Women Poets of the Romantic Period Project – Institute of Digital Humanities at DU Fellowship Presention

Introduction to the WPRP Project

The Women Poets of the Romantic Period project began in July of 2011, right after our June IDH meeting, when Deborah Hollis, Associate Faculty Director of the CU Libraries Archives and Special Collection Department, used a Libraries gift fund to support a graduate research assistant. The funds allowed Special Collections to hire me for a full year for 10 hours per week to curate two exhibits:

(1) an in-house exhibit of works in the Women Poets of the Romantic Period Collection to display in Norlin Library’s Rare Book Room that would be timed to open for the 20th Annual British Women Writers Conference, June 7-10, 2012.

(2) a digital exhibit of these same works that would publish on the library’s website.

As I wrote regarding my project change last year, it was an easy decision for me to take on CU Libraries’ project and forego my original project plan to create an edition of Ann Radcliffe’s 1794 travel narrative. I gained a sizable group of collaborators in CU Libraries, access to the library’s technology resources such as high definition scanning, and very generous funding through the library for part-time work for one year.

About the WPRP Collection

The WPRP collection held in CU Boulder’s Special Collections has attracted the interest of prolific Romantic literary scholars, like Stephen Behrendt, Laura Mandell, and Katherine Harris, as well as librarians and readers around the globe. In 1996, CU Libraries acquired a core collection of 83 volumes of prose, drama, and poetry written largely by British women poets between 1770 and 1839, from the start of the Romantic literary period to the late-Romantic and early-Victorian periods. The collection is still growing today.

The collection contains a large number of titles by women poets that Romanticists, 18th-century, and 19th-century scholars now regularly study and consider “canonical,” such as Anna Barbauld, Letitia Landon (aka L.E.L.), Ann Yearsley, Mary Robinson, Joanna Baillie, Hannah More, Charlotte Smith, and Felicia Hemans. The collection contains many notable first editions, including Anna Barbauld’s Eighteen Hundred and Eleven (1812) and Charlotte Smith’s Beachy Head (1807) and The Emigrants (1793). The collection also contains a vast and rich assortment of titles by lesser known women authors that I enjoyed discovering, including Scottish Highlander Ann MacVicar Grant’s Letters from the Mountains (1809), naturalist Sarah Hoare’s Poems on Conchology and Botany (1831), Sarah Hamilton’s travel narrative in verse Tour to Matlock (1825), and schoolteacher Barbara Hofland’s poetic place description in A Season at Harrogate (1812). For book historians, the collection also contains an array of interesting bibliographic objects, including a literary annual with a leather cover embroidered with an intricate pattern of glass beads, two miniature volumes of Hemans’ poetry that seem to be proportioned for a doll, and a letter from Mary Cockle to Jane Porter regarding the death of her sister and prolific writer, Anna Maria Porter.

The collection also contains one rare and valuable work compiled by a man: a Catalogue of the library of female authors of the Rev. J. Francis Stainforth. This manuscript contains a carefully recorded tally of all the books in Rev. Stainforth’s personal private library of 6,000 books by women authors, most of which were published between 1750 and 1850.

A partial list of acquisitions can be found on the CU Libraries website and nearly every entry features a table of contents that also links to the online edition of the text, if there is one currently in the digital archive we started.

What We Produced Using the WPRP Collection

The Library’s goals evolved and grew from our original two projects to include a number of additional projects. The full list of products of our work in the WPRP Collection that are Digital Humanities projects include 6 sub-projects:

1. The Stainforth Database Project

2. A growing Digital WPRP Archive of nearly 70 scanned works, freely available through CU Libraries

3. A paper I presented at HASTAC V, “Metadata and Digital Pedagogy: Surfacing Romantic-era Book Histories with Captions,” based on a semester-long project that my undergraduate literature class completed

4. Two undergraduate-curated digital exhibits, each for a long-term class assignment in English classes that I taught: Fall 2011 exhibit (Masterpieces of British Literature), Spring 2012 exhibit (Intro. to Women’s Literature)

5. The WPRP Video of the in-house exhibit, available on CU Libraries website and youtube. (I selected the books and wrote the script for this half-hour video that films the in-house exhibit, and then recorded the voice-over with my colleague Greg Robl.)

6. Blogging and tweeting about WPRP work. I published a total of 210 tweets with the hashtag #wprp between July of 2011 and September 25, 2012, and started many conversations about the WPRP on Twitter that enabled me to get the word out about our project to Romanticism scholars across the globe and learn from other scholars’ knowledge about the books in our collection. I also published blogs on http://hastac.org/blogs/kleuner, nassrgrads.com (the NASSR graduate student caucus blog), the idhdu.com blog, and my own research blog (kirstynleuner.wordpress.com). Here is a complete list of my blog posts that relate to WPRP DH projects:

“[Insert Caption Here]:Teaching with a Special Collections Exhibit and Caption Writing Project, Part I”

“[Insert Caption Here]: Teaching with a Special Collections Exhibit and Caption Writing Project, Part II”

