The General Prologue on CD-ROM (2000): General Editors' Preface

Norman Blake (University of Sheffield) and Peter Robinson (De Montfort University, Leicester)

We have pleasure in presenting this CD-ROM of The General Prologue. This is the second in our series of electronic publications, following that of The Wife of Bath’s Prologue on CD-ROM published in 1996.

Readers familiar with the Wife of Bath’s Prologue CD-ROM will notice several differences between these two CD-ROMs. These differences have arisen because of developments in the three year period between the two CD-ROMs. The most important of these developments was the reaction to that first CD-ROM. Firstly, many users and at least one reviewer observed that while the CD-ROM contained a vast amount of data, it provided little guidance to readers as to what all this information might mean, and it offered few tools to permit users to explore this information for themselves. Secondly, we discovered that the CD-ROM found readers which we had not expected to find. When we conceived the Wife of Bath’s Prologue CD-ROM, we assumed our readers would be advanced researchers and scholars interested in the exact text of all the witnesses (manuscripts and early printed editions) to the Tales. But since publication and despite the somewhat austere presentation and content of the Wife of Bath’s Prologue CD-ROM, we found that our readers included some undergraduates, interested general readers, and even some school-level pupils in cases where school teachers demonstrated the CD-ROM in a classroom situation.

The first response has led us to include material and tools to permit readers to find their own way through the witnesses. Our reaction to the second response has been to attempt to present these additional materials and tools so as to make them (and the whole CD-ROM) as accessible as possible to a wider audience. Both aims were facilitated by the availability of two new software tools since publication of the first CD-ROM. The first of these is Daniel Huson’s SplitsTree program. Our experience suggests that this program is well suited to work with manuscript traditions (see the Analysis Workshop 2.4 and Barbrook et. al. 1998). It is easy to use, and gives an immediate and striking visual impression of manuscript relations. The second is the VBase program, used to refine and elaborate hypotheses concerning manuscript relations suggested by SplitsTree. Two sections on this CD-ROM, the Analysis Workshop and Stemmatic Commentary, introduce these two programs and the results given by them. The software tools (VBase and SplitsTree) are provided on this CD-ROM and will be activated when you click on appropriate points in the text of the CD-ROM.

One might summarize the shift in our thinking in the last two years, underlying the differences between the two CD-ROMs, as follows: the aim of The Wife of Bath’s Prologue CD-ROM was to help editors edit; our aim now is also to help readers read. These tools are a step towards this new aim, and we welcome suggestions as to how these tools might be better presented and what other features would be useful towards this end.

The General Editors are grateful to Claire Jones, for her assistance in the final stages of preparation of this CD-ROM.

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