1. To start off light (or perhaps not!) what is your favourite book?
This is a difficult question… If you don’t mind I’ll offer a few across genres. My favourite novel is Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; poetry book: John Milton’s Complete Poetical Works; and non-fiction: Christopher Ricks’s Essays in Appreciation.
2. Are there any current or future research projects you’re particularly excited about?
Yes! I have nearly finished an article about a sketch by Mark Twain that is unique for being the only piece in his oeuvre that addresses abolitionist activity in Missouri. The sketch was published shortly after Mark Twain’s death, but I learned from examining the surviving manuscript that the piece was changed by his biographer. He even gave the piece a new ending! So I am excited to submit the corrected text with an article explaining its significance. I am also working on a couple Melville projects: one is the digital edition of Billy Budd, Sailor, for the Melville Electronic Library. The transcriptions of the manuscript leaves are almost done, but the next task is to create “revision narratives” that help to explain Melville’s process. We also have a bit of work to do on edition design. The other project is a statistical analysis and visualisation of Melville’s marginalia to Shakespeare. At the moment I am using a programming language called R to produce the results.
As to future plans, I am excited by recent conversations with colleagues at SAS to further investigate the extensive resources at the Senate House Library. Some under-used collections, ranging from travel writing to Terry Pratchett’s papers, might lead to some promising digital archives and editions research. I am looking forward to creating training opportunities based on this work, too. Stay tuned.
Finally, I am working (slowly but surely) on a book on the development of the novelist Paul Bowles’s aesthetic when he was traveling and writing a lot of letters to his modernist mentors early in his career––a time when he primarily considered himself a composer and poet.
3. Simply: What is digital editing?
Oh, were it simple! First we must define scholarly editing, which, broadly speaking, is the production of accurately edited texts (i.e., based on a careful examination of surviving manuscripts and previous publications) with textual and contextual apparatus. There are many other considerations involving principles such as authorial intention and what one chooses as a base text, but I won’t go into them here. So, echoing what I learned from David Birnbaum, I would say that digital editing is the computational pipeline (from encoding and processing digital documents to interface design) that brings a scholarly edition to a digital medium. And I would add what others like Hans Walter Gabler have said about the uniqueness of digital editions, that they constitute a web of knowledge rather than functioning as a codex-oriented collection of texts and their contexts. Simply put, digital editions afford more flexibility of presentation and inter-connectivity: for example, I recently co-edited an edition called Mark Twain: April Fool, which is an edition of an event. There are also multiple interfaces through which one can access the documents that make up the edition. This is not possible in print editions.
4. How does your work allow you to work across disciplines?
Every discipline should require reliable editions of its seminal texts as well as an understanding of the technologies of texts and publishing. I have endeavoured (and will continue) to promote the idea that the well-crafted edition is central to life of every discipline. The principles of textual editing should be occupy a place in all humanities programs. Similarly, in terms of my digital studies, the very empirical nature of technology, digital publishing and computer programming requires a familiarity with subjects such as philosophical logic and mathematical models. For example, one would be remiss in creating a digital edition without thinking through ahead of time what one’s model of a text looks like. That model also needs to adhere to current logical standards of text hierarchies.
5. In your opinion, what are the most important traits of a researcher?
Curiosity, flexibility, humility, and skepticism. I suppose the last two are rather important: trust no one, not even yourself! I love that line in Pope’s Essay on Criticism, “Be silent always when you doubt your sense; / And speak, though sure, with seeming diffidence.” When I was an editor at the Mark Twain Project, you would not believe how many factual mistakes we found in the books of well-regarded authors. Yet, because we admire their prestige we sometimes chose not to double-check their facts while using them for our research. And of course I was also humbled by my own capacity to make mistakes, so I am much more diligent now in checking myself (Pope, again: “with pleasure own your errors past”). Another trait that bears mentioning is a love of the material. Appreciation for the art and the ideas at the basis of one’s research profoundly changes the experience of the work, and the product.
6. As you’re new to living in London – any particular point of interest you’re wanting to visit?
One thing I just did that has been high on my list was to visit the Milton cottage in Chalfont St Giles. It is where he completed Paradise Lost, and much of the cottage has not changed since Milton’s brief stay. I am an absolute geek for literary tourism, so I know there are things I will want to see that I don’t even know about yet. But next on my list is Dr Johnson’s house, and Bunhill Fields cemetery (to see William Blake’s grave). I do look forward to more regular visits to Tate Modern, which I had visited once before, but I spent most of the visit losing myself for well over two hours in the Rothko room, and then attempted to see other rooms in an existential stupor.
7. Any future events or study related things at the IES you’re looking forward to?
I am excited to initiate new training on digital editing and other digital humanities topics at the IES. It will be a great experience to teach the encoding of documents in TEI-XML, and learning how to process them for the web, for example. I often say I am an evangelist for scholarly editing, so you will often hear me pontificating about traditional textual editing problems while also boasting of the advantages of digital editions. I am also eager to explore other exciting topics like text analysis. It is truly revelatory to solicit the aid of machines to re-orient our assumptions about reading. I am sometimes sceptical about the claims of “distant reading,” but I certainly see the value of making a quantitative approach to large bodies of text complementary to our (still very important) close reading activities.
I am also looking forward to start a Moby-Dick reading group this winter. It is not only a perfect text to pore over one small bit at a time, it dovetails nicely with the IES’s emphasis on book studies. During Melville’s lifetime, an American and British version were released around the same time; the American version is generally authoritative, but the British version includes unauthorised changes from the publisher as well as changes Melville made after he had submitted proofs for the American edition. It is a classic textual editing problem, but it also highlights the importance of understanding how publishing histories have an effect on readership. It really matters which edition you choose to read!