Pascoe, Judith, Bruce Graver, and Thomas C. Crochunis. 'Electronic Editing: A
Dialogue between Judith Pascoe, Bruce Graver, and Thomas C.
Crochunis.' British Women Playwrights around 1800. 15 July 1999. ?? pars. <http://www.etang.umontreal.ca/bwp1800/essays/pascoe_echat.html>
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- Mon, 26 Apr 1999 - from Judith Pascoe to Tom Crochunis and Bruce Graver:
Okay, here goes. I am afraid I am going to take on the role of Luddite in this
conversation since I'm disenchanted with the claims of computer
technology (and tired of lugging around my laptop). I find
myself increasingly enamoured of old typewriters and fountain
pens (and, in fact, came across a really fascinating web
site devoted to old typewriters which almost made me stop
being so disenchanted with computer technology).
But to get to the topic of teaching British women playwrights: I can imagine
that hypertext editions of plays might allow one to see visual representations
of actors and actresses and link one easily to reviews of the plays and
other related materials. A colleague of mine has made up CDs that he
uses in class to show snippets of productions and he claims this is much
better than the old technology of a VCR because he can jump from one
scene to another without having to fast forward through a videotape (though,
in actual practice, the time I observed one of his classes, he was having
computer problems and the images were all pretty poor). And I can't see
how you can really use a web site IN a classroom. They seem great as
research tools-especially something like Bruce's Lyrical Ballads production which would allow one to see editions of the book that one could never have
access to (especially if one is in Iowa), but these things don't seem
that useful for classroom usage (as opposed to using as a resource for
students who are doing research).
Now, I'm already having some second thoughts since I'm realizing that I could
flash Bruce's edition up on a screen in my classroom so that students
could see variant editions of LB. But I'm not taking back anything in
relation to plays. It seems like the bad thing about books of plays is
that students aren't seeing an actual performance, but with plays for
which there are no available recordings of performances (or even still
pictures in some instances), what can one do (even with an electronic
Tom, I hope you're not really regretting you asked me to start this conversation.
All the best,
- Thur, 29 Apr 1999 - from Tom to Judith and Bruce:
Judith's brief but to-the-point remarks have opened some very interesting questions
for our discussion. What I want to do is try to describe
the issues I think her comments might point us toward and
try to frame follow up questions that will (I hope) provide
an entry point for you, Bruce.
First, a quick disclaimer: I want to differentiate the possibilities of electronic
media from the rather limited reality of the BWP1800 Web site. I do this
for one very good reasonto keep the current state of our work from becoming a limitation on discussion
that might move the work forward. At the same time, the site's current
stage of development is itself crucial data in evaluating what and how
electronic tools might affect our pedagogical and scholarly work. Put
another way, the site reflects how we currently work collaboratively
with these media on this topicits limitations are technological, conceptual, and social. I hope the reasoning
behind this claim will become clear in what follows.
Judith, I think your remarks are founded on three concepts that I think we need
to examine more closely. These are
- The limitations of "the classroom"
- The position of scholars in relation to the work of other scholars
- The nature of the "product" that is the text/archive/resource
For example, the first point emerges through your envisioning yourself involved
in a certain kind of teaching that you differentiate from
student research (for which you acknowledge that these tools
might be useful). Of course, we could imagine teaching and "the classroom" quite differently and in fact include the researching within our vision of "the classroom" (as I'm sure you do at other moments). We could also think of the traditional
classroom as potentially only a portion of what I would call "direct instruction." To do so would, I believe, be significant in changing our receptivity to electronic
Second, when you position yourself in relation to the materials available electronically,
you view themas we typically doas a consumer who might find it useful to have images, texts, versions, or performance
clips provided. But to formulate the relationship in this way is already
to bracket out of the picture the possibility that you (or Ior anyone) could add to the archive. In fact, to position oneself in this way
is to remove from consideration the gesture of collegiality that "the appearance" of Jane Scott's Whackham and Windham represents. If, at a working group conference,
a number of colleagues handed out xeroxes and disks of rare plays that
they had transcribed, the gesture might feel more like what it isan invitation to further work, not a claim that work has been completed. Such
a gesture, repeated over time, could be quite powerful and influential
Finally, the product that feels most useable to you is one like the Lyrical Ballads edition that is a) text based, b) fully produced, and c) canonical. You also
note that performance clips could be useful if they were "available recordings of performances." I draw attention to these features of the product you desire because they seem
to be interconnected in a way that produces an inevitable failure of
the electronic resource as product. After all, it seems unlikely that
many fully produced hypertext editions of the works of women playwrights
like Jane Scott are likely to be commissioned by publishing houses; while
this may or may not represent the failure of the medium, it certainly
reveals the institutional context in which our work with the medium must
develop (product contracts, potential users, textual canons, tenure credit,
Based on your remarks, I would recommend that we reevaluate three aspects of
our practices and assumptions in relation to electronic media as tools
for social and conceptual change in the study of women's theatre history.
For each, I have tried to frame a question for Bruce:
The classroom should morph into a hybrid performance space, archive, and chat
Bruce: How did you think about your edition's use by teachers, students, researchers?
What possibilities/constraints did the medium and the idea
of the edition offer?
