Κύρια Digital Milton

Digital Milton


Digital Milton is the first volume to investigate John Milton in terms of our digital present. It explores the digital environments Milton now inhabits as well as the diverse digital methods that inform how we read, teach, edit, and analyze his works. Some chapters use innovative techniques, such as processing metadata from vast archives of early modern prose, coding Milton’s geographical references on maps, and visualizing debt networks from literature and from life. Other chapters discuss the technologies and platforms shaping how literature reaches us today, from audiobooks to eReaders, from the OED Online to Wikipedia, and from Twitter to YouTube. Digital Milton is the first say on a topic that will become ever more important to scholars, students, and teachers of early modern literature in the years to come.

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Digital Milton

David Currell • Islam Issa

Digital Milton

ISBN 978-3-319-90477-1    ISBN 978-3-319-90478-8 (eBook)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2018952371

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2018
This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the 
Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of 
translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on 
microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, 
electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now 
known or hereafter developed.
The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this 
publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are 
exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use.
The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information 
in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the 
publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to 
the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The 
publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and 
institutional affiliations.

Cover illustration: “Pandemonium” by Andrew Kulman, reproduced with kind permission.

This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature 
Switzerland AG
The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland

David Currell
American University of Beirut
Beirut, Lebanon

Islam Issa
Birmingham City University
Birmingham, UK


For Mum and Dad
For Mama and Baba


The editors are grateful t; o all those who have made Digital Milton 

David Currell was fortunate to study the history of textual media with 
Bernard Muir and Milton with David Quint, two extraordinarily generous 
teachers. Islam Issa has continued to benefit from all that he was taught by 
Hugh Adlington.

The Birmingham City University Faculty of Arts, Design and Media’s 
Research Investment Scheme bought time out for Islam Issa to work on 
this project and funded the index, prepared by Nick de Somogyi. Special 
thanks are due to Andrew Kehoe, as well as Gemma Moss, Tim Wall, and 
Sarah Wood.

An Erasmus+ staff mobility exchange allowed the editors to spend valu-
able time working on this volume together in Beirut and Birmingham. We 
are grateful to Peter Sjølyst-Jackson, Lucy Stubbs, Hala Dimechkie, and 
Olga Safa for their support in making this possible.

We are also grateful to discussants and audiences at a Faculty of Arts 
and Sciences Research Lunch, American University of Beirut (November 
2016), and at the roundtable “Milton and the Digital Humanities,” 
Renaissance Society of America Annual Meeting in Chicago (March 
2017), organized by David Ainsworth and also featuring Olin Bjork, 
Thomas Luxon, and John Rumrich.

For advice and helpful suggestions at various stages of the project, our 
thanks to three of the contributors in particular, Olin Bjork, Angelica 
Duran, and Peter Herman, in addition to Paul Edmondson, Mario Hawat, 



and David Wrisley. Iman Al Kaisy provided valuable editorial assistance. 
We also thank the anonymous reviewer(s) for their highly constructive 

Our editors at Palgrave Macmillan, Ben Doyle and Camille Davies, 
have been a pleasure to work with, as has been the book’s production 
manager, Vanipriya Manohar.

Andrew Kulman produced, with skill and generosity, original and dis-
tinctive art especially for the book’s cover. “Pandemonium” is the product 
of conversations with the artist, followed by his work with carefully chosen 
physical media. The image is a drypoint monoprint, produced on zinc and 
tissue-wiped to create layers of tone. The artist notes that “this is a tradi-
tional method of intaglio printmaking and while referencing Gustave 
Doré, it also reflects contemporary art practice.” Such innovative handling 
of traditional media resonates with our conception of digital scholarship.

Family and friends are a constant source of love and support. We dedi-
cate this book to our parents.



 1  Milton! Thou Shouldst Be Living in These Media    1
David Currell and Islam Issa

Part I  Textual Remediations   25

 2  The John Milton Reading Room and the Future of Digital 
Pedagogy   27
Cordelia Zukerman

 3  “Is There a Class in This Audiotext?” Paradise Lost 
and the Multimodal Social Edition   47
Olin Bjork and John Rumrich

 4  “Apt numbers”: On Line Citations of Paradise Lost   77
David Currell

Part II  Scale, Space, and Sociality  109

 5  Form and Computation: A Case Study  111
Anupam Basu


 6  Mapping the Moralized Geography of Paradise Lost  129
Randa El Khatib and David Currell

 7  “Still Paying, Still to Owe”: Credit, Community, 
and Small Data in Shakespeare and Milton  153
Peter C. Herman

Part III  New Audiences, Novel Engagements  179

 8  The Online Revolution: Milton and the Internet 
in the Middle East  181
Islam Issa

 9  Digital Milton and Student Research  207
David Ainsworth

 10  Milton for Millennials: Sponsoring Digital Creativity 
through Milton Revealed  225
Hugh Macrae Richmond

 11  Epilogue: Milton in the Digital Waves  245
Angelica Duran

 Index  261


David Ainsworth is Associate Professor of English at the University of 
Alabama, USA, where he is also Assistant Chair of English and part of the 
Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies. Ainsworth is co- organizer 
of the Conference on John Milton and was the first Communications 
Officer for the Milton Society of America. He works primarily on 
Milton’s poetry and prose and on the Holy Spirit. In addition to his 
first book, Milton and the Spiritual Reader (2008), he has published 
articles in journals including Milton Quarterly and Studies in English 
Literature. His second book will be Reading through the Spirit: Milton, 
Music and Literary Interpretation.

Anupam Basu is Assistant Professor of English at Washington University 
in St. Louis, USA.  He was previously Washington University’s Mark 
Steinberg Early Career Fellow in Digital Humanities. His work lies at the 
intersection of literature and big data, drawing on emerging computa-
tional techniques to make vast digital archives of early modern print more 
tractable for computational analysis. His work in this field has appeared in 
numerous journals and edited collections.

Olin Bjork is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Houston- 
Downtown, USA, where he teaches courses on technical communication, 
digital media, and early modern literature. He was previously a Marion 
L.  Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at Georgia Tech and Lecturer at Santa 
Clara University. As a postgraduate student at the University of Texas at 
Austin, he was Webmaster for the English Department, Assistant Director 
of the Computer (now Digital) Writing and Research Lab, and a 

notes on contributors


 collaborator on digital editions of Paradise Lost and Leaves of Grass. He 
has published chapters in the collections Going Wireless and Digital 
Humanities Pedagogy.

David Currell is Assistant Professor of English at the American University 
of Beirut, Lebanon, where he teaches early modern poetry and drama. His 
work, largely in the field of reception studies, has appeared in jour-
nals including Critical Survey and Shakespeare Survey, and collections 
including Critical Insights: Macbeth and Fall Narratives. He co-edited a 
special issue of English Studies on the topic Reading Milton through Islam 
and is writing a book on Renaissance epic and satire.

Angelica  Duran is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and 
Religious Studies at Purdue University, USA. She is the editor of A Concise 
Companion to Milton (2007, pbk and rev. 2011) and The King James Bible 
across Borders and Centuries (2014), the co-editor of Mo Yan in Context: 
Nobel Laureate and Global Storyteller (2014) and Milton in Translation 
(2017), and the author of The Age of Milton and the Scientific Revolution 
(2007). She is on the Executive Committee (2012–21) of the Milton 
Society of America, an Affiliated Organization of the Modern Language 
Association, and the editorial board of Milton Quarterly.

Randa El Khatib is a Doctoral Researcher in English at the University of 
Victoria, Canada. She also holds the position of Alliance of Humanities 
Organizations Communications Fellow. She is the Special Projects 
Coordinator at the Electronic Textual Cultures Lab, where she over-
sees the Open Knowledge Practicum and other projects. Working on 
plays and epic poetry of the English Renaissance, her research focuses 
on how space is represented in fictional and allegorical settings. She 
is the project manager of the TopoText team that develops digital 
mapping tools for humanities research at the American University of 

Peter C. Herman is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at 
San Diego State University, USA.  His most recent books include 
Destabilizing Milton: “Paradise Lost” and the Poetics of Incertitude (2005), 
The New Milton Criticism (2012), co-edited with Elizabeth Sauer, and 
MLA’s Approaches to Teaching volumes on Milton’s works. He is currently 
working on the literature of terrorism, and his anthology, Critical Contexts: 
Terrorism, is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.


Islam Issa is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Birmingham City 
University, UK. His book Milton in the Arab-Muslim World (2016) won 
the Milton Society of America’s “First Book” award. He is co-editor of 
Milton in Translation (2017) and has published in journals including 
Studies in English Literature and English Studies. A regular media con-
tributor, he has also written on Milton for such outlets as The Guardian 
and Times Literary Supplement, and has been selected as a BBC New 
Generation Thinker.

Hugh  Macrae  Richmond is Professor Emeritus of English at the 
University of California, Berkeley, USA, directing its Shakespeare Program, 
and producing the documentary Milton by Himself (Films for Humanities) 
and recordings of performances of Comus and Paradise Lost (available on 
YouTube). His books include The Christian Revolutionary: John Milton 
(1974), John Milton’s Drama of “Paradise Lost” (1992), and Puritans and 
Libertines (1981), as well as Shakespeare’s Political Plays (1967), 
Shakespeare’s Sexual Comedy (1971), and Shakespeare’s Tragedies Reviewed 
(2015). He has developed websites on Milton (Milton Revealed) and on 
Shakespeare (Shakespeare’s Staging). He teaches courses on Milton and 
Shakespeare for the UC Berkeley Osher Institute of Life- Long Learning.

John  Rumrich is Professor of English at the University of Texas at 
Austin, USA, where he teaches courses on Milton, Shakespeare, and early 
modern poetry. An NEH fellow (1990–91) and editor of Texas Studies in 
Literature and Language (1992–2007), he has been visiting professor 
in China, France, Ireland, and South Africa. His publications include 
Matter of Glory (1987), Milton Unbound (1996), various articles and 
book chapters, the co-edited collections Milton and Heresy (1998) and 
Immortality and the Body in the Age of Milton (2017), as well as the 
Norton Critical Edition of Seventeenth Century Poetry (2005) and edi-
tions of Milton’s works for Modern Library.

