Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project: Verses in Vogue with the Vulgar

What do Red Jacket, Pompey Fleet, James Macpherson, Mary Washington, and Geoffrey Chaucer have in common? They all are depicted in, influences for, or creators of the 300 broadside ballads Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831) collected from Boston printer Nathaniel Coverly in 1814.  Mostly printed in Coverly’s shop between 1812 and 1814, these ballads offer a window into street life in the early United States, with an eye toward the future but with a preoccupation with the past.  Thomas coined the phrase “verses in vogue with the vulgar” to describe this collection that he had bound in three volumes and that are some of the American Antiquarian Society’s earliest holdings.

With over 800 images and 300 mini-essays, Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project: Verses in Vogue with the Vulgar offers a unique and comprehensive view of the broadsides that Isaiah Thomas collected.  Each broadside includes a brief explanation of its content by Kate Van Winkle Keller.  The Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project includes over 30 ballads performed by David and Ginger Hildebrand as mp3s on the site.  And 25 broadsides (and counting!) have been transcribed with TEI-encoded XML available for download.  In addition to the short essays that accompany each broadside, longer essays by Keller, Dianne Dugaw, and Marcus McCorison give an overview of the content, detailing the Coverly printing networkthe type and paper used to print the broadsides, and the culture of song in early America.  All of the sources cited in these essays and in the individual broadside essays are in the Works Cited, which includes over 1,200 sources.  Please join our Zotero group, which is open to the public and will allow a user to export these citations as needed.

In the spirit of AAS’s rich tradition of deep cataloging, extensive subject headings are provided for each broadside, and these subject headings can all be searched.  This index of topics covered in the ballads allows a user to group the ballads thematically in a way analogous to chapters in a book.  For example, by clicking on “Adultery” one can see that two broadsides include ballads on this subject:  “Penny-Worth of Wit” and “The Country ’Squire.” Note too that the subject headings appear at the bottom of the page.  By clicking on “children,” one can see the 10 total items that include this subject heading as well.  Any combination of search results can be exported by the user in a number of machine-readable formats.  Additional mechanisms are also in place to illuminate the relationality of the broadsides.  For example, most individual essays make reference to other ballads that share a tune or perhaps a thematic link.  In addition, the woodcuts that appear on multiple broadsides can be traced.

“Looking for the Longitude”

Screen ShotLongitude was a hot topic in eighteenth-century Britain.  What we might perceive now as a niche, and perhaps rather uninteresting, navigational problem, was then crucial to finding a means of accurately measuring longitude at sea as Britain’s trade and naval aspirations expanded.  Supported by very large award monies from the government, the search for a solution became a subject of national discussion, ridicule, and social relevance appearing in every conceivable type of source from newspapers and novels to prints and paintings.

My research looks at that plethora of paper materials, which had to be navigated on land by any person putting forward a potential solution, before it would ever be trialed at sea.  The questions, conversations, jokes, diagrams, and drawings in which Georgian men and women referenced longitude become visible in precisely the sorts of digital databases and collections that The 18th-Century Common seeks to showcase.  It is the ability to search these sets of materials that makes visible the kinds of throwaway references to longitude that would otherwise be almost impossible to locate, stimulating further research in physical collections.

Digital resources, furthermore, allow us to begin to reconstruct the patterns of production as well as the use and reference in texts and images that physical collections can obscure.  My recent project with the Paul Mellon Centre’s innovative online journal, British Art Studies, has begun to think about what possibilities this might offer.  “Looking for the Longitude” brings together a series of images and commentaries to consider how people experienced the longitude debate in eighteenth-century London, using as a starting point an engraving from William Hogarth’s famous series, A Rake’s Progress.  A pirate version of the image, done from the copyist’s memory of the original painting in Hogarth’s studio, offers the opportunity to examine what the copyist remembered and altered.  Marshaling a selection of texts and images that circulated at the time serves to show how such materials would have affected what this copyist, and other viewers, saw in Hogarth’s engraving.  It allows us to construct a period eye.

