Digital editing: students, building, sharing

Lego_Brick

I’ve posted before on an undergraduate digital editing project for my final year English degree students, but Adam Kirsch’s recent summary and critique of digital humanities has prompted some further thoughts about my students’ work and what I’d hoped to help them achieve. I’m not going to presume to add to the solid body of responses to Kirch’s piece (see Mark Sample’s piece), so this is a focused and brief reaction to his depiction of “the application of computer technology to traditional scholarly functions, such as the editing of texts” as ostensibly “minimalist” digital humanities work. Part of the problem in this back-handed compliment is that it devalues what Ryan Cordell’s response rightly characterises as “arguably the longest-standing and most influential thread of digital humanities’ history in literary studies: the preservation, annotation, and representation of historical-literary works for the new medium of our time.”

But more importantly, I don’t think my students would recognise their work as either minimalist or traditional. In this project I ask for volunteers to create an online digital edition of an eighteenth-century text in conjunction with the scholarly digital platform 18thConnect (Mandell, IDHMC, Texas). The project was built out of my belief that digital technology could offer English Literature students a way to demonstrate their critical skills in a more tangible way than in written coursework: to create an artefact that carries them beyond the confines of the hermetic world of student/tutor/institution. Simultaneously, it was a response to what I perceived to be students’ limited knowledge about the nature of the digitized texts they accessed via databases such as EEBO, ECCO, or even Google Books.

Crucial to the project was the ability of students to reflect upon and rationalise the use of digital technology; in effect, their answers to the questions: ‘What is a text in a digital context?’ ‘Why digital?’ and ‘Who is this for’? The interconnectedness of these questions draws upon two definitions of digital humanities easily misread as dichotomous. Stephen Ramsay’s post ‘On Building’ posited that “the move from reading to making” enables a different experience of interpretation and so produce new insights. In this project, for example, encoding their edition in XML / TEI demands – and enables – students to reflect upon the nature and authority of the text in new ways. The ‘why digital’ question also asks students to think about audience: what are the best ways of building digitally to render biographical, literary, or historical meanings? So the students reflect upon, as Mark Sample put it, “the way the digital reshapes the representation, sharing, and discussion of knowledge” (‘The digital humanities is not about building, it’s about sharing’). The project, then, is about how students can explore the intimacy between (contra Kirsch) interpretation and digital creation, building and sharing.

Note, this is a summary of a more expansive talk I gave at the Digital Humanities Congress 2014 in Sheffield, hosted by the HRI and Centernet, and at the ‘Teaching Digital Humanities’ conference at the University of Reading. Here are the slides:

Students, building, sharing – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

“Lego Brick”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lego_Brick.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Lego_Brick.jpg

Imagining the Storm

The Storm by Daniel Defoe cover pageThe Lord hath his way in the Whirlwind, and in the Storm, and the Clouds are the dust of his Feet. (Nahum. 1:3)

Re-reading Defoe’s The Storm and looking out at the sometimes scudding, sometimes lowering clouds over the past month, it has been impossible not to connect the present UK weather with Defoe’s memorial to the hurricane that pummelled northern Europe in 1703. Published in 1704, it is a remarkable combination of eyewitness reports from all over England, folkloric, classical, scientific, and biblical explanations of storms, and Defoe’s own attempt to account for this ‘Dreadful TEMPEST’.[1]

The epigraph, quoted above, is perhaps an unsurprising gloss on a natural disaster for most people living in the early eighteenth century (even the most rational natural or experimental philosopher synthesised to some degree or other their scientific explanations with the divine order of things). And for anyone familiar with Defoe’s novels, it should come as little surprise that storms are the expression of God’s intervention in human life: think about the storms at sea in Robinson Crusoe or Roxana: atmospheric disturbances are a figure for the intimations from heaven. Clouds perform a similar function, they are ‘the dust of his Feet’, manifestations of divine warning and harbingers of God’s approach.

Clouds are also a reflection – albeit an unreliable one – of the wind’s movement. In a remarkable extended conceit that imagines the storm as an army marching to war, Defoe declares ‘I confess, I have never studied the Motion of the Clouds so nicely, as to calculate how much time the Army of Terror might take up in its furious March’ (60). The difficulty to provide a rational explanation for the movement of winds and the function of clouds is underlined when Defoe quotes natural philosopher Ralph Bohun:

‘The Winds,’ says the Learned Mr. Bohun, ‘are generated in the Intermediate Space between the Earth and the Clouds, either by Rarefaction or Repletion, and sometimes haply by pressure of Clouds, Elastical Virtue of the Air, &c. from the Earth or Seas, as by Submarine or Subterraneal Eruption or Descension or Resilition from the middle Region.’