Cordelia Zukerman is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at the United 
States Military Academy, West Point, USA. Her research, which centers on 
the publication and reception of early modern English drama and poetry, 
analyzes cultural constructions of readers and reading during times of 
social and technological change. Her essays have appeared in Studies in 
English Literature, Shakespeare Survey, and The History of European Ideas, 
among others. She has also participated in collaborative projects in digital 
pedagogy with colleagues from the University of Michigan. She is a for-
mer research assistant for The John Milton Reading Room.


list of figures

Fig. 3.1 Paradise Lost Audiotexts interface displaying modernized  
text on both pages 52

Fig. 3.2 Paradise Lost Audiotexts digital interface displaying 
modernized text with annotation 59

Fig. 3.3 Paradise Lost Audiotexts digital interface displaying 
modernized and unmodernized text 60

Fig. 3.4 Paradise Lost Audiotexts digital interface displaying 
modernized text with reader notes 61

Fig. 4.1 Lines of Paradise Lost quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary 84
Fig. 4.2 Comparison of lines of Paradise Lost quoted in the 1st and 8th 

editions of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations 86
Fig. 5.1 “Recommendation engine” with Thomas Middleton’s 

Michaelmas Term as “key text” 122
Fig. 5.2 “Recommendation engine” with Areopagitica as “key text” 122
Fig. 5.3 “Recommendation engine” with Paradise Regain’d…to which 

is added Samson Agonistes as “key text” 123
Fig. 6.1 Map of biblical lands from the King James Bible (1612/13; 

the edition of Milton’s family Bible). (Credit: Houghton 
Library, Harvard University) 132

Fig. 6.2 “The Turkish Empire,” from John Speed, A Prospect of the 
Most Famous Parts of the World (1626). (Credit: Maps & 
Imagery Library, Special and Area Studies Collections, George 
A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL) 140

Fig. 6.3 “A Map of the Moralized Geography of Paradise Lost”: 
Georectified “Turkish Empire” map against shaded relief 
projection 142


Fig. 6.4 “A Map of the Moralized Geography of Paradise Lost”: 
Georectified “Turkish Empire” map, zoomed view 143

Fig. 7.1 Visualization of Milton Sr.’s loan to John Downer 157
Fig. 7.2 Visualization of Milton Sr.’s reinvestment of John Downer’s 

money 158
Fig. 7.3 Visualization of Milton Sr.’s loan to Rose Downer 159
Fig. 7.4 Visualization of Milton Sr.’s loan to Edward Raymond (1) 160
Fig. 7.5 Visualization of Milton Sr.’s loan to Edward Raymond (2) 160
Fig. 7.6 Visualization of Milton Sr.’s loan to Edward Raymond after 

litigation and the latter’s death 161
Fig. 7.7 Visualization of Shylock’s loan to Bassanio (1) 162
Fig. 7.8 Visualization of Shylock’s loan to Bassanio (2) 163
Fig. 7.9 Visualization of Shylock’s loan to Bassanio (3) 164
Fig. 7.10 Visualization of humanity’s debt in Paradise Lost 169
Fig. 8.1 Non-personalized Google search for “Paradise Lost” in Arabic 

(UK, March 2017). Google and the Google logo are 
registered trademarks of Google Inc., used with permission 186

Fig. 8.2 Non-personalized Google search for “Paradise Lost” in Arabic 
(Palestine, November 2017). Google and the Google logo are 
registered trademarks of Google Inc., used with permission 187

Fig. 8.3 Non-personalized Google search for “John Milton” in Arabic 
(Lebanon, September 2017). Google and the Google logo are 
registered trademarks of Google Inc., used with permission 187

Fig. 8.4 Watermarked PDF of Hanna Aboud’s translation of Paradise 
Lost (Credit: General Syrian Book Organization) 190

Fig. 8.5 Flag of the Syrian National Coalition 190
Fig. 8.6 Flag of the Syrian Arab Republic 191
Fig. 10.1 Terrance Lindall. The Gold Illuminated Paradise Lost Scroll 234

1© The Author(s) 2018
D. Currell, I. Issa (eds.), Digital Milton, 


Milton! Thou Shouldst Be Living 
in These Media

David Currell and Islam Issa

Digital Milton presents new scholarship on John Milton that engages with 
digital methods and digital media. That this scholarship fills a book is a 
sign that Milton studies is participating in the digital turn. That this schol-
arship fills a book is a sign that relationships between media and platforms 
are not (and are never) simple relationships of transition or substitution, 
and a sign that humanists accord unique value to both print and digital 
media while grappling with the urgent and compelling challenges to which 
their simultaneity gives rise. Our hopes are that Milton should have 
renewed life in digital media, that scholarship should have a vital role in 
this metamorphosis, and that the results should enliven global literary 

D. Currell (*)  

I. Issa 



Digital literary study is a rapidly changing field whose theories, 
resources, methods, and institutional arrangements reflect this state of 
dynamic flux. In that context, although this book aims to present the full 
range of digital work on and with Milton, many of the contributions 
within it are notable for their reflexivity and critical outlook towards this 
digital moment and the histories leading to it, and are explicitly experi-
mental or exploratory in their orientation. The range spans all five illustra-
tive clusters of scholarly activity in the digital humanities (DH) presented 
by Julia Thompson Klein in her mapping of kinds of work frequently asso-
ciated with that rubric.1 To identify just one example from each of Klein’s 
clusters that is well represented in this volume: “electronic text production 
and editing,” “computing practices in disciplines of the humanities and 
arts,” “cultural impacts of the Internet and new media,” “design and pro-
duction,” and “new approaches to teaching and learning.” Our method-
ological openness is also an openness to methods yet uninvented, and so, 
to a greater than usual extent, this book anticipates its own eclipse with 
optimism. That said, the genealogical spirit animating many of these chap-
ters intimates longer durations, extending both into the past and into 
durable futures of new connections and collaborations, fresh momentum 
for existing projects, and sustainable trajectories for germinal ones.

The contributors represent a wide spectrum of academic experience, 
from doctoral student to professor emeritus. Their range of institutional 
and geographical locations is also broad. For some, digital literary studies 
is already a primary scholarly identity. For others, this work is a first taste, 
or even a “triall…by what is contrary.”2 While chapters have been written 
and projects have been designed so as to speak directly to contemporary 
Milton studies, the issues and approaches engaged are also crucially in 
dialogue with early modern studies more broadly, textual and editorial 
theory, media studies, the sociology of reading, curatorial practice, and the 
teaching of literature.

“Books Are Not ABsolutely DeAD thiNgs”3

Collections of Milton scholarship have rarely taken account of the digital.4 
Likewise, collections in the digital humanities have rarely taken account of 
Milton.5 This mutual blindness contrasts with the state of Shakespeare 
studies,6 to such an extent that “the digital” begins to look like another 
axis to add to Rachel Trubowitz’s sketch of the orthogonal orientations of 
Shakespearean and Miltonic scholarship in recent decades.7 Where the 



decisive influence in the former domain has been “Greenblattian New 
Historicism,” the governing paradigm of Milton studies has been 
Cambridge School “contextualist historicism.”8 But “the rise of ‘big 
data,’” Trubowitz continues, “has further exposed the limitations of tradi-
tional archives (among them the exclusive rare book collections at elite 
libraries), on which the specificity of historicist interpretation was 
grounded.”9 While the mass digitization that underpins “big data” prom-
ises to make work in book history, print culture, and the sociality of text 
accessible to scholars physically remote from “traditional archives,” it does 
so under conditions of mediation and representation that leave the physi-
cal archives indispensable. Shakespeareans’ comparative cosmopolitanism 
across material and mediated scholarly worlds surely reflects the medial 
confluence of theatre and print, as well as Shakespeare’s greater presence 
in mass media and popular culture generally. Shakespeare also has an 
unusual prominence within the long history (antedating the modern com-
puter) of quantitative stylistics, motivated by questions of authorship. 
While scholars including Blaine Greteman and Whitney Anne Trettien 
have published work at the intersection of Milton studies and digital liter-
ary studies, and while Milton has a presence in major digital projects like 
Six Degrees of Francis Bacon, the academic imbrication of Milton and the 
digital remains incipient.10 Another way to put this is to say that while we 
are all digital Miltonists now, nobody is yet a Digital Miltonist.

To assert that we are all digital Miltonists now probably still has some 
shock value, but part of this should be a shock of recognition. From com-
municating by email with colleagues and students, to searching online 
databases for scholarly sources, downloading and reading articles on com-
puters or mobile devices, consulting facsimiles of seventeenth-century 
texts on Early English Books Online, or performing a keyword search at The 
John Milton Reading Room, the routines of academia have become digi-
tized. The scholarship and study of Milton’s works inevitably engage the 
kinds of digital and computational technologies and electronic media that 
have continuously reshaped culture over the last several decades. Yet a 
digital revolution in the everyday practice of scholarship on a print author 
sharpens the pointed question that Jerome McGann poses in A New 
Republic of Letters: “What kinds of research and educational program can 
integrate the preservation and study of these two radically different 
media?”11 McGann’s own answer is “philology in a new key,” and scholars 
of Renaissance literature should take timely advantage of their special col-
lective capacity to compose that answer.12



The nature and timeliness of Digital Milton also validate Lauren Klein 
and Matthew Gold’s assessment in the 2016 edition of Debates in the 
Digital Humanities, that “the challenges currently associated with the 
digital humanities involve a shift from congregating in the big tent to 
practicing DH at a field-specific level, where DH work confronts disciplin-
ary habits of mind.”13 The “big tent” has been a longstanding metaphor 
in digital humanities circles.14 It is a reassuringly irenic image. It may 

By living streams among the trees of life,
Pavillions numberless, and sudden reared,
Celestial tabernacles[.]15

What follows in Paradise Lost, of course, is a war in Heaven. It is as well to 
acknowledge that a title like Digital Milton might also presage a drawing 
of battle lines, recalling William Kolbrener’s figuration of Miltonists as 
“warring angels.”16 Should we fear that Miltonists have been seduced, 
and, the more to increase your wonder, with an Apple?17 Our contention 
is that Miltonists’ “disciplinary habits of mind” (including philological 
habits) are too important to leave out of conversations about digital schol-
arship or distant reading.