“Women Poets of the Romantic Period: Digital Project Planning Hard Hat Area”

“Metadata and Digital Pedagogy: Surfacing Romantic-era Book Histories with Captions”

“WPRP Phase 2: Stop Reading, Start Curating”

“The Stainforth: A Brief Introduction to a Book That I Hope to Spend More Time With”

“Processing the WPRP Exhibit; Or, Making an Argument with Books in Cases”

“Researching the Women Poets of the Romantic Period Collection – Week 1”

“160 Hours of Precious Reading Time”

“Women Poets of the Romantic Period Project”

WPRP Time Table:

July December 2011: Get to know as much of the collection as possible; also get to know collaborators in the library; project planning for the spring; presentation on student exhibits curated using the WPRP at HASTAC V (U Mich); my ENGL 1260 students curate a digital exhibit

January April 2012: select works for in-house exhibit; select works for digital exhibit; start scanning The Stainforth and other works in the digital exhibit; start TEI encoding The Air-Balloon and Mary Cockle’s letter to Anna Maria Porter; create TEI editorial guide for future encoders; start collaborating with museum studies student to help me design the in-house exhibit; start collaboration with Associate Professor Holley Long and others on the Stainforth database

May July 2012: Collaboration to build the Stainforth relational database; completion of the in-house exhibit and opening on June 8 during the British Women Writers Conference; continued scanning of WPRP works for the LUNA digital archive; filming and completion of the WPRP video; my libraries funding ended at the start of July

Academic Year 2012 2013 and beyond: Though I am not officially employed by the libraries to work on the WPRP exhibit, I am still collaborating on several elements including the Stainforth database project

Descriptions of Select WPRP DH Sub-Projects:

The Stainforth Database Project and The LUNA Scanning Project

  1. The Stainforth Project

This is the project that I started with Special Collections and CU Libraries Associate Professor Holley Long that is in its earliest phases and is perhaps the most complex of all of the projects that have grown out of the WPRP collection work. As I stated earlier, the Stainforth Catalog is a manuscript catalog of all of the books that the Reverand F. J. Stainforth collected for his private library until his death in 1867. His private library was comprised of 6,000 volumes, all of which were written by women and most of which were published during the long Romantic era (1750 to 1850). Each entry in the catalog usually lists a book’s shelf location, author, title, edition, publication date, and publication place. It’s a manuscript-form database, if you will.

Last year, I proposed to Debbie Hollis and to Holley Long that the most useful way to digitize the Stainforth would be to scan it, transcribe it, and then turn it into a relational database. They accepted my proposal and we started collaborating on the database design in late Fall 2011. Holley designed the database and trained graduate Library and Information Science students to work in it. I’m proud to report that the project is now in full swing.

In essence, our plan for digitizing the Stainforth recreates the Reverand’s private library and reinstates his feminist curatorial project – a library comprised solely of books written by women that was auctioned off book by book in an estate sale in 1867, right after his death.

Here is where we are in this project as of a report generated this week. The links I’m going to show you are early version of the project that will continue to develop.

  1. The entire tome of the Stainforth catalog manuscript has been scanned and page images are freely available in CU Libraries Digital Archives. Find them here.
  2. Students working with the Libraries began transcribing the Stainforth line by line this summer and continue to work. They are able to find the transcription form and PDFs of pages to transcribe here: http://ucblibraries.colorado.edu/specialcollections/wprp/transcription/stainforth.cfm
  3. Completed page transcriptions publish with an accompanying page image, like this: http://ucblibraries.colorado.edu/specialcollections/wprp/stainforth_catalog.cfm?StartRow=1
  4. In its completed form, The Stainforth transcription will be searchable by field, include shelf mark, title, author, edition, and publication year. It will also contain biographies of as many of the women authors as possible. Importantly, the Electronic Stainforth will also contain links to full-text electronic editions and library records of the books that it lists, and this includes most of the works in the WPRP (those that were in circulation in the early 19th century for Stainforth to collect). Thus, once we decipher Stainforth’s shelving system using the shelf marks he provides next to each entry, we will be able to create a virtual model of Stainforth’s private library of books by women writers of the 18th and 19th centuries.

2. The WPRP Digital Archive in LUNA

I had initially selected 10 works from my list of 60 for the digital WPRP exhibit. These works would be TEI encoded and transformed into a small, searchable digital archive that would live on the CU Libraries website and would seed the larger project of digitizing the entire collection according to the MLA standards for digital editing.

The final short list for the digital exhibit included these works:

  1. Mary Alcock, The Air-Balloon
  2. Mary Cockle’s letter to Jane Porter containing an elegy for Anna Maria Porter’s death
  3. Sarah Hamilton’s Tour to Matlock
  4. Selections from Anne MacVicar Grant’s Letters from the Mountains
  5. Elizabeth Wolferstan, Fairy Tales in Verse
  6. Catherine Luby, The Spirit of the Lakes, or, Mucross Abbey
  7. Charlotte Campbell Bury, The Three Great Sanctuaries of Tuscany, Camaldoli, and Valambrosa
  8. A Lady, Flora and Thalia
  9. Sarah Hoare, Poems on Conchology and Botany
  10. Catalogue of the library of female authors of the Rev. J. Fr. Stainforth.