Scholars should collaborate in making knowledge
Bruce: How possible is it to develop hypertext materials that undergo ongoing
redesign? How would somewhat open-ended product development
work based on your experience?
Products should become spaces for performing and making knowledge
Bruce: How did you envision the community of users of your edition? What issues
did the media raise for you along these lines?
One final comment: Judith, I feel like I've come at your tentative opening questions
with a ton of ideas. It's easy for me to play the role of "genius from another planet" because I am not faced on a regular basis with a real classroom with realif socially constructedconstraints. It's fine to refashion pedagogy and scholarship in theoryand probably necessary for the work of this project to have any intellectual
vibrancybut ultimately we must return to the core questions you have raised. I hope that
my ideas suggest some options we might not otherwise consider.
- Sun, 2 May 1999 - from Bruce Graver to Tom and Judith:
I hope Tom doesn't mind if I sidestep some of his leads, to get at the issues
which I believe are crucial to our understanding of the function
of on-line scholarly materials, both in our teaching and
First, I believe usefulness, in the here and now (not in some distant never-neverland),
is the primary criterion we should use for judging electronic projects.
Right now, computers are lousy things to read from, and they will continue
to be so as long as we are, in essence, staring into a light bulb. So,
in my opinion, projects, like hypertext editions of novels and plays,
which require readers to spend hours in front of their terminals, are
largely mistakes. What computers do well, at the moment, is manage large
bodies of data and allow users (note: not readers) to make analytical
inquiries of this data, in unprecedented ways. The kinds of inquiries
we make depend on the quality of the tagging that the editors have employed.
HTML is a lousy tagging system, in that it does not actually describe
the structure of literary works, so texts tagged in HTML do not offer
very interesting analytical possibilities. What we need are texts with
sophisticated tagging systems (such as the Text Encoding Initiative has devised) that we
can use for research and analysis, not cheap on-line books that are in
almost every way inferior to paper products.
Which leads to my second point: scholarly standards. If I learned nothing else
in preparing my Cornell Wordsworth volume, I learned the human capacity
for error. At every step, I discovered my own mistakes, and if I didn't
find them, Stephen Parrish, or Mark Reed, or James Butler, or Jared Curtis
did, and they spent literally hundreds of hours checking over my material.
And then the volume was submitted to the MLA Center for Scholarly Editions,
where it was checked again. In about an hour, I will sit down with the
published volume and make up a list of errors (mainly formatting errors)
introduced by the copy editor at the last minute, after the volume was
out of my control. And these errors will be corrected in the second printing.
Now no electronic project that I know of has this kind of quality control:
none has been submitted to the CSE, and none has the kind of internal
quality control system (call it collaboration if you want) that the Cornell Wordsworth has had in place from the beginning. If I hadn't been through
the pains of checking and vetting already, I would have no idea just
how pervasive errors are. And yet online editors, most of them with minimal
editorial experience, blithely proceed to put up texts, sometimes calling
them "scholarly," which are so error-filled that most print publishers wouldn't accept them, and
which the CSE would reject out of hand. My fear is that bad money will
start to drive out good, and publishers will be reluctant to invest in
new critical editions (such as an edition of Baillie), if they have to
compete with web-based freebies. The end result may be that all the advances
in textual scholarship (which in the long run will be regarded as the
greatest achievement of 20th century literary scholarship) will be lost,
and we'll find ourselves in an era of editorial amateurism, the like
of which we haven't seen for centuries. This is especially problematic
as we try to introduce or reintroduce writers (again, like Baillie) into
the canon, for we simply won't have the kind of reliable texts that serious
Editions aren't the only problem. The reliance on on-line materials to assemble
bibliographies (especially bibliographies of traditionally non-canonical
writers) is quite problematic and will create a great deal of confusion.
Why? Because librarians don't always catalogue correctly. For instance,
if one searches the ESTC for Bristol imprints of the Lyrical Ballads (of which there are only 14 known copies), one finds that the Noel Douglas facsimile
(published in the 1920s) is frequently catalogued as the genuine article
by sloppy cataloguers at, say, Kansas State.
The point is that, more than anything else, I value getting things right, and
I'm not sure that enough of the computer enthusiasts realize how difficult
One final thing. I have used web-based materials in the classroom many times,
though never our Lyrical Ballads stuff. What I use is the William Blake archive, and I will never again teach Blake without computer projection so that we can
access the archive in class. To be able to bring high-quality images
of Blake's plates into the classroom, at no cost, and to be able to show
students different versions of the plates, completely revolutionizes
the teaching of Blake's works. There are, perhaps, some awkwardnesses
in how we are allowed to navigate the archive (I would like, for instance,
to be able to compare different versions with each other more easily),
but it is reliable, it is useful, it is organized simply (one doesn't
get lost there), and it is beautiful.
Enough. Or too much.
- Wed, 5 May 1999 - from Judith to Bruce and Tom:
I agree with much of what Bruce said about the absence of scholarly standards
on the internet. I've gone through two rounds of proofreading
of my Mary Robinson edition and I just sent a panicky letter
to the editor to make sure that I was going to get to do
another round before the book actually comes out. In the
absence of teams of copy editors with intensive Robinson
knowledge, the copy editing process has been really nerve
wracking. It's very hard to eliminate every single error,
try as one might.
