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Commissioned Review

Commissioning Editor: Roberto Rosselli Del Turco, Universitá di Torino.
Received: December 16, 2005
Published: May 2, 2006

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Abstract

This CD-ROM digital facsimile of one of the most important manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon period offers outstanding functionality. It presents very high resolution photographs of the entire manuscript including binding and binding strips, close-ups of initials, a full transcription linked to the images, translations of all of the poems in the manuscript, introductory essays including commentary on the illustrations, and a full search facility. This CD is at once a substantial advance in digital editing practice and an important contribution to Old English literary and art-historical studies.

Keywords: Muir, Bernard; Oxford, Bodleian Library, Junius 11 (Anglo-Saxon Manuscript); critical editions; editorial theory; layout and presentation.


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Introduction

§ 1    Bernard Muir’s CD-ROM facsimile of Bodleian library MS Junius 11, one of the four poetic manuscripts in which the bulk of Anglo-Saxon poetry has been transmitted to us and the only one with illustrations, is a major step up in functionality for digital editing of medieval works, including such features as image annotation and a moveable magnifying glass to present a virtual encounter with the manuscript itself that may well exceed the benefits of personal examination for many users, and that in any case brings this famous manuscript to the local computer desktop in highly approachable and usually very intuitive fashion. Although I have some worries about the encoding and scripting of the facsimile edition from the point of view of long-term usability, I have nothing but admiration for the current functionality, which surely explores directions that will begin to fulfill the fantasies users have had about digital editions, until now often frustrated by the limitations of the actual products of this field.

Design and encoding

Graphic design

§ 2    Reviews of print-form editions do not habitually linger on details of binding, but this is an area in which practitioners of the electronic edition have been struggling to strike a balance between the CD jewel case (some early CD-ROM editions) and the largely-empty cardboard software-size box (some later CD-ROM editions). For that reason, it is worth commenting that the publisher’s DVD-size box with slide-out, which makes copious and attractive use of photographs of the manuscript on high-quality card, is both an excellent solution to the problem of packaging and a work of art in its own right.

§ 3    The interface, once you pop the CD into your drive and it self-starts, is similarly attractive and also makes use of the visual interest of the manuscript itself in things like navigation bars and title frames, again combining the buff and brown of photographed parchment and ink with a lovely red-brown for titles. A main table-of-contents screen succeeds the Enter screen (which mimics the outside cover of the box but gives no further information), giving as main choices How to Use this Program, Editorial, MS Junius 11, Transcripts, Translation, and Related Items. I will discuss each in turn below, following a general discussion of encoding and scripting.

Encoding and scripting

§ 4    The CD is designed to be used in Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher on Windows 98 or higher, or in Explorer 5.2 or higher on Mac OS X 10.3 or higher. I have found that other browsers are helpless because the scripting depends on the IE implementation of JavaScript to a high degree.

§ 5    In Windows, the CD is self-launching. Clicking on the Enter screen opens another window that captures (for the duration of CD use) the entire screen of the computer, allowing the user of the CD to use other applications concurrently only by invoking the Task Manager (by clicking Ctrl-Alt-Delete). This is a major annoyance since most users will want to use the same computer for writing if they are referring to the digital facsimile in the process of conducting scholarly research.

§ 6    A search engine is provided through a clickable tab that appears at the top right of the screen in most views of the digital facsimile (and its transcriptions, etc.), which works very rapidly, almost certainly by pre-indexing, and highlights the search results. Provision is made for entering Old English characters and vowels with macrons, and the search can cover the entire CD or be restricted to particular components such as the transcription, translation, or notes. This is a very useful feature indeed.

§ 7    The main text files such as the manuscript transcription and the translation are HTML files, with such intensive procedural-functional (JavaScript-rich) markup that it seems unlikely that any stage of XML markup, let alone one conforming to a standard such as the TEI Guidelines, ever preceded the current state of the files. The JavaScript functionality, as described below, is wonderful, but the reliance on the flavour of a notoriously changeable scripting language supported by the one major browser that seems ultimately destined to lose the browser wars (through lack of interest at Microsoft and continued innovation in open-source circles) is perhaps slightly worrying in a product like this CD. Muir's electronic facsimile is a major milestone in digital editing and in the presentation to scholars of this particular manuscript, and therefore a scholarly product that should have a longevity and interest to scholars at least equal to that of the print facsimile of the same manuscript in Gollancz 1927, now very rare but still consulted.

