Digitizing the Pyrates: Making a Digital Critical Edition of Captain Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates (1724 - 1726)


About the Project

This portion of the website is dedicated to my M.A.Thesis that I completed in May, 2016, in the Collaborative Program in the Digital Humanities with the Department of English Language and Literature at Carleton University. There are four parts to this section of my website: the digital critical edition comparing selected sections of four editions of Captain Charles Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates, printed between 1724 to 1726; the text of my Thesis; the user experience survey; and trials of encoding methods and software that led up to the final iteration of this project.

A General History of the Pyrates was attributed to Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe among many other titles. This attribution to Defoe was put forth by John R. Moore, at the Modern Language Association in 1932, and has since been contested. Moore's attribution, his theory and methods are discussed at length in my Thesis. His position as an early twentieth-century scholar positing that Defoe was the sole individual responsible for this eighteenth-century work, raise complex questions about literary production and the status of authorship in a time where copyright and literary piracy were colliding.

Examining the the first through fourth editions of Johnson's A General History of the Pyrates using digital tools such as the Versioning Machine V.4.0 offer a method of investigating the changes in the text over these three years, which highlights the many hands responsible for alterations to this text, and problematizes Moore's theory regarding Defoe's authorship. The content of the chapters contained in the 1st edition is reproduced to a large degree in the 2nd through 4th editions, however there are numerous modifications to the content, including the addition four chapters. The chapters about Captains Anstis, Philips & Spriggs first appeared in the 2nd edition in 1724; while the chapter about Captain Smith appeared in the 3rd edition in 1725. The 4th edition also consists of a second volume containing all new material, which is not included in this critical edition, as there is nothing to compare it to in the previous editions. In examining the four editions covered for this project, one notices that parts of the text were rearranged, chapters were moved and renumbered, and other parts of the text have were deleted. There were a great number of changes in the spelling and capitalization of words, and the use of punctuation. The typesetting, while similar throughout the editions, produced changes in the location of words at the end of lines and where pages end. To view these changes go to the Digital Edition section of this site.