The “Edition”

Oxford Scholarly Editions Online.
Electronic editions allow us to explore texts in new ways. The OSEO is only one example of how technology can re-animate scholarly work.

Kenneth Price, author of the article “Electronic Scholarly Editions”, states that with new developments in electronic editing we may have to ability to view all versions, or editions, of certain texts side by side (Price, 2012). This would allow scholars to compare and contrast the various editions of a particular text and essentially to engage closer with the text itself.

As a student studying Medieval to Renaissance literature the many editions available of Sir Gowther, a moderately short, anonymous Middle English romance, caught my attention. Often cited as an adaptation of the late twelfth century French poem Robert the Devil, Robert le Diable, it tells the story of the life of Sir Gowther from birth to death.

The tale of Sir Gowther can be found in two manuscripts dating from the late-fifteenth century; that of the British Library Royal MS 17.B.43 and also the National Library of Scotland MS Advocates 19.3.1. The romance in both manuscripts is composed of twelve-line, tale rhyme stanzas; however both versions of Sir Gowther differ from one another slightly (Laskaya and Salisbury, 1995).

The British Library Royal manuscript, which scholars highlight was perhaps intended for a more sophisticated and refined audience, excludes the passage where the hero Sir Gowther, prior to his conversion from a barbaric individual to a saint-like figure, commits a repugnant crime where he, along with his comrades, sexually assaults and loots a nun’s convent and subsequently burns the convent to the ground. Laskaya and Salisbury note that the manuscript found in the National Library of Scotland is told in “a more vigorous and decidedly more explicit manner” (Laskaya and Salisbury, 1995).

The two manuscripts of Sir Gowther are not the only editions available of the text however, but rather because it is a Middle English romance it has been subject to numerous translations and interpretations. One such translation to modern English by English Professor George W. Tuma from San Francisco State University and independent scholar Dinah Hazell is available to read online.

XML or extensible markup language, the acid-free paper of the digital age, allows editors to determine which part of the text is important or of major interest by tagging or labelling the specific area of interest of a text with something known as a markup. Not only can editors mark the structural features of the manuscript, for example where there are line breaks and stanzas, but they can include extra information about the society of the time and their culture and, if known, the author (Price, 2012).

By creating an electronic edition of each version of the tale of Sir Gowther scholars would be able to mark up where the differences in both manuscripts lie. They would have the ability to include information about the people and culture of the late-fifteenth century and perhaps suggest why the manuscripts differ slightly in their re-telling of the tale.

By creating an electronic edition of each version of the text hyperreadng, defined by James Sosnoski as “reader-directed, screen-based, computer-assisted reading”, can take place (Sosnoski,1999). While Sosnoski criticises hyperreading for distancing the reader from the text, I, like Katherine Hayles, believe that hyperreading allows us to understand a text more in-depth by giving us the ability to focus on specific terms, keywords and areas of the text that are of relevance to a specific individual’s research. This is particularly useful when various editions of a text are available. One has the ability to search for the key areas of the text that differ slightly without having to repeatedly re-read the text closely as a whole just by filtering a specific word or phrase.


Laskaya, A. Salisbury, E. The Middle English Breton Lays. University of Rochester Archive. Medieval Institute Publications. 1995. Web. 19 December 2012.

Price, K. “Electronic Scholarly Editions”. A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Blackwell DTD, 2012. Web. 20 Jan. 2013.

Sosnoski, J. J. “Hyperreaders and Their Reading Engines”, Passions, Politics and 21st Century Technologies. 1999: 161-177. Web. 24 January 2013.

Digital Resources

How we research now!!!

In an open-ended survey and subsequent virtual panel discussion Gibbs and Owen, authors of Building Better Digital Humanities Tools, posed questions to historians asking how digital resources have altered the ways in which they conduct their research. The historians who took part highlighted that ease of access, due to the extensive range of information available in the many databases on the web, has meant that their research can be conducted much quicker compared to ten or twenty years ago when various trips to the library had to be made. The historians also reported that search engines such as Google and other resources such as Google Books allow them to find key terms and distinctive quotations relevant to their research that they would otherwise spend days, if not weeks, manually searching for in the past (Gibbs and Owen,2012).

Leary, author of the article “Googling the Victorians”, suggests that for years scholarly discoveries had consisted of manuscripts that had previously gone unnoticed turning up in somebody’s attic or in the drawer of an old desk. The adventures undertaken by today’s scholars however, he states, are more likely to occur in front of a computer screen. There has been a profound shift in our relationship with texts in that our relationship with these texts is now “mediated by digital technology”. Like the historians surveyed by Gibbs and Owen, Victorianists are also utilising digital resources such as Google and Google Books in order to find key terms or to locate various characters in unbelievably vast amounts of text (Leary, 2005).

Google Books, launched in 2004, has scanned and archived approximately twelve million books encompassing many fields of research including history, literature and philosophy. Scholars have stated that digital humanities has and will continue to benefit from this digital resource as humanities researchers and computer scientists over the past few years have combined forces, allowing researchers to ask and answer questions that ten years ago would have been deemed inconceivable (Swift, 2010).

However, although there has been major investment in digital humanities tools in the past few years in order to move beyond Google and Google Books, most of these tools have remained unused. Owen and Gibbs highlight that in the 2005 Summit on Digital Tools at the University of Virginia it was found that roughly six percent of scholars use other digital resources or more complex digital tools when conducting their research and the remaining ninety four percent continue to rely on more readily available information (Gibbs and Owen, 2012).

Thus, it is apparent that digital humanities tools need to be created with ease of use in mind and to aid more traditional ways of researching information rather than trying to create new ways of exploring data. Gibbs and Owen also state that information needs to be easily accessible and visible to the researcher straight away as scholars are unwilling to remain on a site if they have to delve into vast amounts of data and dig deep to find what it is they are looking for (Gibbs and Owen, 2012).

It is clear that there is an extensive amount of information available online; however it is also clear that the digital humanities tools are not being utilised to the best of their ability. Thus, it is important that scholars are made aware of the existence of these tools and are also well-informed on how to use them.

Digital resources are changing digital humanities allowing scholars to analyse, visualise and think about what it is they are researching in a variety of new ways. Scholars now have the ability to engage more closely with the text and can accomplish more in a few weeks than previous scholars could have only dreamed of achieving in a few months or even years.


Gibbs, F. Owens, T. “Building Better Digital Humanities Tools: Toward broader audiences and user-centered designs”, Digital Humanities Quarterly. 2012. Web. 2 April 2013.

Leary, P. “Googling the Victorians”, Journal of Victorian Culture. 2005. Web. 2 April 2013.

Swift, M. “Google Books may advance humanities research, scholars say”, 2010. Web. 1 April 2013.