Technical Skills for Textual Editing: Understanding Variants

Dr Katie Halsey is a Senior Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Studies in the Division of Literature and Languages at the University of Stirling, as well as Co-Director of the Centre for Eighteenth-Century Studies at Stirling.

23 doctoral researchers signed up for this doctoral training workshop via the EventBrite site. On the day, 18 students attended (of whom 16 were eligible for SGSAH funding; the remaining 2 from Liverpool were funded separately by bursaries from the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS)).


The event took the form of two consecutive hands-on skills training workshops, the first, run by Dr Kelsey Jackson Willliams (Stirling), with help from Mhairi Rutherford (PhD Student, Dundee) was on Printing in the Hand-Press Era, and the second, run by Professor John Drakakis (Stirling), was on Editing and Collation. Both workshops focussed heavily on hands-on activities, using the Columbian Press in the first instance, and the Hinman Collator in the second.

In both workshops, the workshop leaders began by sketching out the historical context, followed by a demonstration of the Press and the Collator, followed by opportunities for the students to use the Press and Collator themselves. Discussion throughout focussed on variants – how they come about, and then how modern editors deal with them. Students printed a ‘keepsake’ on the Adana Press, a smaller printing press to which they were also introduced, and considered a pair of specially hand-set texts with three hidden variants on the Hinman Collator. Most people managed to find two out of the three, though a couple of particularly sharp-eyed doctoral researchers did spot the third variant! The doctoral researchers were then asked to reflect on what they had learned, using a form provided to them, and the bulk of the remainder of this account is a digest of their reflections on the day.

Overall, it is clear that students valued both the expertise of the workshop leaders and the opportunity to engage in a hands-on way with the printing press and the Hinman Collator, and that these activities had encouraged them to think in different ways about their own research and practice. For example, one participant wrote, in response to the question “What did you find most useful about the day? Why?’: ‘The session today about print variations will change the way I teach earlier texts to students’. Another attendee wrote, in response to the question: ‘Can you see any new applications of these practices to your own work? If so, what are they?’: ‘I am starting to formulate a new way of thinking about gendered labour in 21st C book culture and it’s interesting to see this in the historical context’. Even where students could not see specific applications to their own research or practice, their feedback was uniformly positive, and it was clear that the social aspects of the day (which finished in the pub with a networking session with both PhD students and academics working in the field) had been enjoyed by all.

The doctoral training workshops were embedded in a wider symposium on Editing Early Modern and Eighteenth-Century Texts, and the PhD students were all invited to attend the remainder of the two-day symposium. A number came to the round-table on the first day (on which the speakers were Prof. Kirstie Blair, Prof. John Drakakis, Dr Adrian Hunter, Prof. Neil Keeble, and Dr Colin Nicolson), and participated in the lively Q&A session after that roundtable.

If we were to run similar workshops again, we agreed that we would wish to provide a specific collation activity after the hands-on activity on the Hinman Collator. This would allow students to start to make some of the editorial decisions discussed in the contextual introductions. A smaller group size in future would also make more activities possible, such as composing text to be printed, which can only be accomplished in a smaller group size.

We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with Brittnee via email at or connect with the blog on Twitter

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