MA Texts and Contexts Week 6

The last two weeks’ seminars have focused on the topic of book history. These seminars raised some important issues regarding the origin, authority and materiality of manuscripts. For example, what is the origin of the text of the Beowulf Manuscript. This is a question that cannot be definitively answered. The answer may only be postulated. For example, the text contained in the manuscript itself might not be original. It may have originated from an oral version of the poem, it may have been transcribed from another manuscript, it could be a translation or it could be a compilation from other sources. There are many varied possibilities. The materiality of the artifact also makes an interesting study – every animal varies so in turn each page of a manuscript varies. Books also held different functions in the Middle Ages. They were very much seen as status objects. The uniqueness of these manuscripts is also important. They were not standardised objects. Even two copies of the same text would have contained many differences. The material itself varies, scribes and fonts vary, and even mistakes add to the individuality of every codex. The way a book came together and the definition of an author also differ significantly to today’s book production and authority. Bonaventure sums it up as follows: “The method of making a book is fourfold. For someone writes the materials of others, adding or changing, and this person is said to be merely the scribe. Someone else writes the material of others, adding nothing but of his own, and this person is said to be the compiler. Someone else writes the materials of other men, and of his own, but the materials of others as the principal materials, and his own annexed for the purpose of clarifying them, and this person is said to be the commentator, not the author. Someone else who writes his own materials and those of others, but his own as the principal materials, and the materials of others annexed for the purposes of confirming his own, and such must be called the author” (Minnis 94). Questions on the origin  and variability of texts also lead to doubts about the reliability of modern editions of these texts. Kevin Kiernan raises questions on these issues in his article “Reading Cædmon’s “Hymn” with someone else’s Glosses“. Kiernan states: “From its humble start as a marginal, secondary text, the vernacular “Hymn” first worked its way into the central, primary text by means of a tenth-century Old English translation of Bede’s entire History. It continued to appear, nonetheless, as a marginal text from the eleventh to the fifteenth century in Latin manuscripts of Bede. Nowadays scholars are generally convinced that we have inherited by this process authentic witnesses of Cædmon’s debut as a poet; in fact, they print the “Hymn,” in both scholarly editions and general anthologies, as the central text, with Bede’s Historia Ecclesiasticarelegated to the margins. The textual history of Cædmon’s “Hymn” provides an unmiraculous case history of how re-productions of literary texts both purposely and unintentionally re-present our past” (157). It is clear that there is a big divide between what the audience of such a text read or heard, and what a modern audience perceives.

Works Cited

Kiernan, Kevin S. “Reading Cædmon’s ‘Hymn’ with Someone Else’s Glosses.” Representations 32 (1990): 157-174. Print.

Minnis, A. J. Medieval Theory of Authorship. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1988. Print.

Image source:


MA Texts and Contexts Week 5

The Book of Lismore at the Glucksman Gallery, UCC

“Those ancient warriors yonder do not relate more than a third of their tales, on account of oblivion and forgetfulness. And let them be written down on the tablets of poets, and in the words of masters; for listening to those tales will be entertainment for multitudes and for noble folk at the end of time”.

(Acallamm na Senórach; Carey, Herbert and Knowles 27)

The Book of Lismore, a fifteenth-century Irish manuscript, was on display for the autumn months in UCC’s Glucksman Gallery. The book is written in the Irish language and was compiled some time between 1478 and 1506. It was composed for reading by lay persons as opposed to for a religious organisation or for scholars. Similar manuscripts include the Book of Fermoy and Bodleian Laud Miscellany 610. Much of the material contained within the Book of Lismore would have been composed centuries earlier and its contemporary readers may have struggled with the content due to the elaborate diction and out-dated subject matter (Carey, Herbert and Knowles 13).