This was also a particularly London story, however, tied to a group of metropolitan locations that shaped production and consumption of text and image.  Each of my longitude images is therefore located on an interactive map and enhanced by commentary from a group of expert contributors, ranging across histories of art and science.  They consider the significance of the urban setting, bringing into play a further circle of materials and texts.  Over the course of 11 days in June 2016, these appeared as part of a daily Twitter tour that you could, and still can, follow around the British capital.

My hope is that this digital project serves to reconstruct a sense of the rapid production and discussion, the buzz and fervor, that surrounded the longitude problem in the eighteenth century; and that in combining digital collections with digital publishing it makes the case for what such platforms can achieve.

Sheffield: Print, Protest and Poetry, 1790-1810

SheffieldSheffield:  Print, Protest and Poetry, 1790-1810 is an ever-growing digital anthology of protest poetry printed in Sheffield’s radical press at the end of the eighteenth century.

Directed by Dr. Hamish Mathison and researched by Dr. Adam James Smith, the anthology was born of an AHRC-funded cultural engagement project focusing on the full collections of The Sheffield Register (1787-1794) and The Sheffield Iris (1794-1825), newspapers held in University Library Special Collections.  The Register was edited by Joseph Gales, the Iris by Sheffield’s legendary poet and prolific champion of cause, James Montgomery.

Writing under the close scrutiny of suspicious local authorities both the Register and the Iris presented their most controversial material in a section referred to affectionately by readers as “Poetry Corner.”  This section saw the publication of a different poem each week (either written by a Sheffield resident or aggregated from elsewhere) but usually addressed to one of a series of recurrent themes:  religious integration, racial equality, worker’s rights, universal access to education, and political enfranchisement for all.

An overarching concern was that if the government could not legally be criticized, then there remained no safe-guard against tyranny.  As one reader’s poem warned in April 1793, this seemed to be increasingly the case:

We may speak (it is true) if we mind what we say;

But to speak all we think, will not suit in our day.

These lines proved prophetic, with the Register coming to an abrupt close a few months later.  Charged with “conspiracy against the government,” Gales was forced to abandon the paper to start a new life in America as a fugitive.

The Sheffield: Print, Protest Poetry, 1790-1810 project has been releasing a different poem every week, and online readers have been surprised and excited by how prescient they have proved.  One poem titled “On the Effects of Gold” warned that political reform was never likely whilst politicians were more interested in lining their own pockets.  This poem was made live on the Sheffield: Print, Protest Poetry, 1790-1810 website the day before the Panama Papers story broke.

The first installment of the anthology focuses on poems printed between 1794 and 1796, marking the transition from the Register to the Iris.  This transition was brought about when the editor of the Register was charged with conspiracy against the government and forced to flee to America.  There will also be a printed anthology titled Poetry, Conspiracy, Radical in Sheffield (Spirit Duplicator, 2016), and new recordings of some of these poems have already been released on Soundcloud.  We also have a Podcast, which seeks to situate these poems in broader national contexts.  You can follow Sheffield: Print, Protest and Poetry, 1790-1810 on Facebook and Twitter.

The Marquis d’Argens: A Philosophical Life

Marquis d'ArgensThe Marquis d’Argens (1704-1772) is mainly famous for a book he did not write, Thérèse Philosophe.  That is a great pity, as the books he did actually write are far more fascinating and entertaining than that unfortunate misattribution.  D’Argens was a sceptic, a thorn in the side of the Catholic Church, whose books were denounced by the Inquisition; one of them, La Philosophie du Bon-Sens, was burnt in Paris.  He was also a close friend of Voltaire, and he belonged to the generation that is often overshadowed by that towering genius.  Voltaire greatly admired d’Argens’ Lettres Juives, an epistolary work in which he wrote from the point of view of learned Jews discussing and often mocking the beliefs and customs of the Christian world.  The book manages to combine the subtly intellectual with the entertaining in a remarkable manner.  As a novelist, philosopher, translator, classical scholar, and art critic, d’Argens’ works are so divers that he is difficult to categorize; he was notorious in his own time for his scandalous Memoirs, in which he recalled his youth and love affairs in Paris and Italy in the 1720s and 30s.  A wild elopement, a brief army career, and an ongoing battle with his father, who wanted him to study law, provided the main subject-matter.  Those who read these Memoirs sometimes formed the opinion that he was merely a libertine and a lightweight, but that is not borne out by a careful study of his work.  The mind that emerges from them is deeply reflective, and the philosopher is always apparent in the novels, just as the imagination of a novelist lurks in his works on philosophy.

