The Open Medieval Editions by Students (TOMES) Project: An Anthology by and for Students (and Others!)

This post is created by the team behind the TOMES project, which is funded by a Comenius Grant from The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research/NRO. The project lead, Dr Murchison, is an assistant professor (UD) in medieval English and French literature at Leiden University, in The Netherlands. Her research centers around the popular vernacular literature of England and the productive ways in which contemporary digital culture and medieval textual culture illuminate each other. Amos van Baalen is a Research Assistant on the TOMES project; he is also an instructor at Leiden University and his research and teaching focus on Old English and early Middle English. Eva Kruijt, the other project research assistant, is a student in Leiden’s BA in English Language and Culture with strengths in Old and Middle English language and literature.

This post is aimed at introducing the TOMES project. In this post, we will outline the overall aims and goals of the project and report on the progress we have made so far.

The Open Medieval Editions by Students (TOMES) project aims to create an online, open-access anthology of medieval texts by putting students in charge of editorial decisions. These students will be directly involved in the transcription, editing, and translation of the texts, as well as in writing introductions and learning aids for the anthology. Once complete, these texts will be checked for accuracy and reviewed by the project team and, ultimately, hosted online in a fully open-access format for future readers.

Most of the students involved in the project are in Leiden’s BA in English Language and Culture programme at Leiden University, so the anthology will focus on editions of Middle English texts.  But the anthology is aimed, in part, at contextualizing Middle English literature within the multilingual environments in which it circulated, so a number of students are editing texts in Anglo-Norman, and the final anthology will also include texts in other languages from medieval Britain, including Latin and Hebrew.

The goals of the anthology project, as proposed by the project lead, can be divided into two distinct categories, with the first pertaining to the advantages of the project for students and their educational experiences, and the second pertaining to the digital anthology and its advantages for readers.

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Goal #1: Project-Based Learning about Middle English

First, the students producing the anthology will learn about medieval literature and culture in a hands-on way. By transcribing, editing, and translating their own medieval texts from manuscript folia, students will gain not only a deeper knowledge of medieval literature and culture, but also experience with scholarly editing and publishing and an opportunity to contribute something of lasting value to the broader academic community. Students will also gain project planning and collaboration skills since several components of their editions will be created as a team. In addition to these skills, the project is aimed at giving students digital editing experience; those working on the anthology are encoding parts of their editions in TEI-compliant XML, and this experience may prove to be an asset to them if they choose to pursue careers in digital publishing.

Goal #2: Making Middle English More Accessible

TOMES1_croppedAside from the student editors who will contribute, the project is also aimed at benefitting the broader academic community.  First, it will hopefully make Middle English literature more accessible to a greater number of people, since it will be freely available online under a Creative Commons license. Students using this anthology in a course will not have to pay for it or carry it with them to class, or worry about leaving it on the train by accident.  The textbook is also aimed at being highly customisable in terms of its introductions, selection of texts and translation aids. For example, a student could be presented with a text that features many glosses, or a text with barely any glossing at all, depending on what will challenge that reader at an appropriate level. In this way, the anthology is designed to be useful in a wide variety of learning contexts, and for readers of Middle English at a wide variety of levels.

The anthology will also be customizable in terms of the texts themselves; it will include a wide variety of traditional and non-traditional texts, and readers or instructors will be able to create their own themed anthology out of the available selections. This variety is reflected, first of all, by the languages in which the texts are written; aside from Middle English (which is the focus of the anthology), the project aims to include texts in Anglo-Norman, Latin, Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Middle Scots and Hebrew. By including texts in languages other than Middle English, we aim to reflect some of the rich and vibrant multilingual environments of medieval Britain.

The anthology will also be available in thirty ready-made versions. Each of these versions focuses on a particular theme, ranging from particular genres (e.g., ‘medieval Romance’) to more abstract subjects (e.g., ‘History of the English Language’, ‘Medieval Women’s Writing’). By letting these themes guide our selection of texts, we have aimed to ensure that the open-access textbook will offer a representative selection of textual genres and subjects.

Volume 1: A Work in Progress

In the current phase of the project, students in Dr Murchison’s bilingual English/French Literary Studies Master’s course ‘Long-Distance Romance: la transmission du roman courtois médiéval’ are creating their own editions from manuscript copies. In keeping with the theme of this course, the texts we are working on at the moment are all medieval romances and the selections chosen from students come from a variety of texts, including Sir Orfeo, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and works by Marie de France.

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So far, students have transcribed their text selections and have provided their transcriptions with glosses, translations and introductions. These introductions feature, among other things, discussions of each text’s genre and form, its linguistic features, its historical background, and interpretations by scholars.

This work has been thoroughly checked by us in order to ensure the accuracy and quality of the final digital anthology, and students are now working on implementing our editorial suggestions for their final submissions. Over the coming weeks, the current group of student editors will complete their editions by selecting, revising and polishing their material. By the end of this semester, students will have undertaken the lengthy (but, hopefully, fun!) process of producing a modern, digital edition of a medieval text.

We’re incredibly excited about this project, and we hope it will inspire others to pursue the creation of their own digital, open-access anthologies. On a smaller scale, we hope this textbook will help to challenge some existing notions about the idea of an ‘anthology of medieval English literature’ by including a range of texts in other languages that were spoken in medieval Britain.

The TOMES project will launch in the summer of 2020; in the meantime, you can visit the project site for updates. These include a forthcoming post by the project lead, Dr Krista Murchison, about our method of selecting texts and themes—a process she once described as ‘a medieval version of Jenga’!

The TOMES Team, Leiden University

Krista A. Murchison (Assistant Professor of Medieval English and French Literature), Amos van Baalen (Research Assistant), and Eva Kruijt (Research Assistant)

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