Questions regarding anti-semitism

118 views
Skip to first unread message

David Zitzelsberger

unread,
May 13, 2022, 8:55:34 AMMay 13
to standar...@googlegroups.com
I completed a read-through of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and I'm now doing a comparison with the original images.

Something in the original images which was missing from the archive.org transcription are uses of the word Jew where the transcription uses words like miser.

What's the standard ebooks policy on this?

Do we modernize the meaning or hold onto the ugliness and put a warning in the metadata?

Thanks

Alex Cabal

unread,
May 13, 2022, 10:18:36 AMMay 13
to standar...@googlegroups.com
We don't bowdlerize texts at all - the text should be as it was in
print. It was common for older texts to feature words and ideas that
today we might find offensive, but those attitudes were historical, it's
not for us to change that history or the author's words. So, please
revert it to what appears in the original scans.

I had to do this with HG Wells' "Invisible Man," where I noticed that
the PG transcriber bowdlerized a character's dialogue of `I went to work
- like a nigger` to `I went to work - like a slave.`

On 5/13/22 7:55 AM, David Zitzelsberger wrote:
> I completed a read-through of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and I'm
> now doing a comparison with the original images.
>
> Something in the original images which was missing from the archive.org
> <http://archive.org> transcription are uses of the word Jew where the
> transcription uses words like miser.
>
> What's the standard ebooks policy on this?
>
> Do we modernize the meaning or hold onto the ugliness and put a warning
> in the metadata?
>
> Thanks
>
> --
> You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google
> Groups "Standard Ebooks" group.
> To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send
> an email to standardebook...@googlegroups.com
> <mailto:standardebook...@googlegroups.com>.
> To view this discussion on the web visit
> https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/standardebooks/CAFOpp_mDk6LY0U3SHNJTnO2XJ5UaJKs1Ro%2BMGP67DHDP_TyJbQ%40mail.gmail.com
> <https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/standardebooks/CAFOpp_mDk6LY0U3SHNJTnO2XJ5UaJKs1Ro%2BMGP67DHDP_TyJbQ%40mail.gmail.com?utm_medium=email&utm_source=footer>.

Benjamin Nash

unread,
Jun 10, 2022, 3:47:28 PMJun 10
to Standard Ebooks
Can we put content notes on the download page? I understand not changing the text itself.

We have plenty of additional information on our download pages. The number of words, estimated reading time, and reading ease, for example, all seem to be there to help people decide on how to plan for reading a book. Content notes are similar.

Asher Smith

unread,
Jun 20, 2022, 12:36:49 PM (4 days ago) Jun 20
to Standard Ebooks
I think this is a really interesting idea, and actually addresses a number of SE's stated goals. It certainly would go a long way towards bridging the gap between historical attitudes and "the sensibilities of modern readers," and I think that if you trust that a source will provide content notes if needed, it might make you more comfortable with reading works of literature you might otherwise not. It also does a good job of striking a balance of neither whitewashing nor endorsing historical attitudes we now find troubling.

Cambridge suggests 14 categories for content notes, and I can imagine that the simplest way to implement this would be to just have a simple yes/no for if each of them exists. That means we're not in the position of trying to make subjective decisions about how severe something is - we just report, for instance, that the book contains intimate partner violence.

As an unrelated note, if this conversation is one that interests you, you should check out the novel Too Like The Lightning, which contains an in-universe page of content ratings and censorship notes at the start.

Alex Cabal

unread,
Jun 20, 2022, 12:43:23 PM (4 days ago) Jun 20
to standar...@googlegroups.com
I don't think we're going to do anything like this. I want to avoid
politics at SE, and these days sensibilities are politics. Judging what
is or isn't considered a problem is difficult, and we're going to get
crap from all sides no matter what we pick - or what we miss - and
values and offenses change over time so the job is never over.

Better to understand that as critical thinkers, a book written a hundred
years ago (or even 20 years ago!) is going to be a reflection of society
at that time, which had different values than we do today - just as the
values of the future will differ from our values now. Some of those old
concepts and words may be offensive today. Some might not be. The robust
reader understands that and deals with it maturely as it occurs, and
does not rely on someone else's opinion on the matter in order to engage
in avoidance.

