Remediating the Lyrical Ballads

Remediating the Lyrical Ballads

Michelle Levy
Professor of English, Simon Fraser University

This submission reflects the pedagogical aims and outcomes of a graduate course taught in the spring of 2016, which contained six first-year M.A. and two PhD students. Entitled “Remediating the Lyrical Ballads,” the course featured as its centerpiece a copy of the 1798 London edition of the Lyrical Ballads, held by our Library’s Special Collections, which the class spent the semester turning into a diplomatic digital edition. Two versions of this edition were created: our course website is hosted on, and includes most of the assignments and projects as well as a display of page images and transcriptions in HTML; the other is a simple diplomatic edition, featuring page images and transcriptions, hosted by SFU Library’s Digitized Collections.

Our study of the Lyrical Ballads was informed by the collaborative and experimental spirit of the 1798 volume: together we designed and implemented a digital remediation of the original. Assignments were designed to enable students to develop expertise in various bibliographical, textual, and critical elements of the collection, with a view towards developing our own digital edition. This approach had its challenges; none of the MA students had extensive knowledge of the Romantic period; few had digital humanities experience; and none had training in editorial theory. As we had a public edition in mind from the outset, students had to ensure their prose was accessible to other students and that their arguments were sound for scholars, not an easy proposition for students in their first year of graduate work. Further, with only eight students in the class, the workload was heavy.

Working collectively to remediate Lyrical Ballads—probably the most famous work of collaborative authorship of our period—suggested to us both the pleasures and pains of working together. On the one hand, most of us found it exhilarating to share our ideas with others; we brought a variety of approaches and understandings to the project; and what we accomplished is greater than what could have been done separately. On the other hand, working as a team meant striving for a level of consistency that required greater coordination and more time and effort than would otherwise have been the case.

Collectively, the class decided to focus on the material aspects of the 1798 edition held in our library. As we learned about the complex publication history of the Lyrical Ballads, the bibliographic features of our particular copy became even more interesting. In fact, we realized that evidence of this complex history was present in the edition before us. After reading Alan Boehm’s article “The ‘1798 Lyrical Ballads’ and the Poetics of Late Eighteenth-Century Production” and looking at some of the existing digital editions of the Lyrical Ballads, we decided to produce a diplomatic edition that highlighted the material features of the book as well as reproducing the poems as they originally appeared. This strategy distinguished our edition from other editions and scholarship, and did not entangle us in the complex textual history of the Lyrical Ballads after 1798. Each student chose one material aspect of the edition to study and prepare a report on; these eight reports became the foundation of our digital edition moving forward.

These assignments resulted in the section of the website titled “Descriptive Bibliography.” In these reports, we highlighted the following material elements: Binding, Collation/Format, Errata, Layout, Paper, Publisher’s Catalogue, Title Page, and Typography. By focusing on these material features of our copy, we provide readers with a sense of both the production history of this particular volume and how books in the Romantic era were conceived and shaped, by authors and their printers and publishers.

In addition to our focus on these material elements, each student was responsible for transcribing, coding into HTML, coding into XML, and writing an introduction for at least one of the poems. In the Contents section of the website, you can find links to introductions for all of the poems which outline their critical histories, offer preliminary interpretations, and discuss any formal and material elements of interest. Writing these introductions provided students with an opportunity to link interpretation to materiality, and to develop some of the ideas that led to final projects. The introductions also ensured that our edition could be used as both a reading text with detailed contextual information, and as a resource for learning about book production at the turn of the nineteenth century.

On both the WordPress and the XML site, the transcriptions appear next to high-quality images of the pages from our library’s copy of Lyrical Ballads. For the XML versions of the poems, our TEI markup focused on the material features of the text (for example, changes in font size). One benefit of this markup schema was its simplicity, especially because the students in the course were being introduced to TEI for the first time.

