Friday, 28 October 2011

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Annotations in Four Scholarly Editions

Among other things, the Modern Language Association considers the following essential in scholarly editions:

1. Explanatory annotations to various words, passages, events, and historical figures.

2. A statement, or series of statements, setting forth the history of the text and its physical forms, explaining how the edition has been constructed or represented, [and] giving the rationale for decisions concerning construction and representation. . . . Statements concerning the history and composition of the text often take the form of a single textual essay, but it is also possible to present this information in a more distributed manner.

3. Appropriate textual apparatus or notes documenting alterations and variant readings of the text, including alterations by the author, intervening editors, or the editor of this edition.

In spite of these overtures to standardized expository annotations, a quick survey of scholarly editions exposes varieties of styles of providing supplementary information.

In some cases, notes are used minimally. Consider, for instance, Albert J. Geritz’s edition of John Rastell’s The Pastyme of People and A New Boke of Purgatory. In his introduction, Geritz offers remarks on the history of the texts, their representation in his edition, their composition, and so on (indeed, all of the editions that I mention here do as much). Geritz does not provide supplementary footnotes in the body of Rastell’s prose; instead, there is a short section of notes and a glossary at the end of the book (fig. 1). Oddly, the presence of the notes and the glossary is not indicated anywhere else in the book. Without superscripted numbers or other marks in Rastell’s text to draw a reader’s attention to Geritz’s notes and glossary, one wonders how useful these tools are.

fig. 1. Geritz's notes
As in Geritz’s edition of Rastell, in their edition of Stephen Parmenius’ writings David B. Quinn and Neil M. Cheshire include annotations, unmarked in the primary text, in a commentary section following the text (fig. 2). However, they also include expository comments in footnotes at the bottom of each page of text (fig. 3). Although expository information is made obvious by the use of footnotes, the annotations in the commentary section would be readily accessible too if they were simply marked in Parmenius’ text in the manner of proper endnotes. Again, indicating the presence of annotations with running numerals in a body of text seems to be a particularly helpful, if not crucial, strategy when offering expository comments to supplement a reader’s appreciation of a text in the manner supported by the MLA.
fig. 2. Quinn and Cheshire's commentary notes

fig. 3. Quinn and Cheshire's footnotes
Jean Robertson improves somewhat on Geritz’s Rastell in his edition of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia by using footnotes to represent variations between early manuscript and print versions of Sidney’s text (fig. 4). Expository annotations and a glossary are left until the end and are again left unindicated in the text itself. Robertson’s supplementary material is thus divided based on content. However, this division effectively makes the expository notes and glossary less accessible to readers than the footnotes on textual variations between editions. Robertson’s organization of his supplementary information in this manner does not serve the best interests of his readers.
fig. 4. Robertson's footnotes

In their edition of Thomas More’s Utopia, George Logan, Robert Adams, and Clarence Miller offer annotations in more accessible, straightforward manner than the previous three examples do. There is no commentary section or glossary at the end of the book; that is, supplements are not divided based on content. Instead, all expository material is placed in footnotes at the bottom of each page (fig. 5). A range of information is thus made readily available and, significantly, apparent to readers.
fig. 5. Logan, Adams, and Miller's footnotes 

Although annotations and contextual supplements are required elements of scholarly editions, this brief survey highlights the lack of standardization not only in the form but also the functionality of their notational structures. It may seem intuitive, but the accessibility of annotations is a key part of their usefulness.

Works Cited

“Guidelines for Editors of Scholarly Editions.” Modern Language Association. October 2, 2011.

More, Thomas. Utopia. Edited by George M. Logan, Robert M. Adams, and Clarence H. Miller. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Parmenius, Stephen. The New Found Land of Stephen Parmenius: The Life and Writings of a Hungarian Poet, Drowned on a Voyage from Newfoundland, 1583. Edited and translated by David B. Quinn and Neil M. Cheshire. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972.

Rastell, John. The Pastyme of People and A New Boke of Purgatory. Edited and introduced by Albert J. Geritz. New York: Garland Publishing, 1985.

Sidney, Philip. The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia. Edited and introduced by Jean Robertson. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973.

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