All this, though no Man is more capable of the Enquiry than this Gentleman, yet to the Demonstration of the thing, amounts to no more than what we had before, and still leaves it as Abstruse and Cloudy to our Understanding as ever. (8-9)

Despite the clunky pun at Bohun’s expense, Defoe forcefully emphasises the gap left by the failure of human understanding about the weather, quoting John (3:8): ‘The Wind blows where it listeth, and thou hearest the Sound thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh’ (10).

Storm clouds (7462161170)Into this gap pours our fancy and our humours, both so easily swayed by the clouds within and without. The parallel between figurative and literal clouds are an image for that traditional association, already strong by the eighteenth century, between English weather and a national disposition to melancholy. Inserted strangely alongside the factual accounts of the storm is a pastoral poem in the style of Virgil fitted to the subject of the hurricane, ostensibly sent in by an ‘ingenious Author’ (41). Damon asks his friend, ‘the melancholy Shepherd’ Melibæus, ‘what Cloud dares overcast  your brow … ?’ (42). The author – whom I strongly suspect to be Defoe himself – exploits the gap between the pastoral form and the ‘havoc’ (43) of the weather to emphasise the serious affliction and corresponding duty facing the English nation.

As nature writer Richard Mabey sets out in Turned out Nice Again: On Living With the Weather (2013), there is an indissoluble link between our subjective experience of the weather and those macro-events that we call climate. Defoe’s account of the great storm, looking back over accounts of weather from classical discussions, events from the seventeenth-century, as well as the more immediate reports of his correspondents, moves between several different levels of time: human history; typological time, in which events are suffused with Biblical resonance; the recent and immediate period of English history; and the subjective and affective moment. The difficulty facing Defoe is how to negotiate and balance all these levels in order to, as he says, ‘bring the Story into a Compass tolerable to the Reader’ (270). The remarkable thing is to see how effectively The Storm succeeds.


[1] Daniel Defoe, The Storm: Or, A Collection of the Most Remarkable Casualties and Disasters Which Happen’d in the Late Dreadful Tempest, Both by Sea and Land (London, 1704), page references to this edition.

Fun with Google’s N-Gram Viewer for my C18th students

Just the other day I was preparing to teach Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey (1768). Usually, I ask students to try to historicise the meanings of the word ‘sentimental’, in effect placing it within the broader culture of sensibility. This year, wondering how I might emphasise how new and even fashionable the word sentimental became in the latter half of the century, I thought of Google’s N-Gram Viewer. I’d seen this in action in relation to the eighteenth-century on the Persistent Enlightenment blog. So  I thought I’d give it a go:

ngramsentimental

There’s a gratfyingly significant rise from around the 1750s (and a small dip around the 1790s when sentimentalism was perceived in Britain to be associated with the radical levelling tendencies of the French Revolution). Of course this does not give us insight into the meanings of the word, but Google also offers links to the word’s place in the source material so that I hope my students can look at the word in context. It’s also useful when used in context with title searches on ESTC.

On another note, and since my students also engage with eighteenth-century contextual material from ECCO, I’ve often warned that the practice of capitalising certain words did not necessarily indicate particular significance, and that this was more often a printer’s convention for certain nouns that gradually died away towards the end of the century. The N-Gram Viewer is case-sensitive, so to search for different cases I clicked ‘case-insensitive’ and searched for ‘virtue’ between 1700 and 1799:

ngramvirtue

It’s great to see that cross-over so clearly. Clearly, the idea of virtue wasn’t going out of fashion, but the fashion for capitalising it was.

Smock Races, Ageing Players and Lovely Libraries

More fine comment on BSECS 2014 from Conrad Brunstrom.

conradbrunstrom

Highlights of Day 2 of BSECS 2014….

I missed a lot of course – missed any number of alternative sessions and alternative panels – but I don’t know if I’d want to exchange what I did get yesterday.

The day began with Victoria Joule reminding us all to re-read The New Atalantis and to reimagine the relationship between politics and pleasure, and to reconsider the nature of women’s political engagement in terms other than some derogatory notion of “scandal”.  Peter Radford reminded us of wonderful things that we won’t soon forget – the elite women athletes of the eighteenth century.  Most professional runners were women.  In 1768,  in long anticipation of the Billie Jean King versus Bobbie Riggs tennis battle of the sexes, Mme Bunel beat Mr Tomkins.  Twice.  And Carolyn Williams then spoke eloquently about cards, and those “diversions” that sexist discourse has always sought to stygmatise.

