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Using Juxta to Compare Editions

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Manuscript Revision
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Brief Assignment Overview: 

This lesson plan prompts students to use Juxta (collation software) to compare different witnesses or instances of a text.  Students compare multiple versions of a literary work, locating revisions in order to discuss word choice and textual instabilities.  Most useful for literary works with full-text editions available online. 

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

This assignment is intended to get students thinking about revision, or how changes to literary texts get incorporated into different editions over time.

Required Materials: 

Technology based classroom

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

Juxta is open source collation software developed by NINES (based at UVA) that allows the user to compare multiple versions of a text.  There are several visualization options that can assist in the process, including a parallel display, which sets two or more witnesses next to each other and tracks the changes between them, and a histogram of edits over the course of the entire document.

Edits made to literary texts by authors can be interesting in a number of different contexts, demonstrating evolution of the text and the author’s (and publisher’s) ideas and constructions over time.  It’s particularly interesting for the Banned Books course to think about whether some such edits might be responses to conditions of censorship and protest that affect particular works. But this is also an exercise that encourages close reading, particularly when applied to a piece of poetry that goes through multiple revisions, because changes at single-word and punctuation level can prompt discussions of the meaning of, for instance, dashes versus ellipses, the role of publishers and printers in the revision process, and so forth.

In preparation for a close reading assignment on Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” I considered having students use Juxta to compare two sections of the poem from different editions.  Whitman published several editions of Leaves of Grass over the course of the nineteenth century, and the poem changed drastically from the first (1855) to the final (1891-2) edition.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

It might be useful, if doing this in class, to select a passage in advance that has substantive or interesting revisions likely to prompt good discussion.

A bit of experimentation with Juxta also is in order.  Juxta Commons I think is in testing phase, and should be rolled out soon – this version would be easier, because it doesn’t require download.  Students will need to create accounts and copy and paste the text of the documents they are comparing into the "Sources" box.  These documents can then be made into "Witnesses," and then compared as a "Comparison Set."  The Comparison Set can be shared or not, as the user desires. 

Until Juxta Commons is available, students can download Juxta as a standalone desktop application at, so if this is the route you take, it might be worth making sure the software can be downloaded on local machines.

Instructions For Students: 

  1. Go to
  2. Select “Download” on the left, and select the appropriate operating system.
  3. Find two versions of your assigned text online to compare, and copy and paste or type them into two separate plain text documents (NOTE: don’t use Word for this – any plain text editor like NoteTab will do.)
  4. Save each version in a separate document with a unique name (for instance, Song_of_Myself_1855_Section_7).
  5. In Juxta, select “Add Document” (the +) from the shortcut menu, and add both documents to the list.
  6. Select one of the documents, and then in the screen at the right, select “Comparison View.”  This should show you both documents side by side, with the differences highlighted.  You can see the highlights in each document individually in “Collation View.”
  7. You can see a visualization of the changes in the document over time in the “Histogram.”
  8. Write down a few sentences describing what you have found.  What kinds of changes can you identify between these two editions?  Select one or two changes that seem most significant to you.  What is the effect of these changes on the poem?
  9. Be prepared to discuss your answers.
Evaluation Suggestions: 

Instructors can assess this activity in a few ways: by calling on individual students to provide and explain their responses, by having students incorporate comparisons into their papers, or by making this a more formal written assignment that can be collected.

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

I didn’t try this with Juxta yet, but I did have my students do a collation by hand across three versions – manuscript, periodical, and Leaves of Grass – of Whitman’s “The Dalliance of the Eagles,” one of the poems challenged by officials in the late nineteenth century.  It worked surprisingly well.  They were excited to find differences, and interested to talk about what they might mean.  In the case of “Dalliance,” the manuscript version is very different from the Leaves of Grass version, while the periodical version only has a few small changes, so it was useful to consider the importance of word and punctuation choice and the different scales of revision.  It seems like Juxta-based comparisons of different versions of “Song of Myself” or any other text with multiple variants could open up a way to talk about revision, textual instability, punctuation-level edits, and outside influences (printer, publisher, censor, &c), and Juxta’s clear indication of differences and multiple-panel displays would have been handy to put up on the screen.

Course Description: 

This section of Banned Books introduces students to literary analysis and takes a look at books that have been challenged, edited, or banned over the past two centuries in the U.S. 

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