New Optical Collator Design

Project summary

The project will develop a new design of optical collator for use with early modern printed texts.  Collation is the process of comparing different copies of the same text in order to identify variants between them, and is a crucial part of scholarly editing, both for establishing an accurate text and for understanding the history of the printing process.  This is often done using an optical collator, typically consisting of a pair of plane mirrors which can be adjusted so that images of two different copies are quasi-superimposed by the brain, allowing differences between them to stand out. This process is time-consuming and tiring.

Over the course of the grant, we have achieved our goals both for the first phase of the project as described in our initial application and also many of the goals described as intended for a subsequent phase. As a result, we have developed the prototype of an innovative and highly sophisticated digital collation tool which we believe will have a major impact on textual scholarship, and transform the process of editing early modern texts. This has been named the Traherne Digital Collator.

Our digital collator consists of image capture equipment, in a portable and conveniently-packaged format which meets the conservation concerns of libraries, integrated with powerful image comparison software which automatically identifies variants and offers a choice of visualizations. It thus combines digital functionality with retention of the vital link to the physical text by using real-time image analysis.

At a seminar held in the Balliol Historic Collections Centre on 10 June, we demonstrated the results of our project to members of major editorial projects from Geneva, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Oxford, and UEA. It was received with great enthusiasm, and many of these editors intend to trial the collator in their own projects.

We are preparing to make the collation software and subsequent updates freely available from a dedicated download site, and the associated camera equipment will be also available through the Oxford Traherne project. By making our prototype software and equipment available to other editing projects, we plan to create a network of users who can trial it in a wide range of textual situations. Their feedback will enable us to continue to improve  the collator and develop additional functionalities.

For future enquiries and further information about using our collator, see The Oxford Traherne, or contact Christopher Palmer or Julia Smith.

Lead investigator

Dr Christopher Palmer, Department of Physics and Balliol College, University of Oxford

Research team

Dr Julia Smith, English Faculty, University of Oxford, and General Editor, The Oxford Traherne

Dr Austen Saunders

Contact details for enquiries

Please email the lead investigator, Dr Christopher Palmer, for any queries regarding this project.