Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 192. Thursday, 8 Aug 1991.
[Reproduced from Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0262.
Wednesday, 31 Jul 1991. -- k.s.]
Date: Wed, 31 Jul 91 15:27 BST
Subject: Textual Criticism Challenge 1991
The Textual Criticism Challenge 1991
"A textual critic engaged upon his business is not at all like Newton
investigating the motion of the planets; he is much more like a dog
hunting for fleas. If a dog hunted for fleas on mathematical principles,
basing his researches on statistics of area and population, he would never
catch a flea except by accident." -- A.E. Housman
Housman (and others) believed that statistics and mathematics have no place
in the study of textual traditions, such as those of Biblical, Classical or
Medieval texts. A scholar's only weapons when trying to determine how
an author's single long-lost original descended into hundreds ( even
thousands) of surviving copies are a trained mind and intuition.
The Challenge: Prove Housman Wrong
The Old Norse narrative sequence "Svipdagsmal", comprising two poems
"Grougaldr" and "Fjolsvinnsmal" together about 1500 words long, survives
in 47 manuscripts known to me. These manuscripts were written in
Iceland, Denmark and Sweden between 1650 and 1830. Because of this late
date much is known about how these manuscripts are related. From this
evidence and from database analysis of a complete computer collation I
have made a table of relationships of the manuscripts, showing how they
are divided into groups and how these groups and the individual
manuscripts within them are descended one from another.
The challenge is this: to construct by Housman's "mathematical
principles" alone, and not using any external evidence, a table of
relationships of the manuscripts (a "stemma") like that I have already
made. Only the raw data of manuscript agreements and disagreements in
individual readings generated direct from the computer collation may be
used. As far as I know, while attempts at exploring manuscript traditions
have been made using statistical analysis of small samples of data this will
be the first time all the data for a complete manuscript tradition has been so
analysed. It will also be the first time results of such analysis can be so
thoroughly checked against external evidence.
How Success might Appear
In approximately ascending order of difficulty, a successful attempt would:
1. Divide the manuscripts into groups reflecting the most consistent
patterns of agreements and disagreements within the manuscripts. These
groups might constitute "genetic groups": that is, manuscripts presumably
related by direct copying one from another or from a common parent
2. Identify just what readings in what manuscripts are characteristic of the
groups identified in (1) above.
3. Show the groups identified in (1) which are themselves descended from
other groups and identify the groups they descend from; show the
individual manuscripts within the groups descended from other
manuscripts and identify the manuscripts they descend from.
4. Identify particular groups and manuscripts which contain readings
which have not descended to them by direct copying from their parent
manuscript but by deliberate importation from an alien group
("contamination"). Identify just what readings in what manuscripts seem
to have spread by contamination as well as by direct copying: compare 2
5. Identify just what readings in what manuscripts appear distributed at
random: that is, readings which have spread by virtue of the common
descent of all these manuscripts from a single parent manuscript, or
readings independently conceived by different scribes.
I have computer files of every agreement and disagreement on every
reading of 44 of the 47 manuscripts (the other three are not important),
generated direct from my computer collation of these manuscripts in my
doctoral work (see my articles in *Literary and Linguistic Computing* 4
(1989) 99-105, 174-81). This data is available in two ASCII files, one
containing all the data for "Grougaldr", the other for "Fjolsvinnsmal".
These files are available in two formats. In format A, each line begins with
the variant number, followed by numbers identifying which mss have this
variant and with the numbers separated by a single space. Thus the line "6
1 2 7" indicates that variant no 6 occurs only in manuscript numbers 1 2
and 7. In format B, each line again begins with the variant number,
followed by a space and then a sequence of 0s and 1s for each of the 44
manuscripts. A "1" indicates the reading is in the manuscript
corresponding to that column of the table, a "0" indicates it is not. Thus the
indicates that variant no 6 occurs only in manuscript numbers 1 2 and 7.
The two files have about 3500 lines between them. I alone have the key to
the variant and manuscript numbers.
How to Attempt the Challenge
Any method, any computer, any software may be used. Attempts at the
challenge should be submitted by 1 December 1991. I will collate
(manually) all contributions and send a report to all participants by 1
January 1992. The results of the challenge will be available at next year's
ACH/ALLC conference in Oxford in April. I would be happy to discuss
some form of joint authorship or presentation of these results (e.g. at
Kalamazoo 1992). You are free to use the data I provide in your own work,
subject to the usual courtesies.
If you are interested please write to me, Dr. Peter Robinson, at the
Computers and Manuscripts Project, Oxford University Computing Service,
13 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 6NN. Or, phone me on Oxford (0865) 273200
or send a fax, 0865 273275, or contact me by EMAIL,
can provide the data on three and a half inch PC or Macintosh discs: state
which you want. There is no charge for participation and I will buy the
author of the best attempt lunch at a suitable establishent.
The Computers and Manuscripts Project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust
with aid from Apple Computer.