It is really quite astonishing to me that novels as fascinating as Le Philosophe Amoureux, ou Le Comte de Mommejan, and Memoirs de M. De Meillcourt, ou Le Legislateur Moderne, are so entirely neglected.  The time I devoted to reading all of d’Argens’ novels, and his other works, was frankly huge fun; his philosophical works and translations are all highly idiosyncratic and full of his personal enthusiasms and insights.  D’Argens was an intellectual, but he was also a passionate man, who loved art and music and adored women.  After many love affairs, and one youthful marriage, he settled down with a wife who shared his intellectual pursuits and was happy for him to teach her Latin and Greek so that they could be as closely united in literary as in amatory respects.

D’Argens’ life was extraordinary and well worth a biographer’s attention; after his wild youth he managed to obtain a post as chamberlain to King Frederick the Great, and he became a member of the Berlin Academy.  This meant that he encountered many of the greatest minds of the Enlightenment and was able to observe them even when they were behaving deplorably–which they quite often were.  When we appreciate the true erudition and range of his six-volume Histoire de l’Esprit Humain, we have to acknowledge that d’Argens is a major author.  I have had the satisfaction of putting together the first reliable catalogue of his genuine works.  He was at the nerve-centre of the Enlightenment, and rediscovering him will really enrich anybody’s understanding of this epoch and the development of its thought.  You can learn more in my biography The Marquis d’Argens: A Philosophical Life.

Open-Access Anne Finch Digital Archive

Readers of early British poetry and early women writers will soon be able to discover all of Anne Finch’s poems and plays in the first scholarly edition of her work:  The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, general editor, Jennifer Keith:  Volume 1:  Early Manuscript Books, edited by Jennifer Keith and Claudia Thomas Kairoff, associate editor Jean I. Marsden; and Volume 2:  Later Collections, Print and Manuscript, edited by Jennifer Keith and Claudia Thomas Kairoff. The print edition establishes for the first time an accurate record of all known work by Finch that has survived:  more than 230 poems (the number varies depending on how one enumerates different versions of some poems), two plays, and letters.

Already available is the open-access Anne Finch Digital Archive, which complements the print edition.  Materials on the open-access Anne Finch Digital Archive enable users to explore the archival elements of Finch’s texts.  The featured poems on this site have been selected from a great number in Finch’s œuvre to illustrate her work in different poetic kinds, including song, fable, biblical paraphrase, translation, verse epistle, and devotional poetry.  For every featured poem, the site includes commentary with embedded links to illustrations, information about composition and printing dates and sources, audio files of the poem read aloud, and source copies showing authorized manuscript and print texts with transcriptions.  We will continue to add resources to the site, including recordings of musical performances of the songs featured.  The multimedia elements of this site reflect the various ways that Finch’s work engaged her contemporary readers and listeners, who knew her work in manuscript, print, or performance, or in all of these forms.

Writing in an era known for the overtly public and political poetry of John Dryden, Jonathan Swift, and Alexander Pope, Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720), articulated a different literary and political authority.  From her position as a female aristocrat, once at the center of the court and then for many years a political internal exile, Finch explored the individual’s spiritual condition as inextricable from social and political phenomena.  Her interest in affairs of state frequently informed her exposure of patriarchy’s constraints on women and men.  Finch’s work participates in the strategies of her contemporaries such as Dryden and Pope—the public speaker who sought to influence state politics, the renovator of classical mythology and pastoral who exposed contemporary mores, the fabulist who satirized state and society, the friend who used the couplet for conversation and exchange, and the wit who made discernment a moral good.  But Finch both furthers and deviates from these practices.  Readers will discover her innovative use of form and genre to explore a wide range of themes and her complex use of tone to enlist the reader’s discernment and develop a poetics of intimacy.

The edition has received generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Women’s Caucus of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Wake Forest University.

