The 2013 symposium, held at the Lincoln Center campus of Fordham University, drew an audience of some 45 persons.
The symposium was planned by the K-SAA’s current Vice-President, Neil Fraistat, to reflect on what may be the result of major digitization projects now underway in the field of British Romanticism. There were three main sections, each having distinct generic, methodological and technical differences, so as to make the outcome of the interaction between speakers and auditors valuable beyond the local applications of the particular subjects.
The first of these, led by Morris Eaves, a founder of the revolutionary digital Blake Archive, and Rachel Lee, a principal editor for the Archive, concentrated on the manuscript of Blake’s unfinished epic, Vala, or the Four Zoas, which the Blake Archive, with permission of the British Library, is rendering in an electronic format. All paper editions of this work have had to undergo significant intervention from their editors, since there are large-scale deletions and additions in the manuscript. Many of the latter are entered on a particular page as marginal blocs without indication of how they are to fit into the text. What the Blake Archive editors are able to do is to reproduce the manuscript exactly as it stands, with tools that would allow such blocs to be shifted into the text on an individual basis. The result is to create a fluid rather than fixed narrative and to empower readers to enter, without an external mediator, into the heart of Blake’s creative process. This constitutes a methodology that would be applicable to any manuscript of a like nature and, with some moderate tweaking, into literary works existing in multiple revised editions.
The second presentation involved the ongoing online edition of the letters of Robert Southey, poet laureate for a quarter century during this period, one of whose editors, Lynda Pratt, came from the University of Nottingham to participate. Laura Mandell of Texas A & M University, who developed much of the encoding language for this venture, also presented. Here the focus was on a kind of markup that allows the reader instantly to gather together any two or even a group of correspondents and to map sets of cultural relationships among them. What could be discerned through these presentations was a new way of conceiving of epistolary editions, once again not as the static representation of a single author, but as a recreation of the actual circumstances of correspondence. If such an encoding became universally applied to a group of closely connected writers (such as the Lake Poets, as they were referred to in their day – Coleridge, Southey, Wordsworth, and their cohort), we would encounter an entirely new means of understanding and relating to their cultural interactions.
The third set of presentations involved the extraordinary collaboration of libraries, principally the Bodleian Library of Oxford University and the New York Public Library, that are creating the Shelley-Godwin Archive, a digital representation of all the manuscripts of this circle, which will be freely available worldwide through the internet. Elizabeth Denlinger of the NYPL explained the scope of the project; David Brookshire of the Maryland Institute of Technology in the Humanities documented the technological means involved; and Neil Fraistat concentrated his remarks on the philosophical and social implications of the project. The single text that was targeted as an epitome was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, manuscripts of which, in various states, will be made universally available through this project. The vexed question of how much Percy Shelley contributed to the eventual published text will thus be opened to examination by anyone compelled by the issue. The large implication of this project is that, though standard editions will still require editors learned in the field, an enormous democratization of the editorial process is now in the offing.
This conclusion spawned a round-table discussion of what all three presentations portend, which was led by Andrew Stauffer, Director of the Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship (NINES) at the University of Virginia, who began with a panoramic overview of the innovations that are resulting from electronic scholarship in the humanities.