Editing and Textual Cultures

Module code: EN7223

Module co-ordinator: Dr Kate Loveman

This core module introduces students to a wide range of textual practices and cultures in English literature. In weekly two-hour seminars, we will investigate how the interpretation of works is affected by editorial factors and explore theories of textual editing, book history, and material culture. You will gain a sound understanding of past and present editorial practices and the ability to appraise methodologies and approaches relevant to your own work.


In previous years, the module has been organised according to the following seminar plan, which should be regarded as indicative of the types of subjects covered.

  • Introduction: In the first seminar, we'll examine the value of textual studies and textual cultures. As well as considering how texts are created, we will discuss the practicalities of evaluating an edition for research purposes and the basics of writing a critical review of an edition.

  • Case Study: Translating Old English and Old Norse: In this seminar we will explore the issues that translation raises for textual studies, drawing on examples from Old English and Old Norse literature, as well as students' own material. Theories of translation will be introduced, such as the debate over word-for-word (the letter) versus sense-for-sense (the spirit) approaches. We shall also consider the different requirements of translations of ancient and modern languages, and how interpretive decisions can affect editorial judgements.

  • Editorial Problems in the Brut Tradition: In this seminar we will consider the editorial challenges presented by two metrical chronicles in the Brut tradition from either end of the thirteenth century: Layamon’s Brut and the metrical chronicle attributed to Robert of Gloucester. We will consider the relationship between the two extant manuscripts of Layamon’s work, and the implications of the differing language of the two manuscripts. The larger number of manuscripts of Robert's work presents a different set of problems, which we will address through a case study of a section of the work.

  • Early Modern Drama: Mustapha and Macbeth: In this session, we will look at two tragedies from the turn of the seventeenth century: William Shakespeare's Macbeth (performed c. 1606, first published in 1623) and Fulke Greville’s Mustapha (written in the 1590s, first printed in 1609).

  • Early Modern Print Censorship, Theory and Practice: In this session we will look at how censorship in the early modern period affected the composition, production, and interpretation of texts in print, both theoretically and practically.

  • Practical Paleography and Transcription: This seminar will provide you with a grounding in transcription skills to allow you to accurately read and record manuscripts you encounter in your research or in assessments. Our focus will be on the period from the mid-seventeenth century onwards, the point where English handwriting settled into its 'modern' form. We will learn the basic terms for describing features of transcription and develop solutions to commonly encountered problems.

  • Case Study: Coleridge's This Lime Tree Bower: To begin our discussion of Romantic texts, we will focus on a specific poem: Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 'conversation' poem of 1797, 'This Lime Tree Bower'. We will work through the variants of the poem and its presentation in different contexts and anthologies (including online editions), which will also involve discussion of 'paratexts'. Questions addressed in this seminar will include the importance of original publication context, first/later versions, and canonicity.

  • Editing a Romantic Text: In this session we will take as our starting point some influential discussions by Jerome McGann and Zachary Leader of the theory and practice of editing Romantic-period texts. We will discuss the issues raised by these critics in relation to the editorial problems that have surrounded particular Romantic texts such as Wordsworth's The Prelude, and in relation to anthologies of Romantic poetry. A key issue in this session will be the question of authorship and authority in relation to textual editing. We will also consider the impact of digital technology on the editing of Romantic texts.
  • Theory of Copy Text: In this seminar we will focus on a key theory in editing, W.W. Greg's rationale of the copy-text. Since the middle of the last century, Greg’s ideas and extensions of his work have been a major influence on editors of texts from many periods of literature, and they continue to influence debate and practice today.

  • Editing in the Digital Age: This session will examine the benefits that online editing and digital humanities technology can offer for textual editors and readers of critical editions, as well as some of the problems posed by harnessing this technology. We will consider three ongoing digital editing/transcribing projects:  Transcribe Bentham (UCL and others), the Samuel Beckett Digital Manuscript Project (University of Antwerp and others), and the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh (University of Leicester). We will consider how best to go about the process of recording textual variants, both through the use of hypertext and on paper. The contribution this process has made to the growth of genetic criticism will also be discussed.