Through the process of annotating The Tales of John Oliver Hobbes (hereafter JOH), I have come to realize just how arbitrary annotations really are. Until recently, annotations have always been the helpful notes located at the bottom of a page – always furthering my understanding of what is happening in the text, giving a definition, and, at times, recommending further reading. I’ve never thought about how much work these extra tidbits of information really are to incorporate in either a print or digital text . . . until now.
When first introduced with the task of annotating JOH, I was instantly overwhelmed and confused. I found myself asking questions like what are the guidelines? what is considered common knowledge? what will the majority of readers definitely not know? Unfortunately, Wikisource did not do much to calm me down with its how to page for annotations. The most clearly defined rule states that “all annotations on Wikisource are expected to be objective. Interpretive annotations are never allowed.” This concept caused great confusion for me – aren’t the majority of annotations (technically) interpretive in some manner? I mean, unless you are the author, annotating a piece of literature is really just guess work – no one can ever truly and confidently know exactly what an author was alluding to throughout his text. So this rule made me nervous – what happens if the almighty Wikisource gods decide that my annotations are, in fact, interpretive? Do they get taken down? Do I now have to start over from scratch, even more nervous than before? Unfortunately, if you continue reading the guidelines you run across phrases like “the method of annotating a work remains a matter of judgement for individual Wikisource users.” In one simple sentence, Wikisource undermines it’s own previously outlined rule – if its a matter of judgement, then once again the field of annotations has been blown wide open.
So how does one decide what deserves an annotation and what does not? Personally, I ended up choosing to annotate things that I didn’t understand myself, as well as lines that rang with memories of sunday school and learning the Bible. But is that to say that I’ve provided enough supplementary information that will satisfy the needs of every reader? …. If I’m being completely honest, the answer is probably not, but I can hope.
When it comes down to it, annotations (in both print and digital forms) are really just arbitrary guesses – what the editor or annotater thinks the reader needs to know. Because of their arbitrary nature, I think that it’s impossible to really cover everything …. and at a certain point, isn’t there such a thing as too many annotations?