On 6/20/22 11:36 AM, Asher Smith wrote:
> I think this is a really interesting idea, and actually addresses a
> number of SE's stated goals. It certainly would go a long way towards
> bridging the gap between historical attitudes and "the sensibilities of
> modern readers," and I think that if you trust that a source will
> provide content notes if needed, it might make you more comfortable with
> reading works of literature you might otherwise not. It also does a good
> job of striking a balance of neither whitewashing nor endorsing
> historical attitudes we now find troubling.
>
> Cambridge suggests 14 categories
> <https://www.cctl.cam.ac.uk/content-notes/how-use/when-use> for content
> notes, and I can imagine that the simplest way to implement this would
> be to just have a simple yes/no for if each of them exists. That means
> we're not in the position of trying to make subjective decisions about
> how severe something is - we just report, for instance, that the book
> contains intimate partner violence.
>
> As an unrelated note, if this conversation is one that interests you,
> you should check out the novel /Too Like The Lightning/, which contains
> > <http://archive.org <http://archive.org>> transcription are
> uses of the word Jew where the
> > transcription uses words like miser.
> >
> > What's the standard ebooks policy on this?
> >
> > Do we modernize the meaning or hold onto the ugliness and put
> a warning
> > in the metadata?
> >
> > Thanks
> >
> > --
> > You received this message because you are subscribed to the
> Google
> > Groups "Standard Ebooks" group.
> > To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from
> it, send
> > an email to standardebook...@googlegroups.com
> > <mailto:standardebook...@googlegroups.com>.
> > To view this discussion on the web visit
> >
> https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/standardebooks/CAFOpp_mDk6LY0U3SHNJTnO2XJ5UaJKs1Ro%2BMGP67DHDP_TyJbQ%40mail.gmail.com
> <https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/standardebooks/CAFOpp_mDk6LY0U3SHNJTnO2XJ5UaJKs1Ro%2BMGP67DHDP_TyJbQ%40mail.gmail.com>
>
> >
> <https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/standardebooks/CAFOpp_mDk6LY0U3SHNJTnO2XJ5UaJKs1Ro%2BMGP67DHDP_TyJbQ%40mail.gmail.com?utm_medium=email&utm_source=footer
> <https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/standardebooks/CAFOpp_mDk6LY0U3SHNJTnO2XJ5UaJKs1Ro%2BMGP67DHDP_TyJbQ%40mail.gmail.com?utm_medium=email&utm_source=footer>>.
>
>
> --
> You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google
> Groups "Standard Ebooks" group.
> To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send
> an email to standardebook...@googlegroups.com
> <mailto:standardebook...@googlegroups.com>.
> To view this discussion on the web visit
> https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/standardebooks/1b1131a6-8828-4024-bcba-3fe17cd0d148n%40googlegroups.com
> <https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/standardebooks/1b1131a6-8828-4024-bcba-3fe17cd0d148n%40googlegroups.com?utm_medium=email&utm_source=footer>.

Benjamin Nash

unread,
Jun 20, 2022, 1:07:30 PM (4 days ago) Jun 20
to Standard Ebooks
I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing.

I've got a friend who recently lost a child. They're avoiding any media that contents child death because it'll wreck them for weeks. I hope they'll be able to get to the point where media will bring that up for them, but until then, they have to rely on friends to let them know. But what do they do if friends haven't read/watched/etc. the thing? A note saying "CN: Child Death" would help a lot. It's not about whether something contains child death is good or bad, it's about people being able to make informed decisions.

Likewise, I have different reading moods. I don't always want to read something that contains rape or torture, for example. A content note would help me make my decision for the moment. If I'm looking for something lighter, seeing "CN: Rape, Torture" would help me decide to read it later. Again, it's not about me making a judgment about the book being bad for having those things, it's about me making an informed decision in the moment.

I think casting it in the light of contemporary sensibilities misses the point. I recognize that things I read come from the context in which they're written. This isn't about that. Sometimes I want the humor of Twain. Sometimes I want the mystery of Chistie. Sometimes I want the philosophy of Plato. Choosing one isn't criticizing the others. If I discovered a new book and asked "is it fiction or philosophy," it doesn't mean I'm not a robust reader or that I lack critical thinking.

The case I tried to make in my earlier message was that this would be a fitting and helpful thing to add to description and genre for each book.

Alex Cabal

unread,
Jun 20, 2022, 1:12:57 PM (4 days ago) Jun 20
to standar...@googlegroups.com
I get it, but that's still outside the scope of this project. We provide
ebooks plus a brief back-of-a-book kind of blurb. Anything else
including content notes should be for Wikipedia or librarians to handle,
or better yet a robust reader capable of engaging in books maturely.