Other highlights…

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Austerity, Beer Ballads, and Sexy Fruit

conradbrunstrom

A quick round up of some of the highlights of Day One of BSECS 2014…

This is not definitive – this is just my list, based on my own peculiar road map through the event.

This conference, like one more than a decade ago, was marked by floods.  Inundations.  As I ran around Didcot Parkway station yesterday it occurred to me that perhaps I loved this conference too much.  Perhaps there was something a little idolatrous about my love of BSECS and God as made wroth and had opened the heavens in order to take it from me.

Then a voice divine the storm allayed, a light propitious shone and a train was found to crawl, inch by inch along a narrow embankment in the middle of what had become a large lake – bubbling and eddying on either side of us.  Oxford had a moat, and our bridge looked…

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Using ECCO in the Undergraduate Classroom: Reviewing Gale Cengage’s Trial Access

More excellent remarks by Anna Battigelli on using ECCO at undergraduate level!

Early Modern Online Bibliography

Gale Cengage gave SUNY schools a great opportunity this semester by offering free trial access to ECCO, Burney, and NCCO.  I, for one, learned a lot from working with undergraduates in my Gothic Novels course as they searched ECCO for relevant material for their final research papers.  Those papers were mixed, with some outstanding essays and some less successful attempts.  I  summarize my experience below:

  • ECCO must be part of a strong digital collection in order to be fully usefuL.  Spotty digital holdings make using ECCO difficult.  For instance, without a subscription to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, new users find it difficult both to identify the author of a lesser known work and to assess that work’s historical or literary significance.
  • Using ECCO requires both competency with secondary sources and access to those sources.  Though some students used many secondary sources, even ordering books on interlibrary loan…

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Defoe, Google, cities and Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Re-reading Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, I was struck by a passage that reminded me of some the issues that came up recently when teaching Daniel Defoe’s A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain on our MA in Literature, Landscape and Environment. It was, to say the least, a surprising association between “a novel about books and technology, cryptography and conspiracy, friendship and love” and a description of eighteenth-century London. But here’s the passage from Sloan’s novel in which Neel Shah (CEO of a niche software company) and Kat Potente (west-coast evangelistic Google data-visualizer) are contemplating a New York sidewalk:

“It’s so small but there are so many people,” she says, watching the human flow. “They’re … it’s like fish. Or birds or ants, I don’t know. Some superorganism.” …

Neel nods knowingly. “The suburban mind cannot comprehend the emergent complexity of a New York sidewalk.”

“I don’t know about that,” Kay says, narrowing her eyes. “I’m pretty good with complexity.”

“See, I know what you’re thinking,” Neel says, shaking his head. “You’re thinking it’s just an agent-based simulation, and everybody out there follows a pretty simple set of rules” – Kat is nodding – “and if you can figure out those rules. You can model it. You can simulate the street, then the neighbourhood, then the whole city. Right?”

“Exactly. I mean, sure, I don’t know what the rules are yet, but I could experiment and figure them out, and then it would be trivial – “

“Wrong.”[1]

Neel believes that no computer of Google’s could ever be big enough to analyse the city’s complex and organic interactions. The allusions are rich, the most obvious of which is to the Simcity and The Sims franchises. But Sloan makes a Google employee extol the possibilities of designing an algorithm for a city of people; a fact that brings to mind Google’s efforts to map and photograph the world in its entirety. Indeed, in a previous passage, Kat has used Google Street View to locate a secret library in New York. Both platforms have a set of related aims: to comprehend and model a complex ecology. But there’s a gentle irony in this scene that it is Neel who is sceptical about such modelling. It’s a question of scale, and – as any student of satire will know – comparing the ostensibly small with the apparently epic produces some interesting ironic effects. Neel’s company designs the software to enable 3D digital simulations of female breasts, and the irony of a dubious industry in simulating a relatively small part of the female anatomy critiquing the gargantuan designs of Google Earth cuts both ways. However, it is Neel that has the last word – the city cannot be modelled or contained – so Sloan seems to be directing the irony primarily at Kat’s, or Google’s, totalizing hubris.