“Distant reading” is the term under which quantitative and computa-
tional approaches to literary studies have become widely known and widely 
argued in the twenty-first century. The term was advanced by Franco 
Moretti in a spirit of iconoclasm. Hitherto, he claimed, academic literary 
criticism had been essentially “a theological exercise—very solemn treat-
ment of very few texts taken very seriously—whereas what we really need 
is a little pact with the devil: we know how to read texts, now let’s learn 
how not to read them.”18 Being of the devil’s party is generally more toler-
ated in Miltonic circles than elsewhere, and we have already stressed that, 
in fundamental ways, the contemporary academy is already of the digital 
party whether knowingly or not. But DH is more than distant reading. 
The “Milton” of our title foregrounds the ongoing serious reading of 
selected and prized texts (but not only those), while “Digital” is intended 
to denote much more than the algorithmic processing, visualization, and 
computational analysis characteristic of “macroanalytic” methods.19 More 
than, but also those: it is necessary to take the measure of quantity.

McGann notes of the digital humanities that “both its promoters and 
critics regard [it] as a set of replacement protocols for traditional humani-



ties scholarship.”20 Framed as a battle line, the situation may appear—to 
both “sides”—as a zero-sum game, a mutually exclusive contest between 
two cultures over cultural studies themselves. This reflex framing has roots 
in C. P. Snow’s thesis of “the two cultures”—of letters and of science, 
bisecting both academic and public life in mid-twentieth-century Britain—
with its frequently invoked observations concerning the mutual failures of 
communication and recognition between the two domains.21 Recent 
scholarship has helped to clarify that such a division between literature and 
science was no part of Milton’s intellectual formation, while also valuably 
complicating its application to his period altogether.22 Nevertheless, the 
present-day stakes for disciplinary formations and future philologies are 
high. While we lack space to unpack these issues here with the fullness that 
they deserve, we wish to underline two specific and related problems 
raised by critical voices internal and external to digital literary studies, one 
regarding close reading, and one regarding the term “distant reading.”

Close reading: we moved quickly past Moretti’s “let’s learn how not to 
read” in part because a vocational commitment to teaching those who wish 
to be, but are not yet, among the “we” who “know how to read texts” 
resiles from the idea. But if one is doing both, the polarity evaporates, or 
else becomes newly productive. Anupam Basu’s accomplished performance 
of “not reading” within this volume can facilitate closer navigations of the 
reading space (in the sense of either the entire catalogue or the individual 
formatted page) of early English books. Thinking with digital media and 
tools will help us read Milton—or at worst drive us back to the stacks. But 
this very point has also been staged as a critique: that digital humanities 
accentuates a narrow canon because of the resources required to mount 
major digital projects. In a 2012 survey of British DH centers, Andrew 
Prescott identified preponderant engagement with “standard cultural 
icons,” among whom the author of Eikonoklastes (1649)—an attempted 
justification for executing Charles I—would presumably be numbered.23 
This is a structural critique, based not simply on digital reflections of “tradi-
tional” curricula (which would include traditions of feminist, postcolonial, 
and other kinds of critique), but also on the way in which the unevenness of 
digitization risks accentuating or creating monoglot and Anglocentric 
archives. Power hierarchies and differential access transect this field in ways 
that threaten to reproduce and accelerate global and institutional forms of 
political, economic, and cultural oppression or inequity.24 This issue comes 
particularly to the fore in Islam Issa’s study of digital Milton in the Middle 
East, and is further highlighted in Angelica Duran’s epilogue.



“Distant reading”: with Basu we reject “an artificial opposition between 
‘distant’ and ‘close’ readings,” hyped in the academic and popular press 
alike, in the awareness that these artificially opposed terms denote distinct 
functions, whose separate intellectual and disciplinary integrity the critical 
imagination is stimulated to bridge. Johanna Drucker helpfully clarifies 
what “distant reading” typically designates within digital literary study and 
argues that the expression is a misnomer:

Distant reading is the computational processing of textual information in 
digital form. It relies on automated procedures whose design involves stra-
tegic human decisions about what to search for, count, match, analyze, and 
then represent as outcomes in numeric or visual form….Processing is not 
reading. It is literal, automatic, and repetitive. Reading is ideational, herme-
neutic, generative, and productive. Processing strives for accuracy, reading 
for leniency or transformation. No text-analysis program weeps when it 
reads the passages in Felix Salten’s Bambi in which Bambi’s mother dies.25

One would have to have a core of silicon to process the death of Little Nell 
without laughing. As the chapters by David Ainsworth, Olin Bjork and 
John Rumrich, Issa, and Cordelia Zukerman exemplify, this collection is 
specially charged with concern for the mechanisms whereby the digital can 
engender ideational, hermeneutic, generative, and productive encounters 
with Milton. Even where they leverage algorithmic criticism or data visu-
alization, the stakes ultimately lie in those encounters.

The close/“distant” false dichotomy is partly a symptom of the wide-
spread treatment of Moretti and the Stanford Literary Lab, one of the 
highest-profile practitioners and best-funded centers, as normative or even 
representative of the digital humanities. It is a limitation of the first chap-
ter of Tom Eyers’ stimulating Speculative Formalism.26 Drucker’s history 
of scholarly, poetic, and artistic practice, including the theoretical and 
experimental work that, along with McGann and Bethany Nowviskie, she 
pursued under the rubric of “speculative computing,” could productively 
complement and complicate Eyers’ narrow critique of DH.27 An ethos of 
speculative computing and a version of speculative formalism may in prac-
tice prove to be allies against any “new positivism.” David Currell’s chap-
ter on the Miltonic verse line proposes a confluence of critical formalism 
and digital formats, while Basu’s algorithmic processing of the EEBO- 
TCP explores how form, information, and format might be computed 
through big data.



As Zukerman’s chapter relates, the desire to help human readers fully 
enjoy the cognitive and affective richness of Milton’s poetry actuated the 
editorial and design philosophies of The John Milton Reading Room, which 
privileges accessibility while simultaneously hailing students as scholars-in- 
training. The adaptive and accretive potential of digital editions, as well as 
their ability to incorporate and mediate facsimiles, features of original for-
mat, or old spellings, can also begin to address Blair Worden’s lament that 
“embalming” Milton “in modern editions, often volumes of high and 
invaluable scholarship, distances them, through no fault of the editors, from 
the ephemeral context of debate and publication to which much of their 
writing originally belonged.”28 Worden’s phrasing deliberately inverts cus-
tomary temporal valences: for him, it is the “modern” that is associated 
with taxidermy or the tomb, cut off from the lively ephemerality of history. 
However, a modern “multimodal social edition” as conceived by Bjork and 
Rumrich elevates speech, debate, comment, and community into important 
textual critical principles—principles that also lie at the heart of Ainsworth’s 
Edifice Project. Modern technology may be the means to new life.

The subjunctive of the previous sentence, however, aims to temper fac-
ile triumphalism. For a start, if (as Milton claimed) books are not entirely 
dead things, hyperlinks frequently are.29 The meaning of “life” needs 
examination. Whitney Anne Trettien invokes Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 
(1818)—a literary meditation on life and technology featuring a crucial 
scene of Miltonic reading—in a recent study of Areopagitica and the ques-
tions of textual life and death that it poses.30 Trettien’s analysis of online 
print-on-demand (POD) books uses Areopagitica as a case study for the 
“undead” products of this recent publishing phenomenon, whereby (per-
haps unreliably) scanned or otherwise digitized editions of uncopyrighted 
material are printed on spec when a customer places an online order. The 
virtual transaction brings material being to such artifacts as “Edward 
Arber, English Reprints Jhon Milton Areopagitica (BiblioLife, 2011).” 
One should say brings material being back, as this book is the materializa-
tion of the virtualization of an earlier material text: a volume in a 
nineteenth- century popular reprint series with its own peculiar typograph-
ical ideology. Jhon Milton Areopagitica is therefore a digitally mediated 
“re-reprint” (albeit with a newly generated and garbled title). Trettien 
likens these products to Frankenstein’s monster and to zombies—soulless 
reanimations rolling off printers with uncanny mechanistic momentum. In 
view of the acronym, one could invoke another horror touchstone, 
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), and imagine these publications as 



“POD people” threatening to repopulate the local library. Whether or not 
one agrees that the “evident artificiality of POD reprints invites a produc-
tive skepticism of textual editing,” it is surely essential to follow Trettien 
in moving beyond disdain to evaluate critically “the strange novelty and 
print/digital hybridity of Milton’s POD monsters” and “welcome them as 
an opportunity to foreground the mediated nature of all historical texts—
indeed, of the notion of ‘textuality’ itself.”31 This imperative animates the 
present book.

histories of DigitAl MiltoN
The historicist instinct that Trubowitz sees embedded in modern Milton 
studies might in and of itself offer some welcome amelioration of “the 
digital community’s increasingly attenuated historical sense.”32 Some 
chapters in this book (notably those by Basu, Bjork and Rumich, Currell, 
Duran, Randa El Khatib and Currell, Peter C. Herman, and Issa) shuttle 
between the digital present and Milton’s historical context in order to 
rethink genealogies of reading, composition, publication, format, or geog-
raphy. Several more (notably those by Ainsworth, Bjork and Rumich, 
Hugh Macrae Richmond, and Zukerman) include a complementary kind 
of historical purview, giving an account of the development of a specific 
digital Milton project within its intellectual and institutional context. In 
aggregate, they begin to compose a picture of digital Milton studies as an 
evolving field, of which some other major strands and precursors may be 
conveniently considered here.