It's not going to be possible to satisfy everyone's pet fear, not only
because everybody fears different things and cataloging them into some
kind of comprehensive taxonomy is IMHO a fool's errand, but also because
our volunteer producers have enough work to do as it is and we can't
also ask them to please comprehensively catalog everybody's pet trigger
as they read.
> <https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/standardebooks/1b1131a6-8828-4024-bcba-3fe17cd0d148n%40googlegroups.com?utm_medium=email&utm_source=footer
> <https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/standardebooks/1b1131a6-8828-4024-bcba-3fe17cd0d148n%40googlegroups.com?utm_medium=email&utm_source=footer>>.
>
>
> --
> You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google
> Groups "Standard Ebooks" group.
> To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send
> an email to standardebook...@googlegroups.com
> <mailto:standardebook...@googlegroups.com>.
> To view this discussion on the web visit
> https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/standardebooks/616dafde-8590-4b54-be36-32f09f6e143bn%40googlegroups.com
> <https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/standardebooks/616dafde-8590-4b54-be36-32f09f6e143bn%40googlegroups.com?utm_medium=email&utm_source=footer>.

Asher Smith

unread,
Jun 20, 2022, 1:49:59 PM (4 days ago) Jun 20
to standar...@googlegroups.com
I think this is the point about that Cambridge link - it’s a (respected) University's guide to what they think are worth providing content notes on. In much the same way that we have a reading score without offering an opinion on if the prose is good or readable, we could add a list of all of the categories that the producer deems to apply. We’re not put in a position to decide what categories are worth reporting on, and we’re not put in a position to decide if the [insert note here] in the book was really bad enough to be something we’d warn people over; we just report on its existence or not. I think the argument against the inclusion of this is not an argument about politics, as we wouldn’t be recommending people do or do not read it, we’re not passing judgement one way or the other about the topic, and we’re not advocating for censorship, which are the primary concerns I can imagine someone having.

I think the primary concern with the idea is that as it stands, SE is not in the business of being a book recommendation engine. Book categories are not set up to act as a bookstore’s do (e.g. no romance genre), we don’t tag books in any other way, we don’t write long/short descriptions with the intention of getting people to read them. As I understand it, a lot of our traffic is people following links from another book recommendation source (e.g. Reddit) or the Wikipedia page for that book/author (there are >1200 links from wiki pages to SE); both of these are cases where we don’t need to tell a user if they want to read a book because they already know by the time they arrive. If we do decide that we want to be a book recommendation engine some day, then this would become a much more valuable endeavour.

Weijia Cheng

unread,
Jun 20, 2022, 2:41:05 PM (4 days ago) Jun 20
to Standard Ebooks
Speaking as someone who does value having content notes available for people with relevant traumatic experiences, I think that the question of whether or not SE should provide content notes is a red herring. Considering that every book provided by SE has been out to the public in various print and electronic forms for a long time, whether or not the SE book (that is, the digital document SE produces and provides) has content notes is kind of secondary to the issue of whether there are any publicly available content notes for this book to begin with. SE distributes, at best, only a small fraction of classic literature and I think it's much more likely that people will encounter these texts through physical volumes or more established ebook providers like Gutenberg or Overdrive than they will through SE. It seems to me that what would really benefit readers who need content notes is a public, searchable, and collaborative database of content notes, which they could use regardless of where they get their books from. Obviously this would be a project of very different scope and very different requirements than what SE is working on.

As for the question of whether or not SE should provide content notes, I agree with Alex that it doesn't make sense for us to be the ones who do this. Even with a standard rubric (and how would you decide on such a thing?) it wouldn't be possible for us to consistently apply this rubric for each book. Just the fact that each of us has different life experiences means that some people will "miss" things that other people would find obviously troublesome. Like, to give an example, as an Asian-American person I'm going to be much more sensitive to racist and orientalist depictions of Asians in literature than a non-Asian, but as someone who isn't a woman I might totally miss out on something that a woman might rightly single out as misogynistic. And vice versa, that woman might have no experience of being Asian-American, or LGBTQ+, etc. etc.; my point is I don't think that it makes sense to put the onus on the SE producers/editors to provide content notes, since even if we did provide content notes it would be no guarantee that our content notes would be good or useful. Like what Alex said, I think that it makes more sense for librarians or some other broader community (and it really has to be a wide community) to handle this sort of thing.

Benjamin Nash

unread,
Jun 20, 2022, 4:53:10 PM (4 days ago) Jun 20
to Standard Ebooks
It makes sense to me that this is outside the scope of this project, especially considering that it's volunteer-based. Slightly disappointing, if I'm honest, but understandable. Partly because I haven't been able to find a public database of content notes.
Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages