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C LIT 551 A: Textual Theory

Meeting Time: 
M 12:30pm - 3:20pm
DEN 159
Joint Sections: 
FRENCH 551 A, ITAL 551 A, ENGL 501 A
Geoffrey Turnovsky

Syllabus Description:

PDF version of syllabus

Textual Studies and Digital Editing

This course offers a hands-on exploration of the nature of texts, of the practice of editing in a digital environment using historical printed sources, and of issues related to interface, reading, and access. We’ll learn basics of digital text editing and encoding, including transcription in XML, using the widely-adopted guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), protocols for collaboration, along with some techniques for web publishing (XSLT, HTML and CSS). No prior experience with any of this is required or expected (if you have any questions or concerns about this, please do contact me at

Our texts will be drawn from the publishing world of the late 17thand early 18thcenturies in France and England, shaped by the growing demand for nouveautés– new things, aimed at entertainment – as well as by a thirst for “news.” Joan DeJean has argued that a modern public took form in this context, prefiguring the “public sphere” of the late 18thcentury. The texts generated in this literary market were defined by temporality: these were short-lived works in the form of recueils[collections] of verse and stories, nascent periodicals, and quick reeditions, meant to reaffirm constantly a sense of new-ness. They present fascinating editorial puzzles. We’ll explore, theoretically and, in creating our own digital edition drawn from these writings, concretely, how best to address these questions of periodicity and volatility. We’ll also explore broader issues of reading, temporality and technology, which will impact decisions we make: how platforms (print vs. digital) and interface influence the amount of time, attention and focus one is willing to devote to a text. These questions, in turn, are connected to ongoing debates within the digital humanities over close vs. distant reading.

We’ll highlight extensive Anglo-French interconnections in the period. Students, working in groups, will have the opportunity to work either on a French or English text, and some groups will focus on issues of translation and adaptation of texts from one context to the other. It is not necessary to read French. We will be collaborating on the digital project with the class of Christophe Schuwey at Yale (Schuwey has been on the editorial team for a number of digital editions, including of the Nouvelles nouvelles of Jean Donneau de Visé. Donneau de Visé was the creator and editor of Le Mercure Galant, an influential periodical:

This is a core course in the Textual and Digital Studies graduate certificate ( We will complement our digital project with discussions and readings in the field of textual scholarship, starting with classic formulations in New Bibliography. We’ll look at a series of critiques, emphasizing the “social text” and “material text,” as well as postcolonial, queer and feminist perspectives on editing. These critiques have reshaped and revitalized the field of textual studies, as have opportunities for textual work that digital platforms have opened up. The rise to dominance of digital texts in our reading and scholarship has revalorized editorial work as a scholarly project. It has required renewed reflection on what a text is, how it’s shaped by its publication processes, how it preserves or hides its history, and how the text shaped over time by its reception; not to mention, what counts as scholarship and what public(s) we seek to engage. The digital shift has also entailed that we learn new techniques and new skills for working with digitized texts. These issues will be foregrounded in the course.

Location. Mondays, 12:30-3:20 in Denny 159 (Language Learning Center)

Office Hours. Tuesdays, 11-1pm and by appt. PDL C-237.

Texts and materials. Readings will be delivered via the Canvas website as PDFs or will be accessible online. You will need to bring a laptop to each class.

Coursework will include a mix of written work along with participation in the seminar and its workshops. Overall evaluation will be based on:

-- leading discussion on one of the course readings: 10%. Briefly present the reading and lead a discussion, with questions for the class.

-- digital project: 50%.

This includes the following, to be completed collaboratively in your groups and posted to a Google Drive folder:

* an initial 2-page write-up of your plans, due 11/4, including:

a description of the text(s) your group has chosen to work on

a description of the core issue(s) you’ll be addressing with your edition (see the problematics: eg. periodicity, translation, etc…)

a preliminary plan for how you’ll address the issue(s) in the transcription and design of the edition (afterwards, each group will consult with a designer, Vanessa Cojocaru)

* your initial XML document including a modest critical apparatus: a short intro to your text(s), along with at least 5 editorial notes and a bibliography: due 11/15

* a corrected XML document, due 11/22 (revisions based on our joint discussions on 11/18)

* the final design, also due 11/22 (after consultation with Vanessa Cojoracu)

* a final XML document, due at the end of the quarter (with corrections form mistakes/issues that you’ll see after the page is rendered on 12/2)

* presentations of this work with your teams: 11/4, 11/18 and 12/2

-- short final research project: 30%. This is open ended. You can build on your work in your groups, and write a paper that either thematically or methodologically connects with your digital project. Or you can go in a different direction, and explore our course topics in relation to work you’re doing in your home program. Aim for 8-10 pages with a bibliography of 5-10 sources.

-- general participation: 10%

Catalog Description: 
Provides an introduction to the intellectual foundations of textual studies; historical background in disciplines of philology and textual criticism, theories of textuality from formalism and New Criticism to poststructuralism, and media-specific analysis; current and emerging concerns in the history of the book, media studies, globally comparative philologies, and digital humanities. Offered: jointly with ENGL 501.
Last updated: 
September 25, 2019 - 9:12pm