Now on the MA in Literature, Landscape and Environment, we were paying close attention to the modes through which eighteenth-century authors represent landscapes of various kinds, and at this point comparing Pope and Defoe’s attitudes to the city of London.  So here’s the section from Defoe’s Tour in which he grapples with the size and complexity of early eighteenth-century London:

This great Work is infinitely difficult in its Particulars, though not in itself; not that the City is so difficult to be described, but to do it in the narrow Compass of a Letter, which we see so fully takes up Two large Volumes in Folio, and which, yet, if I may venture to give an Opinion of it, is done but by Halves neither.[2]

Defoe, like Neel, acknowledges the limitations of contemporary technology: the attempt encompass London within a letter, when even John Strype’s 1720 multi-volume folio edition of Stow’s Survey is ‘done by halves’, may come at the cost of the complex ‘Particulars’ of the city. Defoe goes on to say that perhaps the City itself may indeed ‘be viewed in a small Compass’ (2:95). However, the attempt to contain and represent London as a whole is thwarted by its uncontrolled and complexly organic evolution:

It is the Disaster of London, as to the Beauty of its Figure, that it is thus stretched out in Buildings, just at the Pleasure of every Builder, or Undertaker of Buildings, and as the Convenience of the People directs, whether for Trade or otherwise; and this has spread the Face of it in a most straggling, confused Manner, out of all Shape, uncompact, and unequal. (2:95)

In response, Defoe circumscribes this vital London by drawing a ‘A LINE of Measurement’ (2:98), effectively creating a static model of London – a simulation, if you like – in order for it to be properly analysed.

There is a neat parallel between Defoe’s and Kat Potente’s – and Google’s – attempts to model the complex ecology of cities. Both of these scenarios speak to the desire to be, in the words of Michel de Certeau, ‘the solar eye’, the voyeur elevated above a city laid before them. Such a perspective ‘makes the complexity of the city readable, and immobilizes its opaque mobility in a transparent text’ and creates, he argues, a ‘panorama-city … a “theoretical” (that is, visual) simulacrum.’[3] It is a desire to overwrite the messy real city with a fictive version of the city.

Yet complicating such a desire, Defoe and (with the caveat of irony) Neel Shah are both also fascinated by what de Certeau calls the forces of ‘human agglomeration and accumulation.’ Partly out of frustration, but partly out of admiration, Defoe asks ‘Whither will this monstrous City then extend? and where must a Circumvallation or Communication Line of it be placed?’ (2:97). When Kat mentions Google’s ‘The Big Box’ (a fictitious project of huge interlocking modular servers, and perhaps Sloan’s dig at Google’s search box[4]), Neel responds, “It’s not big enough. This box” – Neel stretches out his hands, encompasses the sidewalk, the park, the streets beyond – “is bigger.” (128). For Neel and Defoe, the city is always poised to burst beyond the confines of book or search box.


[1] Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (London: Atlantic, 2013), pp. 127-28.

[2] Daniel Defoe, A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain, 3 vols (London, [1724-25]), 2:94. Further references in brackets after quotations.

[3] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), pp. 92-93.

[4] Google increased the size of its search box in 2009.

Digital editing with undergraduates: some reflections

Digital Editing Project outline and Digital editions criteria

[Added 2015]

In 2012 I started supervising an English undergraduate dissertation: this was a online digital edition and it was my first experience of supervising a student’s digital project. What follows is a joint blog post of two parts – one from me and the other from Jess MacCarthy (the student) – that reflects upon our experiences. You can see the final online edition here:

pillory banner

 

Thoughts from the me, the supervisor

A couple of years ago, I decided to learn a little more about the back-end end of digitized primary resources. I attended a boot-camp into the why and how of encoding, using XML encoding and the protocols of the TEI, at the Digital Humanities Summer School at Oxford University. Just over a year ago (late Spring 2012) I decided that the best way to learn is to teach. Simultaneously, I wanted to conduct a trial on producing a digital edition of a Defoe text that used up-to-date protocols of digital editing as well as the open-access ethos of the great majority of current digitization projects. So I asked our 3rd year English undergraduates whether anybody would be willing to do this for their dissertation project. Luckily, I had a volunteer, Jessica McCarthy.

