Development of ‘Wessex Parallel Web Texts’

E-Learning, English language, Medieval literature

Brief descriptionmillett

“Wessex Parallel Web Texts” is an ongoing project, begun in 1999, which aims to link research and teaching by producing scholarly but student-friendly editions and translations of short medieval works freely available on the WWW. Its website ( offers an electronic anthology of texts and translations of Middle English works in prose and verse, together with background material for use in teaching. It is already being used in teaching in the Southampton English Department.


The overall aims are to develop an on-line learning resource to complement face-to-face teaching, and to make it generally available to students and teachers. The objectives of this project were to develop a set of webpages as a teaching resource on the topic of “mouvance” (the term used by the French scholar Paul Zumthor for certain types of medieval work, particularly in the vernacular, to be continuously reworked, whether by their authors or by others, during the process of textual transmission), and to disseminate it through on-line publication (

Project design

The work was carried out by Bella Millett, an Early Middle English specialist in the Southampton English Department, who has experience of editing Early Middle English works, and has also published a number of articles on textual criticism (see The online tutorial developed for the project offers a complex and fully-documented assignment suitable for use at postgraduate level. It includes a 5,000-word essay on the concept of mouvance. This is accompanied by a general bibliography; full editions of six related early Middle English lyrics which illustrate the kind of textual variation Zumthor describes, with information on their manuscript context and (where available) reproductions of the MSS themselves; plain texts of all six lyrics—for easier comparison—on a single-page Microsoft Word document for printing out; and a short introduction to the lyrics, including questions to help focus pre-class preparation and in-class discussion.

Key findings

The tutorial has a research as well as a teaching function; its editions of the six different lyric texts, separate but interlinked, offer a practical example of the on-line ‘multidimensional editing’ which Zumthor’s successor, Bernard Cerquiglini, argued was the appropriate method of dealing with this kind of textual variation (as opposed to the more traditional methods of producing an edition based on a single manuscript text, or, alternatively, a ‘critical text’ drawing on the evidence of the manuscripts in an attempt to reconstruct the hypothetical ‘author’s original’). It also provides an accessible overview of an approach to textual criticism which has been given less attention than it deserves by most English scholars.

Learning outcomes

The undergraduate response to Wessex Parallel WebTexts has been very positive, and this more ambitious project made the site more useful at postgraduate level. It is being used on the MA course “Writing in the Middle Ages”.

Report and other related web links

Project Leader

Dr Bella Millet
Department of English
University of Southampton


Completed June 2002