Oxford University Press is to put its scholarly editions online for the first time in a digital initiative that it says will enable scholars and students to interrogate texts across English literature, philosophy, history and religion in ways not previously possible.
When it launches in September, Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (OSEO) will carry 171 OUP scholarly editions of works by authors active between 1485 and 1660-Shakespeare, his antecedents and successors-including around 7,000 poems, 200 plays and 5,000 letters.
The earliest of the editions to be featured on OSEO was originally published in 1901 (The Works of Thomas Kyd), the most recent, Shakespeare's "Richard III", in 2011.
Seventy-nine of the editions are not currently available in print but will return to it on a p.o.d. basis when OSEO launches-most notably the Herford and Simpson 11-volume edition of Ben Jonson, originally published between 1925 and 1952, of which all but two volumes have fallen out of print.
OUP's editorial director for academic and trade, Sophie Goldsworthy, who is the OSEO project director, said: "With Google, there are free texts everywhere but there is a need in the academy for students to be able to find the best content-trusted primary sources.
"Texts shift so much over time: Wordsworth in his dotage revised all his poems, and there are different editions of Hamlet, in which he says 'too, too solid flesh' or else 'too, too sullied flesh', for example. Scholars check the textual variants and their editions are the bedrock of humanities scholarship.
"We have the most extensive collection of scholarly editions and a lot of these are so old they were not available except on secondhand sites. OSEO will make them all available again on p.o.d., print and digital work side by side." A PDF of each page of the original print edition has also been included in the new online editions.
OSEO will enable scholars and students to carry out sophisticated searches which interrogate the texts in fresh ways, Goldsworthy said. "Scholarly editions in print are unwieldy to use, you have to flick from the front to the back for notes. With XML encoded data, the notes are set in a separate panel, keeping pace with the text, and you can turn different features on and off, and adjust the balance between the two. You can also search within texts and paratexts, so you can search within stage directions, first lines, and so on."
OSEO will go on to expand its scope, extending to scholarly editions of 1660-1700 texts in 2013, and thereafter tracking up to the 20th century before returning to encompass the medieval and classical periods. The entire project is likely to take five to six years to complete.
OUP chief executive Nigel Portwood called the release of OSEO "another step in support of our ambition to publish unrivalled scholarly editions that provide breadth, reliability and quality for students and researchers."