General Editors: Thomas C. Crochunis and Michael Eberle-Sinatra

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. <>

Copyright © Contributors, 1999-2008. This essay is protected under the copyright laws of the United States and the Universal Copyright Convention. Publication (print or electronic) or commercial use of any of the copyrighted materials without direct authorization from the copyright holder is strictly prohibited.

  • 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 edition)?
     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 reason—to 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 topic—its 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 resources.
     Second, when you position yourself in relation to the materials available electronically, you view them—as we typically do—as 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 I—or 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 is—an invitation to further work, not a claim that work has been completed. Such a gesture, repeated over time, could be quite powerful and influential for scholarship.
     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, etc.)
     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 room

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 real—if socially constructed—constraints. It's fine to refashion pedagogy and scholarship in theory—and probably necessary for the work of this project to have any intellectual vibrancy—but 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 research.
     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 scholars need.
     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 that is.
     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 achievements—and 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 delivery—projects that include texts, images, performance experiments, bibliographic resources—some 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 dreams—what'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 clear—the publishing industry is already altering many of its practices—if not necessarily its standards—in response to the internet. The one model that seems to me to hold the greatest promise of providing online material with some standards—actually I prefer "consistent professional preferences"—is the same one that used to provide scholarly conferences with standards: communities of peers.
     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:

  1. 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.
  2. And speaking of access, let's not take for granted the significance of your—or 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).
  3. 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 plays—that'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 ready—I for one don't have time to wait.
  4. 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 ones.

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 anything—am 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 technicians—the 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 projects—and the individual projects represented at this event were considerable, so that's saying something.
     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 it—and 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 there—especially graduate students with strong interest in this topic—who 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 clips—stay 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 archive—Sarah 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 to Reynolds)
  • 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 of behavior
  • Student performances of key scenes Siddons is said to have played, both onstage and off
  • 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 cultural significance

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 co-exist.


  • 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.

  1. What system of self-evaluation can we establish for the work of the site—both the mounting of playtexts and the publications of commentary? What might be a manageable, peer-review process?
  2. 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?
  3. 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:
     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 internet—it'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 need—not 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 too—what'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 is—beginning 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 sites—seems 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 Brown.
     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 reasoning.
     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 semester—a 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, even—or dare I say, especially—the 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:

  1. Electronic scholarly projects need to be much more concerned with standards and conventions—both with articulating them and meeting those that have already been established.
  2. Computers are still not user friendly enough; they must become more fully adapted to serving the central concerns of teachers and students in the humanities—reading, writing, and exchange of ideas.
  3. Electronic scholarship unsettles some of the established procedures of professional scholarship and publishing—both 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 convinced—as I was not before—that 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 worth going.
     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 and collections.

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.