Update 3/3/12: Video of the talk and intriguing questions from the audience (including Willard McCarty, Jim Mussell and Claire Warwick) is now available:


I’m taking the show on the road. After a stimulating conversation at the Society for Textual Scholarship about redefining the scholarly edition, I’m headed to London to present (February 16, 2012) a seminar on Supple Vocabulary for Digital Scholarly Editions for the London Seminar Series, UCL Digital Humanities Centre. (Details available here.)


In “Googling the Victorians,” Patrick Leary writes that all sorts of digital archives about Victorian literature are springing up, archives that are not peer-reviewed per se but offer an intriguing and sanguine view of the wealth of nineteenth-century materials. Leary concludes his essay by asserting that whatever does not end up in a digital archive, represented as cyber/hypertext will not, in the future, be studied, remembered, valorized and canonized. Though this statement reflects some hysteria about the loss of the print book, it is also revealing in its recognition that digital representations have become common and widespread, regardless of professional standards. Whatever is not on the Web will not be remembered, says Leary. Does this mean that the literary canon will shift to accommodate all of those wild archives and editions? Or, does it mean that those mega projects of canonical authors will survive while the disenfranchised and non-canonical literary materials will fall further into obscurity?

My focus for this seminar will be on working with small scale digital projects, like the Forget Me Not Archive, that try to balance non-canonical women’s authorship with other methodologies, such as textual criticism and bibliography. In order to attract funding, even users, these types of digital projects have to represent the stars of the literary canon. This, in effect, crushes the purposes of the archive — to provide access to an under-represented set of authors.

I began my work in Digital Humanities by accident — I wanted to save these little books, literary annuals, from vituperous nineteenth-century reviewers. And no one was really working on them about 10 years ago. Voila! Instant dissertation, but only after I learned some textual theory, a little digital theory (but very little in those days) and some rudimentary Frontpage using frames. I even had to amass my own collection of these books because no one had an extensive enough collection for me to make large, sweeping historical gestures about their worth and their contents’ contribution to British literary studies. As a result, I started scanning to avoid opening and closing these books, to arrange the data (in hand-coded HTML pages) so I could look at a glance and make connections. Professor David Greetham, my dissertation chair, let me do it – even encouraged me – for one of his seminars. What happened afterwards, as with many of these projects, was that it went public, became a chapter in my dissertation and grew into a project that required server space, a database, metadata, continuity, and more. The project, still live, also continuously asks the question (but does not answer): what is a scholarly edition or even an archive?

The metadata and transcripts of the Forget Me Not Archive have become part of the Poetess Archive, which is primarily a database in TEI not an edition. And it has momentum, funding, server space, a database designer, a NINES executive, a web designer, and a handful of editors and graduate students working on it, including myself. We have not yet figured out how to successfully combine the aesthetics of the Forget Me Not Archive with the rich data in the Poetess Archive. Do we preserve the connections that I have made or do we present raw data to be manipulated into user-generated editions?

Recommended Readings

Readings on Scholarly Editions:

Greetham, David. Textual Scholarship: An Introduction. Garland, 1994.

Greetham, David ed. Scholarly Editing: A Guide to Research. MLA, 1995.

MLA Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions

McGann, Jerome. The Textual Condition. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991.

Tanselle, Thomas. A Rationale of Textual Criticism. Philadelphia: U Penn P, 1992.

Sample Scholarly Editions:

Reimanm Donald H. and Neil Fraistat. Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Vol. 2. Johns Hopkins UP, 2004.

Taylor, Gary. Thomas Middleton: The Collected Works. Oxford UP, 2008.

Wolfson, Susan. Felicia Hemans: Selected Poems, Letters, Reception Materials. Princeton UP, 2001.

Readings on Digital Scholarly Editions:

“Archive.” The Blake Archive.

All articles in Digital Humanities Quarterly 3:3 (Spring 2009).

Buchanan, Sarah. “Accessioning the Digital Humanities: Report from the 1st Archival Education and Research Institute.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 4:1 (Summer 2010).

Ciula, Arianna. “The New Edition of the Letters of Vincent Van Gogh on the Web.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 4:2 (Fall 2010).

Clement, Tanya. “Knowledge Reputation and Digital Scholarly Editions in Theory and Practice.” Journal of the Text Encoding Initiative 1 (June 2011).

Cohen, Dan. “Eliminating the Power Cord,” UVA Shape of Things to Come Symposium.

Greenberg, Josh. “Notes from ‘The Shape of Things to Come.’”

Greetham, David. “Who’s In, Who’s Out: The Cultural Poetics of Archival Exclusion.” The Pleasures of Contamination. Indiana UP, 2010.

Manovich, Lev. “What is Visualization?The Poetess Archive Journal 2:1 (2010)

McGann, Jerome. “From Text to Work: The Emergence of Digital Tools and the Social Text.” Romanticism on the Net 41-42 (February-May 2006).

Nowviskie, Bethany. “COLLEX: Semantic Collections & Exhibits for the Remixable Web.” NINES (Nov 2005). (pdf)

Price, Kenneth. “Collaborative Work and the Conditions for American Literary Scholarship in a Digital Age.” The American Literature Scholar in the Digital Age. Eds. Amy E. Earhart and Andrew Jewell. Ann Arbor: U Michigan P, 2010.

Saklofske, John. “NewRadial: Revisualizing the Blake Archive.” The Poetess Archive 2:1 (2010).

The Shape of Things to Come” Symposium papers, especially Greg Crane, Matt Kirschenbaum and Ray Siemens.

Schreibman, Susan and Ray Siemens, eds. A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008.  (See especially “Electronic Scholarly Editions” by Kenneth Price)

Siemens, Ray, et al. “Drawing Networks in the Devonshire Manuscript: Toward Visualizing a Writing Community’s Shared Apprenticeship, Social Valuation, and Self-Validation.” Digital Studies 1:1 (2009).

Smith, Martha Nell. “The Human Touch Software of the Highest Order: Revisiting Editing as Interpretation.” 2:1 (Spring 2007): 1-15.

—. Introduction. Emily Dickinson’s Correspondences: A Born Digital Textual Inquiry. Rotunda: University of Virginia, 2008.

Smith, Martha Nell and Lara Vetter, “Emily Dickinson Writing a Poem.” The Classroom Electric: Teaching with the Archives.

Timney, Meagan, Cara Leitch, and Ray Siemens. “Opening the Gates: A New Model for Edition Production in a Time of Collaboration.” Electronic Textual Cultures Lab. 2011.

Whalen, Robert. “Enter Tagger: Encoding the Digital Temple.” Digital Studies 1:1 (2009).

Sample Digital Scholarly Editions/Archives :

Emily Dickinson’s Correspondences: A Born-Digital Textual Inquiry

The Shakespeare Quartos Archive

The Walt Whitman Archive

The William Blake Archive

Brown Women’s Writers Project

Forget Me Not Archive

The Poetess Archive

At The Circulating Library: A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837-1901

Dante’s Commedia and Monarchia

Parliament Rolls of Medieval England

New Testament editions being made at Birmingham and Munster: see http://www.iohannes.com/ and http://nttranscripts.uni-muenster.de/AnaServer?NTtranscripts+0+start.anv)

Van Gogh letters (Huygens Institute in the Netherlands)

Fine Rolls Project (Kings College London)

Jane Austen materials

Discovery project: brings together editions of Nietzche, Wittgenstein, and several others.

Codex Sinaiticus

Digital Dos Passos (prototype hypermedia archive around Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy)