Dr. Peter Robinson

Bateman Professor of English

Peter Robinson grew up in rural Australia, attending schools in southern New South Wales and Sydney. After a brief spell at the University of Sydney, he did his undergraduate work at the University of Oxford, where he returned (after spells as a sheep-farmer and a public servant) for his post-graduate work.  He held various post-doctoral research posts in Oxford before moving in 1996 to De Montfort University, Leicester UK,  where he founded and headed a research centre in digital humanities (now www.cts.dmu.ac.uk).  He took on the role of co-director of the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham  in 2005, and came from there to Saskatchewan in 2010.

Peter Robinson is interested in three areas of research: the works of Geoffrey Chaucer; the study of large textual traditions; and the impact of the digital medium on how we communicate with each other.  All three intersect in his work on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where he tries to use digital and other quantitative methods to make sense of the more than 80 manuscript and print versions surviving from before 1500. 

His research interests have led him in many directions.  He has developed methods for encoding scholarly editions in digital form, particularly as a contributor, work-group leader and board member of the Text Encoding Initiative.  He has created tools  for preparation of edition materials (the widely-used collation tool Collate) and for the digital publication of editions (the the Anastasia and SDPublisher systems). With others, he has pioneered the application of phylogenetic methods from evolutionary biology to the exploration of manuscript relations. 

He has also worked on many other editorial projects, notably on the cluster of New Testament editions based in Birmingham, UK  and Münster, Germany; on Dante’s Monarchia and Commedia; the Spanish Cancioneros: on the Leiden Armenian Lexical Textbase; the Laures Virtual Library of pre-1650 Japanese Books; and the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England.  He is currently focussed on the making of  ‘textual communities.  This is a web-based environment which will allow scholars and readers everywhere to collaborate in the making of a scholarly edition in electronic form.   It is now been used by several major editorial projects, notably the Canterbury Tales Project.

Peter Robinson can be contacted by email at peter.robinson@usask.ca.

Current research

Textual Communities: This project is establishing a new model of partnership between scholars and readers everywhere in exploring texts.  Increasingly, the base materials for research into texts are available on the internet: especially, as images of manuscripts, books and other documents.  The huge volume of material now available, even for just one work (such as the 84 manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales) requires many people to research them  to identify the documents, to make copies of them, to annotate them, to make transcripts of them, to compare and analyze them.  This project provides an infrastructure and tools to allow anyone, anywhere interested in a text to contribute to its study, as part of a community working together. 

The project is based in the departments of English and History at the University of Saskatchewan, with funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, for initial software development and adaptation, and from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for continued development within the Canterbury Tales Project.  It is working in partnership with groups in the UK, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands, as part of an international effort to achieve an accessible and interoperable framework for the making of scholarly editions by many people.  The project’s tools are being used with a range of medieval and renaissance materials (including Chaucer, Donne, and recipe manuscripts. Professor Robinson’s co-leaders in the project are Brent Nelson (English) and Frank Klaassen (History) at the University of Saskatchewan.

Canterbury Tales Project This long-running project, started by Robinson with Norman Blake and Elizabeth Solopova in the early 1990s, is now based at the University of Saskatchewan (under Robinson) and KU Leuven, Belgium (under Barbara Bordalejo). Its aim remains to achieve full transcription into digital form of all 30,000 pages of the manuscripts of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the comparison of all the different forms of the text, and creation of an account of the history of the tradition based on this comparison.  It received major funding from SSHRC for a five year period from 2014 towards, and

Editorial Projects and Editorial Theory: the Textual Communities environment is being used as the base for Professor Robinson’s continuing editorial work on the Canterbury Tales and on works by Dante, in partnership with many other scholars and (increasingly) with interested readers from everywhere.  This project is one of many worldwide exploring ways of ‘crowdsourcing’ scholarly editing, in part at least.  This has many implications for the theory of scholarly editing: in the digital age, where everyone can be a writer as well as a reader, what is a scholarly edition?

Digital Humanities and the Community: scholarly editing is only one of many areas where digital methods are changing relationships within the academy and the community.  Many research questions arise in this fast-shifting landscape.  How do we prepare ourselves – as individuals, students, teachers, researchers, institutions – to function in the digital world? Who is empowered, who weakened? How are modes of communication altered?

Dr. Lisa Vargo

University of Saskatchewan Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Dr. Lisa Vargo was bestowed with the title “Distinguished Professor” on Jan. 1, 2021. The title honours and celebrates exceptional achievement in research, scholarly, or artistic work by University of Saskatchewan faculty.

In January 2018, Dr. Vargo was honoured with a Distinguished Scholar Award by the Keats-Shelley Association of America, presented at the Modern Language Association conference in New York. This award, which recognizes “career-long excellence in scholarship devoted to the writers of our period and the culture in which they lived,” has been conferred on no more than two nominees per year since 1981. In her presentation speech, Romantics scholar Dr. Nora Crook of Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge noted that Lisa Vargo’s path-breaking work is “marked by originality and a readiness to follow unexpected paths and explore overlooked figures.” She pointed out that one group of Dr. Vargo’s essays forms “the core of a full-length study of the afterlives of Romantic period women in the Victorian era” and another “the groundwork of a full-scale cultural history of women writers of the 1830s.” In an article in European Romantic Review in 2013, distinguished Shelley scholar Professor Stuart Curran, former editor of the Keats-Shelley Journal and now president of the Keats-Shelley Association, singled out Lisa Vargo as one of two Canadian scholars whose exemplary work has been significant in “the process of recovering a feminine culture of late-Enlightenment Britain.”

Dr. Vargo is a textual scholar par excellence. Her most lengthy and sustained research contribution has been editing three scholarly editions, 250 to 550 pages in length. These bring back into print long-neglected works of literature primarily by women authors of the early nineteenth century and provide scholarly apparatuses including critical introductions, informative footnotes, and selected secondary readings. The editions include two lesser-known works by Mary Shelley, author of the well-known 1818 novel Frankenstein: the novel Lodore (1835), published by the Canadian scholarly publisher Broadview Press in 1997, and Spanish and Portuguese Lives (1837), published by Pickering and Chatto of London in 2002. In 2007, Dr. Vargo produced an edition of Thomas Love Peacock’s allusive and satirical 1818 novel Nightmare Abbey; a July 2017 review in the Times Literary Supplement calls the volume notable for its excellence. Dr. Vargo is currently co-editing two editions of Anna Letitia Barbauld’s writings for Oxford University Press, and she has a contract to edit the 1831 version of Frankenstein, allowing readers to compare it to the 1818 edition.

The overall focus of Dr. Vargo’s research is on textual editing of Romantic literary works and on recovering and recognizing the work of British women writers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Over the years, that work has been supported by two SSHRC research grants. As indicated by the books she has edited or is in the process of editing, the two writers on whom the majority of her research has been focused are Mary Shelley and Anna Barbauld, a lesser-known dissenting educator, anthologist, poet, and essayist. As well as the edited editions noted above, Dr. Vargo has published a group of essays that examine intersections in the posthumous reception of both authors as shaped by nineteenth-century biographers.

Her extended research project on Shelley examines the author as a woman of letters. Ten published essays focus on subjects including Shelley’s contributions to The Liberal, the journal edited by her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and Leigh Hunt; her novel Lodore; her friendship with Frances Wright; her life writing, especially regarding her mother, famous women’s rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft; the critical reception of Shelley’s writing; her short story “The Swiss Peasant”; and her sources for Frankenstein. A book chapter currently in progress analyzes the nature of Shelley’s liberal politics in her later writings. As a form of public outreach for her research, in the fall of 2018 Dr. Vargo organized “Frankenreads at the U of S” to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Shelley’s groundbreaking 1818 novel.

Dr. Vargo’s research project on Barbauld includes a reading of a short poem on handwriting, situating it within cultural expectations for women; a study of Barbauld’s poem “Inscription for an Ice-House”; and an analysis of representations of animals in late eighteenth-century literature. Professor Vargo has presented conference papers on how nature is portrayed in Barbauld, part of preliminary work on a collection of essays she plans to publish on writings about the environment in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. As well as the projects on Shelley and Barbauld, Dr. Vargo has researched and published on the writing histories of other female authors of the Romantic era, including Anna Jameson, Mary Robinson, and Mathilde Blind. She has two book chapters on gothic writing (one with Blackwell and one with Manchester University Press), and a book chapter on the enclosure of common lands as depicted in writings for children by Charlotte Smith.

In addition to work on the printed page, Dr. Vargo has been active in digital editing and publication. In 2000, with Professor Allison Muri who was then a graduate student, she created an edition of Anna Barbauld’s Poems of 1773, which was accepted by the peer-reviewed online website Romantic Circles for their electronic editions. Dr. Vargo’s attempt to create a “poem web” was an innovative reimagining of how one might place a poem within a number of contexts.

Over the years, Dr. Vargo has supervised or served on the committees of numerous graduate students working on literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She has published eight encyclopedia entries on subjects related to Romantic literature and more are forthcoming. She serves as an associate editor for the journal Women’s Writing. And in September 2018 she was invited to participate in the by-invitation-only international conference Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein 1818-2018 in Bologna, Italy.

As well as having an excellent and sustained research career, Dr. Vargo has been active in community outreach work, notably with READ Saskatoon and with the literary festival Word on the Street. She was awarded a Saskatchewan Literacy Award of Merit in 1999, a Canada Post Literacy Award in the category of Educator in 2004, and a University of Saskatchewan Award for Distinction in Outreach and Engagement in 2007. Her international work has included serving as a visiting scholar three times at Durham University in England and holding two visiting professorships at the Jagellonian University in Krakow, Poland. In 2015 and 2017, she participated as an instructor in Summer Institutes at the Indian Institute of Technology Gandhinagar in Gujarat, India. In the past three years she has been a participant and active collaborator with Dr. David Parkinson on the innovative Project on International Collaborative Teaching.

Dr. Vargo’s nationally and internationally recognized publication record demonstrates her incisive wit and the consistent beauty and power of her scholarly writing. Taken together with her dedication to outreach, her record is a distinguished one.

Dr. Len Findlay

University of Saskatchewan Distinguished Professor Emeritus

Len Findlay did his early research and publication on Victorian aesthetic theory and practice. From this strongly interdisciplinary base, he then expanded his interests historically and philosophically, before turning to the social functions of the literary, the figure of the public intellectual, the role of institutions and disciplines in determining what counts as knowledge and culture, and the division of academic labor in the contemporary university.

Dr. Findlay’s reputation as a literary critic of nineteenth-century texts rests on a series of essays in leading journals such as Victorian PoetryStudies in RomanticismRomantic PraxisComparative LiteratureEnglish Studies in Canada, and University of Toronto Quarterly. In such venues Findlay produced important new interpretations of canonical works. His essays on iconic works by Tennyson, Browning, and Swinburne have been reprinted in collections of the best criticism on these poets. Findlay’s persistent philosophical bent expressed itself for a time in serious study of the interface between phenomenology and literature, and this resulted in a series of wide-ranging and challenging essays that offered striking new interpretations of canonical works but also provided Findlay with the foundation on which to pursue his engagement with (primarily French) theories of signification, representation, and interpretation. His essays in this area, bringing together as they do immensely difficult theoretical texts with literary works of a comparable extent and complexity (like Browning’s The Ring and the Book), demonstrate in compelling ways how literature comes alive though new lenses but also how literature can both embody and challenge theoretical claims about language and meaning. Dr. Findlay’s work then took two new directions which could be broadly designated Marxist and Canadianist. His materialist critique of deconstruction was expressed in a series of essays in University of Toronto QuarterlyTextual Studies in Canada, and in collections such as Constructive Criticism: The Human Sciences in the Age of Theory.

Dr. Findlay’s contributions to Canadian studies derive in part from his leading roles in professional associations like ACCUTE, the Humanities and Social sciences Federation of Canada, and CAUT. He has made the university a subject of inquiry as well as inquiry’s most eminent locus. Here a series of influential essays and book chapters, as well as an edited collection on Academic Freedom, have argued rigorously for the responsibilities and opportunities that scholars must contend with, especially in the humanities in Canada.

The other component of Findlay’s Canadianist ‘turn’ relates to what he has developed under the aegis of the Indigenous Humanities with Aboriginal colleagues in Law and Education at his university (with their extensive networks in North America, New Zealand, and Australia). The impact of this part of his oeuvre is epitomized by his essay “Always Indigenize! The Radical Humanities in the Postcolonial Canadian University.” First published in Ariel in 2000, it has been reprinted in books from Wilfred Laurier and Duke UP, and was the focus of a two-issue international forum in English Studies in Canada. Findlay has used his knowledge of European and Euro-Canadian print culture to re-Indigenize understanding of the creation and reception of the Durham report, to revalue the role of the Indigene in the poetry and historiography of post-Durham Quebec, and to resituate understanding of treaty-making as cultural ceremony, using such cultural forms as ledger-drawings by incarcerated Indigenes in the later nineteenth-century.

As much at home in archival and historical work as in textual analysis, editing, or cultural and aesthetic theory, Dr. Findlay is a dedicated teacher-scholar, academic leader, and public intellectual. For more than a decade he used the Humanities Research Unit at the University of Saskatchewan as place for the encouragement of interdisciplinary work and as a means of connecting novice and established scholars to wider publics in the exploration and debate of subjects like racism, community, the socialized and medicalized body, and the Canadian response to 9/11. Findlay is an articulate, fearless, and compelling public speaker who has given keynote addresses across North America and in Europe, and been invited to speak in locations such as Harvard, the Sorbonne, Oxford, the University of Utrecht, and the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham, England. An award-winning teacher of undergraduates, he has also been a mentor to scores of graduate students. His scholarly accomplishments are considerable.