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Crompton, Constance, University of Victoria, Canada,
Siemens, Raymond, University of Victoria, Canada,
The Devonshire MS Editorial Group

Introduction: Contexts for Social Editing

The integration of social tools into the electronic scholarly edition pushes the boundaries of authority, shifting power from a single editor, who shapes the reading of any given text, to a group of readers comprising a community whose interpretations themselves recast the edition form. This poster outlines a method that brings scholarly best practice, open access methodology, and social media technology to scholarly editing. As a test of the method, we, the Devonshire MS Editorial Group,1 are leading the development of a social edition of the Devonshire Manuscript, a multi-authored verse miscellany compiled in the 1530s and early 1540s. Through the production of both a fixed and evolving edition of the text, we are exploring how social media can be used to change the role of the scholarly editor from the sole authority on the text to a facilitator who brings traditional and citizen scholars into collaboration through an ongoing editorial process.

The most conservative electronic scholarly editions have used computation chiefly to ‘describe and express print-, visual-, and audio-based material in tagged and searchable electronic form’ (Schriebman, Siemens & Unsworth 2004: xxv), in many ways mimicking interactive structures more suitable to possibilities of the print medium rather than the digital one; this teleological, codex-based model sees the editor as a single authority, a mediator between the text and the reader, where the editorial entity determines and shapes what is important to the reader, focuses the editorial and analytical lens, and ultimately exerts immense control over how the reader can engage. Social media’s interactive online spaces have produced new environments for textual editing, ones which invite us to consider the best way to move beyond the codex model while preserving qualitative assurance and facilitating community engagement.

Materials for The Case Study: The Devonshire MS

If we count all creative textual works – complete poems, verse fragments and excerpts from longer works, anagrams, and other ephemeral jottings – the Devonshire Manuscript consists of 194 items. In addition to 129 courtly verses by Sir Thomas Wyatt, of which sixty six are unique to the manuscript, and eleven poems by Geoffrey Chaucer, the manuscript contains transcriptions of the work of others and original works by prominent figures from the Henrician court including Mary Shelton, Lady Margaret Douglas, Mary (Howard) Fitzroy, Lord Thomas Howard, Henry Howard and, perhaps, Queen Anne Boleyn (Southall 1964: 143). The manuscript itself bears traces of the original contributors’ editorial process: besides writing epistolary verse, contributors to the manuscript interacted with one another through editorial annotation. These marginal responses are, at times, quite personal in nature. They include responses that evaluate the quality of certain lines, the crossing out of one word and the insertion of another, or the writing of textual remarks that seem to comment on real-world situations not necessarily noted in the manuscript. Other aspects of the Devonshire Manuscript – its multi-layered and multi-authored composition, its early history and transmission, the ways in which its contents engage with and comment directly on contemporary political and social issues – confirm the volume’s function as ‘a medium of social intercourse’ (Love & Marotti 2002: 63).

The Case Study: Fixed and Evolving Editions

The Devonshire MS Editorial Group is modeling the social editing process. We have produced a fixed, authoritative version of the text, which has undergone a thorough review by an international advisory group of Early Modern and Renaissance scholars. This same text, complete with appendices, glosses, commentary, and textual notes is now available in Wikibooks, a platform which provides a flexible environment for collaboration, contribution, and discussion by traditional and citizen scholars. The Wikibook, which has already received promising attention from Wikibooks’ existing editorial community, is augmented with additional images of the manuscript, witness transcriptions, an extensive bibliography, and xml encoded transcriptions of the Devonshire Manuscript – creating an online version that is both an edition and a research environment.  The advisors are currently providing a medial review which is neither as public at the Wikibook discussion pages nor as private as anonymous peer review.  They are in conversation with one another over the fixed authoritative edition and the evolving Wikibooks edition in a social media space housed by Iter, a federated site located at the University of Toronto.