Open Anthologies and the 18th-Century Reader

openanthologycollageAs any reader of The 18th-Century Common knows, the last quarter century has witnessed the astonishing digitization of thousands of texts from the past:  novels, poems, essays, histories, plays, many of them available for free.  For scholars, the creation of this Digital Republic of Learning has (on the whole) been a boon, enabling new modes of inquiry that could barely have been imagined a generation ago.  For students, however, the digitization of the archive has been a more mixed blessing.  As newcomers to the field, students can very easily find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer abundance of material that shows up in the simple Google search that is likely to be their first means of access.  Students are unlikely to know how to judge of the quality or authenticity of what they find, or to be able to recognize the difference between a well-edited text and something with virtually no authority whatsoever.  Texts are haphazardly distributed, some behind commercial paywalls such as Gale’s ECCO collection, while others are in reasonably well-curated but still imperfect archives like Project Gutenberg. Still others seem to have been put together with no thought whatsoever.  In keeping with the tendency of the Internet to level the field of information, all such texts come decontextualized in several senses.  Rarely are the texts that students or general readers are likely to find annotated to provide the kind of historical contextualization that most readers need to make sense of works from this period.  And, too, the fact of digitization decontextualizes all works from the past from the conditions of their production and dissemination; everything looks the same on the screen.

openanthologyOur projects intend to improve the quality of eighteenth-century texts available for students, general readers, and scholars, and to enlist students in the project of producing them.  The Open Anthology of Literature in English aims to build a digital anthology from the ground up, offering digitized texts that have been edited for accuracy and annotated for modern readers.  Students are crucial collaborators and makers in this project.  Using the TypeWright tool at the 18th Connect project, they can correct the OCR of original texts, and in the process get to see what eighteenth-century print looked like.  And they can identify what should be annotated (who knows better than they do what they need in order to make sense of a work from the past?), and then research what they and readers like them need to know.  They get to work with TEI/XML, which means that they get to see the digital tools of the twenty-first century print shop.  As students complete texts, they become part of a permanent, open-access archive of reliable works, encoded in TEI/XML that is available for the use of teachers who want a place to which they can send their students.  Students thus create something that lives on past the term in which they are enrolled in the class, and the community of students and readers get an archive of free and reliable texts that take full advantage of the resources offered by digitization.

novelsincontextNovels in Context is a web-accessible TEI/XML database application focused on a particular moment in literary history.  Drawing on the practice of public scholarship, the free code ethos, scholarship around the digital archive and digital edition, and the Open Educational Resources movement, Novels in Context seeks to provide a curated, extensible, searchable, and reusable collection of primary source materials focused on the eighteenth-century English novel.  This project is unique not only in its use of database technology and the standardized TEI Simple markup but also in its commitment to the material page–each item is accompanied by quality page images sourced by hand from libraries and special collections.  If everything looks the same on the screen, so too in print anthologies, which deracinate the text from its reality in time and space.  Without understanding something about how a text or an utterance or a performance comes to be in our purview, agile, contextualized engagement with literature—much less the world at large—is impossible.  By involving students in its creation, Novels in Context works to fulfill the promise of feminist pedagogical theory that  urges both collaboration and connection, seeing students as critical makers—full, capable partners in the scholarly work of keeping our cultural heritage alive.

While these projects work to improve the quality of digital texts in an open, collaborative, and scalable way, they also speak to another concern with the market-driven tendencies of academic publishing.  The construction of a Digital Republic of Learning is and has been underway in myriad forms on the Internet since the 1990s, to be sure, but the past decade has seen a noted rise in the number of corporate fingers in the pot.  To be committed to the public goods of education, we need texts and pedagogies that are public and open, but they also need to be critical, rather than affirmative.  A user-generated open anthology of the kind we are imagining is a step in this direction.  As the eighteenth century teaches us, power in the public sphere is in large part a product of one’s ability to negotiate its social and technical components.  Looking toward the eighteenth century, which witnessed its own technological and social revolutions in the dissemination of knowledge, can also be of real use in our current educational context.  Knowledge and power, knowledge-power:  one of our most salient charges as teachers and scholars today must be to enable the fullest possible participation in public conversation.  And when we say “fullest,” we mean it in the broadest sense—rich, responsible, free, purposeful, ethical, capable of enabling new relations of power, new relationships between our present and our past, newly connected selves.

