Marking authorship in texts

While writing something about Wikipedia, and talking about the idea of tracable attribution of text, I’ve been thinking of ways in which works with multiple discrete authors have displayed the different contributions of those authors.

At one extreme, there’s a fully “collaborative” work – no-one makes a distinction between the two authors, and while they’re named on the title page the writing is implicitly attributed to both. At the other extreme, we have individual chapters or articles – A writes chapter 1, B writes chapter 2, etc., and they may never have known of the other contributors.

In the middle, there’s cases where the work is broadly collaborative but with individual elements – the main text is jointly written, but particular contributors sign their own footnotes, sidebar sections, forewords, appendices, etc.

The one that interests me, though, is something I saw in I.S. Shklovsky’s Intelligent Life in the Universe when I read it as a student – I seem to have lost my copy in the intervening ten years, so this is from memory.

The book was originally published in the USSR in the early 1960s, and translated and expanded in English with the aid of Carl Sagan later in the decade. The original text was updated by Sagan, who also added several new chapters; the two then shared drafts, editing “each other’s” sections. Given the political climate, however, they were keen to avoid claiming to be in agreement on some sensitive topics, and so they experimented with explicitly marking the appearance of a single voice in the text itself.

In the end, the result ran something like:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisici elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. ▲Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur.▼ △Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.▽

Unmarked text was jointly written; black triangles marked remarks by one author, and white triangles by another. (At at least one point, delightfully, they started arguing.)

So, the question: was this something common in the period that I’ve just never noticed elsewhere? Is there a name for it? What other novel ways of marking authorship have been used?

2 thoughts on “Marking authorship in texts”

  1. Another way is that of Landau, David, and Parshall, Peter. The Renaissance Print, Yale, 1996, ISBN 0300068832 – they wrote different chapters (broadly, a north/south split) explained this in the introduction, but otherwise didn’t distinuish in the text.

    Art exhibition catalogues often name the authors of introductory sections, and give initials at the end of each catalogue entry, for which there is a key at the end of the introductory matter, with up to say 30 names.

    I think I’ve seen another book that actually distinguished within the text, but I can’t remember what – it was a revised edition where the first author was dead, and his text had I think been mostly left, but additions made which were distinguished typographically. Probably one of the Penguin now Yale art history series – those have mostly had revised editions, often by new authors, as the series has been going for 60-odd years.

    The huge bestseller American “Art History 101” textbook “Gardner’s Art Through the Ages” had had more authors than the bible by the time they put it to rest recently, but like the bible they weren’t terribly clear who they were.

  2. The old DNB used initialled entries, I think, with a lookup table at the end. I’ll keep a lookout for the Penguin art ones and see how they did it – annoyingly, in an old job I used to have a run of these near my desk, but no longer available!

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