Ԫ The Textual Genome

The Textual Genome

Course description

This course seeks to answer the question: what makes a text.

Each week students must be prepared for class discussion on an assigned topic. Parts of this course will be run as a seminar with students contributing through readings and mini presentations. The course will combine lectures, guest lectures, class discussion, and class presentations. Each week, there will be an opening lecture, followed by class presentations and discussion.



  • A ten-minute presentation to the class on a particular text. This should seek to define the 'genome' of this particular text: what makes it individual, distinctive, separate (or, not!). Matters to be discussed include: its creation, its first and subsequent distributions, the physical forms of the text, its adaptations, etc. All topics will be assigned in the first week. The presentation and this description will be assessed diagnostically by the course leaders, who will give an indication of their grading, but they will not be formally assessed.
  • 1000 word description of a particular text. You may use the text discussed in your presentation topic for this description and you may use material developed in this description for the assessed 3000 word essay. The description is to be handed in by
  • 3000 word essay on an assigned topic. The topics will be given out by February 19th. Essays are to be handed in by 30th April.

Reading and Presentation topics:

Each week EVERYONE in the class MUST read the articles/book chapters etc. assigned. Presentations will be assigned in the first meeting.

Week 1(January 15th): Introduction

Some definitions (agreeing on how to talk with each other).What is a Genome: and hence, on Genomes. See for example http://www.northwestern.edu/science-outreach/genome/genome.html. Where do texts come from? Why are there textual differences and where do they come from? What is a textual tradition? What authority do texts have, and how do they get it? In what ways are texts stable, and unstable? What does all this mean for editors and readers? How alike are texts in all these respects? Important terms we need to use throughout this course: 'document', 'text', 'work'; 'authority', 'authorial text', 'non-authorial text', 'fluid text/fixed text'; 'original text', definitive text'; 'archetype', 'edited text', 'social text'. (See vocabulary page on the website).

Week 2 (January 22nd): The study of variant texts theoretical approaches

Lecture: Parker's Living Text of the Gospels and Textual Criticism

Class Reading:

The Living Text of the Gospels chapters 1-6;

G. Thomas Tanselle 'Textual Scholarship' in J. Gibaldi (ed.) Introduction to Scholarship in Modern Languages and Literatures, Modern Language Association 1981, 29-52;

Jerome McGann 'The Rationale of Hypertext'

Wikipedia article on Textual Scholarship

Class Short Talks:

1. The Gospel of Judas

2. The Gospel of Mary (and other texts from Papyrus Berolinensis 8502)

3. The Dead Sea Scrolls

4. The Majority Text

Week 3 (January 29th):

Lecture: Professor Parker on Codex Sinaiticus

Class Reading: The Living Text of the Gospels chapters 7-12;

Class Short Talks:

5. The King James Bible

6. The Gutenberg Bible

3. The NetBible

4. The Da Vinci Code

Week 4 (February 5th): The Canterbury Tales

Lecture: The case of the Canterbury Tales the many texts

Class Reading:

Robinson's "Is there a text in these variants?"

Extract from Dawkins 'The Ancestor's Tale';

Peter Robinson's The History, Discoveries and Aims of the Canterbury Tales Project

Class Short Talks:

9. Dante: Divine Comedy

10. Piers Plowman

11. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

12. The poem of the Cid

Week 5 (February 12th): The Canterbury Tales

Different editions: including electronic versions.

Lecture: Editorial Approaches to the Canterbury Tales from Caxton to the Net

Class Reading:

Editorial introductions to the Wife of Bath's Prologue, the General Prologue (General editors and Miller's Tale at http://www.canterburytalesproject.org/CTPresources.html)

Class Short Talks:

13. edited by John Manly and Edith Rickert

14. edited by Norman Blake

15. edited by Larry Benson: the Riverside Edition

16. Penguin Canterbury Tales, ed Jill Mann

Reading Week: (February 19th)

Week 6 (February 26th): On the Origin of Species

Lecture: The composition and publication of On the Origin of Species

Class Reading:

Peter L. Shillingsburg; Morse Peckham (on the website)

Class Short Talks:

17. New printing technologies in the nineteenth century

How Dickens Published: see Patten, Robert L. Charles Dickens and His Publishers. Oxford: Clarendon Press: 1978. 18-19, 45-74

Mudie's Circulating Library: see Lewis Roberts Trafficking in Literary Authority: Mudie's Select Library and the Commodification of the Victorian Novel, Victorian Literature and Culture (2006), 34: 1-25; and Guinevere L. Griest, A Victorian Leviathan: Mudie's Select Library Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Sep., 1965), pp. 103-126

Week 7 (March 5th):On the Origin of Species

Lecture: the post-publication life of On the Origin of Species

Class Short Talks: editions of the Origin

20. The Origin online at literature.org

21. The Origin online at darwin-online.org.uk

22. A facsimile edition

23. A recent edition: eg by Gillian Beer

Week 8 (March 12th): Before Wikipedia

Lecture:How the Web was born, and Web 1.0

Class Reading:

Vannevar Bush "As We May Think";

McGann, 'The Rationale of Hypertext'

Class Short Talks:

24. A news website: CNN

25. Google

26. A commercial website: eBay

27. A special interest website: Darwin Day

Week 9 (March 19th): Issues in Wikipedia; other electronic texts

Lecture:Web 2.0; electronic books and who makes them

Class Reading:

History of Wikipedia

Article on the 'Evolution' entry in Wikipedia Map: Evolution Evolving

Class Short Talks:

28. My favourite blog (pick any)

29. Wikipedia on a major political figure

30. Wikipedia on a major historical event

31. An interactive entertainment site: World of Warcraft

Week 10 (March 26th): Review and conclusions

This week we will link the different aspects of the course.