Letter from the Publisher

Image of Sophie Goldsworthy

Since launch in 2012, Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (OSEO) has emerged as a jewel in the crown of the OUP online portfolio, praised by scholars and librarians for the intuitive way in which it unpacks the texts it contains and the potential it has to transform humanities research and teaching. The site features authoritative online editions of original works by some of the most important writers and philosophers in the humanities, from William Shakespeare to William Wordsworth, Jane Austen to John Donne, Thomas Hobbes to Horace.

Anyone working in the humanities is well aware of the sheer volume of free texts online. Search for the text of one of Shakespeare’s plays on Google and you’ll find hundreds of thousands of results. Browse popular classics on Amazon, and you’ll find hundreds available for free download to your device in 60 seconds or less. But while we’re spoilt for choice in terms of availability, finding an authoritative text, and one which you can feel confident in citing in your research or using in your teaching, has paradoxically never been more difficult. With more and more data online, it has never been more important to help scholars and students navigate to trusted primary sources on which they can rely for their research, teaching, and learning. And this is where OSEO comes in.

Bringing scholarly editions to life online

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Oxford University Press has an unrivalled line-up of scholarly editions, published across the past century and more, and being added to all the time by new publishing. Every edition is produced by a scholarly editor or team, who have painstakingly sifted the evidence to decide which reading or version of the text is the best and why, and then tracking textual variance between different editions, as well as adding rich layers of interpretative annotation. In bringing these classic print editions to life online, we started to re-imagine how they would work in a digital environment, getting down to the key elements of each – the primary text, the critical apparatus, and the explanatory notes – to work out how, by teasing the content of each edition apart, we could bring them back together in a more meaningful way for the reader.

OSEO preserves the traditional link with print, for scholars and students who want to use the online version of a particular edition, and for librarians keen to curate their digital content alongside existing print holdings. You can use the site to navigate to a familiar edition, travelling to a particular page, and even downloading a PDF of the print page, so you can cite from OSEO with authority. But we have also broken the print editions apart to put the texts themselves front and centre, so you can see all of an author’s works in one place, and move straight to an individual play, poem, or letter, or to a particular line number or scene. These are not simply flat ebook versions in aggregate. The use of XML has allowed us to harness the different elements of each edition: the notes keep pace with the text, different features can be toggled on and off, the content is digitally citable with easily exportable references, and a very focused advanced search tool means you can really fine-tune your parameters, looking within stage directions or the recipients of letters, first lines or critical apparatus, all of which speeds your journey to the content genuinely of most use to you.

Drawing on editorial expertise

In building OSEO, we have worked from a very early stage with an expert Editorial Board, the members of which are all distinguished scholars in their fields, who work with us on developments in functionality and user tools, as well as approving every edition for inclusion in the site, and helping us identify gaps in coverage and tailor our content plans accordingly. We are very proud of their involvement with the project, which helps us ensure that we uphold the high standards of scholarship embodied in the original print editions. Find out more about our editorial board.

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What now and where next?

We’re excited about OSEO for many reasons. First, it underlines our support for the continuing tradition of scholarly editing. Our investment in digital editions is increasing their reach, securing their permanence in the online space and making them available to multiple users at the same time. There are real benefits brought by the size of the collection, the aggregation of content, intelligent cross-linking with other OUP content – facilitating genuine user journeys from and into related secondary criticism and reference materials – and the links we are developing in partnership with external sites and other resources. We hope, too, that OSEO will help us bring recent finds to an audience as swiftly as possible: new discoveries can simply be edited and dropped straight into the site.

OSEO already provides access to 950 scholarly editions of material written between 1485 and 1901, plus Classical Latin authors, including all of Shakespeare’s plays, the letters and novels of Charles Dickens, the complete works of Jane Austen, Ovid, Livy, and Virgil, the Gladstone Diaries, the poetry of John Donne, the diary of John Evelyn, the letters and diaries of Samuel Pepys, and philosophical works by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham. These editions contain over 138,000 different works including more than 600 plays, 28,000 poems, and more than 100,000 other works, including letters, essays, sermons, diaries, and more – the equivalent of over 483,000 print pages. In the coming months and years we will expand the service to include more works from the nineteenth century, the Modernists, medieval texts, and editions of Roman philosophical writings, with Ancient Greek works following later.

Over the past century and more, Oxford has invested in the development of an unrivalled programme of scholarly editions across the humanities. Oxford Scholarly Editions Online takes these core, authoritative texts down from the library shelf, unlocks their features to make them fully accessible to all kinds of users, and makes them discoverable online. Watch a short animation to learn more about the journey of a scholarly edition.

Sophie Goldsworthy
Editorial Director, Academic and Trade & Project Director, OSEO
Oxford University Press