According to an article in UVA Today, many students download online copies of public domain works when they’re assigned in class. After all, why pay for an expensive edition from the bookstore when you can have the book for free? It’s a problem, however, when there’s no way of telling if the online text has been reliably transcribed or if it’s the correct edition. Are you getting the 1818 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the 1831 edition that was revised after critical reception?
To address the problem, the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded a $73,000 grant to UVA English professor John O’Brien and the Library’s Director of Arts and Humanities, Chris Ruotolo, who are collaborating with associate professor Tonya Howe of Marymount University to build Literature in Context—a free, open source anthology that can be counted on for accurate, authoritative editions of 18th and 19th century American and British literature.
“The library has an interest in providing access to high-quality digital texts for use by UVA students, as well as the general public,” Ruotolo said. “Part of our role in this project is to ensure that reliable digital editions are preserved and discoverable for use by future generations of scholars.”
Holdings of “the most important editions” of Jonathan Swift’s works in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library are another valuable UVA contribution to the project. And some of the students in O’Brien’s undergraduate course on “Satire” are annotating Gulliver’s Travels for the anthology, deepening their own appreciation of Swift while building what Ruotolo describes as “a repository of scholarship and public knowledge.”
Read more about the project in the article “What Page Are You On? Making Online Texts More Reliable for Teachers and Students” (UVA Today 4/12/2018)