The WordPress site also hosts (or links to) the final projects students produced in the course. Three students (Brenna Duperron, Alex Petryszak, and Alison Roach) worked on the first American edition of the Lyrical Ballads (and of Wordsworth), printed in Philadelphia in 1802, a copy of which is held by SFU Special Collections. In their project, they investigate the material features of our library’s copy, the publishing history of the volume, the differences between the American and previous London editions (including the retention of Wordsworth’s poem, “The Convict,” which had been removed from editions of the Lyrical Ballads after 1798), and the American reception of the volume more generally. Allison Simmons examined James Kendrew’s chapbook edition of Wordsworth’s poem “We are Seven,” situating it within the chapbook tradition and the emerging market for children’s books. Madeleine Lascelle authored the introductions to the WordPress site, one addressing our overall process (“Digital Edition DYI”), and the other the “gender anxiety” permeating Wordsworth and Coleridge’s poetic collection.

Emily Seitz assumed responsibility for correcting and normalizing the individual TEI-XML files prepared by the students for the SFU Library Digitized Collections. She worked closely with Michael Joyce, the library’s web developer, who programmed a new module in Islandora to display the XML alongside of the Lyrical Ballads page images. The two PhD auditors of the course, Alexander Grammatikos and Kandice Sharren, did not complete final projects, but offered assistance to all students. They have also been working with the students to revise and transfer some of the contents of the WordPress to the SFU Digitized Collections site, the introductions to contextualize the transcriptions of the poems, and the bibliographical reports the volume, as well as to provide this editorial work with greater digital permanence.

One of the secondary aims of this course was to produce an edition that could be used as a teaching tool in the classroom. In the summer of 2016, Dr. Levy included our edition of the Lyrical Ballads on her syllabus as a student resource and counterpoint to the print edition assigned. For the first class, students read the Broadview edition (edited by Michael Gamer and Dahlia Porter) and for the second class meeting, they read our website.

The two PhD students involved in the course, Alexander Grammatikos and Kandice Sharren, surveyed the students, asking them to compare their experiences with the print and digital formats of the text.

Our findings were that the students:

  1. Valued the poem-specific introductions we had on our website, as providing them with more context than what can usually be found in the general introduction for a print edition.
  2. Appreciated the poem-by-poem method, introducing some of the volume’s poems which are rarely discussed (as opposed to, say, “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere” or “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey”).
  3. Preferred the XML version of our website over the Wordpress, finding it easier to read and more professional looking.
  4. Were less interested in the book’s material features. We suspect that the descriptive bibliography pages would be of greater interest to graduate students, especially those with a grounding in basic bibliography.

This feedback revealed the hybrid world we inhabit both in and outside of academia. Both the print and digital editions were highly regarded, but, the prevailing feeling was that print was best for concentrated reading and that the digital was preferred for additional context and for viewing page images. The students’ appreciation for the individual introductions to each poem also revealed one of the main benefits of a digital edition: because we did not have the space constraints of a paper copy, we were able to include fairly substantial introductions for each poem.

But there were other benefits beyond the ability to provide more material. There is the simple fact that our edition makes visible, and widely accessible, high-quality colour images of the 1798 Lyrical Ballads. Working in a multimedia environment allowed us to integrate images into our analysis; and the networked affordances of the web interface meant that we could interact with each other seamlessly, and revise with great ease. Finally, a digital project enables students to more readily share their work, to participate in a scholarly conversation and to share their research both with one another and with the wider academic community.

Syllabus / Course Assignments

ENGL 832: Studies in Eighteenth Century Literature

Remediating the Lyrical Ballads*

(*Print Culture Designated Course)

Michelle Levy

Spring 2016

Meeting: Monday 12:30-4:20 pm | AQ 6093; except for Jan. 25, Feb. 29; April 4,

Instructor: Michelle Levy |

In 1798, a 26-year-old Samuel Taylor Coleridge urged his friend and publisher Joseph Cottle to print a collection of his and William Wordsworth’s poetry anonymously, confiding to him that “Wordsworth’s name is nothing – [whereas] to a large number of persons mine stinks.” Notwithstanding this inauspicious beginning, the volume that was printed, Lyrical Ballads, is now considered to be one of the most culturally significant literary works of the Romantic period.

In this course, we will delve deeply into the twenty-two poems included in the first edition of 1798, including “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,” “We are Seven,” and “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey,” plus the infamous “Advertisement,” in which the poems were described “as experiments . . . written chiefly with a view to ascertain how far the language of conversation in the middle and lower classes of society is adapted to the purposes of poetic pleasure.” We will study the revolutionary objectives of the volume, its poetic innovations, its relation to the literature of the day, and its early, and controversial, reception.