I left it up to Jess to decide which Defoe texts she would like to work on: like any large-scale project, sustaining enthusiasm is essential. But it also meant that Jess would find a lot out for herself about Defoe’s writings. However, an important factor was that I was not expecting Jess to spend time transcribing the text and so we had to source a reliable electronic copy in plain text. This would give Jess the freedom to decide how she wanted to encode it and how it would be presented online. However, it also occurred to me that the question of a ‘reliable’ electronic copy in plain text was an interesting issue of discussion in itself: what different kinds of texts and what kind of reliability are offered by, for example, Project Gutenberg, Google Books, Jack Lynch’s Eighteenth-Century Resources, or Romantic Circles? Examples that directly raised other questions were close by: at Bath Spa University we are lucky enough to have access to the large-scale digital resources of EEBO and ECCO. Texts accessed via these different resources come in various forms: digital facsimiles, plain text transcriptions from post-1800 print editions, hyperlinked and encoded texts, or a combination of plain text and facsimile texts. So this first stage of the project actually involved a deeper understanding of the nature of existing electronic resources, databases and archives, and would more effectively immerse Jess in important questions concerning the format, usability and access to historical literary texts. How are issues of access related to the kind of texts one was accessing? What does the format of these texts have to say about how they can be used and who are using them? What processes are involved with the type of text available on these resources? What is a ‘text’ in a digital context anyway?

Such questions are important, first, because undergraduate students do not often understand why different online resources look and feel the way they do. So I try to make explicit to students the differences between a facsimile, an edition, and an encoded text and the significance of those differences for how the text is to be used and for whom. The facsimile usually presents no problem to understand; although, for example in the case of ECCO, the relation between the image and the text (unseen and what one actually searches) is not fully grasped by many undergraduates, which provokes some interesting discussion. Second, this contextual understanding is essential for students to decide what kind of edition they are going to create. In this I ask students to consider their readership or, as Dan Cohen put it in ‘The Social Contract of Scholarly Publishing’, the ‘demand side’ of  Cohen argued that the print model has built-in assumptions about value and audience: ‘The book and article have an abundance of these value triggers from generations of use, but we are just beginning to understand equivalent value triggers online.’ Jess, for her own project – as you can see – decided to provide two editions to appeal to a variety of readerships: one an online edition with hyperlinked notes and a textual commentary; the other an encoding of that text. (In this, we looked to an edition on Romantic Circles as our model).

So, back to an earlier stage of decision-making. If we were after plain text copies of eighteenth-century editions, and not texts that were edited at some point later, that left two options for sources: the Oxford Text Archive and 18thConnect. There are currently 728 texts attributed to Defoe available via 18thConnect and 121 via OTA. Despite the ease with which one can download texts in a variety of file formats from OTA, I deliberately steered Jess towards 18thConnect because of its use of TypeWright. This software enables users to correct a number of individual 18c texts released to 18thConnect by ECCO (as frequent users of ECCO will know, the text that users are able to search is a rather mangled version, the product of now dated OCR software trying to decipher 18c typography via microfilm).

TypeWright

I may well continue to use this, since the advantage for any student is not only the knowledge gained about the workings and limitations of large-scale digital resources like ECCO that might be normally taken for granted, but also the added perspective gained on the processes of transformation from material document to electronic text.

Why encode and why TEI/XML?

Most databases allow one to perform searches based on a variety of categories (author, place of publication, title, date etc) because the texts have been ordered and sorted according to these categories. One can perform ‘all text’ searches. But I struggled, at first, to explain the limitations of this kind of markup to my students. So I’ll give you a similar kind of example I gave to Jess in relation to ECCO. Let’s imagine I’m searching some works by Defoe and I want to find references to High Church clergyman Henry Sacheverell (bap. 1674, d. 1724). Unsurprisingly there are quite a few, but it misses a number of important Defoe poems. Now I happen to know Sacheverell is mentioned in More Reformation and in The Double Welcome but ECCO didn’t find these. Why? Because in The Double Welcome his name is spelt ‘Sachevrel’, and in More Reformation it is ‘Sachavrell’. We could of course put in alternative spellings or use fuzzy searching. But this wouldn’t find more oblique references such as the one in Hymn to the Pillory where his name is pseudo-anonymously presented as ‘S———ll’. A machine does not know this is Henry Sacheverell. Similarly, it would not correctly identify this if Defoe had ever called him ‘Henry’ or ‘old Sacha,’ or something more figurative like ‘the Devil in a pulpit’ that we human readers would be able to interpret. More importantly, what if we didn’t know how Defoe alluded to Sacheverell at all?

A machine searches for strings of symbols and cannot recognise that one string of symbols represents another different string of symbols unless we tell it that each of those particular combination of symbols represent the same named entity. As Lou Bernard put it “only that which is explicit can be digitally processed,” or to put it another way encoding is to “make explicit (for a machine) what is implicit (to a person)”.