After six months online, the Wikibooks edition will undergo a full comparison with the fixed edition. Keeping the best of the Wikibooks additions, the Devonshire MS Editorial Group will incorporate the advisory group’s suggestions, and will present a truly socially mediated edition of the Devonshire Manuscript for publication with Iter and Medieval and Renaissance Texts Society. Rather than a terminus, this edition will serve as a snapshot of the living edition, one which represents the perpetual process of scholarly editorial practice.

Reflection on Method and the Significance of Anticipated Outcomes

The public editing process for the social edition has been designed to encourage communication across editorial communities, while preserving the peer review process. In addition to producing an edition that allows for multiple editorial perspectives, the Devonshire MS Editorial Group2 is modeling a social edition methodology. In the interest of refining the process and expounding on its utility for collaborative editors in the Web 2.0 environment, we are using a combination of methods to gather data on the social edition building process. We are conducting qualitative interviews with the members of the advisory group to gather their perspectives not only on the content of our evolving and fixed editions, but also on issues of credit, peer review, and collaborative editing in a social media environment. In addition, we are conducting surveys with self-identified members of the existing Wikibooks editorial community. Finally, we are using analytics to trace the movement of editors through the Wikibooks text, to determine which parts of the edition provoke the most discussion, attract the most attention, and lead to the most community engagement.

Building on existing, expanding, and newly-emerging communities of practice, we can harness the power of specifically social tools, to ensure that the social edition text is fluid, agency is collective, and many editors, rather than a single editor, shape the interpretation of the text. The social edition development process is, by its very nature, under constant review. Relying on dynamic knowledge building, and privileging process, this expansive method promises to bring together communities of scholarly practice to build a new, social, edition.


Love, H., and A. Marotti (2002). Manuscript Transmission and Circulation. In D. Loewenstein and J. Mueller (eds.), The Cambridge History of Early Modern English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, pp. 55-80.

Remley, P. G. (1994). Mary Shelton and Her Tudor Literary Milieu. In P. Herman (ed.), Rethinking the Henrician Era: Essays on Early Tudor Texts and Contexts. Urbana: U of Illinois P, pp. 40-77.

Schreibman, S., S. Siemens, and J. Unsworth (2004). The Digital Humanities and Humanities Computing: An Introduction. In S. Schreibman, R. Siemens, and J. Unsworth (eds), A Companion to Digital Humanities. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. xxiii-xxvii.

Siemens, R., K. Armstrong, B. Bond, C. Crompton, T. Dickson, J. Paquette, J. Podracky, I. Weber, C. Leitch, M. Chernyk, B. D. Hirsch, D. Powell, A. McLeod, A. Arbuckle, S. Patterson, C. Gaudet, E. Haswell, A. Ciula, D. Starza-Smith, J. Cummings with M. Holmes, G. Newton, J. Gibson, P. Remley, E. Kwakkel, and A. Shirkie (eds). A Social Edition of the Devonshire MS (BL Ass 17,492).

Southall, R. (1964). The Devonshire Manuscript Collection of Early Tudor Poetry, 1532-41. Review of English Studies: A Quarterly Journal of English Literature and the English Language 15: 142-150.


1.In collaboration with The Devonshire MS Editorial Group: Siemens, R., Armstrong, K., Bond, B., Crompton, C., Dickson, T., Paquette, J., Podracky, J., Weber, I., Leitch C., Chernyk M., Hirsch, B. D., Powell, D., McLeod, A., Arbuckle, A., Patterson, S., Gaudet, C., Haswell, E., Ciula, A., Starza-Smith, D., Cummings, J., with Holmes, M., Newton, G., Gibson, J., Remley, P., Kwakkel E. and Shirkie, A.

2.Siemens, R., Armstrong, K., Bond, B., Crompton, C., Dickson, T., Paquette, J., Podracky, J., Weber, I., Leitch C., Chernyk M., Hirsch, B. D., Powell, D., McLeod, A., Arbuckle, A., Patterson, S., Gaudet, C., Haswell, E., Ciula, A., Starza-Smith, D., Cummings, J., with Holmes, M., Newton, G., Gibson, J., Remley, P., Kwakkel E. and Shirkie, A.