Content Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (OSEO) is a collection of authoritative Oxford (OUP) editions of major works in the humanities. It is designed to serve research in the fields of English literature, history, philosophy, and religion, with launch content including the complete text of more than 170 scholarly editions of material written between 1485 and 1660. There are approximately 12,000 works—equal to 82,000 print pages—now in the collection, including all of Shakespeare’s plays and the poetry of John Donne. The full text of each work is included, along with the editor’s record of variations in the text and explanatory notes. Many works include historical context and information on editorial principles.
Updates will add content to existing files and add whole new chronological modules corresponding to the historical period in which the originals were written. Eventually, the product will offer all of Oxford’s scholarly editions from Classical texts through 20th-century materials. The next module, to be launched in 2013, will cover the Restoration.
Usability The OSEO screen is both aesthetically attractive and easy to use. There’s a simple search box near top screen right, with links to advanced search and “Find Location in Text” immediately above it. A Browse link occupies the toolbar beneath the search box, and the real estate below it is allocated to buttons for browsing authors, works, or editions, followed by a welcome to the system. This welcome includes a link to a useful quick-start guide as well one to the complete list of editions offered. At screen right are news items updating developments associated with OSEO. A toolbar provides links to, for example, subscriber services, a database tour (the quick start guide is more useful), and help (they really mean it—everything with which you might need help is listed under that link).
Since the background material notes that stage directions are included in the database, I did a simple search for “exit pursued by a bear,” which brought up 52 items. The first listed was Act 3, Scene 3 of A Winter’s Tale, in which Antigonus exits, pursued by a bear. But what’s really notable is that clicking the dot next to the stage direction leads to the editor’s notes, which give more background on the bear than even my excellent college Shakespeare course. This instance illustrates the validity of OUP’s extravagant claims about the file.
Browsing reveals the scope of the product. It offers sections on authors (62 at present, from Lancelot Andrewes to Gerrard Winstanley), works (664, from Henry Vaughan’s Additional Poems to John Dennis’s Letter 38), and editions (171, from G.W. Pigman’s A Hundreth Sundrie Flowres to Thomas Traherne’s Centuries, Poems, and Thanksgivings, Vol. 2: Poems and Thanksgivings). It can take a few seconds for lists to sort and re-sort themselves in results, but given the density of what’s here, that’s really nit-picking.
Advanced search offers 25 different options (ranging from author to publisher of the editorial text, and including stage directions and place of first performance) with a plethora of date limits (composition, performed, published, published online, etc.) and material types (plays, letters, verse, essays, sermons, diaries, and other prose). “Find Location in Text” let users locate Romeo’s first glimpse of Juliet immediately, by inputting “Romeo and Juliet” as title and “act 1 scene 4” in location. It’s so simple to scan specific portions of a play or other work, and this online edition preserves and displays the print work’s pagination.
Oxford editions are magnificent, but the aspect of OSEO that is truly extraordinary is its powerful, yet straightforward, searchability combined with the wonderful delivery of its content. Students may actually read the content-added, enhancing editorial notes, since they display side-by-side with the text.
Pricing OSEO is available for purchase (perpetual access, $1,125 to $11,250) or by subscription ($225 to $2,200 per period/genre based on the number of scholarly editions in a collection), with pricing based on size and type of institution. Libraries can subscribe to or buy OSEO at the subject/time period and genre level, and discounts are available from consortia and depending upon how many subjects are acquired. Hosting fees (for purchase only) are $100 per year by period/genre, up to a maximum of $500, but are waived if additional purchases were made in the previous 12 months.
Verdict This is a game-changing online file that surpasses the equivalent print editions and is recommended for serious scholarship in the humanities everywhere.