Exploring _The Castle of Otranto_

The book that I have chosen to investigate on Project Gutenberg, Google Books, HATHITrust, and the Internet Archive is Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764). Given that the author of the text alleged to be a translator by the name of William Marshall who had recovered the text (said to have been originally printed in 1529) from obscurity in an old library in England and reprinted it for public dissemination, I thought this made The Castle of Otranto an interesting choice (my love of early Gothic literature aside). For as we all know, one important role that digital archivists play involves the rescuing of obscure texts, which are then scanned to the web for public consumption. In terms of availability, all four of the digital archives mentioned above have copies of The Castle of Otranto. The text is available in HTML, EPUB (with images), EPUB (no images), Kindle (with images), Kindle (no images), Plucker, QiOO Mobile, PDF, and Plain Text UTF-8. In terms of editions and provenances, they tend to vary. In the Internet Archive, you can find a version of the novel that is the third edition and that comes from the Bodleian Library at Oxford with a date stamp of 27 Oct 1930. There is also an edition from the University of Toronto library. On Google Books, there are versions from the Stanford University Library, the Library of the University of Michigan, and the same third edition scan from the Bodleian Library that can be found at the Internet Archive. In the HATHITrust Digital Library, one can find the University of Michigan version, as well as versions from the University of California (published in 1823), Princeton University (1811), and Indiana University (1854). The version available on Project Gutenberg appears to be the 1901 version taken from the Library of the University of Michigan. There definitely seems to be a lot of overlap between these digital archives, though from my examinations of the sites, it appears that HATHITrust has the best range of copies since they date back to 1811.

The first result you get when you search for The Castle of Otranto on Google Books is also perhaps the worse copy available. After you get the cover, you have to scroll down through several scans of a woman’s hand to get to the actual title page. Even then, there are still occasional fingers or dark ink splotches that cover up parts of the text. If someone actually wanted to read this version, it would be possible, as long as you could fill in the blanks caused by the more damaged scans. Ink splotches happen on several other versions, and sometimes the text cuts off the sides in some copies. Each of the versions seems to have little quirks like dirty pages or ink splotches or text that is blocked by mysterious rectangle-shaped objects. However, overall, like I said, the text tends to still be readable for the most part. I wouldn’t say these are the best scans ever, but given the amount of texts being scanned and the fact that we are in the midst of the transition to digital archives, rather than approaching the final stages of completion, I would say that the texts serve their purpose at a very basic level. The ability to perform searches within the text is a feature that has definitely been helpful for me as an academic. Reading The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe and then trying to go back and find a quote that I didn’t highlight because I did not think it was useful at the time is not a fun task. Digital Libraries like Google Books, HATHITrust, and the Internet Archive that allow you to not only find words quickly, but also see their context before you go to the actual page the word is on, is definitely a blessing for the toiling scholar.

One of the things that I found most interesting about the Internet Archive is the ability to read the actual book online. The archive is set up to present the book in such a way that makes you feel as if you are actually reading the book itself, rather than just scrolling down a screen. It keeps several of the affordances of the book, such as the comparative space, and gives you the illusion of a three-dimensional object as you “flip” through the pages. This is nice for a reader wanting the experience of the actual text and the comparative space is definitely a plus, but such a skeuomorphic design does little to utilize the affordances of the digital archive. Several of the other versions allow you to click through the pages, but most often this still gives you one page at a time, and as with Google Books, there is still some scrolling involved to see the full text. Of course, the option to download on each of the Digital Libraries lets you make the page bigger or smaller as you like so you can use the page up and page down keys.

As I just stated, each of these sites allows you to download the text. However, if you prefer to stay digital, Google Books lets you compile a “library” of books and HATHITrust lets you create a “Collection” of books. In terms of making these texts writable as well as readable, I did not find any options to annotate any of the versions of my text. Additionally, only authorized users seem to be able to add texts to the digital libraries, making this an exclusive project that is available for consumption by readers, but not open for reciprocity. Along those lines, I did see a link to provide feedback on HATHITrust and report any errors or trouble with the text. As for Google Books and the Internet Archive, I did not see any link for feedback, but there are links set up where readers can write reviews of the text. I imagine these reviews could both be for the book itself and the quality of the scans. However, I do not know if the people who are able to make changes to the texts will actually be reading those reviews. I did not find any way of providing feedback on Project Gutenberg.

The advent of Digital Libraries is a wonderful thing. However, from what I saw of the somewhat obscured scans, the inability to “write” on the texts, and the limited capability for providing feedback that will go directly to the people in charge of the scanning process, there is still much work to be done. As I stated above, I see us in the middle of a transition to Digital Libraries and engaged in work that is nowhere near completion. As time progresses, I hope to see more innovative archives that better utilize the affordances of the web to make texts that are writable/readable and that allow us to research and analyze texts in new and innovative ways that could not be done away from a computer.

One thought on “Exploring _The Castle of Otranto_

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