I think there probably are works that are never going to be of sufficient interest
to a large enough group of people for a traditional press to get involved.
For example, Robinson published lots of poems in newspapers and magazines-far
more than I could include in the Broadview edition. I've been asked to
work on a web site for these poems and it seems like a good idea to make
them easily available, instead of just having a file of Xeroxes in my
office. I am having a very hard time convincing myself to actually do
this, however, because to do it right would mean to spend as much time
on it as I've spent on the SELECTED POEMS I'm bringing out in paper,
and would require me to become as literate in computer languages (haven't
even learned html and now I hear that it should be supplanted) and that's
just not how I want to spend my time (at least not in the immediate future).
Tom mentions the creation of collaborative electronic editions that could keep
undergoing changes. This also raises the issue of who is going to oversee
the changes. If you had some kind of web site that scholars could make
corrections or additions to as they learned new things, how (Tom) do
you imagine one would control how one's original work was amended? Say
I throw those Robinson newspaper poems up and the design of the web site
was such that someone else could "fix" them if he/she thought I'd gotten something wrong. How are you imagining someone
would do that?
I'm not sure I want to dismiss the potential of electronic editions of plays
(as Bruce does on the basis that, like novels, they're just too unwieldy
to read from a screen). Let's imagine an edition of a Baillie play that
would hopefully supplement not supplant a paper edition of the play (just
as, I suppose, the Frankenstein CD-rom supplements a student edition
of the novel). One could give students access to many related works and
also possibly to images of Sarah Siddons in a particular role, reviews,
etc. (but how easy is it to get permission to use images that one finds
in the collections of, say, the British Museum?) Or, one could have students
work on such an electronic edition themselves-bringing together many
different kinds of contexts for the play and getting to "publish" these materials without great expense. One couldn't rely on such an edition
in the same way one would rely on the Cornell Wordsworth, but it would
certainly get students involved in research in a tangible way. Mind you,
at some fundamental level, I'm not sure having students "publish" such an edition by way of a Xerox machine wouldn't be a lot easier, but at least
you wouldn't have to use up as much paper.
Back to you, Tom.
- Mon, 10 May 1999 - from Tom to Bruce and Judith:
Well, you have only yourselves to blame for the length of this response. There
were too many juicy leads in your last two messages for me
to be reticent. So, bear with me....
As I thought about Bruce's comments, I became aware of the historiographic and
textual "theory" implicit in his concerns. Bruce's view sees dramatic texts (and if text encoding
initiative guidelines are used, mainly published dramatic texts) as the
main source for scholarship into theatre writing. He envisions professional
scholarship conducted through the practices of publishing and educational
institutions that have created and supported current publishing markets.
He envisions a select group of research users for the information and
ideas of historical research, and he mainly envisions scholars working
independently (or in small groups) to complete projects that become products
through the collaboration of publishing professionals and are then used
or consumed by those who did not participate in the product's creation.
What's wrong with this picture? First, theatre history scholarship by its nature
cannot have the relationship with texts, especially published texts,
that Bruce envisions. The language of texts must be understood by theatre
historians as unreliable source data; this is not to suggest that accuracy
doesn't matter, only that it's hardly the main place to focus one's attention
in theatre history. Second, the practices of the scholarly publishing
industry already have a problematic relationship with theatre history
materials. Books, by their nature, are ill suited to becoming theatre
history archives. (Perhaps this discrepancy is related to the ways in
which print and theatrical cultures have often competed with each other,
though such a thesis would need to be more fully explored.) No matter
how considerable textual scholarship's achievementsand Bruce is right that the achievements are considerable and in fact underlie
many of the theoretical questions we are now asking about textuality
in theatre)theatre historians cannot delimit their concerns to those of textual scholars.
Understandably, theatre historians simply will not give themselves over
to the kind of rigorous scholarly editing that Bruce describes, not because
they don't value accuracy or scholarly standards, but because they know
their work cannot productively focus on "the dramatic text"especially if the theatre history in question is that of women, whose texts were
and are constrained by different institutional parameters than men's
when it comes to publication, performance, pedagogy, research, and canonicity.
Finally, the model of historiographic work Bruce envisions by its nature
tends to emphasize "author-centered" studies performed by individuals rather than studies of theatrical cultures
by scholarly collectives. Women's history, while it can use study of
authors, too, must go beyond such models. Joanna Baillie, whatever her
significance, is not a sufficient object of study for a robust version
of women's theatre history in Britain around 1800.
Although the inaccuracy of much of the material available on the internet should
indeed give us pause, so too should the limited availability in print
of many of the materials needed for study and teaching of women's dramaturgical
history. I would like a student or a dramaturg to be able to find one
copy of a woman playwright's plays as easily as she can find numerous
(bad) modern print editions of Wordsworth or Coleridge. Our current scholarly-historical
moment is one in which neither the idea of professional standards for
texts and historical materials nor processes for achieving these standards
that are comparable to the rigorous review of print products that both
of you describe have yet been established for the internet. Remember,
however, that those editing standards you mention for print products
were a long, long time in coming in print culture.
