Digital Editing: Quartos and manuscripts

March 16, 2010

A second Works in Progress session on current digital research was held on 2 March, with Giles Bergel in the chair. Pip Willcox introduced the Shakespeare Quartos Archive, which was launched on 16 November 2009. The site currently offers digitized images of 32 copies of the first five editions of Hamlet. The accompanying software makes it possible to see at a glance the differences between the texts of different editions, and variants and annotations in different copies. A feature for removing opacity, developed by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, makes it possible to superimpose one copy on another, in a form of online collation which raises exciting possibilities for the future.

Colin Burrow discussed Scriptorium: Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts Online, which provides digitized images of a selection of early modern manuscripts, together with scholarly essays on the history and contents of each manuscript and a remarkable online course on palaeography. His presentation brought out the heterogeneity of so many manuscripts of the period, ranging from scholarly library catalogues to medical remedies and warnings against laziness.

Miscellaneity was raised by Paddy Bullard in a discussion of some general questions about the future of digital editing, based on his experience of working for the Journal to Stella website, part of the forthcoming Cambridge edition of Swift’s works. Recent textual theory, reacting against author-centred approaches, has been pushing to make archives as comprehensive as possible, but in the process has weakened any overarching structure to facilitate navigation. In looking at ways of reconciling these approaches, Dr Bullard proposed the genre of the printed miscellany as a useful model for electronic editions. The ensuing discussion touched on the larger issues of structure and purpose as well as the practicalities of funding and technique and ways of measuring ‘impact’ (basic point: please use the feedback buttons provided!).  And in the dash to digitization, are libraries forgetting where they have put their microfilms?

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