The book is attributed to two main scribes and consists of 198 folios, although much of the original manuscript has been lost. It contains nine saints’ lives (Patrick, Colum Cille, Brigit, Senán of Scattery, Finnian of Clonard, Finnchua of Brigown, Brendan of Clonfert, Ciarán of Clonmacnoise, Mochua of Balla); several religious texts; The Ever-new Tongue ( a cosmological work); three religious poems; an Irish translation of the History of Charlemagne; The History of the Lombards; an Irish version of the Travels of Marco Polo; a series of secular tales and poems; some historical accounts of Munster; and miscellaneous poems and tales, such as The Tale of the Pig’s Psalter, about an underwater monastery. The texts contained within the Book of Lismore, while not readily transparent to fifteenth century readers, would have been seen as important due to their context in a manuscript setting.

The Glucksman had folio 134-5 on display. It was interesting to note the differences in font between these two folios. F.134 had smaller, neater writing. The ink used on this folio was black, except for the first four to five lines which were reddish-brown in colour. F.135 contained all reddish-brown writing in a larger sized font. Illustrations in red and black ink could also be seen introducing the text on each page. These illustrations were added in the eighteenth century by Donnchadh Ó Flionn, a Cork scribe, who had a loan of the manuscript in the early eighteenth century. Also on display was an eighteenth-century manuscript containing a transcription of the contents of the Book of Lismore. It was most interesting to see that the fifteenth-century manuscript was in better condition than the eighteenth-century copy. The exhibition also held a newspaper clipping from 1817 on the importance of preserving manuscripts, evidence that this is not just a modern concern.

The exhibition also made an interesting point on different types of textual transmission. On one wall it displayed a letter from Lewis Boyle to his father Richard regarding the possession of the Book of  Lismore. On a facing wall there was a portrait of Richard Boyle by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, the most recognised painter of the Caroline court. James Knowles makes a very interesting point regarding  theses contrasting items: “These two very different objects, the seductively glamorous portrait by a renowned painter, and the everyday letter, themselves embody the range of possibilities and activities encompassed. They represent the two key media through which the Boyles operated, the visual signifiers of power – buildings, opulent clothes and material possessions, artistic works, especially pictures – and the textual world of documents and legal memoranda, letters, literary, philosophical and political texts” (38). The Book of Lismore itself also embodies both visual and textual representations, as do many historical manuscripts.

Works Cited

Carey, John, Máire Herbert, and James Knowles. Travelled Tales: Leabhar Scéalach Siúlach. Cork: UCC, 2011. Print.

Image source:

MA Texts and Contexts Week 4

The Winter’s Tale – Cork Opera House 22/10/11

“If this be magic, let it be an art” (Act 3, Sc 5).

Corcadorca’s production of The Winter’sTale proved to be both magical and artistic. The combination of acting ability, lighting, imagery and musical score come together seamlessly. The magic of the play is captured in subtle ways such as the use of projection screens to produce a holographic sprinkling of snow over the stage, and the voiceover of time personified. These same projection screens are also cleverly used to display Apollo’s oracle:

Hermione is chaste;
Polixenes blameless;
Leontes a jealous tyrant;
his innocent babe truly begotten;
and the king shall live without an heir, if that
which is lost be not found. 

(Act 3, Sc 2)

Time itself is also ever-present in the form of a suspended clock positioned high over the stage, but always in view. The difficulties ofthe play are also well-handled. The transition of time is paralleled with the transition from tragedy to comedy. The play effortlessly moves from the almost monochromatic court scenes to cheerful pastoral second half, while still maintaining coherency. The famous stage direction Exit, pursued by a bear is adapted well here. The shadowy shape-shifting bear helps to subtly change the play towards the direction of the comedy which largely occupies the second half. This comedy is brilliantly displayed by Autolycus,the shepherd and the clown, although at times the clown over-played the simplicity of his character. Overall, a well-executed production that overcomes the complexities of The Winter’s Tale to produce something both magical and masterful.

