Electronic Resources to the Canterbury Tales

As I am a student with both English and Computer Science experience, this seminar is of great interest to me. However, it can be hard for me to try to integrate the two subjects but with this subject matter, of the Canterbury Tales, I have tried to combine both my experiences.
To start, electronic study resources have come a long way in the last ten years. According to The Oxford Guide to Geoffrey Chaucer, within this ten years
The range of educational aids has increased one hundred fold”
This, they explain, may be due to the augmentation of the use of personal computers, internet educational applications like Blackboard Academic Site, and the rise in sales in E-Books. To extend on this, ten years ago if one did not know something they would say, “I don’t know but I will ask someone who does” but this is being replaced with the ever-fashionable phrase (if not a cliché) “I don’t know, I’ll Google it.” All this can be applied to The Canterbury Tales, when looking at what has been done electronically and digitally.

To prepare for this investigation, I studied Alan Liu’s article "Imagining the New Media Encounter", for a detailed account as to the advancement of educational aids and resources, as well as to the base time line to the evolution of media. Liu describes electronic resources as having many levels. It went from radio to television to CD ROMs and thus to the internet. For instance, when researching the Canterbury Tales many of these levels are applicable. There are film versions, CD ROMs, digitised manuscripts facsimiles and databases containing image archives.
One person who has devoted a significant amount of time to the evolution of the Canterbury Tales on-line has been Peter Robinson. He is a pioneer within his peers. He has released several CDs and is now most reputed for the accomplishment of getting the Canterbury Tales as a digital scholarly edition. One of the websites he is involved in is www.canterburytales.org  This is where you can see published transcripts, images and gives you a detailed account of how you can order his Cds on the Canterbury Tales. Questions have been asked as to whether there is a difference between reading the book and its critiques and whether this form of digitalisation can be used to expand ones scholarly knowledge. If we learn from what Liu is saying, then there is a distinction in how one learns, as now instead of reading Chaucer’s materials I am browsing it, instead of absorbing the information I am immersing myself and instead of imagining the journey taken by the pilgrims, I am now simulating the picture. It is all about one’s experiences and how they can change depending on what form of study is applied. Peter Robinson has worked for The University of Birmingham who have been the pioneers in digital scholarly methods, particularly from the Medieval era.  With such activity in promoting mass manuscript facsimiles Peter Robinson, along with a crew of students, at the University of Birmingham have also undertaken the work of digitalising some of Dante’s work and English Parliament Rolls from Medieval England. However, what is impressive about Peter Robinson is that he is able to analyze himself. He is able to understand that as soon as electronics and the internet evolve (which they constantly are) then these manuscripts and study aids need to keep up with the times too. The basic motto, as it says on The University of Birmingham’s website is
We believe that digital methods should be applied to any scholarly text, in any language from any tradition. We welcome approaches from other scholarly edition.”   
Barbara Bordalejo also works for same development team as Peter Robinson did at The University of Birmingham. What is beneficial about Bordalejo’s work is that she also works free of charge for a website called www.textualscholarship.org as she also adheres to the above motto. Nonetheless, one has to pay for the scholarly digital editions on this web site. Bordalejo uses Web2.0 to her advantage. This shows that her work is constantly moving with Liu’s timeline. Her Web2.0 experience is exposed as she uses Twitter, Facebook and other social websites to inform her followers of the developments and new articles arising around Medieval English.

An interesting side note to think about is what Geoffrey Chaucer and Tim Burner-Lee have in common. This would be the theme of authority. Chaucer claims not to take any  authority on what is said in the Canterbury Tales even though he created it. It is just like the notion of information that is on the web, Burners Lee cannot be held responsible for its content even though he helped to initiate the web. Both readers of the Canterbury Tales and viewers of the web receive the information at their own risk. What they choose to believe is up to them!

Another way that  the Canterbury Tales has been digitalised has been due to the work of the Huntington Library in California. They have in their possession the Ellemere Manuscript. This is an early 15th century illuminated manuscript of the Canterbury Tales. Not only is it open to the public to see but they have published around forty-five images of the manuscript on their website. This is an example of how databases contain images of Medieval English works.

To conclude, I have explored Alan Liu’s article for a basic time line and applied it the works of Peter Robison and Barbara Bordalejo to discover that they believe in making scholarly editions available to the public, to increase the need of educational aids and to give students a new way of learning.


Works Cited



  • Ellis, Steve. The Oxford Guide to Geoffrey Chaucer. Oxford University Press. England 2005Pg.607