Editorial Policy and Procedures

The purpose of the first phase of Ossian Online is to publish facsimile images and accurate, TEI-encoded texts of the seven editions comprising the Ossian corpus, published under James Macpherson's authority in the period from 1760 to 1773. The following document outlines the editorial policy and procedures followed in this phase of the project. A subsequent phase will see the development of a critical apparatus linking the textual variants arising during this period of transmission, and updated editorial policies and procedures will be published for this portion of the project.


The rationale for the initial phase to archive the editions of Ossian published between 1760 and 1773 is primarily one of access. Howard Gaskill testifies to a similar motivation behind his 1996 edition of The Poems of Ossian. The current lack of complete and accurate versions of these eighteenth-century editions is an impediment to the completion of scholarship on Macpherson and Ossian. Gaskill's edition sought to rectify this deficit in the 1990s and arguably paved the way for one of the most significant periods of Ossianic scholarship in decades. Gaskill's important edition is eclectic: it augments a central copy-text (The Works of Ossian of 1765) with readings from different editions to create a single reading text. Ossian Online presents a versioned archive of the editions from this fourteen-year period. Gaskill's editorial policy is shaped by the dictates of the printed edition: variants are recorded in the short-hand form of a critical apparatus. Ossian Online exploits digital media's capacity for redundancy by presenting these seven editions in their entirety, accompanied by facsimile images of a single copy from each edition. Where Gaskill's readers negotiate the critical apparatus to reconstruct readings from different editions, Ossian Online's users choose between complete versions of those different editions.

Digital scans of copies from these editions can be found on the web with relative ease. However beneficial these documents are, their utility is lessened by their limited searchability. The texts that accompany these scans on Google Books, HathiTrust, Internet Archive, and Eighteenth-Century Collections Online result from uncorrected optical character recognition (OCR) and contain high levels of error. Though OCR algorithms are improving, they are still unable to accurate process certain customary features of eighteenth-century printed texts such as the long s and characters printed from ligatured type. Ossian Online's texts are created from hand-corrected and –encoded OCR in order to provide users with accurate and fully-searchable texts.

Images and Copies

The images provided in Ossian Online are from copies currently held at the National Library of Scotland. NLS staff have photographed these copies and made the resulting images available under a Creative Commons licence. They are also available, along with images of other holdings at the NLS, on Internet Archive.

The realities of printing in the hand-press period (roughly 1455 to 1800) mean that it is possible for two copies from the same edition of a printed work to differ to a greater or lesser degree. In practice, this means that the copy from the National Library of Scotland may contain differences from copies of the same edition in the British Library, the Library of Congress, or any other copy. This situation, the scourge of the conscientious scholarly editor, is theoretically resolved by examining and comparing all extant copies of the edition. In practice, a representative census of copies is completed instead. The fruits of such a census (a descriptive bibliography) for the editions archived in Ossian Online is available on the main page for each edition, along with information about the particular copy used on the site.


The process for establishing the texts that appear in Ossian Online is as follows: facsimile images of an NLS copy of Ossian are run through OCR software (ABBYY FineReader 11). The output text is then hand-corrected against the original images and lightly encoded in TEI-conformant XML. These files are transformed into HTML using an XSL transformation and styled for web display using CSS. After this process the texts are proofread for any residual errors. These are then corrected in the XML file. Further details of the technical specification of the project can be found on the Technical Summary page.

Editorial Interventions

Ossian Online strives to provide accurate documentary texts of the editions published between 1760 and 1773. The project's primary motivation is to provide users with an opportunity to view the same texts that contemporary readers encountered in the late eighteenth century. The texts on the site reproduce those found in the source copies, and the editors have not corrected any typographical errors, archaic spellings, or apparent misspellings.

While the linguistic features of the texts have been faithfully preserved in the digital files, a number of typographic and bibliographic features have been modified to impose consistency, remove ambiguities, and to improve searchability.

  • The long s

    The long or medial s (ſ) was a letterform conventionally used in printing until around 1800. It appears in all editions of Ossian between 1760 and 1773, and is preserved in the logo of this site. The Ossian Online texts use the modern short s to avoid creating confusion for readers who are unfamiliar with the earlier convention and to improve the searchability of the texts in search engines which do not recognise the earlier letterform.

  • Lineation

    While commonly known as "poems," the Ossian texts do not adhere to conventions of poetic lineation. Thus, the texts on this site do not preserve the lineation of the source texts. The exception to this is in the case of quoted poetic lines, which are regularly found in Macpherson's footnotes and in some of the prefatory and paratextual material.

  • Hyphenation

    Where line-end hyphenation occurs in the source text, the hyphen is not preserved in the Ossian Online text. Similarly, where a hyphenated word straddles a page-break in the source text, the complete word is encoded before the page-break in the XML file and reproduced in that position on the website.

  • Ligatures

    The Ossian editions contain regular use of ligatures: the combination of two or more letters on a single piece of type. These printed forms can be reproduced (but with some difficulty) in digital displays, but doing so reduces a search engine's ability to find a word containing a ligature. Thus, the common eighteenth-century ligatures (ct, ff, fi, ffi, fl, ffl, ſh, ſi, ſl, ſſ, ſt) have been encoded and reproduced as their constituent individual letters. The exceptions to this are the æ and œ ligatures which are used in Latin and foreign words (and English words deriving from same), and which are still commonly used today. All of the ligatures present in the source copies can also be identified with ease in the facsimile images.

  • Punctuation and whitespace

    The convention of using a single space before certain punctuation marks (including the semi-colon, question mark, and exclamation mark, e.g. "I return ;") is regularised, since it is inconsistently applied in the source texts. No spaces are used before punctuation marks in the Ossian Online texts. Similarly, inconsistent numbers of spaces following a full stop in the source texts have been regularised to one space in the Ossian Online files.

  • Printers' paratexts

    Certain decorative and functional features of the source copies have not been encoded and reproduced in Ossian Online. These include printers' ornaments and rules, running titles, catchwords, signature marks, and press figures. While these features can bear significant bibliographic information, they are generally not linguistically meaningful. In any case (just as with ligatures), they can be identified with ease in the facsimile images of the source copies.

  • Page numbers

    Continuous pagination is supplied for the main body of each edition, even when it is lacking in the source. For example, page numbers are supplied in the cases of blank pages that not numbered in the sources (see Fingal, first edition, 20). Misnumbered pages (see Temora, 203; numbered 103) are also given their correct number. Instances of misnumbering are recorded in the bibliographical descriptions. For preliminary pages that have not been numbered, Ossian Online has adopted the page-identifying convention from descriptive bibliography: the page is identified as a recto or verso and by its position within its gathering. For example, the title page of Fingal, first edition is assigned [A1r], the second page [A1v], and so forth.

  • Quotation marks

    Quotation marks are retained in the text with one exception: the convention of repeating opening quotation marks at the beginning of each new typographic line in passages that span more than one typographic line is not preserved (see, for example, Fragments, first edition, v). In these instances, only the opening and closing quotation marks are preserved.

Last updated: 4 December 2015.