Image source:

MA Texts and Contexts Week 3

This week’s Old English seminar focused on literary translation in Anglo-Saxon England. In Anglo-Saxon England, English was the language of the lay people, while religious orders and the ruling classes could understand Latin. Hence, much of their texts were composed in Latin. Codices would not have been often circulated among the ordinary people due to the expensive and time-consuming nature of their production. King Alfred (870s-90s) became concerned that education was declining so he set up his translation programme of reform throughout his lands. His aim was to translate texts into the vernacular so that all “freedom men” and the clergy could be educated in their native tongue: “we too should turn into the language that we can all understand certain books which are the most necessary for all men to know” (Keynes and Lapidge 126). The books that he considered “most necessary for all men to know” mainly included those with Christian or historical themes, such as Gregory’s Pastoral Care and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. While Alfred’s translation programme aimed to educate his people, there was also a sense of fear underlying his efforts. The Anglo-Saxons were often a superstitious people, and Alfred believed that the decline of education in England in previous years lead to punishment from God in the form of the Viking raids of the late ninth century: “Remember what punishments befell us in the world when we ourselves did not cherish learning nor transmit it to other men” (Keynes and Lapidge 125). About 100 years later, Ælfric the monk set about further translation. He had a more sophisticated translation theory than Alfred. While Alfred translated largely word for word, Æfric believed that this would cause misunderstanding so he strove to translate in a more simplistic manner in order to retain the sense of the texts. In his Prefaces, Ælfric repeatedly emphasises simplicity as one of the things he strives to achieve. He states his aim as “edification of the simple” Wilcox 127). People could learn “either through reading or hearing it read” (Wilcox 127). In his Preface to his translation of Genisis, however, Ælfric mentions the “ghostly significance” of allegory and alludes to exegesis. This will be explored further in next week’s seminar on Genesis and the fall of the angels.

Works Cited

Keynes, Simon, and Michael Lapidge. Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1983. Print.

Wilcox, Jonathan, ed. Aelfric’s Prefaces. Durham: Durham Medieval Texts, 1994. Print.

Image source:

MA Texts and Contexts Week 2

Inspiration this week again comes in the form of the Irish Examiner. Wednesday the fifth’s edition had a feature with the headline “The art of language is slowly dying away”. Mary Leland goes on to describe the decline of grammar in modern society, and the evolution of new forms of spelling and expression due to the “growing tendency to communicate only by email or text”. She states that “[t]o those of us who see language as  a link not only to immediate concerns but to a heritage of literacy, little losses seem important”. It is precisely these little losses led to the evolution from Old English to Middle English, and in turn from Middle English to the language we know today. This week’s Strand A reading focused on the connection between language and identity in Anglo-Saxon England. the importance lies not only in the language which we choose to use, but in the way in which we use it. Sarah Foot believes that language is an important part of identity as it is used to construct thought: “ideas are conditioned by the language in which they can be thought” (26). Language tells us a lot about the society of the Anglo-Saxons and other past generations, but it also reveals a lot about ourselves and where the priorities of modern day society lie. Leland sums it up nicely in her final line when she describes literacy as “a key to the past as well as to the future”.


“The art of language is slowly dying away”. Irish Examiner [Cork] 5 Oct. 2011. Print.

Foot, Sarah. “The Making of Angelcynn: English Identity before the Norman Conquest.” TRHS 6th ser. 6 (1996): 28-50. Print

Image source:

MA Texts and Contexts Week 1

Tuesday the twenty-seventh’s Irish Examiner had an article headed ‘2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls available to view online’. These scrolls are a collection of texts from the Hebrew Bible and were originally found in a desert cave in the mid 1900s. The national museum of Israel and Google have collaborated to make the scrolls available online. This is a further example of the work that has been ongoing in the last number of years to make such documents available electronically. It is a great addition to resources such as The British Library’s Turning the Pages™ system and UCLA’s Catalogue of Digitized Medieval Manuscripts. Websites such as these offer students a chance to see sensitive manuscripts up close and in detail, and they also act as a means of preservation for these documents. Being able to see these texts in their original form offers a much more realistic and almost tangible form of learning. It brings the manuscript to life, and thus offers valuable experience to the modern scholar. Being able to see texts in their original layout also provides useful information on the development of the English language, a topic we touched on briefly in this weeks Old English seminar in relation to Caedmon’s Hymn.