The electronic encoding of Miltonic texts was inaugurated by the late 
Joseph Raben of Queens College, CUNY, who was also founding editor 
of the journal Computers and the Humanities in 1966. As noted by Currell 
in the final section of Chap. 4, Raben’s digitization work underpinned a 
computational analysis of Milton’s influence on Percy Bysshe Shelley and 
remains the basis of the Project Gutenberg text of Paradise Lost.33

On the other side of the Atlantic, computational approaches to Milton 
were pioneered by Thomas N. Corns in his doctoral dissertation during the 
1970s, and informed his books The Development of Milton’s Prose Style and 
Milton’s Language.34 Corns was concerned primarily with “historical stylis-
tics,” the comparative study of Milton’s prose or poetic style in relation to 
that of other writers of the period.35 His findings on Milton’s style have criti-
cal implications, such as suggesting a change in Milton’s mood and outlook 
at certain key moments—for example, after Charles I’s execution in 1649, 



which validated Milton’s role as statesman. Corns also makes pragmatic 
assertions: that much of Milton’s prose style resembles that of his contem-
poraries. But most importantly, such research demonstrated that there is no 
longer an excuse for rash impressionism about phraseology or word usage.

Corns was additionally part of the team, also comprising Gordon 
Campbell, John Hale, and Fiona Tweedie, that conducted the highest- 
profile computational stylometric study of Milton to date, an investigation 
of the provenance and authorship of the De Doctrina Christiana manu-
script. Stylometric comparison against other Latin texts by Milton helped 
illuminate its Miltonic character and settle the authorship controversy in 
favor of a Miltonic provenance, while also suggesting “that the notion of 
‘authorship’ needs some reconsideration in the context of neo-Latin tech-
nical prose in the early modern period.”36

This result was published in book form on the cusp of the quatercente-
nary of Milton’s birth. That year, 2008, saw several exhibitions and initia-
tives celebrating the poet’s life and works. The varying degrees to which 
these have left online traces perhaps reflects a moment within, rather than 
after, the decisive turn—immensely enriching for visual culture and art 
scholarship—on the part of galleries and museums towards open-access 
digitization and multimedia supplementation of collections and exhibi-
tions. Digitized materials made available as part of the Morgan Library’s 
exhibition “John Milton’s Paradise Lost,” which ran from October 2008 
to January 2009, include high-resolution scans of the 33 folio pages of the 
Morgan’s manuscript of Book 1 that can be consulted on the Library’s 
website.37 A noteworthy born-digital project that coincided with the qua-
tercentenary is Darkness Visible, a web resource for the study of Paradise 
Lost that is the outcome of collaborative work among students at Christ’s 
College, Cambridge.38 Thoughtfully designed with both the affordances 
of online publication and a student audience in mind, the site includes a 
section on “Milton and the Arts,” and a guide to research and quotation 
using online materials. Contributor notes in the form of discussions of a 
favorite Miltonic passage lend a personal touch to a collegial enterprise.

The quality and accessibility of digitization are among the most impor-
tant issues confronting the humanities. Massive digitization and data- 
mining initiatives are taking place, but too often without adequate 
scholarly oversight or even input. Aspirant data monopolists such as 
Alphabet Inc. (the corporate parent of Google) engage rapaciously in 
what has been aptly termed “primitive digital accumulation,” and the 
admixture of good and evil contained in the promised fruits, such as 



Google Books, would trouble Psyche.39 In this context, independent, 
open-source initiatives are to be applauded. Between 2011 and 2014, 
John Geraghty scanned and uploaded to the open-access Internet Archive 
several early editions of Milton (and others), including two copies of the 
1674 Paradise Lost, Richard Bentley’s 1732 edition, and a 1736 edition of 
Paulo Rolli’s Paradiso perduto, the first Italian translation of the epic.40

Finally, for more than a quarter century scholars have been able to ben-
efit from a dedicated listserv, “Milton-L,” founded by list owner Kevin 
J. T. Creamer “in 1991 with the support of Roy Flannagan and Louis 
Schwartz.”41 The transformation wrought by email is so complete that it 
can easily escape attention, but the maintenance of the discussion list 
archives (2003–present) makes available a unique record of scholarly com-
munication concerning Milton.42 News and announcements from the sep-
tuagenarian Milton Society of America also reach members through the 
medium of email, and are posted on the organization’s recently refur-
bished website.43

Digital Milton: scope AND structure
Digital Milton is divided into three parts. The first, “Textual Remediations,” 
concentrates on the theoretical and practical implications of re-editing or 
re-presenting Milton’s works in digital media. The second, “Scale, Space, 
and Sociality,” engages prominent strands of current digital literary stud-
ies: computation at scale, the geospatial humanities, and network analysis. 
The third, “New Audiences, Novel Engagements,” considers the specific 
ways in which digital environments affect and facilitate diverse readerships’ 
initial encounters with Milton in contexts of differential access and his 
reputation for difficulty. Several themes cut across all sections: a dialectic 
between visualization and close reading, scholarly editing and editorial 
theory, multimodal and multimedia affordances, media history, social 
media, and pedagogy—particularly the teaching of students encountering 
Milton for the first time. While attention to developing and reconceiving 
practices of sustained, interpretive close reading is central to many chap-
ters, in Herman’s chapter alone is a fresh reading the principal critical 
product. This is unusual for a collection on Milton. We see this atypical 
feature as primarily attributable to this collection’s being the first of its 
kind, and therefore inviting special attention to contextual second- order 
disciplinary issues, as well as to the presentation and explanation of materi-
als and methods.



Cordelia Zukerman opens the volume with a critically and personally 
informed account of the most comprehensive and most utilized online 
edition of Milton, The John Milton Reading Room. Drawing on interviews 
with its editor and developer, Thomas H. Luxon, and the experiences of 
those, like herself, who worked on the project, Zukerman contextualizes 
the design of the site in terms of the philosophy of interactivity, debates 
over modernization, and a citational imperative that aims to produce for 
the online edition a similar sense of connectedness to that possessed by a 
print edition in a library: as a node in a virtual web of works that expand, 
explain, and expound its contents. Outward-directed hyperlinking distin-
guishes the Reading Room from more typically insular online editions, 
embodying its optimism regarding the quality, adequacy, and sustainabil-
ity of the web as a scholarly environment. From Andrew Marvell on, few 
Miltonists have thanked John Dryden for tagging Milton’s points in 
rhyme; every Miltonist owes Luxon a debt immense for tagging them in 
markup language.44

Alternative editorial visions have been formed and implemented. In 
fact, by itself, “vision” is too limited a word for Olin Bjork and John 
Rumrich’s audiotext edition of Paradise Lost, Books 1, 2, and 9. Citing 
Milton’s composition of the epic through dictation, the archangel 
Michael’s transition at the beginning of Book 12 from presentation to oral 
relation, and Adam’s reception from the visual to the aural, Bjork and 
Rumich make the case for a digitally assisted multimodal pedagogy of the 
text, while addressing the theoretical context and the design choices they 
made in developing their edition. Ambitious in its marshalling of the affor-
dances of a digital environment, the Paradise Lost Audiotexts project can 
be used in several distinct modes, choosing to emphasize format, editorial 
annotation, or—in a design choice reflecting theories of the social text and 
anticipating the “social” character of Web 2.0—user annotation.

David Currell also considers digital media as a platform for social tex-
tual practices in discussing the remediation of Paradise Lost through 
Twitter. His discussion of the line-by-line tweeting of Charles Reid’s 
“Milton Bot Flock” follows a wider consideration of Paradise Lost as a 
lineated text, divisible into discrete, enumerable verse lines. Foregrounding 
lineation goes against the grain of Milton’s prefatory note on “The Verse” 
and the normative reception of Paradise Lost through linear reading, but 
underpins the way that matter from the epic appears in reference works 
including the Oxford English Dictionary and Oxford Dictionary of 
Quotations. Contextualizing the compilation of these works in terms of 



commonplacing and consultation reading, two textual practices thor-
oughly familiar in Milton’s time, Currell mines their digital editions for an 
experiment in visualizing the lines of Paradise Lost that each of these refer-
ence works cites, a technique that might be extended to larger and more 
diverse corpora, including social media. Lineation and remediation are 
vectors of textual “deformance,” a concept carried through other formal-
ist approaches represented in this volume.

Where Currell thinks form at the level of the verse line, Anupam Basu 
thinks form at the largest scale. In the collection’s most computationally 
sophisticated contribution, Basu effects the coup of simultaneously “read-
ing” two billion words and zero words. His chapter begins with an author-
itative and accessible overview of the digitization of early modern print 
texts through Early English Books Online (EEBO, a commercial facsimile 
database) and the Early English Books Online-Text Creation Partnership 
(EEBO-TCP, a public text-encoding initiative) and the intellectual issues 
associated with working at scale upon such materials. Typical text-analytic 
work representative of the present computational turn in literary studies 
treats texts as idealized linguistic artifacts—a disciplinary inheritance from 
computational linguistics that analyzes  text as a stream of language or 
“bag of words.” Familiar computational work addressing the archives of 
print culture as linguistic corpora therefore jettisons a great deal of 
 information, including information about format. What traction, asks 
Basu, can such methods have upon form, the root of “information” and of 
“format”? Alert to an under-theorization of form in digital work, Basu 
introduces both recent and foundational formalist work in literary studies 
that stresses form as the enabling condition of literature—constraint as 
affordance—preparatory to an algorithmic resituating of selected Miltonic 
texts within the multidimensional space of EEBO as viewed through the 
lens of format.

