The Miller's Tale on CD-ROM (2004): Editor’s Introduction

Peter Robinson (De Montfort University)

Editor’s Introduction

The long gestation of this CD-ROM calls for some explanation. Almost all the transcription work and a partial first collation had been completed as long ago as 1998, before the conclusion of the three year ‘Fragment One’ project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, which supported this work. Some of the delay was caused by changes within the project: in 1999 the Canterbury Tales project base moved to De Montfort University, Leicester, and the researchers who to that point had done most of the work on the Miller’s Tale, Elizabeth Solopova and Lorna Stevenson, both left the project.

However, the two major reasons for the long process of publication of this CD-ROM lie elsewhere. The first reason is technical: to do with the software we are now using. The ‘General Editor’s Introduction’ to the General Prologue CD-ROM, published in 2000, signalled a major shift in our project strategy from the one underlying our first CD-ROM, of The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, published in 1996. In that introduction we stated that we now saw our purpose as helping readers to understand the masses of information our publications accumulate. To that end, the General Prologue CD-ROM included (as The Wife of Bath’s Prologue CD-ROM did not) both commentaries and tools aimed at helping the reader find a way through the many manuscripts and variant readings. To be effective, this meant providing the best possible interface for the reader. However, we were severely constrained by the limitations of the DynaText browser we used for both these CD-ROMs. By 2000, that software was already showing its age, and it simply did not provide anything like the kinds of facilities which we wanted to provide and which readers now expect of electronic publications. Indeed, we knew of no other system which came close to doing what we wanted, and our attempts to persuade various software houses to rectify this came to nothing. There seemed no choice but to build one ourselves. Accordingly, in 1998 I began work on what is now the Anastasia electronic publishing system. By 2000 this software had developed sufficiently to carry Estelle Stubbs’ Hengwrt Chaucer Digital Facsimile (2000), but still required considerably more work before it was capable of mounting the far more complex and extensive data incorporated in this CD-ROM. The release of Anastasia 2.0 in May 2003 marked the point when, at last, we had a tool to make the edition look and behave the way we wanted.

The second reason for the delay is intellectual: to do with the collation format we now employ. I outline in the article ‘Collation Rationale and Implementation’ the radical rethinking we have done over the last six years about the aims of our collation and about how we do it. As our thinking has developed, we have had to redo the collation many times, with each occasion throwing up new issues, requiring resolution and further collation. This process is not over: the rethinking continues and there will be yet further collations. But we have reached a point of equilibrium, as further developments will require tools not yet available.

As is usual in our publications, many people were involved in the making of this CD-ROM. I have tried to list all their names on the CD-ROM title page. But I must single out some names for special mention. The project steering group – Derek Pearsall, Oliver Pickering, Ceridwen Lloyd Morgan, Toshiyuki Takamiya (replacing Anne Hudson in 2001) and its chair, Norman Blake – have given crucial support at difficult times. Our funding agencies, first the Leverhulme Trust and latterly the Arts and Humanities Research Board, have been patient as well as generous. De Montfort University has provided enthusiastic support for the project. Peter Shillingsburg provided many concepts for the final presentation of this (without even knowing he was doing this). Andrew West has been tolerant of all our bad ideas, and created minor computer miracles as he found ways to make our good ideas happen. Since her arrival at the project, Barbara Bordalejo has been a bountiful source of energy, ideas and criticisms. Without the efforts of all these, this CD-ROM would not have appeared at all. As always, the faults that remain are all my own work.