WISE: What Is Scholarly Editing?

The Arts and Humanities Research Council has awarded a Collaborative Skills Development training grant for ‘WISE—What is Scholarly Editing?’ The programme is led by Dr Wim Van Mierlo at the Institute of English Studies, in collaboration with Dr Jane Winters (Institute of Historical Research),  Dr Anthony Mandal (Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research, Cardiff University) and Dr Jason Harding (Department of English, University of Durham).

Scholarly editing and the production of critical editions underpin much research in the humanities, notably in the fields of Classics, History and Literary Studies. Yet training in appropriate theoretical and methodological approaches, and importantly research management skills, is practically absent from existing research skills programmes available to postgraduate students and early career researchers. A significant portion of critical and scholarly editions are produced, it would appear, by editors who are largely self-taught. The objective of the WISE programme is to offer training and guidance for new editors to gain some experience early on in their career as editors. The development of an appropriate training framework for this core humanities research activity will help both to enhance the national skill set and to secure increased recognition for editorial activity, and indeed for collaborative, trans-disciplinary editorial work more generally.


The preparation of scholarly editions involves a number of highly specialist tasks: reading historical handwriting, analysing the complex processes of textual transmission (which includes bibliographical questions of how the manuscript, archive or book was produced), collating large numbers of variants and, last but not least, the application of critical judgment and editorial theory. Modern textual scholarship, which has its roots in the work of Karl Lachmann, A. E. Housman, A. W. Pollard, W. W. Greg and Fredson Bowers, has also produced a rich literature on the theory and practice of scholarly editing whose nuanced (and frequently contentious) debates pose a challenge to the novice. More recent theories of the social practices surrounding book production, pioneered by D. F. McKenzie and Jerome McGann, as well as studies by G. Thomas Tanselle, David Greetham and Peter Shillingsburg, have further enriched and expanded scholarly approaches to editing. At the same time, the advent of the digital age increasingly demands that editors be familiar with the range of approaches, standards and tools which have emerged to support editing. Finally, new and emerging areas of study, such as life writing, are drawing increasing numbers of researchers into scholarly editing.

WISE is a collaboration between the Institutes of English Studies and Historical Research (School of Advanced Study, University of London), the Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research (Cardiff University) and the English Department at Durham University, and is funded by the AHRC under its Collaborative Research Skills Development scheme. The purpose is to offer new researchers a grounding in the use of tools, platforms, theories and methodologies commonly used in scholarly editing—digital and in print. The programme consists of a two-day workshop (offered in each of the three collaborating institutions) and a peer seminar which will introduce participants to the principles and practice of scholarly editing and support the acquisition of both editorial skills and requisite IT skills. A selection of the training materials will also be made freely available as an online training module offering ‘An Introduction to Scholarly Editing’.

Aims and Objectives

The ambitions of WISE are, first, to promote dialogue and the exchange of knowledge across and within disciplines, allowing literary scholars to learn from historians, medievalists to learn from modernists (and vice versa). In particular, we hope that the involvement of academic publishers in the proposed workshops will also encourage cross-sectoral knowledge exchange, and extend awareness of the role of textual editing within the field. An understanding of the differences between and within different disciplines is both essential and instructive. Second, the project enables the partner organisations to develop an innovative programme of training in a traditional area of activity which has been undervalued in systems of evaluation and reward, but which forms nonetheless a cornerstone of much humanities research. A key legacy will be to embed such training in the partner institutions for future cohorts, through which each partner institution would function as a regional ‘beacon’ for textual scholarship.

The specific aims of the training programme are:

  • to develop the editorial skills of PGRs and ECRs, equipping them with the theoretical, methodological and technical skills to produce or contribute to a critical edition
  • to explore the benefits of collaboration between researchers in different disciplines and to share good editorial practice
  • to engage ECRs in a process of knowledge exchange, allowing them to take an active role in their own skills development
  • to encourage greater understanding of the role of scholarly editing in humanities research and publishing.