To that end, we seek collaborators on both projects, teachers and students who want to make creating digital editions eighteenth-century texts.  We will provide TEI/XML templates and lessons to enable students to become active, critical contributors to the textual commons.  Please contact [email protected] or [email protected] to find out how you and your students can join in the task of creating open, curated digital editions of texts from our collective past.

The Letters of Hannah More: A Digital Edition

The Collected Letters of Hannah MoreThe Letters of Hannah More: A Digital Edition brings together for the first time the fascinating letters written by the celebrated playwright, poet, philanthropist, moralist, and educationalist Hannah More (1745-1833).

More was one of the most important voices of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.  At the heart of a complex and extensive network of politicians, bishops, writers, and evangelical Christians, which included figures such as William Wilberforce, Samuel Johnson, and Elizabeth Montagu, More sought to redefine and reshape the social and moral values of the age.

Though More’s fame and influence were considerable throughout her fifty-year literary career, she has remained a peripheral figure in later assessments of the literary culture of the period.  In part this is because some of her views are unappealing to modern tastes (she argued strongly against women becoming more involved in political life, for instance, and she was fiercely opposed to Catholic emancipation), but it is also because she has acquired a reputation for dour, dreary earnest religiosity.  That her evangelical Christian beliefs were central to More’s life and works is undeniable, but she was also playful and light-hearted, and she especially delighted in the company of children.  More’s cheerless reputation developed after the publication in 1834 – just a year after her death – of William Roberts’s four-volume edition, Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More, in which More’s cheerful and teasing voice was deliberately and ‘primly’ edited out.  So badly did Roberts misrepresent More that her goddaughter Marianne Thornton begged correspondents not to “judge of Hannah More by anything […] that Roberts tells you she said or did.”

To her friends and family, the publication of More’s letters was inevitable.  In 1813, William Weller Pepys urged her to compose her letters so that “the subjects, though familiar, should be always interesting.”  He acknowledged that writing for publication ran the risk of producing mannered and contrived letters “yet I would not have you totally lose sight of the possibility of such a thing taking place” (Roberts, III, 380).  Prior to her death in 1819, Patty More undertook the initial editorial groundwork by collecting together relevant letters and papers (without her sister’s knowledge).  The task was continued by Mary and Margaret Roberts, to whom Patty had entrusted the papers and whom More later appointed her literary executors, who worked on arranging, copying, and dating the letters, “the most troublesome part of a posthumous concern,” More observed from a distance (Huntington Library, HM 30620).  The Roberts sisters also approached their brother, William, a lawyer and journalist, about taking on the role of More’s official biographer and editor.  The resulting four-volume Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More was published in 1834.

More had some experience of the administration of a literary estate.  In early 1781, she assisted Eva Maria Garrick, the widow of David Garrick, More’s theatrical mentor of the late 1770s, to arrange and dispose of his letters.  Among them she discovered her own letters but, observant of protocols for such matters, considered it “a breach of trust to take them till they are all finally disposed of” (Roberts, I, 193).  Garrick’s carefully ordered papers, however, contrasts with the disorderliness of More’s own extensive archive which fell increasingly into disarray as her mental faculties diminished in old age:  Mary Roberts worried how More, who was “no longer capable of exercising the same care & caution as formerly,” suffered private letters to “lie scattered on her Table” (British Library, Eg. 1965, f. 100).

The size and content of More’s archive inevitably fluctuated over the years.  The majority of the letters that she wrote, of course, ended up in the collections of their recipients.  Some groups of letters, however, found their way back into More’s archive, such as her letters to Horace Walpole and her early letters to William Weller Pepys, although what survives today cannot reflect the extent of the original accumulations.  Nor were all of More’s letters considered worthy of long term retention.  William Roberts observed that when More was afflicted by a pleuralic fever, “The letters which were received by her sisters . . . amounted to some hundreds.  They were destroyed; but had they been preserved, their unvarying topic would have excluded the variety to which letters owe their interest” (Roberts, III, 244).  More herself, concerned for her posthumous reputation, was not averse to destroying letters:  she burnt nearly two hundred letters sent to her by Clapham Sect friend, Henry Thornton, and requested that Marianne Thornton destroy a series of her own letters after her death (Huntington Library, MY 669 and MY 716).  Consequently, the letters that survive in manuscript and print must represent only a fraction of More’s epistolary output.

