Slovenly Peter attracts attention

“There is no such thing as bad publicity.” — unknown origin

On Dec. 14, 2010, I received a complaint from Lisa McShine, who, according to what she wrote in the ensuing e-mail exchange, is an occasional proofreader for Project Gutenberg.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Project Gutenberg, abbreviated as PG, is a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to “encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.”[2] Founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library.[3] Most of the items in its collection are the full texts of public domain books. The project tries to make these as free as possible, in long-lasting, open formats that can be used on almost any computer. As of November 2010, Project Gutenberg claimed over 34,000 items in its collection. Project Gutenberg is affiliated with many projects that are independent organizations which share the same ideals, and have been given permission to use the Project Gutenberg trademark. (Link to Wkipedia article on PG)

Lisa McShine complained that the web page by Fathers for Life on a mid-19th century German-language children’s book, Der Struwwelpeter, by Heinrich Hoffmann (Slovenly Peter, translated by Mark Twain) misrepresents the intentions of PG and its proofreaders.  She wrote:

Hello:

Thanks so much for adding the Mark Twain translation of Der Struwwelpeter. I enjoyed reading Twain’s much more close translation from the German.

However, I want to point out that the preamble of the e-book in Project Gutenberg says the English translation dates from 1848 and it certainly dates before 1927, the published date of my physical copy of a volume of extracts for children including the Der Struwwelpeter translation and illustrations shown in the Project Gutenberg e-book. Thus, I highly doubt that the bowdlerization was intended to make the translation politically correct, as you state.

Lastly, as someone who occasionally volunteers time to proof-read for Project Gutenberg, I would like to reassure you that PG NEVER re-translates or tries to change the meaning of anything it makes available online. Our Primary Rule (http://www.pgdp.net/c/faq/proofreading_guidelines.php) is “Don’t change what the author wrote!”: we only transcribe from the image of the printed page.

I hope you will consider revising “In the translation provided by Suzanne Shell, Sandra Brown and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team of the Project Gutenberg those lines came to read as:” and “Project Gutenberg’s politically-correct translation reads:” so that it does not imply that PG and PG proofreaders had anything to do with the existing content other than to make it available in plain text form.

Kind Regards

LM

Depending on what I will eventually find out about what caused the enormous increase in traffic to the web page by Fathers for Life on Der Struwwelpeter, concurrently with or subsequently to Lisa McShine’s complaint, I may at some time publish all of the e-mail exchange between us.  Nevertheless, it was not on account of anything I had done.  My responses to Lisa McShine were sent only to her, and until today I had not done anything to make anyone aware of the discussion.  Regardless, my closing remarks in my second message to Lisa McShine (Dec. 15, 2010) proved to be prophetic, at least in part, the one pertaining to publicity.

Nevertheless, not all is lost.  An often-used maxim by an unknown individual states: “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”  That principle brought fame, power and fortune to many people.  Let’s hope that the discussion of the book at Fathers for Life will help to encourage improvements to the good work by Project Gutenberg and that thereby the quality of that work will become even better.

It remains to be seen whether the remaining part, about the good impact that publicity may have, will come true.

The increase in the number of daily visits to the web page is remarkable.  After having been read for years by from four to 21 visitors a day (each remaining on the page on average for a little over eight minutes), the number of daily visits increased to 95 (Dec. 13), then to 1,110 (Dec. 14, the day Lisa McShine sent her complaint), after which it fell off to 556 (Dec. 15), and to 310 (Dec. 16), with the average time each visitor remained at the page still being a little more than eight minutes — enough time for most to have read all of the page.

Slovenly Peter traffic trend
A screen shot showing the daily number of visits at http://fathersforlife.org/hist/der_struwwelpeter.htm, for the 30 days ending Dec. 16, 2010 (thanks to Google Analytics)

The conclusion is inevitable, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

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One Response to Slovenly Peter attracts attention

  1. Follow-up 2010 12 19: (As posted on F4L)

    On 2010 12 14, Lisa McShine, a sometime-proofreader for Project Gutenberg (PG), wrote to F4L to complain that this web page on Der Struwwelpeter shown here does not accurately portray the intentions of PG. She did not explain what had made her send her complaint, almost 12 years after this page had been created in February 1999 at the predecessor of Fathers for Life (subsequently re-posted 2000 02 06 to Fathers for Life).

    It was puzzling that the F4L web page on Der Struwwelpeter, concurrently with Lisa McShine’s complaint, experienced on 2010 12 14 a spike of 1,110 page views, a big departure from the usual 20 or so page views a day that had been the norm since the page had been posted about 12 years ago.

    Surely the spike in the number of daily page views could not have been due to anything Lisa McShine had done. The spike certainly did not occur on account of anything I had done. Until after I became aware of the much-increased number of daily page views, I had done nothing to bring either Lisa McShine’s complaint or the concurrent increase in traffic to anyone’s attention. Today, 2010 12 19, I found out what seems to have caused the spike.

    The New York Times had posted an article, Dec. 13, 2010, at their website (screen shot shown [below])

    NYT article on ADHD

    that contained a link to the web page on Der Struwwelpeter at F4L, in its second-last paragraph.

    Dr. Muenke brought up “Der Struwwelpeter“ (“Slovenly Peter”), the 1845 children’s book by Heinrich Hoffmann, which contains the story of “Zappel-Philipp,” or “Fidgety Philip.” (One English translation was done by Mark Twain, that great chronicler of boys.)

    The on-line version of the article states that “A version of this article appeared in print on December 14, 2010, on page D5 of the New York edition.”

    At any rate, from Dec. 13th to Dec. 18th, 2010, that link at the website of The New York Times brought a total of 2,115 visits to the F4L web page on Der Struwwelpeter.

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