SFU Special Collections holds as part of its Wordsworth Collection a rare copy of the first London edition, which will allow us to engage in a careful analysis of the physical book itself, asking how it was made, and how its “bibliographical codes”—to use Jerome McGann’s term—affect its meaning. We will also use our access to the first and subsequent editions to study the fascinating textual history of the volume (which was reissued in an enlarged and re-arranged second edition in 1800, with a new “preface”) and of specific poems, like Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” which went through multiple versions (according to Jack Stillinger, 18) throughout Coleridge’s lifetime.

Finally, our study of Lyrical Ballads will be informed by the collaborative and experimental spirit of the 1798 volume, as together we design and implement a digital remediation of the original. Collectively, we will pursue a group project—a digital project that will incorporate textual, bibliographical, historical and/or creative responses to the original. Students can anticipate doing some work with text encoding in TEI-XML (no prior training is necessary). We will also investigate forms of quantitative/computational readings that will be possible with our digitized texts. Taken as a whole, this course will engage with the extensive scholarship on the Lyrical Ballads, and with relevant scholarship in Book History, Bibliography, Textual Studies, and Digital Humanities.

Students will be assigned both individual and group work in the course. The objectives of this course are to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of this seminal work of English Romanticism, and with practical and theoretical instruction in material/book history, textual scholarship, and digital methods and tools.

Course Requirements

Regular Attendance and Participation

Reports: 30% (10% each)

  • Descriptive Bibliography Report (Jan. 25)
  • Article/Chapter Review (Feb. 22)
  • Edition / Digital Edition Review (Feb. 29 or March 7)

Editorial Project 15% (Due Feb. 15) + XML-TEI encoding: 15% (Due March 15)

Proposal: 5% (Due March 28)

Final digital project: 35% (Due April 25)

Editorial Project: 15% (Due Feb. 15)

In the first week or two, we will collectively assign each of the 23 poems in the 1798 Lyrical Ballads to members of the class. A student might take on several short poems, and a student or a pair of students might take on the longer poems, such as “The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere” or “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey.” Ideally, all poems plus the advertisement will be assigned.

The editorial project involves you presenting a “mini-edition” of your poem(s). This will include the following elements:

  1. Introduction – a short (2-4 page) introduction to the poem, identifying its major themes, metrical form, and its place in scholarship.
  2. Descriptive Bibliography – a short (1 page maximum) description of the physical pages/binding in which your poem(s) are found, and any special material elements.
  3. The text of the poem(s) – we will have OCR (optical-character recognition) scans but these will have to be carefully – very carefully – compared to the original.
  4. Annotations – Are there any words/phrases in the poem(s) that you think need explanation?
  5. Bibliography – include major scholarship that addresses in particular the poem(s) that you address.
  6. Future Directions – in one page, I want you to think about the expertise you have developed on this poem(s), to think about what you might like to do with it? The discussion of the Final Project will give you some ideas of possible future directions.

XML-TEI encoding: 15% (Due March 15)

As an addition to this project, you will be encoding each of your assigned poems in TEI-XML. We will have two training sessions on XML encoding, on Feb. 22 and March 7, and the encoded documents will be due on March 15.

Reports: 30% (10% each) (Due Jan. 25, Feb. 22, and Feb. 29 or March 7)

Throughout the term, you will prepare three short reports. These reports should be between 2-3 pages (double spaced), or around 500 words, and will be read orally in class (and submitted in written form).

Descriptive Bibliography Report (Jan. 25)

This assignment will involve you preparing a detailed description of one bibliographical aspect of SFU Library’s first edition of the Lyrical Ballads. Everyone will be assigned a material aspect of the printed book (paper, font, binding, typography, margins/spacing, title page, etc). We will use our first visit to Special Collections on Jan. 18 to prepare to do the groundwork for this assignment. Everyone will be assigned a material aspect of the printed book (paper, font, binding, typography, margins/spacing, title page, etc), and will offer a general introduction to prepare us for the physical examination of the print book.

Article / Chapter Review (Feb. 22)

For our meeting on Feb. 15, when we do a whirlwind tour of the scholarly background, each student will prepare a short review of a scholarly essay or chapter. You can review the essay you have been assigned or any other essay. Reviews should be around 500 words.

Print Edition / Digital Edition Review (Feb. 29 and March 7)

During the term, we will meet with several editors of both print and digital editions, to discuss their strategies for remediating the Lyrical Ballads and other works by Wordsworth. For this report, you will prepare a short review of a print or digital edition; print edition reviews will be given on Feb.29; digital edition reviews on March 7. You will tell me the edition you want to review prior on Feb. 15. Reviews should be around 500 words.

Final Project

Final Project Proposal: 5% (Due March 28)

Final Project: 35% (Due April 25)

In your proposal of 4-5 pages, you will describe how you wish to build upon the various projects (editorial and critical/methodological) and reports you have done for this class and determine what aspect of the LB you wish to investigate further. Although this could be a straightforward “research” paper, my hope is that the work done throughout the term will be used to form part of a larger digital project devoted to the Lyrical Ballads, and that your final project will build upon the digital media, with regard to the fact that we have high quality page scans for the entire volume and have access to a physical copy of the volume that we can consult extensively. Alternatively, you might decide to employ some additional digital/computational tools, such as those we will be learning on March 14 (mapping) and March 21 (quantitative; topic modelling). Although you can work on your final project independently, I urge you to consider working with other students, in small teams. SFU Special Collections also has extensive holdings of other Wordsworth and Lake District Material, that can easily be incorporating into a final project. The final projects will build upon the foundational work you have done in your projects and reports, and, in keeping with the spirit of the 1798 volume Lyrical Ballads, provide an opportunity for experimentation, exploration, and creativity.

Tentative Reading Schedule

Jan 11

Week 1 | Reading the Lyrical Ballads

Please read the Broadview edition before we meet for this first class. We will spend this session acquainting ourselves with the contents.


  • Coleridge, Samuel Taylor and William Wordsworth. Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1800. Edited by Michael Gamer and Dahlia Porter, Broadview, 2008, pp. 47-147.
  • Gamer, Michael and Dahlia Porter. “Introduction.” Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1800, Broadview, 2008, pp. 15-37. [If you have time, otherwise, please read for January 18.]

Jan. 18

Week 2 | The First London edition of the Lyrical Ballads

We will have our first visit to Special Collections (meet in Special Collections, on the 7th floor of Bennett Library); here we will spend a lengthy session examining the physical book from all angles. In this session, you will undertake the physical examination necessary for your Descriptive Bibliography Project. During this session, we will also discuss the publishing history of the volume, and the general landscape of poetry publication during the period.


  • Gamer, Michael and Dahlia Porter. “Correspondence about Lyrical Ballads.” Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1800, Broadview, 2008, pp. 453-468.
  • Lyrical Ballads and other poems, 1797-1800. Edited by James Butler and Karen Green, Cornell UP, 1992, pp. 3-15; 42-45.
  • Boehm, Alan D. "The 1798 Lyrical Ballads and the Poetics of Late Eighteenth-Century Book Production." ELH, vol. 63, no. 2, 1996, pp. 453-87.
  • Reed, Mark L. "The First Title Page of Lyrical Ballads, 1798." Studies in Bibliography, no. 51, 1998, pp. 230-40.
  • Wu, Duncan. “Lyrical Ballads (1798): The Beddoes Copy." The Library, no. 15, 1993, pp. 332-35.
  • Foxon, D. F. "The Printing of Lyrical Ballads, 1798." The Library, no. 9, 1954, pp. 221-41. Rpt. at Romantic Circles March 2003. <

Jan 25

Week 3 | Editorial Theory (for Print)

** We meet at Harbour Centre 2290 this week **

Skype session with Dahlia Porter and Michael Gamer, editors of the Broadview edition of Lyrical Ballads