How can the gains of textual editing that you point to, Bruce, become less of
a stick with which to beat the always already degraded internet and more
of a set of social structures that might influence (for they cannot dictate
to processes that are already fully underway) the emergence of online
projects? For, as Judith begins to suggest, if students develop theatre
history projects for Web deliveryprojects that include texts, images, performance experiments, bibliographic resourcessome of the best of these projects (as judged by their professors) can become
widely available, and not just in Xeroxes.
No doubt the thought of such material becoming "published" online gives some of us troubled dreamswhat's to prevent inaccuracies? Won't we be awash with junk? Well, let's think
about how it might actually play out. Undoubtedly, the sources of such
information would not compare to the sources of scholarly, print editions.
The difference is driven by matters of capital, complicated as those
are when the professional labor involved is often hard to evaluate both
in terms of dollars, pounds, and euros, and in terms of tenure, promotion,
and reputation. The economy of the internet is already showing itself
to be different from that of publishing, but its ultimate direction is
unknown. One thing seems clearthe publishing industry is already altering many of its practicesif not necessarily its standardsin response to the internet. The one model that seems to me to hold the greatest
promise of providing online material with some standardsactually I prefer "consistent professional preferences"is the same one that used to provide scholarly conferences with standards: communities
Therefore, when numerous online archives of material on women's theatre history
are developed, their credibility and accuracy could be judged by working
groups like ours. Would some mistakes get put online? Have some mistakes
been published in print? But on the internet, a working group can be
open to submissions of corrections, can corroborate, annotate, and make
needed changes. Judith, your question about how or whether "corrections" would be made to texts you have edited is one that still needs creative solutions,
but I think there are solutions. For example, there might be finite periods
of editorial airing of a scholar's work after which the texts and archival
materials she or he has edited will be assumed to be stabilized and subject
to annotation, but not revision. But in the meantime, the source materials
could be used by those who might otherwise not have access to them. It
sounds a little like the informal "available draft" process many of us already practice in sharing our work while the wheels of
publishing grind ever so slowly forward. Only online, the process is
multiplied exponentially. Maybe Xerox ought to be nervous.
Which leads me to four final points:
- While HTML is clearly not as powerful for internal textual work as SGML, let's
not forget the power of HTML as a language that speaks
to a wide range of browsers on many different computers.
This capacity, which we often take for granted, is not
without significance when building communities of access
to materials related to women's theatre history.
- And speaking of access, let's not take for granted the significance of youror your students'having been given access to Jane Scott's Whackham and Windham. Its availability represents a complex collegial gesture by Jacky Bratton and
offers a window on the work of this popular, prolific
theatre artist who, I would venture to say, neither of
you knew much about before this project (apologies if
I'm wrong about that).
- Although I've often heard people say that online availability of texts will undermine
prospects for printed scholarly editions, I don't know
how to reconcile these predictions with my distaste for
limiting myself to paltry hopes (An edition of Baillie's
playsthat's it?) and with the problematic economics of any larger scale project on
women's plays (see for example the challenges that the Brown Women Writers Project has faced). We could wait a long time for the publishers to get readyI for one don't have time to wait.
- When we begin to feel anxiety about the internet, I think it helps to remember
that human beings are still going to make decisions about
how to do things. If we want to participate in establishing
valuable and well-edited resources on the internet, we
will be able to do so. We can't control what everyone with
a computer does, but we can make sure that good stuff is
online and that the internet is not a vast wasteland. These
are social problems more than they are alien technological
So, while I take all your concerns about the current state of the internet seriously,
I think there are potentials in collaboratively developed
resources and inexpensive online or printed-out publication
that make facing the challenges seem well worth the effort.
And make no mistake, the effort will be far greater than
any of the rigors of scholarly editing.
- Fri, 14 May 1999 - from Bruce to Judith and Tom:
As I feel a bit bullied by Tom's response (though I invited it openly), I'll
begin by almost entirely rejecting the assumptions attributed
to me in your last (Tom). I have been a part of a large collaborative
project for years, and am entirely suspicious of work done
in solitude (particularly editing projects, where fifteen
eyes are far better than one or two). All I want is the development
of standards of review for (especially) web-based publishing,
or submission to existing peer-review procedures (such as
the MLA Center for Scholarly Editions, which does have procedures
in place for the evaluation of electronic editions) so that
students in particular (I assume scholars have more sense,
but my experience doesn't really bear this assumption out)
will not be lost in a sea of junk. And this does not have
anything to do with the economics of academic publishing
at all, just the standards of peer review that our tenure
and promotion cases have to depend on (I hope).
I am also aware, fully, of the issues confronting plays in particular, and am
not pleased with editing assumptions that denigrate theatrical practice
to the wastecan, in favor of the ideal of authorial intent. Shakespeare
I'm sure would be baffled by assumptions like these, since he appeared
never to give a fig about print, unless somebody else was cashing in
on his work. And of course this problem worsens with lesser-known playwrights,
particularly those (unlike Baillie) who actually wrote for the theater.
Perhaps a bit of explanation about our Lyrical Ballads edition may help. We did not choose a Lyrical Ballads project; we were asked to do one by Cambridge UP. I assume their reasoning went
like this: Lyrical Ballads is a canonical text. A canonical text will have a wider market than a non-canonical
one. If we are to be leaders in electronic scholarly publication, we
will need to establish the widest possible market. Lyrical Ballads also has the advantage of existing in multiple versions, which will make it
potentially interesting as an electronic product. Ergo...