Although affecting disinterest in her biography while alive, More was concerned to assist in the reconstitution of her archive following her death:  a provision in her will, which requested that all the friends with whom she corresponded hand over her letters or copies of them to her literary executors, was designed precisely to facilitate the posthumous editing of her letters.  At least one friend, Marianne Thornton, refused to turn over her letters to Roberts believing them unfit for publication.  Other friends, however, were more cooperative, such as John Scandrett Harford and Lady Olivia Sparrow.  To the latter, Mary Roberts proposed a reciprocal exchange of letters and assured her that any “private or confidential matters” would be expunged before publication (British Library, Eg. 1865, fol. 100).  She also outlined the broad editorial methodology that had been adopted:  as many as possible of More’s letters to her “intimate correspondents” would be recalled at the earliest opportunity in order to allow sufficient time for their appraisal, and from each parcel a few of “most interesting & worthy of insertion” would be selected for the memoir.  A group of More’s letters to Lady Olivia Sparrow (with a few to her daughter, Millicent), was sold by her grandson, Lord Robert Montagu, to the British Library in 1865, and a selection of these form the basis for this pilot project.  Five letters from More to Lady Olivia Sparrow are preserved in what remains of her original archive (William Andrews Clark Memorial Library), and the project team will in due course establish the extent to which these particular manuscripts relate to the letters that Roberts selected for publication.  Today More’s 1,800 letters are scattered across some ninety repositories in Britain and North America with at least two groups of letters remain in private ownership.

The publication of More’s letters for the first time in a reliable and scholarly edition (which will also be fully searchable) will bring back together, for the first time since their dispersal in the nineteenth century, what remains of More’s epistolary output.  Doing this will enable a much-needed reassessment of her significance by making explicit the extent to which More was embedded within, and exercised great influence over, the major cultural, political and social networks of her era.  It will also make visible for the first time the larger patterns of More’s letter-writing activities:  already, visualizations of the data gathered so far offers insights into the way More’s letter writing changed over time; how her relationships with her closest correspondents shifted; to whom she wrote most often.  The rhythms of eighteenth-century life can also be seen to exert an influence over More’s letter-writing, with More writing far fewer letters whilst the fashionable were in London.  A staunch defender of Sabbath-keeping, More unsurprisingly wrote very few letters on Sundays, but she wrote more than might be expected of an avowedly strict Christian woman.

The edition of More’s letters is currently under construction:  a small collection (to Lady Olivia Sparrow) is available, and this will be added to gradually over the next six months.  It is hoped that all of More’s surviving letters will be available within the next four years.

The project is a collaboration between scholars from the UK, the US and Canada.

Project Leader:  Dr. Kerri Andrews, University of Strathclyde

Technical Adviser:  Professor Laura Mandell, Texas A&M

Modern Humanities Research Associate:  Dr. Sarah Crofton, University of Strathclyde

Advisory Board:  Dr. Nicholas D. Smith, Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Dr. Sue Edney, University of Bristol; Dr. Anne Stott, Independent Scholar; Dr. Anne Milne, University of Toronto; Dr. Dahlia Porter, University of North Texas

The project has been supported by funding from the Carnegie Trust, the MHRA, and the University of Strathclyde.

The Lady’s Magazine (1770-1818): Understanding the Emergence of a Genre

LadysMagazineThe Lady’s Magazine (1770-1818): Understanding the Emergence of a Genre’ is a two-year project funded by the Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant scheme.  The team of academics behind it is based at the University of Kent and is led by Jennie Batchelor, who works closely with the project’s two full-time Postdoctoral Researchers:  Koenraad Claes and Jenny DiPlacidi.  Our aim is to shed new light on one of the first and longest running women’s magazines of all time.