Descriptive Bibliography Report Due


  • Eggert, Paul. “Apparatus, Text, Interface: How to Read a Printed Critical Edition.” The Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship, edited by Neil Fraistat and Julia Flanders, Cambridge UP, 2013, pp. 97-118.
  • Parrish, Stephen Maxfield. “The Whig Interpretation of Literature.” Text: Transactions of the Society for Textual Scholarship , edited by D.C. Greetham and W. Speed Hill, AMS P, 1998, pp. 157-163.
  • Stillinger, Jack. “A Practical Theory of Versions.” Coleridge and Textual Instability: The Multiple Versions of the Major Poems, Oxford UP, 1994, pp. 118-40.
  • McGann, Jerome J. “The Socialization of Texts.” The Textual Condition, Princeton UP, 1991, pp. 69-87.
  • Shillingsburg, Peter. “Manuscript, Book, and Text in the Twenty-First Century.” From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representations of Literary Texts, Cambridge UP, 2006, pp. 11-24.
  • Sutherland, Kathryn. “Anglo-American Editorial Theory.” The Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship, edited by Neil Fraistat and Julia Flanders, Cambridge UP, 2013, pp. 42-60.
  • Gutjahr, Paul C. and Megan L. Benton. “Reading the Invisible.” Illuminating Letters: Typography and Literary Interpretation, U of Massachusetts P, 2001, pp. 1-15. [This article is about typography, and strictly voluntary reading.]

Feb. 1

Week 4 | Early Reception History; Prose and poetic contemporaries


  • Gamer, Michael and Dahlia Porter. “Reviews of the 1798 Edition.” Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1800, Broadview, 2008, pp. 148-168.
  • Gamer, Michael and Dahlia Porter. “Reviews of the 1800 Edition.” Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1800, Broadview, 2008, pp. 400-418.
  • Wordsworth, Dorothy. The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth: The Alfoxden Journal, 1798 ; The Grasmere Journals, 1800-1803. Edited by M. Moorman, Oxford UP, 1971, pp. 141-154; pp. 1-34
  • Gamer, Michael and Dahlia Porter. “Prose Contemporaries.” Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1800, Broadview, 2008, pp. 493-05.
  • Gamer, Michael and Dahlia Porter. “Verse Contemporaries.” Lyrical Ballads 1798 and 1800, Broadview, 2008, pp. 506-37.

Feb. 8

Family Day | No Class

Feb. 15

Week 5 | The Scholarly History; Meet in Special Collections

12:30-1: Digitization lab tour

1-4:20 Today we will identify the major strands in contemporary scholarship, asking in particular: Why has the LB been such an ongoing source of scholarly appeal? How as scholarship on the volume tracked trends? What scholarship endures, and why?


Editorial Project Due

Feb. 22

Week 6 | TEI-XML (Research Commons, Bennett Library, 7 floor)

We will use the texts from your editorial projects to begin encoding the poems using TEI-XML.


Article/Chapter Review Due

Feb. 29

Week 7 | Digital Editing

Guest Speaker, Nicolas Mason, Brigham Young University

** We meet at Harbour Centre 2290 this week **

  • For the first two hours of class, we will have a discussion with Nicholas Mason, Editor of a digital edition of Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes. We will discuss with him both the scholarly and technical issues involved in producing a digital edition.
  • For the second two hours, we will begin to think about the LB as data, and collectively produce a spreadsheet about the publication.

Print Edition Reviews Due


March 7

Week 8| Digital Platforms: TAPAS

Visit from Professor Connie Crompton, UBC-O

  • Everyone should come to class with their complete TEI-XMl documents. Dr. Crompton will help us continue to work on your encoding, in particular adding the other information (introduction, annotations, etc).
  • She will also troubleshoot any issues that have cropped up.
  • She will then introduce us to TAPAS, a publishing platform for TEI-XML encoded documents.

Her slides for this presentation are here:

Digital Edition Reviews Due

March 14

Week 9 | Distant Reading Techniques: Mapping Workshop (Research Commons, 7 Floor, Bennett Library)


March 21

Week 10 | Distant Reading Techniques: Topic Modeling (Research Commons)


Pick one of the following articles:

Other Reading (not required):

March 28

Easter | No Class

Final Project Proposal Due

April 4

Week 11 | Collaborative Project Development Session

** We meet at Harbour Centre 2290 this week **

April 11

Week 12 | Digital Showcase

April 25

Final Projects Due