Now I mainly sympathize with this reasoning, especially when the source is a
respected publisher whose very name implies scholarly achievement. And
I admire them, especially Kevin Taylor, for taking the very great risks
of investing in a new technology, without completely knowing what it
is or can do. Moreover, in investing considerable time in the project,
Ron Tetreault and I were taking risks with our own professional futures
(see the discussions on the Humanist list about how universities don't
know how to evaluate electronic projects). So the fact that Cambridge
UP endorsed us was extremely important, both in the long and short run.
But much of the time, we've been working in the dark. For instance, we still
haven't any idea what the browser for our edition will look like, or
what its capabilities will be. Originally, Tom, it was Dynatext (or is
that DynoSaur?), a program designed for airline repair manuals. Sort
of like viewing Botticelli in a dimly-lit hangar. Now we're told about
something else that will be pure magic, I'm sure, if it ever proves to
be functional, which apparently it hasn't. Meanwhile, I'm reading huge
debates on Humanist about why software companies are reluctant to develop
browsers for TEI, whether the advent of XML will make matters easier,
and so on and so forth ad infinitum, with so many acronyms that, Judith,
you will want to swear off computers forever.
And that fear, finally, is what bothers me: the fear that the non-nerd will become
an anti-nerd, either because of the proliferation of junk (read: lack
of standards), or because the products themselves are filled with bells
and whistles that don't work (Judith's complaint about the video clips),
or are so bogged down with computer-speak that normal scholars, whose
first love is books, won't bother to learn it.
Endnote: since beginning the Lyrical Ballads project, I have become an inveterate collector of books, and use the internet
in all its forms to pursue this passion. I am certain that part of the
passion is a reaction to the amount of time I spend in cyberspace, yearning
for the solidity of paper, and the comfortable feel and smell of a binding.
And, yes, I like owning things. Portable property.
- Tue, 18 May 1999 - from Judith to Tom and Bruce:
Well I wasn't feeling bullied by Tom but the lengthiness and thoroughness of
his responses was making them seem kind of like essays. I
am absolutely fascinated by Bruce's revelation that his engagement
with computers is existing alongside a growing book collection.
Since I'm writing a book about romantic-era collectors, I'm
fascinated by collections of all kind, but it seems particularly
interesting that technology might cause one to want to own
books. I don't collect anythingam already planning how I'm going to weed out more books from my office when
I get back to Iowa. But I'm intrigued by the collecting impulse.
Do you focus on particular areas Bruce (romanticism? Wordsworth?)
I'd like to challenge Tom to write (in brief) about some concrete ways that he
would like to see plays taught in the classroom with assistance from
computer technology in its current forms. If I were to teach a course
on, say, 18th-century plays by women, how might I go about that in a
way that would not privilege the printed text?
Still very skeptical about the way in which communal projects are being venerated
to the point that Bruce is having to defend his collegial credentials.
I am thinking about how difficult it is to truly co-write or co-create
anything. The instances of successful collaboration in a creative project
(and I would consider literary or cultural criticism and editing to be
creative projects) are few and far between. I don't think a lack of technology
gets in the way. I think it is just very difficult to find someone else
who is interested in the same things, who works at the same pace, who
can be trusted to pull his or her own weight, etc. etc. Just read a really
good book on the history of wonder by two writers who collaborated on
it over many years. It was a wonderful thing itself, but can't think
of many other instances of this type of successful collaboration.
Finally, on the issue of changing technology. Mary Lynn Johnson Grant gave a
good talk at the last MLA in the form of a cautionary tale about her
experiences with some kind of huge Blake early computer project. All
the work that went into this is totally lost as changes in technology
left it behind. I don't like the fact that people like me who really
want to be creative thinkers and writers are being asked to also be computer
techniciansthe latter takes away time from the former. But I find it really chilling that
keeping abreast of computer languages requires such continuous effort.
My fountain pen is looking better all the time.
- Mon, 24 May 1999 - from Tom to Bruce and Judith:
I'm going to struggle against my very nature and attempt a response to the key
issues in your last postings that is direct and to-the-point,
Bruce and Judith.
Since collaboration has come up in various ways, I wanted to note that I got
interested in forming the "British Women Playwrights around 1800" working group (and in organizing sessions at conferences that have contributed
to the work we have been posting at the site) because of an experience
with a weekend gathering that Tracy Davis and Ellen Donkin held at Northwestern
a couple of years ago. They brought together those contributing essays
to their forthcoming volume for Cambridge, Playwriting and Women in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Without giving a long tribute to the weekend of presentations, responses, and
conversation, I will only say that I was convinced by this session that
a group of scholars collaborating on substantive issues is more than
the sum of their individual projectsand the individual projects represented at this event were considerable, so that's
The problems that one encounters in sustaining such a collaborative group are
manifold, but a particular challenge when members of the group are doing
work that provide only a few with really rich collegial support within
their home institutions. People find that when they discover this kind
of community of interest, they want to build on itand not just at the annual or twice annual conference, presenting a paper here
or there. Furthermore, the session at Evanston was, by its nature, small;
but as I have learned since Michael and I have put the BWP1800 site online,
there are even more scholars out thereespecially graduate students with strong interest in this topicwho have limited travel budgets and very varied levels of support for tapping
into the work that others are doing. Whether our little project is a
success I can't yet say, but it is clearly aiming at something different
than a co-authored book (though that could grow out of it, too). So I
guess that collaboration is not an end in itself, but a means of developing
a supportive culture related to some area of inquiry.
