Emily Wood ’18 won a Mellon Summer Undergraduate Research in the Humanities Fellowship to undertake a project in June and July of 2016. Having done research on manuscripts of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in my English 4401 seminar, Emily decided she wanted to look more into the history of Chaucer’s text––and specifically how its scribes and early modern editors tried to make sense of this messy, incomplete collection. (Not incidentally, one of Emily’s Chaucer classmates published his paper from that same course in Trinity’s undergraduate humanities research journal.) Of course, Trinity doesn’t have any medieval manuscripts of Chaucer’s text––the nearest one is in Austin––but our special collections library does have a copy of the 1721 edition of Chaucer’s works, edited (at least in part) by John Urry.
Urry’s edition has been maligned since the eighteenth century, but Emily found it particularly interesting as one of the first attempts to edit Chaucer’s texts on the basis of multiple manuscript sources, the kind of approach that stands behind current scholarly practice. To understand Urry’s techniques and priorities, Emily first worked slowly and deliberately through the massive edition, creating a detailed catalogue of all of the works Urry included and, perhaps more importantly, all of the editorial notes he inserted into Chaucer’s writings.
Armed with all of this information, Emily then focused on a few particularly interesting editorial notes, comparing the presentation of these texts to earlier printed editions of Chaucer, and she identified, finally, what she took to be an uneasy balance in Urry’s editorial method––on the one hand decidedly historicist and interested in how certain spurious texts might have arisen and found a place in the Chaucer canon, and on the other constrained by the force of earlier editorial convention.
Now in her senior year, Emily is researching and writing a senior thesis under my direction, focusing on one of the particularly odd manuscripts used by Urry, the Alnwick Castle Chaucer. She has secured a Mach Fellowship to support this research, and she plans to use these funds to travel to Princeton and work with another manuscript copied by the scribe of the Alnwick Castle copy.