Editor's preface

The Editor's Preface gives an account of the background and aims of the project, an introduction to the use of the website, and a review of the problems involved in e-editing.

The background

This project developed from EETS Council's wish to explore the possibility of future publication of EETS editions of Old and Middle English works in electronic form—not as a substitute for traditional publication methods, but as a supplementary means of publication which might offer specific academic advantages, such as searchability and the inclusion of additional material (e.g., MS transcriptions and reproductions) which could not be as easily provided in a printed edition.

A subcommittee of Council reached the consensus that the most practical starting-point would probably be a translation model, taking the printed edition as its starting-point and using relatively light mark-up (which could, if necessary, be done by someone other than the original editor).

This trial electronic edition of the Preface to Ancrene Wisse is based on a non-electronic edition of the full text currently being prepared for publication by EETS. It includes most of the components of a traditional EETS edition, but the electronic edition also includes a translation (no longer provided by most EETS editions), and reproductions and transcriptions of the relevant sections of three important early manuscripts.

Project aims To develop an agreed set of conventions for marking up EETS editions for electronic publication in XML (eXtensible Markup Language), conforming to the TEI Guidelines. XML is currently being developed as an international standard mark-up language, less difficult to use and more Web-compatible than its predecessor SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language). The resulting DTD (Document Type Description) should be usable with only minor modifications for future EETS editions. To develop a user interface which will ensure that the electronic edition is at least as easy to use as a printed edition, and offers some added facilities.
Specifications

For a brief discussion of the XML encoding used for this edition, see Lou Burnard's Tagging Guide for EETS electronic editions; this also includes a link to the XML source files.

Since XML is, at least in theory, platform-independent (i.e. it offers a form of mark-up which is not tied to one particular publication medium), the choice of user interface made here does not commit EETS in the longer term to any particular form of electronic publication (e.g. WWW as opposed to CD-ROM). Those working on the project, however, agreed that there was a good case in the first instance for developing a WWW interface, since this offers greater accessibility than CD-ROM publication, and the potential for linkage with major on-line collections of material (e.g., the Middle English Compendium).

The website is designed for a minimum screen resolution of 600x800 pixels, using Internet Explorer 5 / Netscape 5 or above.

Using the website
Navigation

The website uses standard modern conventions of website layout to make navigation easier and more intuitive for its users (on these conventions, see Gerry McGovern, Rob Norton, and Catherine O'Dowd, The Web Content Style Guide (London: Prentice Hall, 2002), ch. 2, Designing for the Web).

A search facility is provided on every page. Core navigation, directing users to the main sections of the edition, is in a sidebar to the left of each main page, and repeated in text form at the foot of the page. For MS reproductions, and for the parallel text and translation, the full width of the page is used; these pages, instead of a sidebar, have sub-menus at the top of the page, linking them to a parent page.

Other features have been added to this standard layout to make it easier to move between different parts of the edition.

Numbered paragraphs

Ancrene Wisse is a long work (over 200 printed pages), and although it has a clear overall structure (divided into a Preface and eight Parts or distinctiones), there is relatively little formal subdivision within the major sections. This causes problems for an electronic edition (which tends to be primarily used for reference), as readers are not likely to want to scroll through long sections of text.

Following a practice commonly used in editions of medieval Latin works, I have subdivided the text into numbered paragraphs to provide manageable shorter units and allow easier 'horizontal' cross-reference between different parts of the edition (e.g. it is possible to move from each paragraph of the edited text to the corresponding point in the translation, Apparatus criticus, and notes). An outline summary, giving a brief account of the contents of each paragraph, has been provided as a substitute for chapter-headings in guiding the reader through the work; this includes line-references for each paragraph (see further Line-numbering below).

Internal linking

Other means of horizontal cross-reference are also used. In the edited text, footnotes list major textual variants; in the Introduction and Textual Commentary, brief bibliographical references (e.g. Dobson, 1976) are linked to the full references in the booklist. It is also possible to cross-refer by folio between MS reproductions and transcriptions.

Searching the site

A full-scale electronic edition would require a sophisticated (and expensive) search engine capable of searching on XML tags. This trial website uses a simpler method: the basic facility can be used to find the page containing a particular word or string, and the page itself can be searched using the Find facility in the Internet Explorer or Netscape web browser (under Edit in the top toolbar).

Printing out

The text sections of the website can be printed out on A4 paper using 'Landscape' format.

Problems
Simultaneous viewing

It is arguable that an electronic edition is not obliged to provide more ease of cross-reference than a reader could reasonably expect from a paper edition (e.g. text and notes do not have to be simultaneously visible, as long as it is easy to move between them); and there are no problems, at our proposed screen resolution, in displaying text and translation simultaneously. However, there are two areas where there is a strong case for facilitating direct on-screen comparison. In this edition, a split-screen facility has been provided for comparing manuscript reproductions with their transcriptions, to illustrate how this can be done.

Line-numbering

Once the printed edition is published, its line-numbering can be embedded into the text of the electronic edition; before printing, however, the line-numbering of a prose text can only be provisional. The line-numbers embedded in the edited text reflect the lineation of Richard Dance's computer transcript, which he has used for the Glossary; however, since his transcript does not include the Latin passages, I have retained (alongside his numbering) the folio/line-numbering of the base MS (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 402, ed. Tolkien 1962) in the Apparatus criticus and notes for greater precision of reference.

Special characters

The main problem with Web publication is that there is no guarantee that the user's browser will be able to display the special characters used in the electronic edition. There are three possible ways of dealing with this, none of them wholly satisfactory: by font download, by the substitution of graphics for problem characters, and by transliteration into more generally available characters. Font downloads are inconvenient for the user, and not all the medieval characters can be displayed in this way (the punctus elevatus, for instance, is currently unavailable). The graphic realization of characters makes searching more difficult, and can cause problems with different browser settings. The third option, transliteration, which I have chosen, is the simplest and most accessible, but necessarily involves some loss of precision in the reproduction of the original material. In this edition, it has been possible to retain thorn and eth, since these characters are supported by most browsers, but lower-case yogh is rendered as 3, upper-case yogh as 3 underlined, and wyn as w. In the manuscript transcriptions, the punctus is rendered as . punctus elevatus is rendered as ; and the punctus interrogativus as ? (it is important to note that in the context of the transcriptions, these renderings are not modernizations of the original punctuation, but carry the value of the medieval characters they represent). See further Conventions of transcription. With XML mark-up, however, the nature of the special characters can be recorded in the mark-up even when they cannot be displayed on the screen (in which case it is possible to specify alternate realizations).

Manuscript reproductions

The manuscripts reproduced in the trial edition (see Manuscript reproductions) are relatively small, and can be shown at a reasonable level of quality even within a 760-pixel-wide screen space; but it should be possible for the user to have access to a larger-scale reproduction. The simplest way of doing this would be to provide a larger screen image as an alternative (even if this involved scrolling sideways). SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) technology could make it possible to provide a zoom facility, though again this might require a software download by the user.

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to the Oxford Humanities Computing Development team, and to Lou Burnard and Sebastian Rahtz, for their professional expertise, and for the time and hard work (well beyond the call of duty) that they invested in the project. I am also grateful to members of the EETS Council for their constructive advice on work in progress, and to my colleagues at Southampton for advice and support.

I would also like to thank the British Library and the Master and Fellows of Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, for permission to reproduce extracts from their manuscripts as part of the edition (no further reproduction is permitted).

Bella Millett