References: “2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls Available to View Online.” Irish Examiner [Cork] 27 Oct. 2011. Print.

A Review of Kenneth M. Price’s “Electronic Scholarly Editions”

Walt Whitman

Kenneth M.  Price’s article, “Electronic Scholarly Editions”, addresses the advantages and disadvantages of digital scholarly publication as a method of preservation of scholarly editions.  Price is a Professor of American Literature and is very much involved in the digital humanities.  He is co-director of the Walt Whitman Archive with Ed Folsom, which involves editing Whitman’s works online.  He also co-directs the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  He begins his article by pointing out the cost and time put into digital editions and states that it remains an “attractive medium” for editors, despite its uncertainty as a method of preservation.  Price specifically concentrates on scholarly editions.  He states that “[m]ere digitizing produces information; in contrast, scholarly editing produces knowledge”.

The first concern Price raises about electronic editions is the lack of dedicated qualified staff to carry out the task of converting content.  He says that academics tend to neglect editing because literary and cultural theories are given priority by the academy.  The scholarly editions Price refers to are often termed “archives” on the net, and there are many such examples available such as the William Blake Archive, the Dickinson Electronic Archives, and the Einstein Archive Online.  Digital archiving “blends features of editing and archiving”.  Price believes that the edition is only part of the archive: the archive itself contains much more.  For example, the Walt Whitman Archive contains many tools and resources such as letters, transcriptions, images, manuscripts, audio clips, etc.  It is much more than a mere edition, it is an interactive history.

Price presents a good argument for the production of electronic scholarly editions.  He lists the advantages as follows: they are capacious, and hence allow scholars go beyond the limits of print publishing; depth and richness can be added through the use of art, colour, audio and video clips; they also add depth of meaning to a text and bring a wider readership to the edition.  Digital editions allow a greater scope for editing, or perhaps lack of editing, as all versions of a text can be included along with commentaries from authors and editors alike.  A text no longer has to be whittled down to the author’s final intended text.  All versions can be included and readers can debate the eligibility of each one.  According to Price, with censorship and social pressures removed, a text’s true values and meanings can be questioned.  However, editorial decisions are not removed.  There are still issues such as database design and mark-up of texts to be decided on.  Other disadvantages, Price suggests, include the possibility of bias.  The way an edition is presented plays a key role in its interpretation.  While Price openly admits that electronic scholarly editions can be challenging to produce, he embraces these challenges and sees them as attractive: “I would argue that these very challenges contribute to the attraction of working in this medium”.

Price goes on to describe the difference between digital library editions and electronic scholarly editions, using the Wright American Fiction project as an example.  While this section does not add much to Price’s argument, it does offer some insight into the amount of work put into an undertaking such as the Wright American Fiction project. Price raises an interesting point here which is the possibility of releasing digital editions as a work-in-progress.  The advantages of this lie in its searchability, however the stability of an electronic edition is affected by its ever-changing nature.

Price dedicates a large section of his article to “unresolved issues and unrealized potentials” of digital editions. He believes that the full potential of electronic editing can only be reached by adherence to international standards, such as those set out by the TEI and the EAD.  Price also points out that “scholarly work may be free to the end-user but it is not free to produce”, something which is very easy for the reader of an electronic edition to forget.  Electronic scholarship is  lacking in funding, which is essential to its future development, and there is also the problem of undefined roles: “Traditional boundaries are blurring before our eyes as these groups – publishers, scholars, and librarians – increasingly take on overlapping functions”.  However, Price once again turns the negative into a positive: “While this situation leaves much uncertainty, it also affords ample room for creativity, too, as we move across newly porous dividing lines”.