§ 8    One question raised by this state of affairs is whether a purchaser of this CD would be able to repurpose (i.e. use in any way) the files of the digital facsimile in the event that the Microsoft browser and attendant technologies no longer existed or no longer supported the CD’s current functionality, say twenty years from now. A glimpse at the kind of problem that might arise was provided by my attempt to make the CD run on a legacy machine running Windows 2000 Professional (an NT-based OS) and using a Microsoft browser of the prescribed range, an attempt which failed because the script that opened most of the functional windows of the edition simply hung (refused to function) in that environment. It is only honest to advise as well that functionality of the scripting is somewhat unpredictable even in WindowsXP, and that there are occasional inexplicable failures, particularly of links to operate correctly and bring up the images required. However, going back and trying again, especially with a double-click, will usually produce the desired result.

§ 9    The good news, for future longevity of the data provided, is that the text itself of the manuscript transcription is not cluttered with JavaScript instructions, but enclosed within a table of which other cells contain those instructions; so repurposing the text in the future would involve stripping off all of the other table cells (either by hand or with a script any programmer could write in an hour or two), but no intensive operations in the text itself. Similarly, although various operations are performed on the images by means of image maps, by some largely transparent GIF overlays, and so on, to provide the kinds of functionality described below, the images themselves can be easily accessed separately from the whole mechanism of the interface and downloaded to the user’s drive for purposes other than those provided for by the programmer. I think this kind of access may be intended to be blocked by the programming (the directories in which the working guts of the CD are stored, /engine and /images, are cloaked from standard Windows XP navigation tools like My Computer), but I can not find a statement about what uses are or are not allowed, for example of image files, other than the Bodleian Library’s assertion of copyright over the whole CD. In any case, far-future users who cannot locate a legacy 2005 copy of Windows and one of Internet Explorer to recreate the intended environment should be able to recover and use the most important files on the CD even if the JavaScript functionality becomes lost. Now to the sections of the CD as listed in the Table of contents.

Contents

Help function ("How to Use this Program")

§ 10    The help section is the first choice in the Table of Contents. The very useful feature of this section is that the relevant views of the manuscript, tools, and so on, are presented in one frame live while the explanations of functions appear beside that frame. This means that you can read about a feature and its operation and then actually try it out without having to close the window in which you are reading. For example, the explanation of Open Book View, which shows the openings of the manuscript, replaces half of that view with the explanation and instruction screen but otherwise leaves all of the buttons and so on functioning. (A slight problem with the scripting, in Windows XP anyway, means that the actual manuscript image does not come up every time you enter this area, which would be frustrating for a neophyte user.)

Introductory Matter ("Editorial")

§ 11    This section contains a preface, acknowledgements, author blurb, and an Introduction divided into segments, together with Art Historical Commentary and a Bibliography. Of the Introduction segments, both Facsimiles, Transcripts, Catalogue Descriptions, and Major Editions and Bibliographies and Translations are relatively cursory bibliographical essays hyperlinked to bibliography entries. Captions largely consists of transcription of the Old English captions to the manuscript’s illustrations. The first section of the Introduction, titled The Work [i.e. manuscript], its Date, Provenance and Subsequent History will be disappointingly brief for some readers at only six substantial paragraphs, though like some other sections of the Introduction it is a valuable index to the publications of others.

