about the excessive rationality of pursuing authorial final intentions, asking everyone to pay attention to the author's initial intentions as well as or even instead of his or her final intentions, and calling attention to the relevance of psychological investigations of creativity to the business of textual scholarship--but unfortunately, from my point of view, making the process of thinking so personal and so much about Herschel Parker that it was difficult to separate the rational thought from the emotional polemic.

And then there is Jerry McGann, bless his heart, one of the sweetest men living, with curiosity never sated, able to see the relevance of almost everything, a scholar perhaps to be known in the future as the chaos theorist of textual studies, sooo very exciting and so full of it. Were it not for Jerry Mcgann there might be no textual studies industry, no major controversies, no messes to clean up. I would not have written my first book had it not been for Jerry's A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism which was so wrongheaded that I turned my review of into a book: Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age studiously avoiding bringing any undue attention to such a bad book as his. One could do worse than to emulate a man with the courage to publish ideas just to see if they will fly and to see who would shoot them down. Bowers would never do that.

G. Thomas Tanselle and James Thorpe, in the 1970s represented the opposite poles of textual criticism: Tanselle, the meticulous investigator of textual crimes, and Thorpe, the easy-going poet of textual flexibility. In a year of meetings of the Modern Language Association's Committee on Scholarly Editions these two men demonstrated for me the value of deliberate, controlled, civil exchange of ideas, where listening did not mean giving ground and giving ground did not mean losing anything worth keeping.

Subsequently, that civility and the notion of arguments for progress rather than for winning was developed for me by three friends you'll probably never hear of otherwise: Jeff Doyle, a tutor I met in Australia in 1984, who taught me intellectual poaching--listening everywhere and picking up only that which made sense and using it for one's own purposes. Price Caldwell, who became my neighbour in 1972, and who taught me life was not a competition but an exploration. Wallace Murphree, a teacher of philosophy, and good friend with a wood stove and chainsaw to help him feed it, who taught me the value of fine distinctions among terms and arguments that at first look the same or seem very similar.

Jim McLaverty (who is sitting here and already beginning to dread what I might say) is responsible for inspiring the best thing I ever wrote: Text as Matter Concept and Action. His essays on authorial intention and on the identity of texts and work got the juices of my mind running, so to speak, and made me want to take those arguments as far as I could carry them, while using Wallace Murphree's approach to explain the fine distinctions among the ways people used words like text and work. I wrote that essay in 1989, it took all year and would not be what it is were it not for Paul Eggert (who I believe is here in spirit, sitting next to one of you). I was that year in Australia, and week after week we argued and pushed and pulled on the ideas, and played tennis and drank beverages of moderation, and then argued some more. Paul has become the voice of my intellectual conscience, the voice I hear in the back of my mind when ideas start going a bit crazy, saying, "Now wait just a tick, mate."

Intellectual debts go on forever; I owe something to most of you sitting here, I probably don't need to tell you what or how.

I want to return, however, to the embrace. Just for the record I'll say that my notions about what constitutes scholarship in textual scholarship and how technology relates to scholarship are elaborated in excruciating detail in three books: Scholarly Editing in the Computer Age (first published in 1984 and last revised in 1996), Resisting Texts (published in 1997); and From Gutenberg to Google (published in 2006). So all of that is safely on the shelf where it can stay, having served the purpose of advancing my career and where they need not bother you.

But here are a few subsequent thoughts that might be worth pondering as readers or users of electronic editions of literary texts. [4] First, let me acknowledge, or perhaps confess is the more appropriate term, that for most of my own leisure reading and most informational reading I behave as most people do, selecting my materials from convenient sources without too much regard for the sources or authenticity of the texts. But the history of scholarship tells us that, when one is reading carefully for the purpose of responding to the text in a formal and informed way, a casual approach to texts can defeat our aims.

It is in the double light of casual and serious reading that I focus attention on a few assumptions that many people, even academics, make about literary works and some considerations that might enlighten them . (Slide Next)

The first assumption is that any copy of a work will do. [2] Indeed, as already acknowledged, we frequently act on this assumption--at least in part because we may not be aware of any pitfalls affecting the particular text in hand and we know that investigating such potentials will take longer than is warranted by the kind of interest we bring to the work. We know that works are frequently inaccurate because we recognise typographical errors, but we trust our ability to guess at corrections. We know also that information may be false, but we trust our existing knowledge to help us detect false facts or fatal omissions or we trust to our sense of internal coherence or our crap-detectors to protect us from weak arguments. In short, we cope with the reality of the common condition of texts in books, and we transfer this willingness to risk textual error to the texts we find on the web. It is not just the convenience of easy access to unreliable texts, but the fact that web texts are searchable in ways that print texts are not that leads us to use texts for whose source or accuracy we are unable to vouch.