Because we began with an interest in forming a working group, we have not tried
to become a text database. We don't have the resources, institutional
support, nor are we convinced that availability of texts is the primary
thing that is needed in this particular field (though strategic availability
is something we think can make a difference to the collegial conversation).
There are also many theoretical issues related to text encoding of dramatic
texts and theatre materials that are far from resolved. Instead, we have
moved in the direction of encouraging interested scholars to write commentary
on plays and electronic editing, on cultural issues in theatre history,
and on the texts that we put online. This is a small scale operation
by any standards, but it's about communities of colleagues more than
it's about large-scale projects. We have the luxury (because we work
for free) of not having to make a saleable product. Texts of plays have
been the first important source of data that we have used to stimulate commentary,
but as we continue with our work, I hope we will try out other kinds
of materials and uses of the medium (we're already planning to shoot
some experimental video clipsstay tuned). I make no promises that any of this will be the "right" way to proceed, but I think we will raise some questions by doing what we do.
Since neither one of us yet has to march strictly to what institutions
count as valid work for tenure or promotion, we are doing things that
some of our more-or-less fortunate comrades perhaps can't.
Here's the class I would teach, Judith. I have you and other scholars to thank
for this topic that veers away from text-based study, but keeps texts
in the picture.
Building an archiveSarah Siddons: A cultural actor and her roles
Students in this class will collaborate on a single project with many facets.
They will research and prepare materials for a hypertext archive on Sarah
Siddons, arguably the most influential actor of her era. Some of the
materials that might be included, subject to class evaluation and decisions,
are the following:
- Images of Siddons from a range of visual art forms (that is, from caricature
- Texts of plays in which Siddons appeared, encoded for searchability
- Commentary about Siddons' performances from her own era
- Selected passages from writings of the era on passion, acting, gendered codes
- Student performances of key scenes Siddons is said to have played, both onstage
- Animated visual models of the theatres in which Siddons performed
- Recent critical comments by Julie Carlson, Ellen Donkin, Catherine Burroughs,
Judith Pascoe, and Michael Booth about Siddons and her
I do not assume that the range of stuff suggested above could be prepared in
one semester, but the project could be well begun and could
even involve collaboration among classes at different institutions.
Preparing these materials will involve students in obtaining permissions, evaluating
and using new technologies not normally used in the humanities, and understanding
principles of scholarly editing and text encoding. These are challenging
matters, but in each case would benefit students at the graduate level
(in their most sophisticated form) and at the undergraduate level (as
an introduction to the potential scope of humanities study today).
And this brings me to my final point: the class I have suggested above is just
a sketch, but it would be very challenging to teach in some senses. It
would require a teacher willing to delve into the resources and methods
out there as vigorously as one would assume one must dig into the contexts
of a historical period. I don't want to badger about this, but as someone
who works outside of academia (where most students in humanities classes
will eventually work), this course (if better conceived and planned)
would provide a connection between the parameters of scholarly inquiry
and the media used in a variety of workplaces today.
While I love books too (defending my credentials as bibliophile), I think we
need to be thoughtful about how we promote the rich inquiry we value
without willfully disconnecting scholarly pursuits from the technologies
that are increasingly being used to enable powerful forms of inquiry
in the world outside academia. Books aren't as threatened as we might
think (and their greatest threat is probably from acidification), but
I sometimes worry that the kinds of cultural inquiry we are committed
to could easily become fetishistically marginal if humanities higher
education resists a sustained and critical engagement with technologies,
their limits, and their possibilities. I don't think either of you would
support that kind of tendency, but I worry about it nonetheless; it seems
to me much more likely than a wild rush to employ technologies in the
humanities at breakneck speeds, though perhaps the two tendencies do
- Tue, 1 Jun 1999 - from Bruce to Judith and Tom:
Tom's last helps to show the new kinds of allegiances and scholarly configurations
that the web, in particular, has been able to create and
foster: fairly loose associations of scholars, of a variety
of backgrounds, interested in something that, often, the
print world hasn't got around to yet. It is fair to say that
this kind of thing simply hasn't existed before, and the
possibilities for Tom and Michael's project (or, in a rather
different area, the literature and neuroscience alliance that Alan Richardson is involved with) are exciting. One hopes that
such projects can and will invigorate what we do, and perhaps
do so because of the ways in which they bring together established
scholars and novices, professionals and amateurs, and thereby
broaden the base of scholarly inquiry. I'm right now, for
instance, looking at the founding of the Boston Public Library
in the 1850s, and the hopes, fears, dangers, etc., on everyone's
lips then are remarkably similar to what we've been saying
here, and what others say, when they look at the possibilities
that web-based scholarly projects offer.