§ 12     Codicology is the most extensive section of the Introduction; it is full of new interpretations and judicious evaluation of previous scholarship and is in general an extremely useful piece of scholarship, though it would have been easier to cope with if a regular plan had been followed in the codicological description. For example, I read as the first detail in the description of Gathering 4 that it is ruled (unusually) for 28 lines, but only 26 have been used—but I am not told in the case of most other gatherings what the ruling scheme for them is (for example, are they ruled for 26 lines?). Only for Gathering 2 and Gathering 17 is information about ruling supplied elsewhere. Conversely, I am not told in the description of Gathering 4 how many leaves or bifolia it has, a question that has predominated the discussion of the previous three gatherings and will be important in the discussion of all of the remaining gatherings (there are seventeen gatherings in all). Nevertheless, I can reconstruct this missing information from the codicological formula given at the outset, and of course I can frequently see the ruling myself in the page images, so such dissimilarities of treatment are often more apparent than real and are usually not such as to limit the value of what is included: this is indeed, even if not a comprehensive one, a full, thorough and useful description of the manuscript that largely supersedes Timmer 1948 and Raw 1984 except on some particular issues.

§ 13    The Art Historical Commentary is likewise a full and useful section. Here the possibilities of electronic form are exploited to their fullest and most rewarding, particularly in the commentary on individual illustrations, where both Commentary in Open Book View and Commentary in Page View allow readers to see the page being discussed as they read the description. The difference between the two here, by the way, is in the resolution of the main image, presented in Page View as one side of the screen in lower resolution and in Open Book View as considerably more than half of a screen divided horizontally. In the Open Book View, where the resolution is truly remarkable (see below), the reader can move to a particular section of the page either using its scroll-bars or a clickable large-thumbnail image-map. The reader is sometimes very glad indeed to be able to see the images in such detail, and not just because one can then admire their artistry or tell what precisely the commentary is talking about: again commentary coverage is slightly spotty. For a small example, Adam and Eve are shown in the top frame of page 34 of the manuscript covering their genitals and eyes with their hands; in the bottom frame, Muir’s commentary tells us, Adam stands to the left of three acanthus-leaved trees and Eve to the right. They again cover their faces and genitals out of shame. However, that in the lower frame they cover their genitals with acanthus leaves rather than their hands is a fact not mentioned by the commentary, and one would think it of a certain importance in judging the subject of the illustration, which must be line 840a-845 of the poem, not the 840a-844 cited by Muir. (It is also perhaps slightly surprising that the commentary does not mention that on this page we have two half-lines of the poetic text, possibly ones with caption-like relevance to the illustration, written on a page otherwise reserved for a full-page illustration; similar events, again unnoted, occur on pages 36 and 68.)

§ 14    The Bibliography with which the Editorial section menu concludes does not have an introduction by which the reader can judge its aims. Its sections on Editions and Facsimiles, Codicology and Paleography, and Art-Historical Criticism seem to be intended to be exhaustive, since the concluding section is titled A Selection of Literary Criticism. They do seem to be so to a non-expert. These are mostly bare lists of relevant works, though there is some sparse annotation in the first section, Editions and Facsimiles, which appears to be a list of all works that include either a section of edited text of whatever length or a reproduction of any part of a page of the manuscript. As such, more annotation would be desirable: we are told about some anthologies what sections of what poems they include but not about others, and it is particularly unhelpful to know that a particular book must (one assumes by its presence in the list) have either a photograph of a page or an edition of part of a poem, but not to know even which of the two. Descriptively-titled subdivisions would thus have been more user-friendly than the current alphabetical subdivisions, in which one looks at all the works whose authors’ or editors’ names begin with B, for example, without often knowing quite what kind of works they are. The bibliographic style is spartan and appears to be constrained (rather than facilitated) by a database structure; thus the entry for Karl Bouterwek’s edition reads in its entirety Bouterwek, Karl W. 1849; 1851; 1854 Caedmon’s des Angelsächsen biblische Dichtungen. Gütersloh and Elberfeld, 1849; 1851; 1854 Admittedly this is an outstandingly difficult case for a bibliographer (Bouterwek’s edition, though continuously paginated, was published by two different publishers in different cities in three parts, of which the last published (prefatory matter, translation and commentary; Erster Theil; printed last in Gütersloh), is meant to envelope the first and second publications (text then glossary; printed in Elberfeld und Iserlohn), which each have their own separate title pages). A strange feature of the bibliography section is that the author part of the entry (which sometimes confusingly repeats the dates from the publication information as in the Bouterwek entry) is a clickable link, but clicking it only gets you the exact same bibliography entry in a little box at the bottom of the screen again. I’m not sure why one would want that.

