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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Bordalejo

Other People's Editions

Although I have been working with digital editions for a long time, this past week, I was faced with a completely divergent perspective for the first time in a very long time. As part of the Textual Communities workshop, I asked to use Cædmon’s Hymn transcriptions which form the base for Dan O’Donnell’s edition (2008)

The text of Cædmon's Hymn on the margin of folio 99r mss. Mg.
Screenshot of Cædmon’s Hymn’s A Multimedia Study, Edition and Archive (O'Donnell 2008)

.Because the texts were transcribed in SGML, we had to re-code them into XML for the workshop. Re-coding someone’s code is both a challenge and an opportunity,

The challenge is to accurately preserve all the original information, which requires a knowledge of the editorial model. The opportunity arises when understanding can transform into a potential fine tunning of the original work.

In the case of Cædmon’s Hymn, I discovered a wealth of work that I have not considered in my editorial process.

My work on the Canterbury Tales Project is optimized for the processes of collation and the production of stemmata to cast light on the textual history of the work. Attempting to process the data without the help of computers would result in a flawed enterprise yielding inaccurate results. Quite simply, even if my mind could retain the amount of variation found in the textual tradition of the Canterbury Tales, the processing of that data would be tainted by bias and prejudice in a way that computers generally avoid.

Because Cædmon’s Hymn’s text is so short, nine lines, information is more readily retained and processed and not at all impossible for a human brain. Moreover, the critical edition, a reconstruction of the archetype of the tradition, as presented in O’Donnell’s work, shows that significant variation is low in total numbers but high in relative terms (two variants per line on average). A large portion of editorial attention was given to the reconstruction of dialectal recensional hypearchetypes (two Northumbrian and three West-Saxon recensions). For the purposes of the workshop, at least, these hypearchetypes were not particularly relevant. Just that fact points towards a very different view of the ends of the edition (particularly when one considers the time and effort that the editor devoted to the reconstruction of said hypearchetypes). The way my interests shape my editions became clearer by working with and trying to understand the underlying theory behind Cædmon’s Hymn’s edition.

Collation is one of the most crucial steps in the CTP work. It requires a series of steps that necessitate the levelling of spelling variation (without alteration of the original transcriptions that attempt to reproduce manuscripts) as well as variant alignment to contribute to a more easily readable apparatus. With a refined collation, we proceed with the use of bioinformatics software to produce hypotheses about textual relationships. In my work, identifying and explaining with certainty the direction of variation is a rarely attained goal, only achieved for specific variants. Most of the time, I put forward hypotheses for different places of variation. I’m not sure what would be the use of reconstructing the hypearchetype of one of the manuscript groups (although I imagine some linguists might be interested in that). Primarily, my work deals with concretions rather than speculation, probably because speculative editions of the Canterbury Tales would be too time-consuming and potentially inaccurate to have much value.

Cædmon’s Hymn’s A Multimedia Study, Edition and Archive is an exhaustive and exhausting exercise. Most things that editors could think of are contained in there: transcriptions, reconstructions, several different critical editions (with significant variants, substantive variants, orthographical variants), manuscript descriptions, studies, and details; text covering every historical, linguistic, and literary aspect of the piece. It is so comprehensive that it seems to close any possibility of dialogue: it doesn’t leave any space for new research.

It makes me think back to what Mary Carruthers said to me once: “Barbara, an edition for everybody is an edition for nobody.” In this case, it is an edition for nobody because no one else will ever be able to make any significant contribution to the study of this work. It’s a closed edition, a text pinned like a Morpho didius in a European natural history museum.

O’Donnell, Daniel Paul, ed. (2005) 2018. Cædmon’s Hymn: A Multimedia Study, Edition and

Archive. 1.1 Internet Reprint. Vol. A.8. SEENET. SEENET.

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