The main focus of the project will be a two-day workshop that will be offered once each in the following locations:

  • Senate House, London, 6 & 7 November 2014
  • University of Durham, 26 & 27 January 2015
  • Cardiff University, 13 & 14 April 2015

A fourth session, also in London (May 2015), will be a hands-on peer seminar for delegates to present and work on their own materials. The workshops will assume little or no prior knowledge, and will be explicitly interdisciplinary in nature.

Workshop programme (day one)

Introductory sessions

(a) What is Scholarly Editing? This presentation will offer a thumbnail history of scholarly editing, its origins in the classical tradition and biblical scholarship; its beginnings in the late 19th/early 20th century; its institutionalization from the 1940s onwards; the ‘sociological turn’ in the 1980s; and its current state in the digital era. Participants will be introduced to current theories and debates in editing; a basic vocabulary; common problems and difficulties, and disciplinary differences; and the relevance of digital technologies. (Wim Van Mierlo/IES)

(b) What is a Critical Edition? Building on the introduction, this session will cover the different forms and formats of an edition. It will differentiate between ‘collected’ editions, ‘critical’ editions (e.g. World’s Classics) and ‘scholarly’ or ‘historical-critical’ editions (multi-volume editions with complete critical apparatus and collation of variants). The session will mainly consist of exercises and group discussion, which will also offer opportunity to debate methods of delivery (print or digital); consideration of audience; and the function of commentary and annotation. (Anthony Mandal/CEIR)

Discussing methods: The afternoon will be devoted to ‘taster’ sessions in which participants are introduced to a range of methodological problems and solutions, relating to the type of source material and to historical periods. Each session of approximately 50 minutes, comprises poster presentations alternated with brief exercises:

  • documentary editing and the editing of life writing (Jane Winters/IHR)
  • best practice in annotation and commentary (Wim Van Mierlo/IES & Jason Harding/Durham)
  • the ‘anatomy’ of an edition: the role of paratexts and the critical apparatus (Anthony Mandal/CEIR)

Lecture: How to Plan a Large-Scale Edition (Anthony Mandal/CEIR).

Workshop programme (day two)

Case Studies I: Participants will work in groups under the guidance of experts, to look at a variety of document types from different periods. The purpose is (a) to learn about specific editorial problems and methodological issues, in a hands-on, problem-solving manner; and (b) to place these editorial issues in the context of managing an editorial project (special attention will be given to workflows, time management, creating re-usable research datasets, etc.):

  • editing medieval and early modern source texts
  • editing 17th-century play texts within the theatrical tradition
  • best practice in annotation and commentary: the Online Prose Edition of T. S. Eliot

Case Studies II: Participants will be introduced to digital scholarly editing – with examples of existing digital projects and a hands-on introduction to a suite of different tools available to editors: e.g. TEI, Juxta, TranScriptorium, Voyant, etc. There will again be further guidance on planning, workflows and research management.

Lecture: Editing with the Wisdom of Crowds: Tools and Concepts of Crowd-Sourced Scholarly Editing (Stuart Dunn/KCL).

There will be up to 25 places available at each of the locations. Priority will be given to AHRC-funded PGRs, and to ECRs and PGRs in the partner institutions (in the case of SAS, this includes the members of the London Arts and Humanities Partnership). Should the workshops be over-subscribed, consideration will be given to the balance of research interests among the delegates, ensuring that a good disciplinary spread is maintained.

Peer ‘hackday’ seminar

Up to 12 places (and bursaries) will be available for this ‘hack day’ peer seminar to PGRs and ECRs, who will be selected from workshop participants. Candidates will bring their own materials to the seminar for an editorial ‘hacking’ session in which the peer group and experts will together analyze the text corpus, assess the editorial problems and work on solutions. There will also be a further opportunity to learn about and work with digital tools.

This is an adapted version of the public release issued by the Institute for English Studies on 5 February 2014. Further information and proceedings from WISE will be published on both the IES and Cardiff Book History websites.

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