Perhaps more important than the fact that texts commonly have errors is the fact that texts both in print and on the web usually fail to reveal that they represent a work that has been revised and they frequently fail to indicate which variant form of a work is being represented.

Another frequent assumption is also partially true: that cheap editions are better than expensive ones because I can have my own copy, mark the margins, fold the corners, highlight, make bold or underline. Furthermore, we think, the cheaper the texts, the more texts we can have. And if they are free, we can have as many as we like. Do not look a gift horse in the mouth is applied more frequently to books than any other object on earth, I believe. All of this is true and is qualified only by the considerations mentioned in relation to the first assumption. We will have texts that "will do" but we are not sure just what they will do or what they are good for. Does the cheapness of a text really justify our uncritical reliance upon them when it is a fact that cheap texts typically come unlabelled, only partially labelled, or flat out mislabelled about their source texts? Although it is true that it is better to have any copy than to have no copy, if the text in hand is not accurate, not complete, not accurately described or labelled, then it is possible, indeed probable, that critical labours based upon it will fall afoul of a textual error or of ignorance about when a particular revision was first introduced. In textual studies the two most famous whipping boys on these critical pitfalls are the Americanist F. O. Matthiessen who credited Herman Melville with profound wit and insight in his novel, White Jacket, for having the guilt-ridden sailor who had fallen overboard be brushed by a "soiled fish of the deep"; the moral ambiguity was positively Melvillean, Matthiessen thought. But Melville never wrote "soiled"--it was a typo in the 1922 reprint Matthiessen was reading. And the other whipping boy is F. R. Leavis who famously credited Henry James with including elements of his complex mature, qualifying, ambiguous style even in his first novel, Rodrick Hudson, which Leavis was reading in the heavily rewritten version prepared some thirty years after the novel's first publication. So the question comes again: Are inaccurate texts better than no text? Or better yet, should we as critics wait until some textual scholar does the collations and indicates for us the genesis of the work and the order of publication and the interferences and "enhancements" applied in production stages? Might it be a good idea for critics to at least ask, what edition am I reading? and Which version does my edition represent? before launching some speculative remark about the meaning of a passage or the cultural importance of an ideological stance? The best recent corrective to this type of insouciance that I know is Kathryn Sutherland's book on Jane Austen, where every comment about a text or about Austen's life is traced back to its textual origin, stripping away speculation and error in the process.

It may be the case that any text will do for casual and entertainment purposes, but it simply is not the case that any text will do for scholarly purposes. Even more interesting than texts that are different or inadequate because somebody got it wrong or left something out, texts can reflect the fact that some writers give in to the demands of publishers to the extent of changing the fundamental implications of their stories, because unless they do their story is not published and the artist starves. Why does Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage end with Jim Fleming coming to a realization of the "true" meaning of the heroism? He did not in the manuscript version. Why does the Floridian Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes were Wacthing God end in a manner compatible with the political left leanings of her New York publisher, contrary not only to Hurston's own politics but to the implications of the novel? The manuscript version does not. So, even when there are no alternative texts, there can be significant textual problems. There is no such thing as an innocent text.

Perhaps both the assumption that any text will do and the assumption that cheapness of texts justifies not knowing what text it is are related to a third frequently made assumption that everything one needs in order to understand a work is in the text itself. Texts of poems or novels are often treated as self-contained, complete aesthetic objects turned loose from their originating authors and contexts. Indeed, this is a basic tenet of both the old New Criticism and of the newer deconstructionist and reader response schools of criticism. I have elsewhere demonstrated, and won't bore you with it now, that both of these schools suffer seriously from their principled acceptance of ignorance about textual provenance. And yet many critics have had satisfying and, by their lights, successful experiences of texts by treating them as self-contained works. However, material textuality and speech act theory (and script act theory) indicate that every text is understood in relation to things indexed iconically and to the "things that go without saying." The same sentence can mean different things depending on Who says it, Where it is said, To whom it is said, and When it is said. Different copies with the same words can seem to mean different things because of what at one time went without saying for readers of another time and place but which now in another time and another place no longer go without saying. Difference in time and local tend to affect what is taken for granted. And so, to engage seriously with a text almost necessarily requires engagement with the text's chronology, materiality, and agencies--author, publisher, audience--and the social-economic-political settings for the textual acts of composition, revision, production, marketing and reading. Failure to do so will result in readings that can only be called adventitious, regardless of how interesting or apropos they might seem. For that kind of engagement, just any text will not suffice. Ninety-nine percent of texts on the web fail to provide a basis for this kind of engagement.

