A Brief Guide to Our Editorial Policies
The ultimate aim of the Newton Project is to present detailed, accurate and comprehensive transcripts of all Newton’s manuscripts, viewable in a range of formats to suit the different needs and tastes of individual users. The guiding principle is strict fidelity to what Newton actually wrote. In the first instance, our transcriptions are representations, rather than interpretations, of the source material. In time, they will be supplemented by wide-ranging editorial apparatus such as explanatory glosses, editorial commentary, hyperlinks to other relevant material, and translation of non-English passages. But the core of the whole structure consists of the texts themselves, and the aim is to enable users to draw their own interpretative conclusions rather than to impose our own.
Accordingly, we have not modernised, standardised or otherwise ‘corrected’ the original spelling, punctuation or grammar in the transcribed texts: even what appear to be obvious errors in the original are faithfully recorded, with a note of the apparent error and a proposed correction. Material that has been deleted, altered or added is all transcribed as such, with its status recorded in the electronic markup. Such revisions supply important evidence about a writer’s stylistic habits and the development of his or her thought. There are cases, indeed, where deleted material may actually be the most interesting part of a document. A good example is John Conduitt’s draft account of Newton’s childhood, in which many of the most intimate and revealing passages are marked for deletion, probably because the rather strait-laced Conduitt, after reflection, decided they were too personal and undignified. It is necessary to view the text in the ‘diplomatic’ display to appreciate this point, as the deleted passages are suppressed in ‘normalised’.
However, since archaic spellings and punctuation can sometimes prove seriously misleading to modern readers unfamiliar with the habits of the time, and the indication of deletions, insertions and so forth is likely to distract a user who simply wants to read a finished text rather than explore its gestation, we also offer an alternative, normalised view in which deletions are suppressed, additions are not indicated as such, obvious errors are corrected, and punctuation and spelling are modernised if they seem likely to cause confusion. The beauty of the electronic medium - as explained in more detail on our What is an Electronic Edition? page - is that these two very different renditions of the text can both be generated from exactly the same markup: we do not have to go through the entire transcription process twice using different editorial policies each time.
As the site develops, we will be adding further viewing options so that users can customise the display in a variety of very specific ways. The markup in fact includes considerably more information than is currently being made explicit in either view: for instance, the location of line breaks in prose passages, whether or not words split by line breaks are hyphenated, the physical location of page numbers on the original page, and so forth. The use of such data may not be immediately apparent, and for most people it probably has none, but it is quite conceivable that it may be of interest to someone studying palaeography, typesetting, history of punctuation or other aspects of manuscript and print culture. It is not our job to decide what users need to know: our job is to give them the option of finding out whatever they like. In future versions of the site, it will be possible for them to choose precisely how much and how little of such information is displayed.
For a detailed explanation of precisely how all this data is captured by the electronic markup, see the full technical account of our Transcription and Tagging Policy.