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Using Technology to Track the Evolution of the Written Word

Dr. Zailig Pollock and grad students

Graduate students in Trent University’s Public Texts M.A. program, which was launched in 2007, are revolutionizing the way academics study and understand changing versions of the written word, with the help of technology.

Dr. Zailig Pollock, professor emeritus in English Literature at Trent, is working with his students to develop software that offers a new way of tracking the evolution of texts over time. In traditional editions, various versions of a text are compared to each other using specialized symbols and terminology to indicate the changes that the work went through to reach its final form. The new software aims to make the representation of this process more transparent and accessible.

“The final annotated work is visually complex and often challenging for both scholars and people outside of academia to understand,” said Professor Pollock. “The Digital Page Reader will make it easier to review different versions of one piece of writing at the same time, so that readers can spend more time focusing on the content of the text itself.”

Making reading more active

The software program – named after P.K. Page, the celebrated poet and artist whose body of written work Prof. Pollock is currently editing – uses an intuitive visual overlay that allows the reader to take an active part in choosing which levels of information to review: individually, or multiple levels at once.

Students have been actively involved in the development of the Digital Page Reader, with several serving as research assistants to Prof. Pollock on the project. This focus on collaboration is par for the course at Trent, where faculty give students the skills they need to blaze new trails through innovative research methods. Prof. Pollock has published papers jointly with his students, offering a rare opportunity for young scholars to build their own academic reputations.


Trent University has been at the forefront of interrogating cultural change since the 1960s, and the Public Texts graduate studies program is no exception. Founded seven years ago, the program is focused on taking well-known concepts and analyzing how new developments in communication have turned them on their heads. Past students have had the unusual opportunity to intern with small publishers, arts organizations, and even individual authors, showcasing the versatility of the program.