Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Emendation: The Incomplete, Abridged, and Generally Just-a-Primer Lay Persons Guide

Today I'm giving you a casual look at the process of emending a work. No, this isn't the Congressional process with all of its bickering.

Emending is the process of making correcting changes to a work. (As opposed to amending which is adding to or altering a work in order to improve its contents).
One significant difference is that emending is not done in order to change the context or content of a work. Emendation instead strives to fix errors and in the case of my work, reverse edits from the original work.
According to Mary-Jo Kline and Susan Holbrook Perdue (in A Guide to Documentary Editing, 3rd ed., page 145), there are two forms of emendation:

The term silent emendation describes changes made in a text that are not enumerated individually on the page of edited text. Silent emendation is the method traditionally used in critical editions of literary works and transferred by CEAA/CSE [Center for Editions of American Authors/Committee on Scholarly Editions, professional organizations for academic editing] editors to documentary series: the editorial reading text itself contains no hint that emendations or alterations have occured. Most but not all such emendations are reported in a back-of-book textual record. The regularization of capitalization and punctuation and corrections of misspellings are often unrecorded. Overt emendation refers to the changes indicated within the editorial text (usually enclosed in some form of bracket) or in notes immediately adjacent to the text.

So what does this mean to your average reader? Well, first it explains all of the funny words in [brackets] that show up in quotes all the time. Most students nowadays don't know that these are references to items added to a quote by an author or editor (see my awesome explanatory note in the above quote). This type of clarifying is commonplace in news and other writing. Most of us don't even notice it these days. One such clarification is actually a comment on the text editing itself. "[sic]" at the end of a quote designates that the text appears faithfully including any errors.

You may be thinking,"Well now that we know that what about this questionable 'silent' emendation?" I'm glad you asked. Silent emendation is the tool employed by people making fixes to a work that aren't intended to change any content (even to add context or clarity). For example, I want to use a quote from a book, but the author didn't capitalize properly, or misspelled a word. I can use silent emendation to make the correction, no harm no foul, we all look smart, and nobody knows that your "expert" evidence had a typo. Right? Wrong.

If you have to make changes to a text, you want to be able to show what you've done and have a good reason for doing it. You always make sure to cite your sources when you are working on research because it provides a basis for validity (it's what separates research from wild ranting, a finer line than most of us would like to admit). The same is true with emendations. By listing what you've done to a text, you give readers the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not that change is important. Especially with silent emendation, you should provide a listing (either in a footnote or as an appendix) showing what changes you made. This adds credibility to your work, and helps to establish you as someone with real academic skills.

One of the ways that you can list these changes is by employing an Emendation List (we academics have a knack for creative titles). In its simplest form, this is similar to a bibliography, works cited, or other academic list. You simply include a reference to where the text is (page number.line number), a snippet of the text you're using, a demarking punctuation (commonly a bracket "]" or slash "/"), an edited version of the text, and if necessary your reason for making the change. If this seems rather crazy I'm going to provide some clarity. Below is a screenshot (Thank you Google Books) of a recent-ish emendation list included with a critical edition of The Abbot by Sir Walter Scott (Edinburgh University Press, 2000).

If you look, the editor provides examples of the various changes one might make through silent emendation to a text. The note at the bottom of 100.27 is an example of a situation where the change might not make sense at first, so the editor explains his rationale for it. Thus, we as a  reader can make the choice as to whether or not we think this is correct (and despite what most of us think, people will debate it). 

One of the most important things to include is what version of a text you are using. If you noticed in the instructions above the reference includes both a page number and a line number. You might not be familiar with using line numbers in referencing, but this makes sure that a reader knows exactly which phrase you are referring to. It doesn't typically work across editions, and can be a world of difference if the same phrase is used repeatedly on a page (can you imagine trying to figure out which ". A" someone might be talking about?).

"So we know that we should note changes we make to a text. Who cares?" You should. One of the most highly regarded qualities in academia is our ethical standard. As I've said before, if people can't count on our work to be accurate (and verifiable), we're not a whole lot different than people holding signs on street corners saying the world is going to end. You achieve this standard by making sure that your facts are vetted as closely as possible, and then being transparent about how you use them. In doing so, you keep yourself out of legal and academic problems, and your work out of the garbage can. We've got enough battles to fight these days about the history we share. Don't compound them by clamming up about how you got to the conclusions you've made.

*Note (11/11/14): The first version of this referenced "Scott" as providing the emendation list in error. This has been updated to "the editor" where appropriate. For curious individuals, that is Christopher Johnson. Many apologies, grad students make boo-boos too.

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