In an 1840 letter to Hartley Coleridge, Charlotte Brontë wrote that she wished “with all [her] heart” that she “had been born in time to contribute to the Lady’s magazine,” a periodical that ran for 13 issues per annum from more than six decades and had an estimated circulation of 10,000 monthly copies at the height of its popularity.  170 years later the history and cultural and literary importance of a publication, the vast majority of the original content of which was produced by unknown and unpaid reader-contributors, remains undocumented.

Our project fills this significant gap through a detailed bibliographical, statistical and literary-critical analysis of one of the first recognizably modern magazines for women from its inception in 1770 until the launch of its new series in 1818.  In its two-pronged book history/literary critical approach, this project sets out to answer three key research questions:

  • What made the Lady’s Magazine one of the most popular and enduring titles of its day?
  • What effects might an understanding of the magazine’s content, production, and circulation have upon our conceptions of Romantic-era print culture?
  • What role did the Lady’s Magazine play in the long-term development of the women’s magazine and the history of women’s writing?

In response to these questions, we are producing an open-access fully annotated, downloadable index of the magazine’s content for its first 50 years, which will launch in September 2016.  Titles of articles are accompanied by the names or pseudonyms of their contributors, and their contributors’ status (author, translator, extracter, or pilferer) is given wherever it can be clearly ascertained.  Attributions are made where possible.  In fact, we are amassing a small but growing body of evidence about a number of regular and mostly unknown contributors to the magazine and their lives or careers beyond its pages.  We regularly publish about these discoveries, and many other topics besides, on our project blog.

In addition to illuminating the production and composition of the magazine, we also pay detailed attention to its diverse, text-based contents.  Since the titles of articles in the Lady’s Magazine are often misleading (an article purporting to be about women’s dress might make an impassioned plea for reforms in female education, for instance), our index tags content by genre, key stylistic features and prominent keywords (marriage, education, politics, for example) making it easy for readers to find items of particular interest.

We are mining the data we are collating and will be presenting our findings in the form of web, book, and journal articles on attributions, the career profiles of magazine contributors, and statistical and interpretive analyses of the shifting content of the magazine over the course of its long history.  Jennie is also in the process of writing a book about the magazine’s place in the Romantic literary marketplace.  By making the annotated index of contributor signatures and content analysis freely available online, we also hope to promote further research by scholars and other interested parties on the Lady’s Magazine, late-eighteenth-century periodicals, and authorship and print culture in the period more generally.

One of the greatest joys of the project has been disseminating and talking about our research in progress via our Twitter feed, Facebook page, and blog, all of which are regularly updated. Through social media, we have entered into conversations about the magazine, its diverse content, and the issues it debates and generates with modern-day readers all over the world.  Establishing a community of interested parties who felt they had a stake in the publication was vital to the success of the Lady’s Magazine, whose readers and subscribers were also its authors.  We like to think that, in a small way, the online community that has grown around the project captures and perpetuates something of the spirit of the magazine itself.

It has certainly been a genuine and generative collaboration that has advanced the project in ways that we could not have anticipated when we began.  For instance, Jennie’s happy acquisition of a copy of the periodical from one of our blog’s readers, which contained a number of rare surviving embroidery patterns, led to a flutter of Twitter excitement that snowballed into ‘The Great Lady’s Magazine Stitch Off,’ a non-competitive sewing bee in which dozens of people all over the world have recreated 10 Lady’s Magazine patterns for display at an exhibition at Chawton House Library to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Emma (1816), a novel whose hero and a major plotline are taken from a short story in the Lady’s Magazine.

To find out more, do visit the project website and blog, or contact Jennie ([email protected])

The Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive

Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive

The Eighteenth-Century Poetry Archive (ECPA) is a digital project in support of the teaching, study, and research of the poetry of the long eighteenth century.  It comprises a full-text collection of richly-encoded digital texts and a research project that aims to integrate texts and (digital) scholarship into a curated research collection.  ECPA is based on the principle of user participation, the corpus is edited and annotated collaboratively, and will grow and evolve with the requirements and interests of its users.

