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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Raimonda Modiano
ENGL 593
Seattle Campus

Textual Criticism

Introduction to paleography, codicology, analytical and descriptive bibliography; examination of the major contributions to textual theory in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; practice in applying textual theory in editing literary works.

Class description

Raimonda Modiano English 593 A (w/HUM 520A/C Lit 596C): Seminar in Textual Theory and the Arts

This seminar is one the four core courses developed by the campus-wide Textual Studies Program. Course credit will count toward the Textual Studies Ph. D. track in all participating departments and may count toward the Critical Theory concentration in Comparative Literature. This course is open to all graduate students and advanced undergraduates. Students completing this course will develop basic skills of literary scholarship (the use of literary archives; aspects of physical bibliography and the printing and production of books; scholarly editing; manuscript-based textual criticism) which will be of help for other courses.

The goal of this course is to challenge the assumption that textual theory and practice occupy a domain separate from literary theory and criticism, and from other disciplines such as art history, architecture, music or film studies. Confronting this territorial fallacy, the course will show that developments in contemporary theory have influenced, and at times radically altered, the direction of textual studies; and conversely, that textual scholars have often anticipated and conceptualized the speculations of theorists in intellectually provocative ways. The first part of the course will familiarize students with major theories of textual criticism and editorial traditions that address the concepts of authorship and authorial intention; the distinction between document, text, work and the physical book; "ideal" texts and transcendental hermeneutics; the relationship of biographical and sociological contexts to texts, and of creators to producers of literature; and the functions of readerships. It will also document contemporary controversies in textual editing (such as the challenge posed by Jerome McGann to established canons of editing), as well as debates about the editing of particular texts in Renaissance (especially Shakespeare), romantic (especially Keats and Mary Shelley) and modern literature (especially Joyce's Ulysses). Students completing this course will learn to scrutinize the texts they are using and develop awareness of the editorial and cultural ideologies that inform them.

The second part of the course will explore the relevance of textual theory to the study of paintings and film adaptations of literary works, focusing on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The course will involve the participation of librarians, editors and visiting faculty who will spend ample time with students in seminars, public lectures and social occasions. Visitors include the avant-garde textual scholar Randall McLeod from the University of Toronto and former UW graduate student Susan Green, currently editor of the Huntington Library Quarterly and Director of the Huntington Library Press. Assignments will include a final paper on one of the following topics: an essay on a particular aspect of textual theory; a critical edition reading text (with editorial rationale) of a poem or short story; a review of an existing edition and of controversies surrounding it; the history, transmission and alteration of a given literary or artistic work.

Student learning goals

Students will abandon the common mystification that while interpretations of texts vary, the "text itself" is stable and reliable. In fact, it is the text which is the most variable entity. By understanding how texts are altered through particular printing practices and philosophies of editing, students will be saved from the embarassment of advancing interpretations based on documents which the writers themselves never authorized.

General method of instruction

Lectures by instructor and presentations by students of material from the books and course packages required for the course.

Recommended preparation

All the learning will happen during the seminar and no prerequisites are necessary or expected.

Class assignments and grading

Class assignments will include two page single spaced presentations of essays from the reading material, which are circulated to the whole class electronically for discussion, and a final paper on topics listed in the course description above.

Grades are based on a student's highest achievement in any of the assignments required for the course rather than calculated mathematically.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Raimonda Modiano
Date: 11/18/2009