9.741 e-texts and scholarship

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 19 Apr 1996 19:11:11 -0400 (EDT)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 741.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: Ted Parkinson <parkinsn@mcmail.CIS.McMaster.CA> (54)
Subject: Re: 9.736 on e-texts

On Wed, 17 Apr 1996, Humanist wrote:

> [1] From: Haradda@aol.com (29)
> The other day it was brought up that someone was looking for etexts. And I
> suggested that the party look at Project Gutenberg or the new books list at
> CMU. It was brought up that those were for the general public. Why should
> that make any difference?
> I will give you an example. One of my children had to do a paper on Mary
> Shelly's Frankenstein. I discovered that there were two versions that were
> available as etext. A first edtion and a "last" edition that was from the
> Everymans Library. I ran a comparison program between the two texts and I
> found a number of differences between the two. It looked as though Mary
> Shelly had worked on it her entire life polishing it up...making it better.
> But it was still the same story. So which do you use for a critical
> specialist work? And should it really make a difference? Isn't picking out
> versions and making one of them "the critical text" a bit like asking "how
> loud is one hand claping?" But I wonder if having specialist books is really
> that important if nobody reads them but specialists.

You are really asking, "is scholarship worthwhile?" Probably, most of the
people on Humanist think it is. To say that the different versions of
_Frankenstein_ are "the same story" is to reduce the meaning of the work
to its basic plot outline. The earlier version is "darker" and has just
been edited in a critical edition from Broadview Press. It is the one I
would choose to teach because it is more ambiguous, and simply stranger
and more interesting than the later text. Your phrase, "polishing it
up...making it better" erases the ideological constraints under which
Shelley wrote, her husband's influence, generic classification, and myriad
other details which "scholars" like to discuss. We often discuss these
things in classes full of students, so it is hardly "one hand clapping."
How and why do you think the later version is "better"? What do you mean
by "better"? You are hiding your critical perspective.

> In my library I have a book that contains various versions of Enoch texts.
> It was published by a well known publisher in an edition of 1,000 copies.
> In the state where I live two of the Universities have it and I have it.
> And as far as I know no one else in the state has a copy. I have checked
> and as near as I can tell only 5 people have ever checked it out and perhaps
> read it. Yet I have scanned a Enoch text that was translated in the 1880's
> and is in the public domain and put it on the net and I have had 150 people
> download it so far in the last 3 months. Though that doesn't mean that they
> have read it either.

Dissemination is great, but you have changed topics. I don't think
anyone has said Project Gutenberg is a bad thing; it's quite valuable.

> When I was younger scholars wrote books that were best sellers and at the
> same time received excellent reviews from the critics and their peers?
> Samuel Eliot Morrison is one who comes to mind as an example. It seems to
> me that this has changed? Has it?
> haradd@aol.com (David Reed)

Your use of the term "scholar" seems pretty broad; I'm sure "they" still do
write "best-sellers" and others will provide examples. But bibliographic
criticism and techniques are hardly new, and neither is scholarly

Ted Parkinson
Department of English
McMaster University parkinsn@mcmail.cis.mcmaster.ca
Hamilton, Ontario