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Scholarly editions have been at the heart of literary criticism, research, and theorization. A scholarly edition involves critical judgment and understanding. It can present and interpret a work in relationship to any number of contexts, such as the work’s genesis, its versions, its media, and its reception. And a scholarly edition does so by acting transparently, laying bare the complexities of how a cultural product can come—or has come—to be a “work” or “text” available to reading, interpretation, and reuse.

What is the CSE?

The Committee on Scholarly Editions of the Modern Language Association is charged with being “a clearinghouse for information about scholarly editing and editorial projects, offers advice and consultation to editors on request, honors excellence in editing by awarding emblems to qualified volumes, and promotes dissemination of reliable texts for classroom use and among general readers.”  More about the committee’s membership and history can be found here. A list of the qualified volumes is found here.

What can the committee do for you?

Through consultation with editors and a rigorous evaluation of editions by outside readers, the committee seeks to help editors achieve the highest standards. The work of the committee and of editors is made most visible when the committee awards its emblem or “seal” to qualified editions that have met the committee’s standards. The seal should signify to readers, scholars, hiring and promotion committees, and administrators, that your edition is of the highest quality and a serious and important contribution to scholarship.

Over the past decades the committee has awarded its seal to print and digital editions in a wide variety of areas. Recent print editions have included

  • Le Opere di Brunetto Latino, edited by Julia Bolton Holloway
  • The Letters of Sarah Scott, edited by Nicole Pohl
  • The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury, vol. 2 (1943-44), edited by Jonathan R. Eller
  • And works by Willa Cather, James Fenimore Cooper, Joseph Conrad, Charles Brockden Brown, Henry James, and George Santayana.

The digital editions recently awarded the seal have included

  • Livingstone’s Manuscripts in South Africa (1843–1872), edited by Jared McDonald and Adrian S. Wisnicki
  • The Siege of Jerusalem, edited by Timothy L. Stinson, and
  • The Digital Aelfric, edited by Aaron J. Kleist.

Here are the voices of recent editors who can attest to the practicality of the committee’s work:

The imprimatur of the Committee on Scholarly Editions was invaluable for our digital edition of medieval sermons. While online publication can offer advantages—in our case, the ability dynamically to show changes to copies of texts over centuries—it is difficult for conscientious academicians to assess the scholarly weight of such endeavors. A monograph published by a university press, we understand. An article appearing in a peer-reviewed periodical, we readily approve. A 1.2-million-word project involving 44 scholars from 16 international institutions—is that equivalent to a book, or just a glorified blog? The CSE’s seal of approval offered assurance of the work’s rigor and value both to individual readers and to committees that assessed project participants for promotion thereafter. I will long remain grateful for the CSE’s support, which has proved to be a gift that keeps on giving.

—Dr. Aaron J Kleist, Professor of English, Biola University
The Digital Ælfric

I have always appreciated the inherent flexibility of the MLA/CSE seal inspection process. From the earliest days, award of the seal signified “an approved edition” rather than “the approved edition” for any work of literature. A wide range of editorial approaches can be accommodated, as long as there is a carefully developed editorial method, clearly articulated and consistently applied. My textual essays, apparatus, and content annotations are all the better for the fresh and objective perspective that CSE inspectors have brought to our volumes. Our more recent inspectors have experience with both letterpress and electronic editions, opening up exciting ways to plan for the future of scholarly editing.

—Jonathan Eller, Chancellor’s Professor, Indiana University School of Liberal Arts (IUPUI)
The Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury

What does the committee do for the profession?

As well as its day-to-day practical work with editors, the committee promotes scholarly editing in its sessions at the MLA convention and its contributions to current thinking about scholarly editions, such as the MLA Statement on the Scholarly Edition in the Digital AgeIts blog provides a place for committee members to share information and news about textual scholarship. The committee provides an annotated bibliography of key works in the theory of scholarly editing and guidelines for editors of scholarly editions.