Yet another common assumption is that small textual differences don’t make significant critical differences. This notion has more to do with wishful thinking than logical thought. (Slide 2) But a look at the passage on the screen and your success in making sense of it, might lend some support to the feeling that even some big changes in text might be overcome by our ability to make allowances for mistakes.

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

But small textual differences can create different words and one of the characteristics of the sample on the screen is that none of the spelling errors produces a plausible other word. Ancient and medieval scholars will know every one of these mistakes as an innocent error as opposed to a sophistication. Authors frequently make subtle use of language which can be compromised by small errors. Just quoting Malcolm Lowry's poem, "Strange Type" will help any reader call to mind many instances of this fact. (Slide 3)

I wrote: in the dark cavern of our birth.

The printer had it tavern, which seems better:

But herein lies the subject of our mirth,

Since on the next page death appears as dearth.

So it may be that God's word was distraction,

Which to our strange type appears destruction,


Sometimes people think or sense that the lexical is the only aspect of texts that matters. Put another way, it is thought that what a text looks like does not matter; it is what a text says that counts. And the consequence of this is that most web-available texts retain nothing of the appearance of their sources and can be displayed in a number of webpage arrangements, as it suits the reader or as the accidents of monitor and software select. Many people consider this flexibility and mark of ownership to be an asset. But books reveal much by what they look like, so that the convenience of web availability is purchased at a sharp "information price". All the poetry in an anthology looks alike, and so students know that what they are reading is poetry. But that is not where any of the poems started and frequently new poetry looks so different that we don’t even know that it is poetry. In an anthology and on the web that unfamiliar look is taken away. Fortunately, much recent scholarly work on the web has begun to buy into the following principles: (Slide 4)

1. Prefer digital images of source texts over transcripts.

2. Insist on source text dates—dates of composition and publication, and dates of electronic creation.

3. Insist on knowing what the source text was.

4. Ask how the transcription was proofread.

5. Ask for supporting information about the things that went without saying for the author and original audience--introductions and annotations.

But let me back out from this intensely close look at what we do to ask what is meant by Humanities even in a phrase like Digital Humanities. Textual studies, we are told by an intelligent character in a novel by J. M. Coetzee, is where humanities began--textual study as the original alternative to theology. “Humanities” refers to the study of what it is to be human, and our particular approach to that study focuses primarily on Literature and Language. [4] Print Humanities would be the alternative to Digital Humanities and both terms would refer to how humans go about communicating our findings and preserving and maintaining the documents and texts that relate to our work. Thus, Digital Humanities means to me the ways in which our work as humanists is affected by the advent of the Digital Age. (Slide 5) These include

1. How we access the documents that we study;

2. How we use computers to help analyse literature and language; and

3. How we present our findings, our scholarship to the world.

In the past we relied upon publishing houses with their editors, compositors, and printers; now we need “humanities computing technicians” not only to help us in the three tasks described above, but to help us understand the “digital world that is unfolding before us.”

That is, it appears that a technical revolution is at hand, where we see many of the functions of the “Print World” being taken over by the functions of the “Digital World”--a revolution as profound as that which the “World of Print” brought to the “Manuscript World”. We are, however, in the infancy of this revolution and no one, I mean NO one, has yet come up with the final or standard answers on how we should do what we do or what tools we should use to do them, or what our results should look like or act like on computer screens. Good new ideas are coming up every day.

One thing, however, seems to be emerging as a principle: new work should be done and presented in components (as opposed to monolithic complexities), that are connectible to other components, and that are extendible. This means that communities of scholars can contribute to central humanistic concerns such as scholarly editions and archives of texts and such as historical communities of discourse, building on each other’s work and sharing access to the same basic electronic representations of foundation documents, which as material objects are scattered in libraries all over the world and inaccessible to most scholars.

