Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Ben Jonson Goes Digital

The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson is now online

The first release of the online version of The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson took place in January 2014. It contains all the material that features in the print edition, which was published in 2012 and consists of 7 volumes (5,000 pages) that present the complete writings of Ben Jonson in modern spelling, critically edited, with scholarly introductions and commentaries. The online version adds to this a large amount of supplementary textual and contextual material. It includes original-spelling versions of the texts accompanied by high-quality digital images of the early books and some selected manuscripts, as well as the ‘masque archive’ , an interactive timeline and images of performances of the plays that have taken place over the centuries. It is all fully searchable. Searches may be carried out across texts or across the whole edition. A comparison tool allows the new and old editions to be viewed side by side. Multimedia functionality brings the material to life, for example by allowing users to hear some of the original musical settings created for songs and plays.

Sarah Stanton, the editor who brought this colossal undertaking to fruition, says that the challenges she experienced of developing and curating content from scratch would be familiar to all editors of scholarly editions: it involved liaising with more than forty contributors who reported to three general editors (themselves based on three separate continents); it therefore took fifteen years from contract to completion. During this time, she had to wrestle with the additional complication of fast-developing technologies. She says that ‘everything in the digital text environment changed substantially during that period’.

Ben Jonson himself and his original printers did not help. His plays and poems consist of complicated mixtures of verse and prose, marginal comments, half-lines, centred and decentred stage directions, speech headers, Latin and Greek phrases. To render this faithfully on-screen requires much work. Eventually the General Editors joined with CUP and the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College, London, to secure a subvention from the Mellon Foundation that enabled DDH to build the website for CUP to host and maintain. 90% of the Ben Jonson oeuvre and accompanying materials are available. The remaining 10% is now being prepared for a second release in 2015.

Looking back over an achievement to which she has devoted seventeen years, Sarah Stanton says ‘I am enormously proud of the result. The Jonson edition is exactly the sort of scholarly publication that CUP is qualified to produce, sell and maintain. We took the long view, we tied up money for many years while it was being managed and produced, in order to get it right’.

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