For me, then, the project has enabled me to reflect upon strategies for teaching digital technology and identifying – or beginning to – what issues are essential to introduce to students: the how and why of digital editing.

Jess McCarthy’s perspective: decentering authority?

I’m going to be going on a slightly different track; I’ll be talking about how in some ways my edition decentres some of the authority of a traditional printed edition of a text.

It wasn’t until I’d starting researching my reflective essay that I realised that my edition achieves this, to an extent, through my encoding of variants in the XML version. Most modern scholarly editions of texts work on the basis of editorial interpretation and intervention in creating a definitive edition which most closely presents the editor’s understanding of the author’s intentions. These editions are usually created through extensive use of textual apparatus, such as tables of variants and considered reasoning supporting the inclusion of one variant and the exclusion of another. Digital methods of presenting texts have brought into sharper focus how this approach to assembling an edition is based largely on limitations of its publication media. Marilyn Deegan and Kathryn Sutherland pointed out that,

for some the new technology has prompted the recognition of the prescriptive reasoning behind such editions as no more than a function of the technological limits of the book, less desirable and less persuasive now that the computer makes other possibilities available; namely, multiple distinct textual witnesses assembled in a virtual archive or library of forms. [1]

I aimed to achieve a presentation of multiple textual witnesses in my own edition by encoding variant readings into my XML document. This made it possible to present the different states of the text without privileging one state over another. This approach questions the idea of an ideal or more representative version of the text by presenting each state as equally valid and as existing simultaneously. Although I was able to present variants within my encoding without making any claims as to which witness was more authoritative, this was only really achievable within the encoded document. For example:

<l n=”19″>The undistinguish’d Fury of the Street,</l>
<l n=”20″><app>
<rdg wit=”#Q2″>With</rdg>
<rdg wit=”#Q1″>which</rdg>
</app> Mob and Malice Mankind Greet:</l>

To present the text on the website I had to choose a copy text based on what I considered to be the most complete representation of Daniel Defoe’s intentions in A Hymn to the Pillory. I based my edition of the text on the second edition, corrected with additions. This decision was reached early in the project and it was based on the logic that this was the earliest edition available that presented a fuller version of the text. Given the common editorial practice of selecting either the first available edition or the last edition known to have been produced by the author, I would reconsider my choice of copy text were I to start again. However, despite being an unorthodox approach to a copy text, contemporary editions of A Hymn to the Pillory based on the first edition include the later additions found in the second edition, and given that variants between the two texts have been included, I don’t think that my earlier decision undermines the authority of the text presented in a significantly damaging way.

This concern might seem to conflict with my encoding of variants. There I have deliberately not identified a lemma and chosen instead to present multiple, simultaneous witnesses that destabilise the assumption that there are readings that are more valid. This approach works well if you are concerned with textual criticism or data mining to create distant readings of texts. However, I wanted my edition to be as useful as possible to the widest possible audience, so the traditional concern of the humanities with close readings and interpretation had to be considered, and which depend on a stable text to interpret. Marilyn Deegan and Kathryn Sutherland acknowledge this, pointing out that ‘the editor’s exercise of proper expertise may be more liberating for more readers than seemingly total freedom of choice.’[2] Although digital technologies are highlighting how text can be treated differently in electronic formats, the primary concern for most readers of literature is still in interpreting the meaning of the text (rather than how it was composed or its variant states); and to interpret the meaning rather than the textual history, a stable edition needs to be presented.

I wanted to support the authority of my edition as a serious scholarly work so I included all of the textual apparatus that you would expect to find in a scholarly print edition. C. M. Sperberg-McQueen argues that ‘electronic editions without apparatus, without documentation of editorial principles, and without decent provisions for suitable display are unacceptable for serious scholarly work.’[3] While this doesn’t necessarily mean that apparatus for digital editions has to work in the same way or with the same concerns as print editions, it situates intellectual integrity as remaining a key concern for supporting the authority of an online edition.

I used hyperlinks as a way to discretely point to textual annotations from A Hymn to the Pillory and also in order to direct readers to further online points of interest, either from the annotations themselves, or from further reading. Phillip Doss argues that ‘by allowing escape from the context of a single documentary sequence, hypertext allows a reader to escape the linearity imposed by print media.’[4] There are positive and negative implications to the use of hypertext links that I tried to consider within my edition. An obvious limitation of using hypertext is exactly that it allows readers to escape the linearity of the text. On the other hand, by using hyperlinks I have been able to provide easy access to extra-textual material that would not be possible to include in a print edition. For instance, where I have been able to find them, I have included works by people that are mentioned in A Hymn to the Pillory. This has meant that intertextual relationships can be explicitly explored, rather than simply acknowledged. In this way the text is shown to be the product of many various influences in a way that is more difficult to achieve using physical means of publication and although the text is still the main focus of the edition it is presented less in isolation.