Facsimiles (titled "MS Junius 11" on CD)

§ 15    The glory of this CD is the manuscript facsimile, which for almost all purposes entirely replaces any earlier facsimile or microfilm and can even substitute for a visit to the manuscript for most scholarly users. The highest resolution images, JPEGs at 2100 x 3500 pixels per single page of the MS, give a coverage of the surface of the manuscript of approximately 300 pixels per inch (the MS page is about 180 mm x 324 mm). These large images are not very handy to use at one image-pixel per screen pixel on a standard-resolution monitor (the image size becomes about 15 x 36 inches at 76 pixels per inch), so two lower resolutions are normally substituted for user manipulation, a medium-resolution image of 1140 x 1900 pixels (JPEG), and a lower-resolution one of 420 x 700 pixels (GIF).

§ 16    The smallest of these is used for the Open Book View, the easiest way for most users to approach the manuscript facsimile. Here separate images of opposing pages are placed side by side over images of the edges and cover of the book to give the convincing impression that one is looking at an opening of the real manuscript. Aiding this illusion of reality is a page-turning animation, in which a miniature hand flips the page in one direction or the other, whereupon the affected page image narrows as it slides left or right, revealing the recto or verso underneath. One could certainly tire of the miniature hand (see O'Donnell 2005), and the two-dimensional quality of the turning page makes it less than convincing, but the effect is certainly nifty.

§ 17    Also nifty (and more than merely useful) are the viewing options provided. A series of buttons along the top bar of Open Book View allow one to turn on and off the image annotation, to use one kind or the other of magnifying glass, to examine either the entire left or entire right page in the medium resolution (and from there one can click to go to the highest resolution), or to back off to a screen that shows all pages, paired as openings, in thumbnail and permits navigation to anywhere else in the manuscript.

§ 18    The image annotations are a particularly interesting feature. Clicking a button overlays the images of both pages of the opening with small numbers, either of manuscript lines or verse lines (unfortunately, numbering by manuscript lines is the default and reappears every time a page is turned), and with frames indicating the presence of annotations regarding areas of the images. Mousing over a line or verse number then brings the transcription of that line onto the screen on a pink background about half an inch below the image of the line in question; clicking on the line number pops up the transcription frame with the line highlighted with the same pink background. The image annotation frames are too heavy for my taste at about five pixels—especially bothersome where annotations cluster as at the top of MS page 9 and thus these frames are overlaid on one another and also obscure the text—and I don’t like the three-dimensional shading effect. Clicking within an image-annotation frame pops up the transcription frame again (if it wasn’t already open), this time divided into two areas, of which the bottom one contains the image annotation. This is often very brief (a large number of them note accented vowels, which might have been made part of the transcription or kept in a list as in Krapp 1931 instead), but always usefully includes a photo of the part of the page being annotated, at a higher resolution. The text pad that includes the transcription and the annotation and its photo always pops up over the right-hand page, which is inconvenient if you’re looking at annotations about that page (since the page is obscured), but it is possible to drag the image of the manuscript opening out from under the text pad, as I learned after about the twenty-fifth time I used this part of the facsimile. On mousing-over the enlarged manuscript image in the note, a sort of negative navy-blue image of the same portion of the page is substituted. I can not find an account of this feature in the introductory material, but it seems simply to be a transformation of the original image, not to be a different photograph—I hoped at first it was a UV photo. Clicking on this navy-blue version brings up the full page in the larger magnification with the relevant portion outlined with a blue box that gradually fades away—too cool!

