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Loyola University Chicago Libraries

Digital Humanities: Textual Studies

Textual studies is ground zero of everything we do. We read, we write, we think in a textual condition. 

— Jerome McGann, "Textual Scholarship, Textual Theory, and the Uses of Electronic Tools: A Brief Report on Current Undertakings" (1998)

Editing an edition, often a textual scholar's primary task, is a varied and complex act. Many methods, critical approaches, principles, and traditions must be considered before an editor can endeavor to present a reliable text. This being said, however, the single constant in the history of textual studies is that new approaches and concepts of representation are always emerging; particularly now as the influence of technology and new media transforms the ways in which we interact with these physical artifacts and witnesses. This shift in representation is both encouraging and thought-provoking as it becomes clear that the younger audiences coming to these works are often first introduced to them in a digital form rather than a physical one. How must this alter their idea of the work and its history?

Textual Studies Glossary of Terms (in alphabetical order)

AccidentalsA collective term invented by W. W. Greg and now widely used to mean the punctuation, spelling, word division, paragraphing, and indications of emphasis in a given text—things "affecting mainly its formal presentation," as he put it ("The Rationale of Copy-Text," Studies in Bibliography 3 [1950–51]: 21). 

AuthorityA property attributed to texts, or variants between texts, in order to indicate that they embody an author’s active intention, at a given point in time, to choose a particular arrangement of words and punctuation.

Base TextThe text chosen by an editor to compare with other texts of the same work in order to record textual variation among them. Its selection can be to some extent arbitrary, or it can be selected because it is (among the available texts) simply the most complete.

CollationComparison. A collation is either the record of the substantive and accidental differences between two or more texts or the act of comparing two or more texts for the purpose of documenting their differences.

Copy-TextThe specific arrangement of words and punctuation that an editor designates as the basis for the edited text and from which the editor departs only where deeming emendation necessary.

EmendationsEditorial changes in the copy-text or base text. These changes may be made to correct errors, to resolve ambiguous readings, or to incorporate an author's later revisions as found in printed editions or other sources, such as lists of errata, assuming for the moment that the editorial goal is to recover the author's textual intentions.

Explanatory NotesNotes devoted to explaining what something means or why it is present, rather than textual notes, which are devoted to explaining why the text at a certain point reads in the way it does and not in some other way.

SubstantivesW. W. Greg's collective term for the words of a given text—"the significant . . . readings of the text, those namely that affect the author's meaning or the essence of his expression," as distinct from its accidentals ("The Rationale of Copy-Text," Studies in Bibliography 3 [1950–51]: 21). 

Textual NotesNotes devoted specifically to discussing cruxes or particular difficulties in establishing how the text should read at any given point. Compare "explanatory notes."

VariantsTextual differences between two or more texts. These would include differences in wording, spelling, word division, paragraphing, emphasis, and other minor but still meaning-bearing elements, such as some kinds of indention and spacing.

(All definitions were adapted from the MLA Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions)

Essential Reading

Guide Attribution

This guide was informed and inspired by Paul Eggert's syllabus for Textual Studies (ENGL 413-801) at Loyola University Chicago. This was Dr. Eggert's final semester teaching this course and it was an honor working with him. The syllabus has been attached here for reference and personal use.