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C LIT 553 A: Studies in Print Culture and Publication

Meeting Time: 
T 10:30am - 1:20pm
MGH 085
Joint Sections: 
FRENCH 553 A, ITAL 553 A, ENGL 503 A
Geoffrey Turnovsky

Syllabus Description:

FREN553/ENG503/C LIT553 -- WI 2019

Studies in Print Culture and Publication: Editing a 17th-Century French Play From Print to Digital

Geoffrey Turnovsky (French and Italian,

Tuesday, 10:30am-1:30pm, MGH 085 (with some sessions in Special Collections)

A hands-on exploration of the nature of printed and digital texts. Through the creation of a digital edition of a 17th-century satirical play – Edmé Boursault's La Comédie sans titre ( – we'll explore how new technologies and media shape the ways we read and write, from the "Printing Revolution" to the "Digital Revolution." Boursault's satire mocks readers of the periodical Le Mercure Galant, which cultivated a new public of provincial readers aspiring to social status and hungry for news about the latest Parisian fashions. First performed in March 1683, the work exists in a number of versions and presents a series of intriguing editorial puzzles.

The course‑workshop will be in three parts. The first will focus on the technology of the printing press, exploring the technology itself (including visits to Special Collections to compose and print) and current discussions about the ways the development of the press transformed the intellectual, social and political cultures of early modern Europe, with an emphasis on 17th-century France to help us situate La Comédie sans titre. We'll consider how digital media now impact how we engage the textual archive we've inherited from the age of print.

Second, looking to our editorial work, we'll examine some key perspectives in textual scholarship and critical editing, from the Renaissance through New Bibliography and its subsequent critics, about what a text or a "literary work" is: how is a work or a text defined in relation to its editorial or performance history, to its creation and revision by an author and to its circulation, reception, and appropriations by readers over time? We’ll look at the extension of these debates in the age of digital publishing, considering how digital platforms change the way we conceive of a text and how we can offer access to it.

Finally, we’ll learn some basics of digital text editing, including transcription in XML (using the Text Encoding Initiative [TEI] guidelines), protocols for collaboration, as well as rudimentary web publishing (with HTML and CSS; and various platforms for publishing TEI transcriptions). No prior experience with any of this is required or expected.

We’ll collaborate on this project with the class of Christophe Schuwey (who has been on the editorial team for numerous digital editions, including of Donneau de Visé’s 1663 Nouvelles Nouvelles: at Yale. Class sessions will be in English, but the text we’ll be working on is in French (as will some of our readings), thus a decent reading knowledge of French is necessary.


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%. Coming prepared to very briefly present the reading, and above all to lead a discussion, with questions for the class.

-- final presentation of research project: 10%. This is a more formal conference style presentation. Plan to speak for 10-12 minutes.

-- digital project: 35%

This will consist of numerous components:

* the initial transcription and short explanation of decisions (due 2/19)

* annotations and critical apparatus (quality of research and the quality of the write‑up, also due 2/19)

* the plan for the digital interface (submitted and presentation to joint class on 2/26)

* quality of presentations with your team (on 2/19 and 2/26)

* the initial and final XML documents (due 2/26 and 3/12)

-- independent research project: 35%. This small research project might be directly related to your work on the Comédieor more indirectly, connected to it. Ideally, think of it as a contribution which might accompany a new edition of the Comédie sans titre, highlighting something of relevance: whether focusing on the conext of 17th‑century France or on the bibliographic, editorial side of things. Aim for 8-10 pages with a bibliography of 5-10 sources.

-- general participation: 10%




Jan 8 – Introduction: to the course, to print culture and book history

Elisabeth Eisenstein, “Defining the Initial Shift”

Adrian Johns, from Nature of the Book

Robert Darnton, “What is the History of Books”

Lucien Febvre/Henri-Jean Martin from The Coming of the Book(preface)


Jan 15 – Some examples of book historical scholarship and introduction to the book culture of 17th‑Century France (in Special Collections)

Margreta De Grazia and Peter Stallybrass, “The Materiality of the Shakespearian Text”

Darnton, from Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France

Henri-Jean Martin, from The French Book: Religion, Absolutism and Readership 1585‑1715


Jan 22 – Special Collections

David Greetham, from Textual Scholarship: An Introduction, “Making the Text: Bibliography of Printed Books,” 112-151 and “Reading the Text: Typography,” 225-270

“What is XML and Why Should Humanists Care: An Even Gentler Introduction to XML”:, read through the section “Is every document really a hierarchy?”

