About our Project

This website reflects the pedagogical aims and outcomes of a graduate course taught in the spring of 2016. The course, entitled “Remediating the Lyrical Ballads,” had as its center-piece a copy of the 1798 London edition of the Lyrical Ballads, held by our Special Collections at SFU. There were eight students enrolled in the course, 6 first-year MAs and 2 PhDs, both of whom were auditing the course. All of our course materials (including the syllabus and assignments) and  our weekly course readings are available on this site.

In the syllabus, I explained that:

Our study of Lyrical Ballads will be informed by the collaborative and experimental spirit of the 1798 volume, as together we design and implement a digital remediation of the original. Collectively, we will pursue a group project — a digital project that will incorporate textual, bibliographical, historical and/or creative responses to the original.

I am delighted to say that the objectives expressed in the syllabus were not only achieved but surpassed, as we produced a digital remediation of the original, and much more.

From the beginning, the course was committed to an investigation of our library’s 1798 edition, to conduct

a careful analysis of the physical book itself, asking how it was made, and how its “bibliographical codes” — to use Jerome McGann’s term — affect its meaning. We will also use our access to the first and subsequent editions to study the fascinating textual history of the volume (which was reissued in an enlarged and re-arranged second edition in 1800, with a new “preface”)…

After visiting Special Collections, the students undertook their first assignment,  a descriptive bibliography report on a material aspect of SFU’s copy of the 1798 edition.  Surveying the binding, collation/format, errata, layout, paper, publisher’s catalogue, title page, and typography, students engaged in a thorough analysis of our copy. Their reports bring to life  the complex and fascinating history of the book’s production and subsequent use. The eight individual descriptive bibliography reports, introduced here, became the foundation of all of the work that followed.

As we began to consider how to digitally remediate our copy of Lyrical Ballads, students investigated, and wrote short reviews, of existing print and digital editions, and of scholarly articles/chapters addressing the volume. They also began to work on their editorial projects, which involved the students in, collectively, preparing a digital version of our copy of the book, in WordPress. In our editorial statement, we explain why we elected to produce diplomatic transcriptions, to create what Elena Pierazzo describes as a DDE, or Digital Documentary Edition. We write:

Our edition is rooted in the close examination of the physical copy of a book; we want to explore what we can learn about the text from careful attention to the artifact itself, and our edition will respect that through its editorial principles.

Displaying page images alongside of our transcriptions within WordPress provoked our first technical challenge, one that was met by Allison Simmons, who devised a template  for side-by-side display using tables. We also went through a few iterations of the introductions to each of the poems, deciding what content and headings to include. This assignment proved to be incredibly demanding, given both that we only had eight students in the course assigned to work on the 23 poems, and the mass of scholarship on many of them. Nevertheless, by keeping focused our intended audience — high school and undergraduate students, members of the general public, and scholars interested in the material history of the Lyrical Ballads — students were able to produce meaningful short introductions to each of the poems, something that, as far as we know, no print or digital edition has done.

Although pleased with the display of the page images and transcriptions in WordPress, I also wanted students to learn about the Text Encoding Initiative (or TEI), the standards that have been developed to code texts in XML for digital display. Through two workshop sessions, led by Michael Joyce (Web and Data Services Developer, SFU Library) and Constance Crompton (UBC-Okanagan), we were able to generate a shared list of encoding principles, which students used to generate 23 separate XML files, one for each poem. As part of her final project for the course, Emily Seitz also encoded the front and end matter, and worked to edit and normalize all of the XML files. Michael Joyce, in turn, took our XML files and transformed them by writing a new module in Islandora for the rendering of XML files. SFU Digital Collections displays the rendered XML files for our Lyrical Ballads edition.

The students in the course report their strong preference for transcribing within XML, as opposed to WordPress. In an undergraduate course I am currently teaching, I will be introducing our edition of Lyrical Ballads, and asking these students about their preferences, as between the WordPress and the XML editions. We did not have the time to encode all of our supplemental material for the XML edition, one of the ways in which the ease of use of WordPress can more readily lend itself to student work.

Finally, students were asked to plan and execute a final project. As there was considerable work to be done to finalize the edition, Emily Seitz, as mentioned, worked on the XML documents and also introduced the descriptive bibliography reports. Madeleine Lascelle undertook to write an introduction to our process of creating a collaborative edition, from the student perspective, and another essay that focuses on the representation of gender in the 1798 (and 1800) Lyrical Ballads, a recurring theme within the introductions to individual poems.

The four remaining students enrolled in the course for credit investigated two subsequent editions, both held in our Special Collections. With access to these copies, and with their experience of physical analysis of the 1798 edition, these students prepared exceptional digital projects that focus on the material aspects of their chosen artifacts. Allison Simmons’s final project examines James Kendrew’s 182o chapbook edition of “We are Seven,” providing context on the chapbook’s history and its use in the dissemination of children’s writing in the early nineteenth century. Her project considers the Kendrew edition as an early example of a larger phenomenon later in the century: the adaptation and marketing of Wordsworth’s poems to child readers. Three other students, Brenna Duperron, Alexandra Petryszak, and Alison Roach, produced a digital project that studies the first American edition, published in Philadelphia in 1802.  They make several discoveries about a book upon which little has been written: about the publishers involved, the book’s publication by subscription, the rationale for publication, and the reception of the poems (and the volume) in America. Our two Ph.D. student auditors, Alex Grammatikos and Kandice Sharren, provided all-round support — technical, intellectual, and moral.

In reviewing the history of this course, I am astonished by what my students were able to achieve, within a thirteen-week semester, while most of them were taking other courses and working as Teaching Assistants. Although we faced many technological challenges, this site testifies to how digital media and tools enable new forms of research and dissemination for students and/as scholars. It also demonstrates the appetite our students have for engaging with older forms of technology, in the form of the printed book.

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