Lisa Spiro’s essay ‘“This Is Why We Fight”: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities’ argues that ‘for the Digital Humanities, information is not a commodity to be controlled but a social good to be shared and reused.’ This is very much an attitude that I adopted in my approach to this project. My website is open access, making it freely available to anyone who wants to use the information presented. However, although this project is not formally associated with Bath Spa University, as an undergraduate studying there I had the privilege of institutional access to specialist resources that I would not have been able to use to support my research otherwise. Access to services such as the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) allowed me to work using facsimiles of the copy text and research biographical annotation with confidence in the reliability and authority of my sources. I chose to hyperlink these sites where I have relied on them for my research to maintain the integrity of my sources. Although this means that some users may not be able to access the sites at the end of the hyperlinks I believe that being able to present information based on what these resources provide goes a small way to democratising the information that they contain. Working with the knowledge that not all users will be able to reference my sources, I tried to make my annotations as comprehensive as possible while still maintaining a focus to how they are relevant to the text.

At its core this project has an engaged interest in making specialist information freely available in the most useful, reliable form possible. It has supported ongoing work to make other scholarly resources more reliable by using 18thConnect’s TypeWright and hopes to engage with the widest possible audience by providing not only what is traditionally expected from an authoritative edition of a text but also by incorporating the formats that digital encoding supports for more specialist pursuits and longevity.


[1] Marilyn Deegan and Kathryn Sutherland, Transferred Illusions: Digital Technology and the Forms of Print (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), p.87.

[2] Transferred Illusions, p.71.

[3] C. M. Sperberg-McQueen, ‘Textual Criticism and the Text Encoding Initiative’, The Literary Text in the Digital Age, ed. Richard J. Finneran (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1999), p.41.

[4] Phillip E. Doss, ‘Traditional Theory and Innovative Practice: The Electronic Editor as Poststructuralist Reader’, The Literary Text in the Digital Age, p.218.

Teaching with ECCO

A fantastically informed and informative post on using ECCO in eighteenth-century teaching, with a really useful set of follow-up comments.

Early Modern Online Bibliography

As posted yesterday, Gale Cengage is providing SUNY colleges with trial access to ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) and NCCO (Nineteenth Century Collections Online) this fall. Gale Cengage is also sponsoring
essay contests for SUNY students using these tools. This is a great opportunity to test these products, to think about how best to teach with them, and to evaluate students’ responses to them. So how best to introduce these resources?

Thinking about my undergraduate Gothic Novel class this fall, I decided that short videos would be the most effective way to introduce students unfamiliar with eighteenth-century texts to ECCO. I prepared three brief videos (below). I would love to hear how others introduce students to these tools.

There are a number of other videos on using ECCO. Below are a few from Virginia Tech:

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Defoe and Descartes’ beast-machine: a brief bibliography

HoundRecently, I became rather obsessed with two small pieces in Defoe’s Review of March 27th, 1705 and the ‘Supplement of January 1705’ (published after March). They debate the extent to which dogs can reason. Researching the contexts for this involved a deep dive into the complex history of the debate about reasoning animals, the animal soul, and Descartes’ ‘beast-machine’ as outlined in his Discourse on Method. The debate spun across religious, philosophical, classical, literary, journalistic and scientific writings for over a century after. But I particularly needed to map out the writings published in the years immediately before Defoe’s 1705 piece.[1] The results revealed a gratifying surge in the English debate from around 1690. Below I’ve listed these, in chronological order, with some very brief notes to indicate their position. In addition, Charles Morton – Defoe attended Morton’s Newington Green Dissenting Academy – clearly engaged in the debate in his own teaching, in a section entitled ‘Appendix of the Soules of Brutes’ in his MS dissertation ‘Pneumaticks: Or the Doctrine of Spirits’ (Morton is skeptical about the beast-machine).

T. Lucretius Carus the Epicurean philospher his six books De natura rerum done into English verse, with notes. Trans., Thomas Creech. Oxford: printed by L. Lichfield for Anthony Stephens, 1682. It had reached a fifth edition by 1700. (Creech’s notes acknowledge the possibility of animal rationality but not the logical consequence of the immortality of an animal soul).