Price, while able to see the challenges facing digital scholarship in the future, is ever-optimistic.  With proper funding, he believes, electronic editions will expand audiences and, while not replacing paper-based articles, they will certainly contribute to their informative value and to the preservation of texts.  Price sums it up well in his own words when he says it is “a field of expansiveness and tremendous possibility”.

A Review of James Cummings’ “The Text Encoding Initiative and the Study of Literature”

James Cummings is a digital medievalist at Oxford University, specialising in TEI XML.  His article on “The Text Encoding Initiative and the Study of Literature” may be found here.

Cummings begins with a well-grounded description of what the TEI is and why it was founded.  He notes that the TEI has existed since before the web was formed, and so “its recommendations have influenced the development of a number of web standards, most notably XML and XML-related standards”.  His article is not a complete history of the TEI, nor is it a general introduction.  Instead it serves to sample “some of the history, a few of the issues and some of the methodological assumptions” of the TEI.

Cummings goes on to give a general description of the content and structure of the TEI Guidelines.  This seems to be a rather pointless feat, as a quick glance at the TEI’s website will reveal this information.  The main body of this article deals with the technological and theoretical background of the TEI.  It begins with a description of the TEI’s early manifesto, drawn up at a conference at Poughkeepsie in 1987.  This is quite interesting as it allows the reader not only to chronicle the evolution of the TEI, but also to recognise areas of weakness or under-development.  According to Cummings, institutions such as the Oxford Text Archive and the University of Virginia’s Electronic Text Center have greatly assisted in the firm establishment of the TEI’s standards for text-encoding and preservation.

Text Encoding Model

One of the main benefits of the TEI, as Cummings points out, is the fact that it is “driven by the needs of its members, but also directed by […] the technologies it employs”.  It evolves according to necessity.  The TEI incorporates a diverse community of disciplines, resulting in a general encoding structure that can be adapted for basic or specialised modules.  The TEI is very much community-based and continually adapts according to its users’ needs: ” That the nature of the TEI is to be directed by the needs of its users is not surprising given that it is as a result of the need for standardisation and interoperability that the TEI was formed”.  Cummings goes on to describe the fact that the Guidelines have made the elements “more applicable to a greater number of users”.

However, Cummings also points out the disadvantages of such an approach.  He believes that it leads to “methodological inequality”, where specialised markup is used for some projects, whereas others only require more generalised methods. Cummings believes that the solution to this problem is the development of “rigorous local encoding guidelines”.

Cummings communicates a very interesting series of statements towards the centre of his article:

It is needless to say that many involved with the earliest efforts to create systems of markup for computer systems were not literary theorists, but this is not the case with the development of the TEI, which has often benefited from rigorous debate on the very nature of what constitutes a text (McGann 2001: 187).  While the history of textual markup obviously pre-dates computer systems, its application to machine-readable text was partly influenced by simultaneous developments in literary theory and the study of literature.

While these facts may seem obvious to Cummings, they would not be so to someone with no previous knowledge in this area.  For this reason it seems to me that Cummings is writing for his peers rather than a more general audience.  However, a readership with expertise in TEI would find his introduction very basic and perhaps a bit pointless.

The article then goes on to hypothesise that New Criticism may have influenced the application of markup to digital text.  I think it would have been interesting if Cummings dwelt on this point a bit more, however he brushes over it rather quickly.

Cumming believes that the TEI has greatly advanced our understanding of what a text is.  This is a bit far-fetched considering many people have never even heard of the TEI, but Cummings’ description of the hierarchy of texts and their overlapping structure is well elucidated.

Cummings spends much of the remainder of the article quoting from the TEI Guidelines which makes for a rather monotonous read.  Overall, I think he makes some good points but spends a lot of time getting to his main one, which is that the TEI is not a perfect system but with compromise it makes digital representation of texts much easier.

