The argument presented by a
scholarly edition can usually be traced to the vision of a single editor or a
very small group of editors. But is
it possible—or even desirable—for an edition to present multiple, perhaps
competing, arguments? This paper emerges from a new project to create a ‘social
edition’ of James Macpherson’s Ossian
poems, and describes the practical and theoretical issues behind crowdsourcing
annotation of the text.
The purpose of this project is to
generate new knowledge about a key eighteenth-century literary text. Since its
publication in 1760, Ossian’s combination of spurious textual
genetics and claims to cultural authenticity has provoked controversy and argument.
In his lifetime Macpherson’s editions incorporated responses to his ‘antique’
poetry: producing a battery of paratext, as well as insertions, expansions, and
alterations to bolster credibility—and maximize on commercial success. From the
outset, then, Macpherson used edition as argument.
This project aims to present a
new online edition of Ossian, prepared according to strict principles of
scholarly editing. The open-access project will re-present Macpherson’s work to
new audiences of scholars and will uncover the various textual choices made in
the eighteenth-century editions. Most importantly, it will create an online
knowledge community who will be actively involved in the collaborative creation
of scholarly annotations. Users will collaborate, debate, and annotate this
edition, synthesising for the first time a broad range of disciplinary perspectives
to provide an evolving community of research and a truly ‘social edition.’
This paper will analyse the
affordances of the web for the scholarly editor, with particular reference to
presenting full texts, visualizing variation and genetic textual development,
and creating an annotation collaboratory. Such possibilities open interpretive
avenues that are closed to the printed edition, this paper argues, before
considering whether other stages in the preparation of the scholarly edition
(collating and establishing texts, creating the critical apparatus) might be
achieved through similar crowdsourcing processes.