In her last post about proofing, Laura briefly mentioned the work that we do with the standard references. These are standard print editions of Blake’s work whose transcriptions we regularly reference in our work on manuscripts. Any time there is a discrepancy between our reading of a text and the way the text has been read by one of these editors in the past (unless it is a punctuation difference) we note it in our editorial notes.

For past manuscripts we have generally worked with multiple sources, as different editors have transcribed the same texts. The resulting transcriptions that we produce then serve a dual function in that they provide readers with Blake’s text, but also offer a compilation of how scholars have read the text differently in the past. This second function is often overlooked, but really helpful. For example, if I am a scholar who wants to know what past editors have said about a particular part of one of Blake’s letters, I can look it up on the archive and see all the different standard readings of that particular part.

For Genesis, however, we are working almost exclusively with one standard source. Bob Essick and Mark Crosby recently (2012) released an edited facsimile entitled Genesis: Blake’s Last Illuminated Work. Because Genesis is largely the text of the King James Bible, with minor changes and added title headings, editors in the past have not bothered to transcribe anything other than the title headings that Blake added. Crosby and Essick, however, offer a complete edition with full transcription and notes. Given that there is only one standard source, however, when preparing Genesis for the Blake Archive we found ourselves relying more heavily on this source than we have on other standard references. In part, this is because having a single source/reading that you are in conversation with means you are constantly referring back to that source and positioning your own reading/transcription against it. When there are three sources you are checking against, the conversation is more open ended and one feels more comfortable being just another voice/transcription amongst many.

This raises questions about the function of the Blake Archive as it relates to more traditional print editions of Blake’s work:

  • If we are engaging too closely with print editions of Blake’s work, are we in some ways simply becoming a digital version of the print work?
  • Because there is only one complete, standard transcription of Genesis are we in some ways just simply replicating scholarship that has already been done in print, rather than compiling it in a meaningful way for users?
  • Also, how do the original print editors feel about the project?

Luckily, in terms of this last question, Crosby and Essick both work closely with the archive (Essick being one of the editors) so we have not run into problems, and I can consult them if I have questions about how to note their work. In future projects, however, this might not always be the case.