Figure 1: A manuscript opening as shown in Bernard Muir's digital facsimile of Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Junius 11 A manuscript opening as shown in Bernard Muir's digital facsimile of Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Junius 11

[ Larger image ]

§ 19    Those notes in the image annotations that do not comment on accented characters or on initials are relatively rare. Some of these contain Muir’s trademark remarks on letters begun by the scribe and then altered to some other letter in the course of writing, or comment on the corrector(s) activities (often with a stern spurious), others propose emendations of the text (which are largely in fact adopted in the transcription, but would seem to be more at home in an edition than a facsimile). Of the notes about accents, a few seem disputable (what I take to be a pen-rest or fly-speck above the line is called an accent), but of course the graphic evidence is provided with which to dispute them. Muir apparently tackles manuscript readings and associated textual problems here de novo despite the bibliography, so that, for example, the note on Genesis 475-76, a celebrated textual crux, takes the pre-corrector reading to be witod and so ignores the correction of witot to witod (by addition of a stroke to its final letter) that precedes the insertion by the corrector of a small supralinear 〈e〉 , though that sequence of corrections is accurately noted in Doane 1991 (217) and even more accurately in Timmer 1948 (86).

§ 20    The magnifying-glass, a feature also included in the Elwood edition-browser written by Eugene W. Lyman of the Piers Plowman Archive (see his contribution in Duggan 2005), is very nice. Two versions are provided: one allows the user to move a small rectangle over the surface of the manuscript image, in which the relevant portion of the page appears at a higher resolution; the other opens a frame at the bottom which shows whatever portion of the page the user clicks on (or drags the mouse over) in a size large enough to contain a line of text. These are called the Mini Magnifier and the Mighty Magnifier. Double-clicking on either kind of enlarged image in a magnifying glass will bring the whole page to the screen in the larger resolution, and clicking again will bring up the highest resolution. These are marvelous tools to have on the desktop, allowing an in-depth investigation of a manuscript irregularity or script feature at the user’s will, and receding into the background until needed again just like a real magnifying glass resting beside a manuscript in a reading room.

§ 21     Page View, which provides the medium-resolution images one at a time (i.e. not as facing pages), has disappointingly few of the tools provided in Open Book View. A magnifying-glass icon allows one to toggle between the medium resolution and the very high resolution, and as in Open Book View one can go to a page that gives thumbnails of all the images as a kind of navigation central, but there are no image annotations and no moveable magnifying glasses.

§ 22    Further images are provided in three special categories: details of initials, photographs of the (late but decayed) binding, and binding strips. I believe the images of initials to be the same ones that are provided when the image annotations in Open Book View refer to an ornamented initial, but it will be useful to some scholars to have them collected in a single page for comparison. The binding photographs are very useful, though there are depth-of-field-related focus problems in the views of the front cover extensive enough that a shot from the opposite angle might have been provided to supplement these, and the back cover is curiously undocumented. Photographs of binding strips will of course be useful only to a minority of scholars, and I expect that those scholars will be able to sort out from the very brief description provided just what these ten photographs represent. They are not individually labeled. Several links on the main binding-strip page lead not to binding-strip photos as expected but to a scripting error that has Explorer repeatedly asking the user to insert the Junius 11 CD with no way out of the loop but via Windows Task Manager (Ctrl-Alt-Delete).

Transcripts and translation

§ 23    The transcription is provided in two versions, organized by manuscript line and organized by verse line. Opening either gives the transcription in a text file (the manuscript transcription is divided by poem and further by pages or lines of Genesis into five separate sections to diminish file size) with the Open Book View size of manuscript image to its left. Clicking line numbers of either kind of transcription turns the background beneath the relevant line in the transcription pink and puts two little arrows at the beginning of the relevant line in the manuscript image. Clicking a page number in the transcription brings up the page image of that page on the left. Footnotes can be accessed by clicking asterisks to the right of the relevant line. These are the same footnotes as in the image annotations, with the same benefit of the enlarged image for verification. Daggers to the left of the transcription text can be clicked to bring up the relevant portion of the translation.

