Editorial Policies

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Books containing one or more marks or annotations are arranged alphabetically by author and title, with a complete list of all digitized books to date available in the Library via the “Authors” and “Volumes” links on the Home page. Multi-faceted searching of the marginalia is also provided. Thus, marks and annotations can be filtered by type, allowing one, for example, to view all pages containing marginal scores or interlinear text. A complete list of types of marginalia classified on this site is available on the Distinct Marginalia Types page. Annotations can also be searched by word, permitting one, for instance, to locate and compare all of the passages about which Mill expresses his skepticism with a sarcastic “oh, oh.” Both the marginalia type filter and the word search function are available in the Library, where they enable searching across the collection, and on the page dedicated to each individual book, allowing for more localized queries.

Each page containing one or more marks or annotations displays in the image window, with a tally of pages and types of marginalia on the left and a transcription pane located in the right sidebar. Each mark or annotation is recorded in the metadata scheme by location on the page (outer margin, top third, etc.), line number (on pages within the text, counting down from the top and excluding page headers, titles, ornamental paragraph breaks and the like), and writing implement (pen, pencil, etc.). In pages with multiple examples of marginalia, the marks/annotations are listed in order from top to bottom and left to right; in cases where a mark and an annotation share the same relative position, the mark is listed before the annotation in the transcription pane.

Users interested in locating a given page image within the broader context of the full text of the original work are invited to consult comparable digital editions. Each page of Mill Marginalia Online includes a link at the top right to an already-available digitization of the same edition of the book from which the featured page image was taken. A further link to a period-appropriate translation—preferably one known to have been consulted by Mill—is also provided for books originally printed in a language other than English.

Additionally, a set of preset image settings is accessible in a toolbar at the base of the page image. Images can also be downloaded from the site for further manipulation by visitors using their own preferred software.

Finally, books featuring a critical introduction (all written especially for this site) will include a link at the top of the page to the accompanying essay. All critical introductions have been subject to blind peer review by at least two members of the advisory board, as well as additional review by the site’s director and co-PI. Should you wish to submit an essay for consideration as a critical introduction, please contact the Project Director, who will coordinate the review process.


Annotations are transcribed insofar as they are decipherable, with line breaks in the original text indicated by forward slashes. Visible words and individual letters deemed undecipherable are represented by asterisks, and parts of words and suspected whole words cut away when the edges of individual pages were trimmed are signified by bracketed question marks. Close-up images of annotations deemed substantial (typically more than two easily-read words) appear in a separate box below the transcription pane.


Between 1905 and 1969, the books in the John Stuart Mill Library were available to generations of Somerville undergraduates, some of whom were not shy about expressing their own opinions in the margins of Mill’s books. When recorded in ball point pen, not invented until fifteen years after Mill’s death, their marks are easy to distinguish. When recorded in pencil or wax crayon, they are much more difficult to differentiate from those made by Mill. This is especially true of books in which there are no annotations, and thus no opportunity to compare the handwriting and line thickness to known exemplars.

Complicating the process of attribution is the fact that many of the books in Somerville’s collection were inherited by John Stuart Mill from his father. James Mill was a copious annotator of his own books, some of which were further marked by his son. Thus, there are hundreds of books in which there may be two sets of historically significant marks of a variety of types. In the 1980s, University of Toronto Professor and noted James Mill expert Robert Fenn made a broad, but not quite exhaustive, survey of the elder Mill’s annotations in the Somerville collection. In light of Professor Fenn’s authoritative experience deciphering and cataloguing James Mill’s handwriting, his extensive unpublished notes on the books of the John Stuart Mill Library provided an invaluable guide to resolving this aspect of the problem of attribution.