By addressing Paradise Lost in light of the geospatial turn in the human-
ities, Randa El Khatib and David Currell build on important critical work 
on Milton and geography by such scholars as Michael Murrin, Morgan 
Ng, and Elizabeth Sauer. This “building” is literal, taking the form of an 
interactive online map that tracks the place names in Paradise Lost. This 
project was designed and developed not simply to geolocate Milton’s myr-
iad references, but also to impinge on important interpretive issues by 
organizing the visualization in terms of the epic’s layered geographical 
imaginary, spanning biblical, classical, and contemporaneous temporali-
ties. The map additionally allows the plotting of the epic in terms of its 



spatial “moralization”: by examining each geographical reference in its 
poetic context and assigning to it a positive, negative, or neutral moral 
valence, this tool aims to provoke fresh consideration of Milton’s making 
of the world as a space of moral contestation.

While El Khatib and Currell move from close reading to visualization, 
Peter C. Herman’s study of early modern relations of indebtedness uses 
visualization as a spark for novel readings. Although early modern writers 
on debt showered usury in conventional opprobrium, Herman reads debt 
as the creation of social networks, ramified in space and persisting through 
time. Debt is a circulation that—conditional upon repayment—can con-
stitute a virtuous circle. This social function of debt remains out of mind, 
however, so long as the respective networks remain out of sight. By recon-
structing and visualizing specific debt networks in which Milton’s father 
was embedded, Herman establishes within the poet’s domestic experience 
a form of economic relation influentially represented across early modern 
literature. Further application of these visualizations facilitates Herman’s 
reading of Shylock’s bond in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice as a 
creditable but thwarted effort to connect networks. In Paradise Lost, by 
contrast, the unrepayable debt felt by Satan—“still paying, still to owe” 
(4.53)—is symptomatic of God as the kind of usurer who gave money-
lending a bad name. In characteristically provocative fashion, Herman 
redeems the idea of debt as a potential social good in Shakespeare, but he 
makes Milton’s God irredeemable.

Islam Issa analyzes Milton’s relationship to “online revolution” in con-
temporary Middle East and North Africa (MENA). This expression evokes 
the expanding participation in digital media in the context of revolution-
ary social movements across the MENA region since 2011. Issa proposes 
the relevance of Milton’s poetry and thought to these conditions of politi-
cal and religious upheaval, and investigates both digital and print materials 
and practices through which English- and Arabic-reading students are 
able to access Milton. Issa’s study of the Arab book market, the dissemina-
tion of Arabic translations of Paradise Lost, online forums to which Arab 
students post, and the evidence of predictive text in Google’s search 
engine yields the striking conclusion that Paradise Lost is, for Arabic read-
ers, “becoming, materially, a de facto online text,” whose principal format 
is not the codex but the PDF. While a rise in Internet penetration and 
English proficiency promises to create many new readers of Milton, ten-
sions between Miltonic texts and state censorship apparatus, and problem-
atic secondary resources for Arabic readers and students in some MENA 
countries, constrain a potentially revolutionary Miltonic readership.



David Ainsworth offers an engaging narrative of the pedagogical prin-
ciples underpinning, and the educational experiences that have grown out 
of, his Edifice Project. This long-term teaching endeavor, which takes its 
name from Milton’s Of Education, seeks to address the widely felt chal-
lenge of introducing undergraduate readers inexperienced in Renaissance 
literature to Paradise Lost. By assembling a repository of successful student 
work, Ainsworth has crafted a resource within which students can conduct 
research framed in terms of dialogue among peers. One of the most grati-
fying outcomes of this program has been the enrichment of face-to-face 
engagement in the classroom, including through visits from former 
student- scholars whose work supports the Edifice. Ainsworth’s discovery 
of a productive dialectic between presence and virtuality—the fact that a 
website and invitation to engage in digital scholarship, far from substitut-
ing for bricks-and-mortar classroom learning, deeply enhance it—undoes 
any simplistic traditional/digital division in the field of pedagogy.

Hugh Macrae Richmond begins his chapter with a glance back at six 
decades of academic engagement with Milton that fed into the creation of 
the collaborative website Milton Revealed. It is a multimodal and multi-
media revelation: theatre, music, dance, painting, video games, fiction, 
criticism, audio, visual, audio-visual, and in the case of some Comus-
inspired material, audio-visual-historical-pastoral. The place of A Masque 
Presented at Ludlow Castle and especially its enchanter protagonist in  
popular culture is one of the notable revelations of Richmond’s curatorial 
labors. From this material diversity emerges a suggestive homology among 
three dyads: the user of Milton Revealed and the editorial work that condi-
tions their independent navigation of the site, the player of The Talos 
Principle and the “Milton” within its game-world that directs the player’s 
exploration, and finally the reader of Paradise Lost and the poetics of 
choice through which the poet Milton brings a literary readership to 
engage the new scientific culture of early modernity.

Angelica Duran begins her epilogue, likewise reflective of a career-long 
engagement with Milton scholarship across multiple media and modes, 
with a literary experience that virtually conjoined the aural and visual: the 
oral reading by the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry awardee Tyehimba Jess 
of his sonnet “When I consider how my light is spent,” at the 2017 Annual 
Dinner and Meeting of the Milton Society of America, a poem whose 
intertexts included both Milton’s sonnet of the same title and footage of 
racially charged police brutality of Frankie Taylor published online. This 
moment affords a just illustration of how the digital age restages Miltonic 



questions about the afterlives of texts and the present lives of people, 
including the question of to whom the wish for present life—at this hour, 
in these media—is extended.

1. Julia Thompson Klein, Interdisciplining Digital Humanities: Boundary 

Work in an Emerging Field (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 
2015), 2.

2. John Milton, Areopagitica (1644), in The Complete Prose Works of John 
Milton, ed. Don M.  Wolfe et  al., 8 vols. (New Haven: Yale University 
Press, 1953–82), 2: 515.

3. Milton, Areopagitica, in Complete Prose Works, 2: 492.
4. Exceptions include Laura Lunger Knoppers and Gregory M.  Colón 

Semenza, eds., Milton in Popular Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 
2006), containing Bruno Lessard, “The Environment, the Body, and the 
Digital Fallen Angel in Simon Biggs’s Pandaemonium,” 213–24, and 
Thomas H. Luxon, “Milton and the Web,” 225–36; and Peter C. Herman, 
ed., Approaches to Teaching Milton’s Paradise Lost, 2nd ed. (New York: 
Modern Language Association, 2012), containing Peter C.  Herman, 
“Audiovisual and Online Aids,” 9–11, and Thomas H. Luxon, “The John 
Milton Reading Room: Teaching Paradise Lost with an Online Edition,” 

5. For an exception, see David L. Hoover’s chapter in the 2016 Debates in the 
Digital Humanities, which rebuts the framing and example (concerning 
Areopagitica) used by Stanley Fish in a New York Times piece that endeav-
ored to cloister Milton from digital literary studies. David L.  Hoover, 
“Argument, Evidence, and the Limits of Digital Literary Studies,” in 
Debates in the Digital Humanities, ed. Lauren F.  Klein and Matthew 
K. Gold (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016) <dhdebates.
gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/71>. Accessed 15 December 2017.

6. See, for example, Alan Galey and Ray Siemens, eds., “Reinventing Digital 
Shakespeare,” spec. issue of Shakespeare 4, no. 3 (2008); Hugh Craig and 
Arthur F.  Kinney, eds., Shakespeare, Computers, and the Mystery of 
Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Thomas 
Dipiero and Devoney Looser, eds., “The Digital Turn,” spec. issue of 
Journal of Early Modern Cultural Studies 13, no. 4 (2013); Christie Carson 
and Peter Kirwan, eds., Shakespeare and the Digital World: Redefining 
Scholarship and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); 
Brett D. Hirsch and Hugh Craig, eds. “Digital Shakespeares,” spec. issue 
of The Shakespearean International Yearbook 14 (2014); Laura Estill, 




Diane K. Jakacki, and Michael Ullyot, eds., Early Modern Studies after the 
Digital Turn (Toronto: Iter Press, 2016); Hugh Craig and Brett Greatley-
Hirsch, eds., Style, Computers, and Early Modern Drama: Beyond Authorship 
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017); and a projected special 
issue of the journal Humanities on “Shakespeare and Digital Humanities.”

7. Rachel Trubowitz, “Introduction,” in Milton and the Politics of 
Periodization, ed. Rachel Trubowitz, spec. issue of MLQ 78, no. 3 (2017): 
291–99 (291).

8. Trubowitz, “Introduction,” 291.
9. Trubowitz, “Introduction,” 292. See also in this connection Tom Eyers’ 

provocative but reductive positing of digital humanities (dubbed “The 
New Positivism”) and Greenblattian New Historicism as secret intellectual 
bedfellows, at least in their model of history, against both of which he 
stages a return to formalism and deconstruction in Speculative Formalism: 
Literature, Theory, and the Critical Present (Evanston, IL: Northwestern 
University Press, 2017), 42–48.

10. Blaine Greteman, “Milton and the Early Modern Social Network: The Case 
of the Epitaphium Damonis,” Milton Quarterly 49, no. 2 (2015): 79–95; 
Whitney Anne Trettien, “A Deep History of Electronic Textuality: The Case 
of English Reprints Jhon Milton Areopagitica,” Digital Humanities Quarterly 
7, no. 1 (2013), <digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/7/1/000150/000150.
html>. Accessed 17 November 2017; Christopher Warren et al., Six Degrees 
of Francis Bacon (2017), Carnegie Mellon University Libraries, <sixde-
greesoffrancisbacon.com>. Accessed 1 December 2017. See also Daniel 
Shore, Cyberformalism: Histories of Linguistic Forms in the Digital Archive 
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018), which appeared as the 
current collection entered production.

11. Jerome McGann, A New Republic of Letters: Memory and Scholarship in the 
Age of Digital Reproduction (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 
2014), 4.