In the world of the print book, scholarship had to be completed and polished before it was presented to the world in a static form. If a new version were desired, a new work from scratch to finish was required. In the digital world, scholarly work on a text must be completed and static in smaller units. Obviously we do not want to encourage the dissemination of unproof-read, unverified guesses at conclusions that will have to be corrected and refuted at a later date. But we do see the potential for an electronic scholarly edition to begin with posting a digital image of a significant historical text. Then later adding a verified, correct transcription. Then another image of another text; another transcription. And then the links that show the variants. And then the annotations that explain linguistic, biographical, historical, social references. And there is no end to the valuable things that could be built “digitally and incrementally” on such foundations.

In our embrace of technology, it is worth remembering that a tape recorder, a camera, a photocopy machine, a computer, a data projector will reproduce poor scholarship just as easily as sound scholarship.

And that brings us to a question of standards. How good is good enough? How does one distinguish the exalted desire to be good enough from the base desire to see our own work as better to the work of others. The prophet Ezekiel in an moment of profound insight wrote: The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it? And though it may be that he meant something else by it, for me this passage signals the ease with which we deceive ourselves about our motives and perhaps also about the quality of our work or the lack of quality in someone else's work. May that thought lurk ominously in the back of your mind while you pursue excellence (as the gurus of modern management like to call their pursuit of profits). Here is some nutshell "wisdom" (Slide 6)

Comprehensive Evidence Gathering

Accurate recording and representation of facts

Flexible approaches to the nuances of history and the human condition

Clarity and transparency of aims and methods

Charity extended to different ways of seeing and

Charity denied to inaccurate, incomplete, and murky work

And that, my friends, plays out my play. Thank you

What I would have on the web if I had what I wanted:

A full-scale electronic scholarly edition should allow the user to answer quickly and easily questions about the work that might affect how it is used.

A. The documents

1. What are the important historical documentary forms of this work?

2. Can I choose a specific historical document as my reading text?

3. Can I choose a critically edited form of the work as my reading text?

4. Can I see photographic images of any of these forms of the text?

5. As I read any text can I pause at any time to see what the other forms of the text say or look like at that point? I.e., are the differences mapped and linked?

6. As I read any text can I be alerted to the existence of major variant forms? or all variant forms?

7. Can I alter any given reading text to represent my own emended version of it?

8. Can I read descriptions of the provenance of each document?

9. Can I access the editor’s informed opinion about the relative merits or salient features of each documentary version?

B. The Methodology

10. Can I read the editor’s rationale for choosing a historical text as the basis for an edited version and can I find an explanation of the principles for the editor’s emendations? Are all emendations noted in some way?

11. Is there an account of the composition, revision, and publication of the work?

12. Is there discussion presented for the consequences of choosing one reading text over another?

13. When variants are being shown, is there editorial commentary available about them?

14. Are ancillary documents such as illustrations, contextual works, letters, personal documents, or news items available either in explanatory annotations or in full text form?

15. How was accuracy in transcription assured?

C. The Contexts

16. Are there bibliographies, letters, biographies, and histories relevant to the composition or the subject of this work or guides to the author’s reading?

17. Are there guides to existing interpretive works—from original reviews to recent scholarship and criticism?

18. Are there adaptations in print, film, or other media, abridgments, or censored versions that might be of interest?

D. The Uses

19. Is there a tutorial showing the full capabilities of the electronic edition? A guide for beginners?

20. Are there ways I can do the electronic equivalent of dog-earing, underlining, making marginal notes, cross-referencing, logging quotations for future use? Can I write an essay in the site with links to its parts as full-text documentation and sourcing?

21. What other things can I do with this edition?


[1] I've taken following arguments from a brief talk I gave in Bologna, It., at a seminar on electronic texts. The proceedings are published in Ecdotica, 4 (2007), 191-195.

[2] The arguments here and in particular the phrase, "any text will do but we don't know what it will do" I have appropriated from a talk given by David Greetham, but I don't remember where or when.

[3] Last line thus in Selected Poems, ed. by Earle Birney, but as ``Which is better" in the scholar's edition, The Collected Poetry of Malcolm Lowry, ed. by Kathleen Scherf (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1995), as reported by Brad Leithauser (``Notions of Freedom," 34).

[4] The following arguments were given first in an Interview by Santi Perez Isasi with P Shillingsburg, University of Deusto, Bilbao, Spain, and published in Spanish in the Duesto University magazine.