ECPA was originally intended as a way of providing literary and historical context for its sister project, the Thomas Gray Archive, covering the lives and works of contemporaries of Gray’s such as William Collins, Mark Akenside, Joseph and Thomas Warton, Christopher Smart, and James Thomson.  As the project evolved and widened in scope, its initial contextual focus shifted to an analytical one.

ECPA builds on the texts created by the Text Creation Partnership (TCP) from Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO).  The transcription and encoding has been enriched with additional descriptive (e.g., author attributions on poem level) and analytical markup (e.g., recording verse, stanza, and poem form, assigning of themes and genres, assigning rhyme scheme, assigning metrical pattern, recording of syllable pattern, addition of explanatory/editorial annotations) in support of a computationally assisted close reading process.

As readers engage with texts in different ways and with different objectives, we have modeled these different types of user engagement into distinctive “views” of the text.  So far, we have focused on views that support a first reading of a text (“reading” view) and the initial analysis of a text (“analysis” view) in the form of a close reading.  Over time, the ECPA research project will enable new modes of engagement and allow for increasingly sophisticated ways of interacting with the texts.

ECPA is currently available in public beta and is in active development.  Current developments are concerned with increasing the number of poets and poems represented, and exploring the possibility of including other European languages.  We welcome any feedback about issues, feature requests, or general feedback about the content, functionalities, or design of the Website.  Please e-mail <[email protected]>.

The Novels Reviewed Database, 1790-1820 (NRD)

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Novels Reviewed Database, 1790-1820 (NRD)

The period from 1790 to 1820 was a significant moment in British women’s literary history.  During this period more women published novels than men, even as the novel was solidifying as a respected literary genre.  By the end of this period the novel was reputable enough a medium for Sir Walter Scott, celebrated poet, to pen the wildly successful Waverly series (1814).  His success, however, came on the backs of the many women novelists who paved the way before him in the previous thirty years.

But what was the contemporary critical response to such a momentous period in the history of the British novel?  The Novels Reviewed Database, 1790-1820 (NRD) seeks to uncover just that.

The NRD is the first and only database to focus on one genre’s historical reception.  Cataloging reviews of novels from the period’s two foremost review periodicals, the Monthly Review and the Critical Review, the NRD brings together book reviews and book market data, providing a repository of criticism reacting in print to this period in the novel’s, and women’s, literary history.

The NRD includes 1,836 book reviews, representing 1,215 novels and 445 identified authors.  It features transcriptions of review criticism as well as data on women writers, novels, and review periodical makeup.  The NRD contains a unique combination of contemporary primary sources that speak to the novel’s solidification as a literary genre during this period, including review articles, advertisements, and novel prefaces, many from archival sources not available digitally.

The NRD also offers a data-set by which distant reading of this period in literary history can be explored, uncovering for the first time the Reviews’ role in shaping our modern novel canon.  Distant reading studies of the novel, such as this study from the NRD of publisher William Lane, offer a new means of asking questions about the history of the novel and how contemporaries experienced its evolution.  Its scope enables the NRD to encourage a broad survey of the literary marketplace in which the novel grew in the late eighteenth century, one that brings forward the many anonymously published and still obscure women novelists from this period that are often neglected in our study of the novel.  The NRD presents opportunities for text mining review criticism, tracing economic market changes in novel production and sales, or publishers’ trends, tracking the novel’s evolving gendered authorship, understanding how reviewers discussed and understood a novel’s authorial gender, and excavating growing genre parameters by which the novel was evaluated and effectively produced.

The NRD is currently in Phase I of three phases of development.  Phase I features transcriptions of review criticism—criticism that due to poor OCR in digital archives and scattered periodicals collections, are currently unavailable to most scholars.  The NRD seeks to make this text corpus available to scholars in an open-access relational database platform.  This platform, Phase II, which introduces a review bibliography, novel publication data, and authorial gender demographics, is under construction with hopes of a 2017 release.  Phase III will provide users with review page images and the ability to read issues of the Reviews in their entirety, tagged review subjects and the power to create their own tagging profile, and a formula builder to manipulate NRD data for their own research.