12. Jerome McGann, “Philology in a New Key,” Critical Inquiry 39, no. 2 
(2013): 327–46.

13. “Digital Humanities: The Expanded Field,” in Debates in the Digital 
Humanities, ed. Lauren F.  Klein and Matthew K.  Gold (Minneapolis: 
University of Minnesota Press, 2016) <dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/2>. 
Accessed 15 December 2017.

14. In a keynote lecture reprinted as the preface to a major DH anthology, Ray 
Siemens elaborates upon the kinds of recurrent conversations within and 
about the DH community’s “Big Tent”: “Here, we talk about remediating 
old worlds and extant material artifacts, we talk about working with new 
ones that are created with the technologies we use, and we talk about 
embracing enlarging scope, privileging diversity within that embrace and 
privileging public outreach and engagement. Here we talk also about 




founding inclusive networks, bringing us together, encouraging us to col-
laborate, building method-centered communities of many kinds, and orga-
nizing at various levels to achieve common goals” (“Preface: Communities 
of Practice, the Methodological Commons, and Digital Self-Determination 
in the Humanities,” in Doing Digital Humanities: Practice, Training, 
Research, edited by Constance Crompton, Richard J.  Lane, and Ray 
Siemens [London: Routledge, 2016], xxi-xxxiii [xxii–xxiii]).

15. John Milton, Paradise Lost, ed. Alistair Fowler, 2nd ed. (Harlow, UK: 
Longman, 1997), 5.652–54. Quotations of Paradise Lost in this chapter 
are from this edition.

16. William Kolbrener, Milton’s Warring Angels: A Study of Critical 
Engagements (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

17. We share culpability for this pun with Ernest B. Gilman, who activated it as 
early as the 1990s, in an engaging early discussion of Milton and hypertext: 
“Nor is my title completely frivolous, as I hope to show in the end when I 
give in to the temptation of the Apple” (Ernest B. Gilman, “Milton and 
the Mac: ‘Inwrought with figures dim,’” in So Rich a Tapestry: The Sister 
Arts and Cultural Studies, ed. Ann Hurley and Kate Greenspan (Lewisburg, 
PA: Bucknell University Press, 1995), 336–55 (336).

18. Franco Moretti, “Conjectures on World Literature,” New Left Review, n.s. 
1 (2000): 54–68 (57). On Moretti’s rhetoric, see Matthew Wickman, 
“Theology Still?” PMLA 132, no. 3 (2017): 674–80.

19. On distant reading and macroanalysis, see Franco Moretti, Distant Reading 
(London: Verso, 2014); Matthew L.  Jockers, Macroanalysis: Digital 
Methods and Literary History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2013); 
and the pamphlet publications of the Stanford Literary Laboratory, avail-
able at <litlab.stanford.edu/pamphlets>. Accessed 1 January 2018.

20. McGann, New Republic, 4. The passage continues helpfully: “But the work 
of the humanist scholar has not changed with the advent of digital devices. 
It is still to preserve, to monitor, to investigate, and to augment our cul-
tural life and inheritance. That simple truth is why, as we seek to exploit 
electronic environments, we want to think about them in traditional philo-
logical terms” (4).

21. C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures: and A Second Look (Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 1964). This text includes Snow’s 1959 Rede Lecture 
(first published in the same year) as well as his reflections and clarifications 
based on its reception. Snow first used the title for a 1956 New Statesman 

22. As Rachel Trubowitz puts it towards the conclusion of her study of Milton’s 
and Isaac Newton’s conception of both poetry and mathematics as intel-
lectual means towards spiritual insight, “The clean break between science 
and poetry that we date to this historically specific moment thus might not 




be as unsullied as we have been accustomed to believe. This is not a negli-
gible issue since our still-very-sturdy sense of this clean break makes any 
attempt to compare Milton and Newton seem to be impossible” (“Reading 
Milton and Newton in the Radical Reformation: Poetry, Mathematics, and 
Religion.” ELH 84, no. 1 [2017]: 33–62 [55]). For Milton’s intellectual 
and poetic involvement in the scientific zeitgeist, see also Joanna Picciotto, 
Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard 
University Press, 2010); Dennis Danielson, Paradise Lost and the 
Cosmological Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); 
Claire Preston, The Poetics of Scientific Investigation in Seventeenth-Century 
England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 18; and the closing sec-
tion of Hugh Macrae Richmond’s Chap. 10. Milton’s own projected 
reformed course of studies, set out in his Of Education (1644), militated 
against over-specialization, albeit rhetoric and poetry crowned a curricu-
lum that incorporated “Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Geography 
with a generall compact of Physicks,” as well as “the instrumental science 
of Trigonometry” and exposure to topics in engineering and natural history 
at an earlier stage (Complete Prose Works, 2: 391–92).

23. See Klein, Interdisciplining, 31.
24. David Golumbia, “Death of a Discipline,” differences: A Journal of Feminist 

Cultural Studies 25, no. 1 (2014): 156–76.
25. Johanna Drucker, “Why Distant Reading Isn’t,” PMLA 132, no. 3 (2017): 

628–35 (629–30).
26. Eyers, Speculative Formalism, 42–48.
27. See Johanna Drucker, SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative 

Computing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).
28. Blair Worden, Literature and Politics in Cromwellian England: John 

Milton, Andrew Marvell, Marchamont Nedham (Oxford: Oxford University 
Press, 2007), 1.

29. McGann admonishes: “Nor does anyone have a good idea about how 
online scholarly works will be sustained beyond a twenty-year horizon. 
And while that may be an entrepreneur’s horizon, it is not a scholar’s. We 
don’t have the necessary knowledge” (New Republic, 27). We take some 
heart from the fact that, as Zukerman notes in Chap. 2, The John Milton 
Reading Room, begun in 1996, has passed that horizon. Moreover, as so 
often in considering the new intertwinings of print and digital, intimations 
of mortality cut both ways. McGann dryly notes in his acknowledgments 
that an early version of the very chapter that addresses the sustainability of 
work in digital environments, and of the environments themselves, is “still 
available freely online” while “the print-on-demand version became inac-
cessible when Rice University Press went out of business” (232).

30. Trettien, “Deep History,” ¶1, 14.



31. Trettien, “Deep History,” ¶26, 28.
32. McGann, New Republic, 14.
33. See Joseph Raben, “A Computer-Aided Study of Literary Influence: 

Milton to Shelley,” in Literary Data Processing Conference Proceedings, ed. 
Jess B. Bessinger, Jr., Stephen M. Parrish, and Harry F. Arader (New York: 
Modern Language Association, 1964), 230–74.

34. Thomas N.  Corns, The Development of Milton’s Prose Style (Oxford: 
Clarendon Press, 1982); and Milton’s Language (Oxford: Blackwell, 

35. Corns, Milton’s Prose Style, xi.
36. Gordon Campbell, Thomas N. Corns, John K. Hale, and Fiona J. Tweedie, 

Milton and the Manuscript of De Doctrina Christiana (Oxford: Oxford 
University Press, 2007), 159.

37. “John Milton’s Paradise Lost” (2008), The Morgan Library and 
Museum, <themorgan.org/collection/John-Miltons-Paradise-Lost>. 
Accessed 1 December 2017.

38. Katharine Fletcher, et  al., eds., Darkness Visible, Christ’s College, 
Cambridge University (2008–), <darknessvisible.christs.cam.ac.uk/index.
html>. Accessed 1 December 2017.

39. Cf. Milton, Areopagitica, in Complete Prose Works 2: 514. For a salutary 
discussion of some of these issues that includes an illuminating case study of 
“bibliodiversity” within library holdings, erased through their replacement 
by unitary digital scans, see Andrew Stauffer, “My Old Sweethearts: On 
Digitization and the Future of the Print Record,” in Debates in the Digital 
Humanities, ed. Lauren F.  Klein and Matthew K.  Gold (Minneapolis: 
University of Minnesota Press, 2016) <dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/
text/70>. Accessed 15 December 2017. On Google Books and the Google 
Books Settlement, see McGann, New Republic, 133–34. On Google’s 
influence upon knowledge production, see, indicatively, Brody Mullins and 
Jack Nicas, “Paying Professors: Inside Google’s Academic Influence 
Campaign,” The Wall Street Journal, 14 July 2017; and Jonathan Taplin, 
“Google’s Disturbing Influence over Think Tanks,” The New York Times, 
30 August 2017. For the notion of “primitive digital accumulation,” see 
Brian A. Brown, “Primitive Digital Accumulation: Privacy, Social Networks, 
and Biopolitical Exploitation,” Rethinking Marxism: A Journal of Economics, 
Culture, and Society 25, no. 3 (2013): 385–403.

40. Geraghty’s 32 scanned documents are most conveniently accessed via an 
advanced search on the string “John Geraghty” within the “creator” field 
on the Internet Archive <archive.org>. Accessed 1 December 2017.

41. Kevin J.  T. Creamer, “About,” John Milton: The Milton-L Home Page 
(2007–) <johnmilton.org/about>. Accessed 1 December 2017. The  
home page migrated to its present site from The Milton-L Home Page 
(1991–2009) <facultystaff.richmond.edu/~creamer/milton>, at which 




earlier posts and links (not all functional) remain available (accessed 1 
December 2017).

42. “The Milton-L Archives” (2003–), University of Richmond, <lists.rich-
mond.edu/pipermail/milton-l>. Accessed 1 December 2017.

43. The Milton Society of America (2018), CUNY Academic Commons, <mil-
tonsociety.commons.gc.cuny.edu>. Accessed 1 January 2018.

44. Compare Marvell’s “On Paradise Lost,” printed in the second edition of 
Milton’s poem: “While the town-Bayes writes all the while and spells, / 
And like a pack-horse tires without his bells: / Their fancies like our bushy-
points appear, / The poets tag them, we for fashion wear” (ll. 47–50, 
quoted from Paradise Lost, ed. Fowler, 54). “Bayes” is an allusive hit at the 
laureate Dryden, whose unperformed operatic adaptation of Paradise Lost 
used rhyming couplets.

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Textual Remediations

27© The Author(s) 2018
D. Currell, I. Issa (eds.), Digital Milton, 


The John Milton Reading Room 
and the Future of Digital Pedagogy

Cordelia Zukerman

In 1996, years before the term “digital humanities” had any currency, 
Thomas H. Luxon, a professor at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, 
had an idea for a new teaching edition of Paradise Lost.1 Since his students 
often felt “hopelessly unlearned” in the face of John Milton’s extensive 
and varied textual allusions, Luxon thought of teaching his Milton course 
in the campus library, where he could send student runners to retrieve 
books from the stacks when the need arose during class discussion.2 As he 
considered this idea, he realized he could achieve the same effect by using 
virtual runners in virtual stacks: by developing an online edition of Paradise 
Lost containing hyperlinks and annotations that would allow students to 
engage productively with Milton’s allusions. Luxon soon began construct-
ing a website, which he named The John Milton Reading Room, a name 
that suggests a space in which people come together to find and read 
books. Now past its 20th year, the Milton Reading Room, which aims to 
put all of Milton’s works online, has existed for almost as long as the mod-
ern Internet itself—and, like the Internet, has developed over time. As one 
of the most comprehensive digital editions of an early modern author’s 

C. Zukerman (*) 



works and the only born-digital edition of Milton’s works, the Milton 
Reading Room can show us how much Milton studies has to gain by 
embracing the digital age.

Two important factors made it possible to create the Milton Reading 
Room as a born-digital edition. First, Luxon believed that the problem he 
sought to answer—how to make Milton’s allusions accessible for stu-
dents—could be solved more effectively through digital tools than any 
other available resources. Second, Luxon’s institution, Dartmouth 
College, was one of the premier university campuses for academic comput-
ing.3 Luxon was therefore in a privileged—and, in 1996, relatively rare—
position not only to imagine the possibilities for a digital edition of Milton, 
but also to realize them. Luxon partnered with Sarah Horton, an instruc-
tional designer at Dartmouth’s Department of Academic Computing, to 
design the site; since then, he has worked regularly with collaborators from 
the Dartmouth computing community to update it.4 From its inception, 
the Milton Reading Room’s editorial apparatus has aimed to show, rather 
than tell. As Luxon has written, “Instead of snowing students with refer-
ences to things they have never read, the Milton Reading Room’s annota-
tions take them to the relevant texts and allow them to read enough to 
begin drawing conclusions and forging research plans.”5 This process of 
pointing students to resources rather than telling them what they are sup-
posed to find there is, Luxon asserts, the immense benefit of an online 
edition of a text.6 The Milton Reading Room uses its digital platform to 
encourage readers to think of themselves not as passive receivers of infor-
mation, but as active users of the site and its many research tools and 
hyperlinks—as “Authors to themselves in all / Both what they judge and 
what they choose” (Paradise Lost 3.122–23).7 In this way, the site encour-
ages readers at all levels to participate productively in Milton scholarship.

In recent years, scholarly conversations about digital editing have often 
centered on the changing role of the reader in the new digital environ-
ment. A key feature of born-digital texts, as Patrick Sahle articulates, is 
that they “can not be printed without a loss of information and/or func-
tionality.”8 This shift from the “two-dimensional space of the ‘page’” to a 
more complex series of digital paths creates the possibility for a non- linear 
reading experience.9 Some scholars believe that digital formats therefore 
“impel[] new reading habits.”10 Others go so far as to claim that “digital 
media” may “initiate a new kind of literacy.”11 This change happens, as 
Daniel Apollon, Claire Bélisle, and Philippe Régnier assert, because digital 



texts “position[]…readers as users who are organizing their paths in the 
texts and thus increasingly becoming actors of their reading itinerary.”12 
The Milton Reading Room came about because Luxon wanted a more 
dynamic interaction between reader and text, in which the reader could 
move—with a single click—from Milton’s works to the works Milton 
alludes to, and back and forth, in an individualized path of discovery. In 
emphasizing the reader’s agency and process, the Milton Reading Room 
reveals how born-digital editions reshape not only the reading experience, 
but also the relationship between pedagogy and scholarship. By changing 
how students think about their agency as scholars in training, the Milton 
Reading Room invites them to direct their own experience in ways that 
mimic and even replace the guiding role of editors and instructors.13

Central to the Milton Reading Room’s philosophy is that students at all 
levels can pursue research that actively contributes to professional schol-
arly conversations. This is not always an expectation among editors of 
Milton’s works, who tend to distinguish between different kinds of read-
ing audiences. These audiences largely fall into two categories: specialists, 
understood to be advanced readers engaged in scholarly research, and 
generalists, understood to be readers engaged in pleasure reading, study, 
or elementary research. Scholars and editors distinguish between these 
audiences because Milton’s works are challenging not only in their den-
sity, complexity, and learnedness, but also because of changes in the 
English language that make early modern spelling, punctuation, capital-
ization, and use of italics potentially alienating to readers unfamiliar with 
such forms.

Some editors insist that the alienation twenty-first-century readers feel 
when encountering early modern orthographical forms reduces their 
enjoyment or understanding of Milton’s works. John Creaser, for exam-
ple, insists on the importance of a strong editorial hand to make choices 
that, he believes, allow “the general student of literature” to read and 
understand the text without unnecessary complications.14 In his essay on 
editing Lycidas, Creaser writes that “experienced editors know far more 
about their texts than do almost all their readers. It is their duty, as far as 
possible, to present readers with what is meaningful rather than distract 
with what is meaningless.”15 Creaser’s emphasis on the editor as gate-
keeper, identifying signal and noise, aims to reduce the amount of poten-
tially unnecessary work the reader puts into the reading experience.



Others, however, see early modern orthographical forms as an intrinsic 
part of the content of Milton’s works. Unlike Shakespeare’s works, which 
exist in multiple, often inconsistent editions, Milton’s are generally consis-
tent. Many editors therefore believe that readers lose texture and some-
times substance if they cannot engage with the text in its original forms. 
Some even see value in the readerly alienation an unmodernized text 
inspires: Roy Flannagan, for example, argues that it is important to retain 
Milton’s work in its original forms “in order to emphasize its difference 
and distance from our own usage.”16 Others believe that alienation is a 
small price to pay for the benefit of exercising critical analysis. On editing 
De Doctrina Christiana, John Hale writes of his decision to place different 
early versions of the manuscript side by side: “Let readers see, for example, 
where the rhetorical punctuation has misdivided the sense or where a mis-
take might be a mishearing, by an amanuensis.”17 Similarly, Stephen 
Dobranski argues that “Modern readers of Milton should…[be able to] 
peruse the evidence that modernising editors often silently consult. 
Specialist readers in particular, rather than ceding their authority to an edi-
tor, can make new discoveries by determining for themselves whether a 
specific spelling, case change or punctuation appears meaningful.”18 
Dobranski implies that specialists have more incentive to engage with the 
original text because they are the types of readers who want to exercise 
critical judgment. He also implies that different readers want different 
things from a text, depending on the type and extent of analytic work they 
expect to put into the reading experience.

Similar debates shape conversations about teaching Milton, often cen-
tering on whether to consider students specialists in training or general 
readers. In the second edition of the Modern Language Association’s 
Approaches to Teaching Milton’s Paradise Lost (2012), Peter Herman dem-
onstrates that modernization is a central issue for instructors deciding on 
a teaching text, and that a “survey made available by the MLA to instruc-
tors likely to teach Milton showed that” there is no clear consensus on the 
best new teaching edition of Milton.19 He adds that “the favorite remains 
Complete Poems and Major Prose, edited by Merritt Y. Hughes, first pub-
lished in 1957, and now available in a reprint edition published by 
Hackett.”20 That so many instructors prefer the Hughes edition, despite 
its significantly outdated scholarship, suggests that a good teaching edi-
tion has the potential to have “A gentle wafting to immortal Life” 
(Paradise Lost 12.435) if it can be updated usefully. As Herman lists and 
describes the editions of Milton’s works available to instructors, he notes, 



among other things, each edition’s level and type of modernization; the 
quality, content, and ease of reading footnotes; the selection of texts 
within collected editions; and the price of each edition. Each text emerges 
as having certain benefits and certain drawbacks. It would seem that an 
ideal teaching text of Milton’s works would invite those who wanted to 
engage in specialized study to do so, while offering resources to those who 
might feel overwhelmed by the varied challenges posed by the text. 
Herman’s overview of available editions contains no such printed edition, 
since printed texts cannot easily operate with this kind of duality.

Editors of early modern works have sought in recent years to develop 
new methods for presenting duality or multiplicity in scholarly and teach-
ing texts.21 Most acknowledge, however, that doing so in print has its 
drawbacks—most often in readability or price. While some use  side-by- side 
presentation or extensive annotations, these choices can muddle a reading 
and teaching text. Dobranski has articulated the challenges of these 
approaches by calling for an edition of Milton that points readers to 
important moments for critical engagement without overwhelming them: 
“If good editing, like a musical accompaniment, ought to enhance with-
out overpowering, to render intelligible without calling attention to itself, 
then modern editors must not emend or annotate a text so intrusively that 
it becomes distorted or cluttered.”22 Unable to conceive of a print text 
that would accomplish these goals, he advocates “exploring new forms of 
online publication.”23 Digital editions allow for ambiguity to a far greater 
extent than printed texts: with a digital edition, an ambiguous word or 
moment can be both/and, rather than either/or.

