CTP (Canterbury Tales Project)

CTP (Canterbury Tales Project)

The Canterbury Tales Project aims to transcribe, collate and analyse all the fifteen century witnesses of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The Project uses specialized software to prepare the digital edition (Collate) and software originally developed for evolutionary biology (PAUP — Phylogenetic Analysis Using Parsimony and SplitTrees) to explore the relations among the witnesses.


The CTP is a continuation of the work initiated by Peter Robinson, Elizabeth Solopova and Norman Blake in the early 1990s. It was directed by Norman Blake at Sheffield until 1999, when it moved to De Montfort University, Leicester. It is now based at the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham. The long-term aim of the Project is to determine as thoroughly as possible the textual history of the Canterbury Tales. This is problematic as there are 84 manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales, as well as four pre-1500 printed editions, and no scholarly consensus about which one of these witnesses best represents Chaucer’s text. Furthermore, key questions remain unresolved about the history of the text: how far did Chaucer complete the Tales? And to what extent do the differences between the manuscripts reflect Chaucer’s own revisions, additions, alterations, and cancellations? Some 600 years of scholarly effort have failed to reach a consensus about these questions, or even to indicate whether they can be answered.


The work of the Project proceeds through four stages. Firstly, there is transcription of each manuscript into computer-readable form, using a character set and conventions established by Robinson and Solopova. Secondly, there is a computer collation of the transcripts against each other. Powerful regularization facilities ensure that substantive variants in the text can be filtered out from variants in spelling, etc. Thirdly, there is analysis of the body of variation, using phylogenetic methods borrowed from evolutionary biology to give a preliminary account of manuscript relations and database searching to refine the analysis. These computer-assisted methods of analysis, in themselves, are revolutionary.

The fourth stage is to present all this in an attractive and usable form. Two types of publication are to be produced by the Project. Individual Tales are presented as CD-ROMs with all the witnesses to one tale transcribed and collated, for example, The Wife of Bath’s Prologue on CD-ROMThe General Prologue on CD-ROM and The Miller’s Tale on CD-ROM. CD-ROMs are also being produced which contain entire transcriptions of individual manuscripts, such as the Hengwrt Chaucer Chaucer Digital Facsimile.

Source(s): computer collation solutions


Over its ten-year history, the Project has received funding from a variety of sources. Initially funded by the Leverhulme Trust, a series of one-year grants from the British Academy allowed the Project to continue at Sheffield under the direction of Norman Blake from 1994 – 1999. In 1999 the project moved to De Montfort and received a large grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Board, which supported the Project until 2004. The Project has also received grants from the Exxon Corporation, News International, and private donors. Partners in the Project include Brigham Young University, Virginia Tech, the University of Munster, Germany, New York University and Keio University.


The Project materials can be used in various ways, not only for the textual history of the “Tales” themselves, but also in other fields such as dialectology, palaeography and textual analysis, amongst others. The publications also have the potential to be used as teaching tools at various levels, from schools to universities, for both undergraduates and postgraduates. The project staff are keen to hear ideas and opinions from anyone interested in using its materials. Questions, comments and suggestions are welcome, and should be addressed to the either Barbara Bordalejo (b.bordalejo@bham.ac.uk) or Peter Robinson (p.m.robinson@bham.ac.uk).


Bordalejo, Barbara, ed. 2003. Caxton’s Canterbury Tales: the British Library copies. Leicester, Scholarly Digital Editions. Online version at www.cts.dmu.ac.uk/Caxtons.

Lloyd Morgan, Ceridwen, ed. 2003. The Hengwrt Chaucer: standard edition on CD-ROM. Leicester, Scholarly Digital Editions.

Robinson, Peter, ed. 1996. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue on CD-ROM. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

───, ed. 2004. The Miller’s Tale on CD-ROM. Leicester: Scholarly Digital Editions. Sample version online

Solopova, Elizabeth, ed. 2000. The General Prologue on CD-ROM. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Stubbs, Estelle, ed. 2000. The Hengwrt Chaucer Digital Facsimile. Leicester, Scholarly Digital Editions. Sample version online

The text of many sections of these publications, and of many other project publications (including all articles published in the Project’s Occasional Papers series) is available athttp://www.canterburytalesproject.org/CTPresources.html.

One thought on “CTP (Canterbury Tales Project)

Comments are closed.