Essays of Michael, Seigneur de Montaigne in Three Books. Trans., Charles Cotton. London, 1685. This had reached a third edition by 1700. (This is positive about animal rationality and willing to concede significant likenesses between human and animals).

Plutarch’s morals translated from the Greek by several hands. London: printed for T. Sawbridge, M. Gilliflower, R. Bently [and seven others], 1691; vol 5. Translations of the Moralia appeared from the 1680s, but only volume 5 included the two tales that debate animal rationality: ‘Which are more Crafty’ and ‘That Brute Beasts make use of Reason’. New editions in 1694 and 1704. (These two tales are sympathetic to animal reasoning).

John Ray, The wisdom of God manifested in the works of the creation being the substance of some common places delivered in the chappel of Trinity-College, in Cambridge. London: printed for Samuel Smith, 1691. Numerous expanded editions, including a fourth in 1704. (Strongly anti-Cartesian).

Gabriel Daniel, A voyage to the world of Cartesius written originally in French, and now translated into English. London: printed and sold by Thomas Bennet, 1692. (Satire on Cartesianism).

John Dunton, The Young-students-library containing extracts and abridgments of the most valuable books printed in England, and in the forreign journals, from the year sixty five, to this time … by the Athenian Society. London: printed for John Dunton, 1692. This contains That Beasts are meer Machines, divided into two Dissertations: At Amsterdam by J. Darmanson. (Anti-Cartesian).

Athenian Gazette, Feb 11, 1693. Reprinted in The Athenian oracle: being an entire collection of all the valuable questions and answers in the old Athenian mercuries. … By a member of the Athenian Society. London: printed for Andrew Bell, 1703-04. Vol. 1:504-507. (Goes over both sides of beast-machine debate).

Antoine Le Grande, An entire body of philosophy according to the principles of the famous Renate Des Cartes in three books, (I) the institution … (II) the history of nature … (III) a dissertation of the want of sense and knowledge in brute animals. Trans. Richard Blome. London, 1694. (Important dissemination of Descartes’s ideas in English).

‘The Turtle, or an Elegy, by Clarissa’, in, Gentleman’s Journal, or the Monthly Miscellany, III (August, 1694), 222.

Malebranch’s Search after truth. London: printed for J. Dunton, 1694-95. Trans. R. Sault. (Cartesian).[2]

John Norris, An essay towards the theory of the ideal or intelligible world.  Part II. London: printed for S. Manship and W. Hawes [1701]. Vol. 2, the chapter entitled ‘A Digression concerning the Souls of Brutes, whether they have any Thought or Sensation in them or no?’ (Certainly perceived as Cartesian, but allows for some doubt about the absolute difference between human and animals). [3]

William Coward, Second thoughts concerning human soul. London: printed for R. Basset, 1702. (Argues that body and soul are one entity and so for the parity of human and animal soul).[4]

John Toland, Letters to Serena. London: printed for Bernard Lintot [1704]. (Mechanistic debate about motion that implies similarity between animal and human matter).

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The image is a detail from ‘The Refreshment’, 1818. Courtesy Mills Library, McMaster University, and from the files of the McMaster journal Eighteenth-Century Fiction. http://eighteenthcenturyfiction.tumblr.com/

[1] I was aided by Erica Fudge’s Brutal Reasoning. Animals, Rationality, and Humanity in Early Modern England. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2006, Keith Thomas’s magisterial Man and the Natural World, 1500-1800 (1983), and Wallace Shugg’s earlier ‘The Cartesian Beast-Machine in English Literature (1663-1750)’ (Journal of the History of Ideas, 29: 2 (1968)). I was able to refine some of this research and find additional material via searches on ECCO, EEBO and the ESTC.

[2] Clearly, Dunton was deeply interested in disseminating all sides of the animal-machine debate coming from continental Europe.

[3] John Locke, letter, 21 March 1703-4. The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, (London: Rivington, 1824 12th ed.). Vol. 9. http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1726&layout=html

“Men of Mr. Norris’s way seem to me to decree, rather than to argue. They, against all evidence of sense and reason, decree brutes to be machines, only because their hypothesis requires it; and then with a like authority, suppose, as you rightly observe, what they should prove: viz. that whatsoever thinks, is immaterial.”

[4] Norris and Coward are particularly interesting because they are name-checked in Defoe’s The Consolidator: Or, Memoirs of Sundry Transactions From the World in the Moon, also published in 1705.