Indeed, digital editions make it possible to achieve editorial formats 
that were only previously possible in theory.24 Experimental digital proj-
ects, such as Bernice W. Kliman’s online Enfolded Hamlet, Jesús Tronch’s 
proposed “hypertextual, multilingual” edition of Hamlet, or Marina 
Buzzoni’s multiframe visualization of the “two major witnesses” of the 
Old Saxon poem Hêliand, enable new options for viewing multiple textual 
variants and translations side by side.25 Such projects show how editors are 
embracing the opportunities offered by digital formats to allow readers to 
engage productively with different kinds of ambiguity. As Terje Hillesund 
and Claire Bélisle assert, “The flexibility of digital texts, such as in digital 
scholarly editions, also allows users to constantly rearrange text, use mul-
tiple windows and multiple media, bring in external resources, and manip-
ulate the appearances of the text, such as the layout and font properties.”26 
This helps readers become active participants in the reading experience, 



calling on their critical judgment. Introducing the volume Digital Critical 
Editions, Daniel Apollon, Claire Bélisle, and Philippe Régnier claim that 
“a digital online critical edition may introduce a strong notion of transfer 
of power from the producer to the user or reader.”27

In some cases, power transfers from editor to reader not just at the 
moment of reading, but also at the moment of textual creation—the 
actual writing and coding of the digital text. Open-source technology 
allows general readers to contribute as collaborators on digital editions, 
and a number of projects in recent years have experimented with crowd- 
sourcing the editing process through this technology.28 Because of the 
nearly limitless possibilities for digital formats, theorists caution those 
seeking to create a digital edition to remain true to their conceptual 
objectives by following editorial as opposed to technological demands.29 
Indeed, some scholars of digital editing have asserted that the “digital 
revolution” does not necessarily imply an entirely new way of thinking, 
but rather the “introduction of more efficient tools.”30 In some senses, 
the most experimental projects—projects that call upon readers’ critical 
judgment not only in reading texts but also in creating them—remind us 
that there is still an important role for a textual editor.31 It is crucial, in 
our excitement about new digital possibilities, not to lose sight of the 
value of “editorial judgment.”32

The Milton Reading Room, which significantly predates Dobranski’s 
call for a useful digital edition of Milton, as well as most theories of digital 
editing, seeks to maintain a balance between activating the reader’s critical 
judgment and providing a consistent editorial presence. Luxon controls 
the site “from the bottom up,” learning all the necessary coding to edit it 
from the back end while also conceiving of larger conceptual issues from 
the front end.33 This, he claims, is crucial for the site’s continued develop-
ment: projects for which the conceptual originator does not know how to 
code tend to become hopelessly outdated as an early design team moves 
on to other projects or grant money runs out.34 While Luxon does not 
allow reader-users to access the site’s code, he has created an interactive 
community through a public Facebook group, also called “The John 
Milton Reading Room,” where he shares information about new research, 
new annotations, and other additions to the Milton Reading Room web-
site to the group’s over 200 members, while soliciting feedback on the site 
and on his own research. Members of the Facebook group comment on 
the Milton Reading Room site, offering corrections to typos and sugges-
tions for new annotations. In this way, reader-users have some editorial 



input if they choose, but are not asked to construct the reading text them-
selves. The primary objective of the Milton Reading Room is to help 
reader-users discover and pursue avenues for further research, and its 
design is compatible with that objective.

In keeping with his philosophy that students should be considered spe-
cialists in training, Luxon uses a light editorial touch when it comes to 
modernization: he aligns each text placed on the site with a specific early 
modern edition of Milton’s works—spelling, punctuation, and all.35 
Creaser has argued that such a choice minimizes the editor’s role and 
makes the reading process more difficult for students.36 However, Luxon’s 
edition follows the theory—seconded by Dobranski—that students strug-
gle with Milton’s textual allusions far more than they struggle with early 
modern spelling and punctuation.37 Therefore, rather than focusing on 
modernization and textual variants, Luxon provides an editorial apparatus 
that encourages students and scholars alike to read Milton’s works criti-
cally and engage widely with his varied allusions.

In its formatting and annotations, the Milton Reading Room achieves a 
textual apparatus that print texts simply cannot. Luxon initially conceived 
it as a multipart format in which readers could just as easily read Milton’s 
works straight through as they could find and read annotations along the 
way. In its early years, the site was designed to have separate frames that 
readers could scroll through at their own pace: one frame for Milton’s 
works, and one for the annotations. Readers could click on a hyperlink in 
Milton’s text, and the annotation frame would move to the corresponding 
note. The site has since been redesigned as a single frame in JavaScript to 
make it more aesthetically pleasing and more accessible on phones and 
tablets, which now make up a significant portion of the user platforms.38 
However, the principles remain the same: it is possible either to read 
Milton’s text uninterrupted, or to click on any hyperlink to reveal the cor-
responding note in the otherwise empty space to the right of the text.

The Milton Reading Room solves the spelling question through a 
design only possible on the Internet: readers can hover the cursor over 
words to reveal elongations of abbreviated words such as “fall’n” and 
“th’” and modernizations of archaic forms such as “beest,” “dost,” and 
“durst” (Paradise Lost 1.84, 15, 84, 17, 49). This design allows Luxon to 
retain the early modern orthography, with all its rhythms and resonances, 
while also giving contemporary readers the tools to recognize every word. 
The text can therefore reach different kinds of readers, ranging from spe-
cialist to beginning student: those who choose to ignore the modernizations 



will never have to see them, while those who rely heavily on them can do 
so, while also engaging with the original spellings and punctuation of an 
unmodernized text.

Another feature that distinguishes the Milton Reading Room from print 
editions is that the texts are all fully searchable; this enables a kind of schol-
arly inquiry that is far more difficult and time-consuming in print edi-
tions.39 The site makes examination of word choice and phrasing possible 
across the entire Milton canon, significantly expanding the possibility for 
analysis across genres, and opening up the long prose texts for further 
avenues of inquiry. The site therefore offers itself as a useful resource to 
scholars—even those scholars who have another preferred reading edition 
of the text.40

Longer editorial annotations on the Milton Reading Room also take full 
advantage of the digital platform. Rather than simply pointing readers to 
a textual allusion, the longer annotations provide links to the texts Milton 
references, and, where possible, to further scholarly reading, so that read-
ers can pursue their own course of inquiry. A typical annotation will 
include a discursive gloss or description followed by a hyperlink. Each 
hyperlink opens a new navigation tab to connect to a wide variety of 
resources; these resources encompass different sections of the Milton 
Reading Room site, including its extensive bibliography of scholarly criti-
cism, as well as other websites, including encyclopedias and free online 
editions of ancient, biblical, and early modern texts. This strategy of point-
ing outward is rare in online editions of literary works. Many online edi-
tions are fairly insular, offering opportunities for navigation within the 
edition itself, but rarely looking outward. Some replicate the idea of a 
printed text by including informative notes at the bottom of a digitized 
transcription.41 Others contain links to search for word use within the 
website’s corpus, but do not link readers to other sites.42 One of the most 
extensive born-digital editions of Shakespeare, for example—the Internet 
Shakespeare Editions site, hosted by the University of Victoria, Canada—
offers a range of introductory and supplementary materials alongside mul-
tiple editions of each Shakespeare play. These editions include an “Editor’s 
choice,” transcriptions of folio and quarto texts, and modernized and 
unmodernized editions. However, the textual annotations provide edito-
rial explanations rather than tools for further exploration.43 Luxon’s goal, 
in contrast to sites such as this, is to encourage readers to have multiple 
navigation windows open, each leading to potential paths of inquiry, so 
that their reading and research can “radiat[e] in different directions.”44



In pursuing this aim, the Milton Reading Room offers its reader-
users the opportunity to fall down a virtual rabbit-hole of informa-
tion, similar to how they might while visiting sites like BuzzFeed 
and YouTube. Luxon therefore solves a problem specific to Milton 
pedagogy—welcoming students into Milton’s universe of learning—by 
encouraging students to read literary, biblical, and scholarly texts in 
the same way they might already read other texts on the Internet: by 
following a spark of association from one site to the next until they 
reach an unexpected and interesting place. Indeed, Luxon embraces 
the Internet in a way that many scholars and instructors hesitate to 
do. He recently switched the Milton Reading Room’s default encyclo-
pedia from Britannica to Wikipedia because the latter has more sta-
ble URLs and updates its articles more regularly.45 While this choice 
might leave some scholars cringing, Luxon states that he firmly believes 
in Wikipedia’s model of crowd-sourced knowledge production—
especially for early modern and classical texts, which have a strong pres-
ence on the Milton Reading Room. Even if the open model occasionally 
leaves entries vulnerable to distortion, Luxon believes that sites like 
Wikipedia—always growing, always radiating out to make more con-
nections between texts, ideas, and people—are best positioned to keep 
up with the rapid changes in technology and information offered by the 
digital age. Another benefit of Wikipedia is that it is free. By linking to 
free sites, the Milton Reading Room enables reader-users who are not at 
universities with extensive library subscriptions to engage with Milton’s 
works.46 If Milton believed that finding a “fit audience” for his works 
would necessarily limit that audience to a “few,” Luxon is doing his 
best to ensure that more people have the opportunity to become “fit” 
readers than ever before (Paradise Lost 7.31).47

Luxon, who has been teaching from the Milton Reading Room since 
2002, has used the site to develop what he calls apprenticeship pedagogy: 
he invites students (even first-year undergraduates) to consider themselves 
scholars, and helps them develop some skills and practices necessary to 
produce original scholarship.48 In each of his undergraduate classes—from 
first-year writing seminars to upper-level Milton courses—students work 
with him, and with college librarians, to identify an ongoing published 
conversation about a particular aspect of Milton’s work and decide how to 
enter the conversation. Students write conference-length papers and sub-
mit them to academic conferences; approximately two to eight students 
are accepted to present their work every year.49



While many instructors want to limit computer use and Internet access in 
the classroom, in the belief that it distracts students and does not aid learn-
ing, Luxon embraces it.50 He usually keeps the Milton Reading Room open 
on a projector screen for the entire class, so that students are looking up, 
watching him scroll through the text and click to other sites as the need 
arises. He encourages st