That having been said, I do want to beat a dead horse once again and suggest
that what the web lacks, and needs, is an older and more established
form of collaboration: systematic peer review. Journals need to publish
reviews of websites and web-based collaborative projects as regularly
as they do printed books, scholarly organizations need to establish standards
of evaluation, maybe even a rating system, in order to inform web-users
of what meets their criteria and what does not, and web-projectors need
to submit their work willingly and systematically to review processes,
in the same way that publishers submit books to journals, Choice, prize
committees, etc. Not everything, of course, should be held to the same
standards. But at some point we have to start evaluating seriously what
we do in the electronic medium, not only to inform others of what's worthwhile
and what's not, but also to establish guidelines and standards that will
make it possible for new collaborative efforts to begin more easily.
- Mon, 14 June 1999 - from Tom to Judith and Bruce:
I'm taking the liberty of responding to Bruce's last posting since we are nearing
the end of our agreed upon time for this conversation and
because I thought Bruce's last message pointed in some very
valuable directions that could lead us to some discussion
of practical actions that those working at the British Women
Playwrights around 1800 site might take to do our bit to
support and develop appropriate standards for our site and
others like it.
I want to break my practical query into a few parts. I'd really welcome any specific
thoughts that you have on how to establish structures and processes that
we could actually put into effect sometime soon. If there are particular
features of print publication procedures that seem well-suited to our
work, please outline what you see as potentially valuable processes for
us to put in place. As you know, we have a number of "friends of the site" who have interest in what we're up to and perhaps they can play some role in
how we put "quality control" into effect.
- What system of self-evaluation can we establish for the work of the siteboth the mounting of playtexts and the publications of commentary? What might
be a manageable, peer-review process?
- How can we become more involved in writing the reviews of Web sites that Bruce
mentions and where might we try to place them? Are there
specific contacts at these publications who might be interested?
- What roles do those working at the site need to play in professional organizations
both to support the development of evaluation processes
for electronic materials and sites that are sensitive to
the particular issues raised by theatre history and to
establish clear, widely disseminated voluntary standards?
Bruce, who would be the best contact at the MLA for getting
information about their standards linked to our site.
I'd like to prepare some action steps for the BWP1800 working group to take in
both getting its members up to speed and contributing to
ongoing discussions in the field.
I'd also like to share with you an interesting article in Saturday's NYTimes. I think the piece raises some interesting questions about the role of electronic
media in opening new venues for scholarly publication: http://www.nytimes.com/library/books/061299ideas-book.html
I hope I haven't jumped the queue by putting forward these ideas when (I think)
it may have been Judith's turn.
- Wed, 16 June, 1999 - from Judith to Tom and Bruce:
Sorry I'm so slow to respond. My not quite one-year-old computer stopped getting
power through the adaptor so I had to take it in to the shop.
Turns out I own the only model of Apple computer that does
not have an international warranty. Needless to say, my relationship
to my computer has taken a downturn. Then, my phone service
went down for two days so I couldn't send or receive e-mail.
Have to admit that all this talk of evaluation of web sites makes me tired. It
just seems like one more thing we should all be doing and I wonder how
any of us are going to find the time. I think I may have just got in
the mail today from my sister the NY Times article that Tom was referring
to. It was about the web providing new opportunities for people to publish
first books. Someone (maybe Darnton) talked about how all academics should
become up to date with all the new web technology. This also gave me
pause-there is so much to keep up with. I would like to have some kind
of technology wizard at my beck and call so that I could get help but
wouldn't be expected to be a computer scientist as well as an English
professor. Also wonder about the value of having books on the internetit's such an unpleasant format for reading in. And who wants to print a 300 page
monograph (or keep the ugly printout after one's read it).
Like Tom's idea for a Sarah Siddons class and may steal it sometime soon. However
. . . as someone who is about to teach the unabridged Clarissa to undergraduates, I have to wonder about how such a course might end up having
students spend a lot of time on what they are already good at (technology,
images) and not enough time actually reading, analyzing and writing.
I'm interested in how one could use Tom's interesting outline and ideas
and still find ways to make sure students were getting the skills that
I think they really neednot necessarily so that they can go on to become English academics but so they
can go on to carry out all kinds of analysis in lucid prose (or even
be able to edit or review a web site).
But back to the reviewing point-I just came across Bruce's article in Profession as I've been sifting through things in preparation for moving. I admired the
way you thought through what would be a useful electronic edition of Lyrical Ballads instead
of just going for some kind of all-reaching hypertext that replicated
things the Cornell edition already does. That's the kind of preliminary
analysis that I think all potential web site designers should put themselves
through. And this is something reviewers could debate about toowhat's
gained and lost by use of the electronic format.
- Fri, 25 Jun 1999 - from Judith to Tom:
A suggestion that I might make in conclusion is maybe the web site should have
a lot of discussion about what kind of projects should be
undertaken. I'm particularly interested in the question of
how electronic play texts (or actor web sites, or whatever)
might be used to teach theatre classes in a way that doesn't
stint the performative context. Maybe you could also start
having a review section in which you make space for reviews
of other related web sites. So people could get sense of
what can be used and how good it isbeginning of creating standards for theatre-related web sites. I'd also be interested
in discussion of sources of material that can be mounted on web sitesseems that images are vital, but I'm not very clear on copyright laws. Would
be useful to know what one can mount without getting into
legal trouble (e.g., could one mount pictures from 19th c.
costume handbooks? what about prints of actors or actresses
when there are copies of them in lots of different archives
or in periodicals?)