Images from;

Book Review: Roadside Crosses

Roadside Crosses is a suspense thriller by number one best-selling author Jeffery Deaver.  It is the final installment of a high-tech trilogy that explores the sinister side of the virtual world.  Roadside Crosses features kinesics expert Kathryn Dance, a CBI agent whose investigation of a series of murders on the Monterey Peninsula leads her into the cyber world.  Her investigation centres on troubled teenager Travis who is seeking revenge on those who cyberbullied him on a popular blog, The Chilton Report, for his part in a fatal car accident.  Deaver explores several aspects of the online world, such as blogging, gaming and social networking.  He plays with the idea that the more information people post about themselves online, the more vulnerable they become.  What sets this novel apart, however, is that it incorporates the digital world into the plot in a very real way.  Every forty or fifty pages there is a URL which the reader can use to look up the fictional blog, The Chilton Report, online and find more clues related to the book’s plot.  This blending of fiction with cyberspace adds a sinister element of reality to the story.  A typical Deaver novel, it has a fast-paced plot that endures a number of twists before the final blow is dealt.  It leaves the reader with a chilling insight into the potential dangers of the minefield that is the virtual world.

A Review of Aimée Morrison’s “Blogs and Blogging: Text and Practice”

Aimee Morrison’s article on blogs and blogging in the Blackwell Companion to Digital Literary Studies is a very informative read, particularly for those with little or no previous knowledge of the topic.  She begins with a short history of the blog, which started as a series of links of interest to a webpage’s author and went on to become a writing genre.  I found her definitions to be simple but detailed, and  easy to absorb.  She describes the concepts of archiving and keywords, and the use of blogs as “online diary services”, a hugely popular phenomenon.  I think one of the most likeable aspects of Morrison’s writing is her use of digital terminology, for example “blogosphere”, throughout her article.  She also backs up her statements well, continuously referring to research on the subject, such as that carried out by Herring et al.

Morrison’s informative introduction leads seamlessly on to her hypothesis on the cultural and technological forces “driving the increases in readership and authorship of blogs”.  She cites the 2004 presidential election in America as a major factor in the increase in blog readership and general awareness of the blogosphere itself.  Morrison also points out that a significant proportion of bloggers are students, particularly young male students.  While many of these are using their blogs as online personal diaries, the fact that blogs are being  so regularly accessed by students points toward their potential as learning tools.  Morrison illustrates Daniel W. Drezner‘s blog as an example of a blog that “both reflects his academic work in political science and departs from the academic standards that govern his peer-reviewed work”.

As with Liu, Morrison also refers to the significance of software tools being structured in a way that can be widely used, thus lowering the “technical barrier to entry” into the blogosphere.  She also represents the other side of blogging – reading: “Reading a blog, of course, requires nothing more than an internet connection and a web browser”.  She describes the role of RSS and Atom in increasing blog readership across “the internet population”.  In the past decade blogs have become very accessible.  Even newspapers now often have a “blogwatch” feature, and there are search engines that are dedicated specifically to finding blogs (e.g. blogsearch).

One aspect of Morrison’s article which I found very enlightening was her description of the blogging community.  As well as an overview of the blogroll tool – “[c]ommunities of interest are formed in the intersection of blogs in the blogroll” – Morrison also gives an account of blog “carnivals”.  Blog carnivals are a type of circulating online magazine, something which I had never heard of before reading Morrison’s article.  She cites a website,, which keeps a list of editions belonging to 290 different carnivals.

I also particularly enjoyed Morrison’s paragraph on the genres  of blogs, especially the opening in which she describes blogging as a rapidly changing “landscape”.  It appears that the blogosphere is indeed a broad landscape encompassing a variety of blogs from the personal-style diary blog to the academic library logs (“LibLogs”).  She also notes that the power of blogs lies in their immediacy.

Overall, a  light but informative read which tracks the progress of the blog from a total of 23 community based blogs in 1997 to today’s ever-increasing diversity of blogs created every second.


Images from and