Julia Flanders, Syd Bauman, Sarah Connell, “Text encoding,” read 104-11 (up to “The Basics of Encording with TEI”)


            Comédie projet

Initial introduction to XML. Document analysis.


Jan 29 – Visit of Rachael Scarborough King

Introduction to King, Writing to the World: Letters and the Origins of Modern Print Genres


            Comédie project: some context

Joan DeJean, from Ancients and Moderns

Turnovsky, “Les lecteurs du Mercure galant: Trois aperçus”

Janet Letts, “Responsive Readers of the Mercure Galant

Selections from the Mercure galant

The Obvil project is an excellent source for the text:

Le Gazetier universel is a great place to find original copies in PDF:


Performance and publication history of the Comédie sans titre– we’ll look at the Registres of the Comédie française, among other sources.



Feb 5 – Traditions in textual scholarship and critical editing; and taking stock of the Mercure galant/Comédie sans titre

Leah Marcus, “Textual Scholarship,” from Introduction to Scholarship in Modern Languages, 143-159

Donald McKenzie, “The Book as an Expressive Form,” Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts

Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, “Why We (Mostly) Stopped Messing with Shakespeare’s Language,” New Yorker, Oct 6, 2015.



“What is XML and Why Should Humanists Care: An Even Gentler Introduction to XML”:, read from “Could I please see some XML already” through “Other Web Standards”



  1. Editions and Transcription of the Comédie: look at 1682, 1683, and 1694 editions and see what differences you can find.

Transcription: we’ll form teams of 2 or 3, between our two seminars (UW and Yale). Think about which scene you might be interested in transcribing. We’ll start with a scene in each Act, with the possibility of expanding to include more scenes, if that’s feasible. With your teammate(s), think about how you want to transcribe the text, working from the original 1694 edition: what changes do you think you want to make? Will you modernize spelling and punctuation? (Don’t think about layout at this point. Just the text). Some useful guidelines on trancription here: least through the “Corrections and emendations” paragraph. The rest anticipates more directly how to address the issues with TEI, which will make more sense next week).

Critical apparatus: Think also about what kind of critical apparatus you want to provide. This will be primarily in the form of notes and annotations. Aim for a minimum of 5 notes. These should be explanatory and help your reader. What will you highlight here? Language? Historical context?

Aim to have your transcriptions and critical apparatus complete by 2/19.


2.XML cont’d and text editors.


Feb 12 – Print and Digital

Jerome McGann, “The Rationale of Hypertext,”

Matthew Kirschenbaum, “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments,”


Read oneof the following, on digital reading, digital texts and digital editions

Katherine Hayles, “Close, Hyper, Machine,” in ADE Bulletin 150 (2010) (

Christian Vandendorpe, “Reading on the Screen: The New Media Sphere,”

Christophe Schuwey, “Humanités numériques et études littéraires: une question d’interfaces”

Johanna Drucker, “The Virtual Codex from Page Space to E-Space,”

Betrand Gervais, “Is There a Text on This Screen? Reading in an Era of Hypertextuality,”



“What is the TEI?”; and “Getting Started with TEI” and “Technical Background”

Julia Flanders, Syd Bauman, Sarah Connell, “Text encoding,” read 110-120


Some examples of TEI-encoded corpuses:

“The TEI by Example Project”:

The Mercure Galant Project by Obvil:

Molière at Obvil:

Les Nouvelles


Feb 19 – Joint with Christophe Schuwey’s seminar (via videoconferencing)

            Teams present transcriptions. Be prepared to discuss your decisions.


Feb 26 – Joint with Christophe Schuwey’s seminar

            Staging the text: teams present decisions about how to display their excerpts.


            Corrected drafts of XML files are due (make sure the XML is well-formed).


March 5 – Joint with Christophe’s seminar. Peer reviews of scenes.


Very brief intro to digital publishing: HTML, CSS, XSLT, and other platforms

Do Miriam Posner’s short tutorials in HTML and CSS:

“What is XML and Why Should Humanists Care: An Even Gentler Introduction to XML”: Read the section “Practicing what we preach.”

Flanders, Bauman, Connell, “XSLT. Transforming our XML data”


March 12 –final presentations


FINAL PAPERS due: Monday, March 15

Catalog Description: 
An examination of the theoretical and methodological issues attending the study of printed texts; training in bibliography and the history of the book from Gutenberg's hand press to the machine and periodical presses of the nineteen and twentieth centuries; and contemporary book art. Offered: jointly with ENGL 503.
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:02pm