§ 24    The transcriptions appear to be quite careful in representing the text, though I have not had the opportunity to proof them extensively. They are not diplomatic: they are punctuated with modern punctuation and modern capitalization standards are imposed, and they do not take any notice of the actual state of the manuscript evidence when that is conflicted, this being left to the image-annotation notes. Moreover, they also emend the texts, even in cases where the correct emendation is far from obvious (Genesis 20b-23a is an early case where Muir’s choice of emending dæl to dwæl over the currently-victorious emendation of weard to wearð would seem to need a substantial argument and therefore to be out of place in a document labeled Transcript), and without typographical notice in the text of the transcription (only when an entire word is added to the text is the addition signaled, by angle brackets; other emendations, including very substantial ones, are silently incorporated into the text), they are better considered as sketches of the full electronic edition Muir promises us in his introductory materials than as transcriptions at all.

§ 25    The translations are presumably included for the convenience of the bibliophiles and collectors (CD sleeve) part of the target market rather than for scholars or students of the poems or manuscript, though they could serve as a useful crib for beginners. While they were careful and accurate for their time, Charles Kennedy’s 1916 translations have not benefited a whit from the intervening nine decades of scholarship. They also, of course, do not translate the emended text that Muir provides in his transcriptions in cases where Muir’s emendations were not already in Grein-Wülker 1881-1898 or another early edition.

Related documents

§ 26    MS Junius 73, an errata page from Franciscus Junius’s 1655 edition with annotations in Junius’s hand, and MS Junius 73*, five pages of annotations by Junius on MS Junius 11, are provided as black and white photographs, scanned possibly from a Bodleian microfilm, without any transcription or further guidance. This will be a useful addition to the CD for those scholars who have an interest in Junius himself or his edition and they will have no difficulty reading the hand or understanding the document. Less useful and frankly disappointing is the link labeled Old Saxon Genesis which leads to a page that incites the user to visit a site called Evellum (<http://www.evellum.com>), where an attempt is made by Muir and Kennedy to offer their edition production software commercially, though the bare text of the OS Genesis fragment is also included.

Conclusion

§ 27    So many fruitful innovations in the technology of digital editing and so much that is valuable as scholarly contribution make this CD-ROM a signal advance both in digital editing and in the availability of this manuscript to scholars and students that it must be labeled a must-have digital facsimile for Anglo-Saxonists and for all scholarly reference libraries that serve them, and a stunning model for future experts in humanities computing. That it has some shortcomings is inevitable, but in these early days of digital editing we know how to work around the occasional broken link. More worrying, in a truly substantial contribution of the kind here presented, are longevity issues. The CD obviously represents a very important commitment both of scholarly time and of programming time. I hope that this most excellent result of those efforts will continue to be useable in the long term. I for one will retain old equipment and software throughout my career if that is what it takes to continue to access this important work.

Works cited

Doane, A.N. 1991. The Saxon Genesis: An edition of the West Saxon Genesis B and the Old Saxon Vatican Genesis . Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin.

Duggan, Hoyt N., with a contribution by Eugene W. Lyman. 2005. A progress report on the Piers Plowman electronic archive. Digital Medievalist 1.1. <http://www.digitalmedievalist.org/article.cfm?RecID=3>.

Gollancz, Israel, ed. 1927. The Caedmon ms of Anglo-Saxon biblical poetry: Junius XI in the Bodleian Library. London: Oxford University Press.

Grein, C.M.W., neu bearbeitet von Richard Wülker. 1881-1898. Bibliothek der angelsächsischen Poesie. Kassel: Georg H. Wigand.

Krapp, George Phillip, ed. 1931. The Junius manuscript. Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records. New York: Columbia University Press.

Raw, Barbara. 1984. The construction of Oxford, Bodleian Library, Junius 11. Anglo-Saxon England 13: 187-207.

O'Donnell, Daniel P. 2005. O Captain! My Captain! Using Technology to Guide Readers Through an Electronic Edition. Heroic Age 8. <http://www.heroicage.org/issues/8/em.html>.

Sperberg-McQueen, C.M. and Lou Burnard, eds. 2002.TEI P4: Guidelines for electronic text encoding and interchange. Text Encoding Initiative Consortium. XML Version: Oxford, Providence, Charlottesville, Bergen.

Timmer, B.J., ed. 1948. The later Genesis edited from MS. Junius 11. Oxford: Scrivener Press.