From the University of Virginia:
Mary Shelley published “Frankenstein” in 1818, but Shelley revised her classic novel more than once and added a third edition in 1831 in response to critical reaction.
Two hundred years later, the novel remains among the most-taught in high school and college classes. But which version? Students who turn to the internet today for the text as part of a class assignment will encounter a monstrous search result with multiple versions of the text, plays, comic books and more.
That’s a problem.
Amid the uncertain origins of some internet news sites, social groups and an avalanche of information available with a few clicks, college students are getting lost – this time in virtual collections of books.
Students are grabbing digitized copies online when they’re assigned certain books without knowing whether they’ve found a reliable version, not to mention the right edition.
Even well-known, copyright-free classics of literature that are digitized could be suspect.
Scholars and other academic staff, including librarians with technological expertise, have been working on raising standards for some years, but it’s still an ongoing battle, according to University of Virginia English professor John O’Brien and Christine Ruotolo, the University Library’s director of arts and humanities.
With a recent National Endowment for the Humanities grant, they are working with colleague Tonya Howe, an associate professor at Marymount University, to build a website that teachers and students can count on for providing accurate, authoritative editions of American and British literature spanning the formative period of the modern transatlantic world, from roughly the mid-17th century to the 19th century.
For the University Library, issues of authoritative editions are as crucial as open access and free availability.
“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.”
The NEH grant, which provides almost $73,000 in funding for 18 months, will support the development of “Literature in Context,” an open-access, curated and classroom-sourced digital anthology of British and American literature in English. It will merge the two existing experimental classroom projects that Howe and O’Brien developed separately – Howe’s “Novels in Context” and O’Brien’s “Open Anthology of Literature in English.”