This talk is a report from the field on an experiment in editing conducted with high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. Our work produced a text, critical apparatus, and various other supporting materials for an edition of the Bellum Alexandrinum in a format intended for delivery to an online platform currently under development. The pros and cons of the method are weighed, and I conclude with some reflections on involving students in textual criticism.
The experiment adopted the purist model of born-digital editions, so we started with the transcription of the five principal manuscripts of the Bellum Alexandrinum, a work by an unknown author preserved in the corpus of Julius Caesar's war commentaries. Transcriptions were produced by various groups of high school, undergraduate, and postbac students, and collated using an online collation tool. Collation helped us weed out transcription errors and made the transcription results more interesting. Graduate students used the collations and a preexisting stemma to assemble a text and critical apparatus for 33 chapters of the Bellum Alexandrinum; a class in the Fall of 2017 will finish the remaining chapters. I broke the process of assembling a text and critical apparatus down into eight steps, most of which were small and relatively painless, and we did each step together in class for one of the 33 paragraphs. In one semester we corrected about thirty errors in the Teubner and Budé apparatuses, emended the text at about a dozen places, and improved the apparatus everywhere by making the arguments relevant to the constitution of the text more salient and more explicit.
Critical editions, which present a text along with the surviving evidence of the transmission process and an editor's interpretation of it, are essential for scholarly work. They can also enrich our teaching, by showing students that the text they are reading in the 21st century has been read and copied and damaged and repaired and preserved for them by efforts spanning two millennia or more. The next generation of critical editions can improve significantly on past ones, but only if we make the critical apparatus a more lively companion to our texts. And we are much more likely to succeed at this if we involve students (construed broadly) in every phase of their production.
Digital Textual Editions and Corpora