Hope you think this has been worth your efforts.
- Fri, 9 July, 1999 - from Bruce to Judith and Tom:
First of all, thanks, Judith, for the good words about the Profession piece. I think that, having come out of a complex print edition, and not wanting
either to replicate it or to insult good friends (especially
Jim Butler), I (and Ron Tetreault, of course) have had to
define our project very carefully. This has been especially
trying for us, because neither of us has extensive technical
support from our home institutions, of the sort that, say,
McGann has at Virginia or the Women Writers Project has at
I just returned from the ACH/ALLC conference, the major international humanities
computing shindig, which this year was in Charlottesville. While there,
I had lunch with Charles Faulhaber of UC-Berkeley, and discussed many
of the issues that we've been touching on here. Faulhaber served many
years on the MLA Center for Scholarly Editions, and is involved with
the digitization of medieval manuscripts. He is deeply concerned that
software applications be developed so that people, like myself, without
extensive technical support, can go it alone, and is convinced that until
such applications are available, few people will bother much with electronic
editing. He is also concerned that electronic projects are not receiving
the kind of peer review that print endeavors routinely undergo. No electronic
editing project, for instance, has even been submitted to CSE review.
Now I, like Judith, find reviewing a weary process, but I don't believe there
will be more reviewing to do. People can only do so much. But some of
them are doing electronic projects, and they will have to be evaluated
by hiring committees, and tenure and promotion committees. So the profession
generally will have to find some way to establish standards, or at least
get used to reviewing serious electronic projects (and not just websites,
by the way, which are, for the most part, ephemera) in the same way that
books are reviewed.
I also believe that the great danger of electronic projects in the classroom
is that they will detract from reading and writing. I know that many
are saying (I heard them say it last week) that the future of composition
is Powerpoint, but I find Powerpoint presentations mainly silly and a
waste of time; they are poor substitutes for good transitions and logical
Anyway, I wish Judith luck with Clarissa, and hope you aren't planning to have them look at Sir Charles Grandison, too (unabridged). I often wonder whether Richardson (or Spenser, or other writers
of very long, leisurely works) could have even conceived of his work
being jammed into the strictures of the American academic semestera restraint that makes the distortions of the computer look not so bad.
And that's what you get for using Apples.
- Mon, 27 July, 1999 - from Tom to Bruce and Judith:
I've enjoyed our conversation, evenor dare I say, especiallythe contentious bits. In the discord amidst fundamental agreements, I feel like
I've heard the sound of consensus struggling to be formed.
I won't try to characterize our respective roles in this
not-quite-Platonic trialogue, but I will suggest that a few
crucial points have emerged as we've wrangled over our concerns:
- Electronic scholarly projects need to be much more concerned with standards and
conventionsboth with articulating them and meeting those that have already been established.
- Computers are still not user friendly enough; they must become more fully adapted
to serving the central concerns of teachers and students
in the humanitiesreading, writing, and exchange of ideas.
- Electronic scholarship unsettles some of the established procedures of professional
scholarship and publishingboth for better and for worse. It makes it possible to bring artifacts and histories
that have been neglected to light quickly and at minimal
cost. The balance between better and worse outcomes seems
likely to depend on how items 1 and 2 above shake down.
After having this conversation, I've become convincedas I was not beforethat it's only through attending to all three points above and making progress
on understanding each of their implications that the potentials
of electronic scholarship can be advanced. Keeping three
such ambitious ideas in mind at once is a daunting prospect,
but this conversation has convinced me that collectively
we can maintain a balance that will get us somewhere that's
Thank you both for joining me and for contributing your thoughts to the BWP1800 site.
Judith Pascoe, Bruce Graver, and Thomas C. Crochunis
Judith Pascoe is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Iowa.
She has written Romantic Theatricality: Gender, Poetry, and Spectatorship (Cornell UP, 1997) and edited Mary Robinson: Selected Poems (Broadview, 1999). She is currently at work on a study of romantic era collectors
Bruce Graver is Professor of English at Providence College. He is the editor
of Wordsworth's Translations of Chaucer and Virgil for the Cornell Wordsworth, which recently was named sole finalist for the MLA
Award for Distinguished Scholarly Editions (1999). He is
the co-editor with Ronald Tetreault of Lyrical Ballads: An Electronic Edition, forthcoming from Cambridge UP (and about to appear, we believe, in a pre-release
version on Romantic Circles). Work in progress includes work on Wordsworth and18th century classical scholarship,
and the American scholar, George Ticknor
Thomas C. Crochunis heads the publications department at the U.S. Department
of Education research laboratory at Brown University. He
is editing Joanna Baillie, Romantic
Dramatist: Critical Essays, a volume of essays on Baillie's
plays and dramaturgy (Gordon and Breach, forthcoming). In 1998,
he was guest editor of a special issue of Romanticism on the Net on British Women Playwrights around 1800. He is also
co-founder (with Michael Eberle-Sinatra) of the Web-based working
group on British Women Playwrights around 1800.