In the Spring, we were forced to change the project plan due to the need for my labor in setting up the in-house exhibit as well as the WPRP “Landmarks” video project.

Instead of TEI encoding 10 works for the exhibit, I focused on preparing just a couple of files alongside a preliminary TEI P5 style guide tailored to the WPRP collection. While preparing the xml files, I annotated my editorial decisions for TEI encoding the entire WPRP collection. The style guide and model files can now be used to train students who may work for CU Libraries to complete the project in the coming year and after I graduate.

While we encoded fewer works than originally planned, we also scanned more works than planned into LUNA for public access through CU Libraries website. There are now nearly 70 volumes available to view in CU Libraries’ Digital WPRP Archive. These volumes include a range of well-known works by known authors as well as works and authors that are rarely studied for a variety of reasons. The collection can be found here or by searching the Libraries’ Digital Archive. Special Collections plans to continue to scan the entire WPRP collection into LUNA.

The page images in LUNA will, I hope, eventually be supplemented by TEI encoded xml files that will make these page images more useful for scholars who want to search them and use them for collecting vital data on 18th- and 19th-century culture, literary history, and book history. Encoding will also make it possible for the WPRP archive to collaborate with “sister” archives, such as the CU Davis British Women Romantic Poets digital archive, to offer scholars a more complete picture of the impact of women poets in the Romantic era—a group of authors and texts that are still in dire need of recovery work by scholars

3. Teaching Undergraduate Literature and Book History with the WPRP

Though it was not part of the original project plan, I decided to use my work in the WPRP collection toward teaching my Fall 2011 Masterpieces of British Literature course and my Spring 2012 Introduction to Women’s Literature course. Specifically, I asked my students to participate in a semester-long collaborative project to curate digital exhibits as a class in order to integrate a little bit of book history and descriptive bibliography into my teaching. My simple goals for these projects were:

(a)  to encourage students to think about how the meaning of a work is a combination of information we glean from both a book’s form and content, and

(b) to introduce students to the Special Collections Dept. in the library and allow them to play with rare books using white gloves and magnifying glasses – while supervised by professionals and with book cradles, of course.

Here is one of the exhibits that my students produced for a final course project:


I presented my pedagogical work with the WPRP collection in a talk at the HASTAC V conference last year on a panel that examined theoretical, practical, and pedagogical ways to use digital metadata in order to think about and communicate book history. Basically, the teaching project asked students to select a book in Special Collections that they loved, tell the story of the book, and convey that story through the medium of a digital exhibit in WordPress.

Two of many excellent examples of student-curated digital exhibit work include:

Hannah More’s Cheap Repository Tract “The Story of Sinful Sally” (1796)

Elizabeth Cobbold’s Cliff Valentines (1814)


The first conclusion I want to point to is that the WPRP Project is modeled after the archive that it tries to tell the story of. It is a collection of DH projects. (When I think about what makes a project a DH project, I find Lisa Spiro’s definition of what a DH project should do very useful.)
The collection of DH projects that comprise the WPRP project do DH work because:

1. They pursue research questions that are best answered with computing.
The Stainforth Project is the best example of this. We polled approximately 25 Romanticist scholars at different stages of their careers and at different institutions around the globe to tell us what questions they would like the Stainforth database to be able to answer. When offered a tool to create and process data that would be extremely tedious, nigh impossible, to collect by hand, scholars tended to ask questions that would rely on high-volume data manipulation to answer. They wanted to know, for example, how many of the books in his collection were by American authors as opposed to European? How did he obtain the works that were in his private library — where were the publishers and booksellers located on a map and how far were they from Stainforth’s library? And here is my favorite question: how were the books arranged in his library and what can that order tell us about perceptions of genre, certain authors, print culture, and circulation in the mid-nineteenth century? (Books are listed alphabetically by author in his catalog, but the shelfmarks indicate that shelving was not done in the same manner.)
2. They provide public access to scanned rare books and related research information.
Each component of the WPRP Project will be publicly accessible through CU Libraries interfaces and, hopefully, DH project aggregates like NINES, as well. This is extremely important when we consider that the books represented are not in regular library circulation, but are, instead, housed in the rare books archives — a small department with restricted hours and access to the fragile and valuable materials within.
3. Long-term plans for the Stainforth and the WPRP Digital Archive will allow scholars to manipulate their data using digital tools to suit myriad research needs.
While the search capabilities of these two projects will take the longest to develop and require the most computing knowledge, they are some of the most important digital attributes that Special Collections wants to provide. The key, for both projects, will be to follow a set of guidelines, like those established by the MLA, for scholarly digital editions and to commit to encoding both the works in the collection now as well as works that join it down the road. It requires more labor than scanning the works in — which is wonderful and provides relatively fast digital access to these materials — but, in the end, it will enable scholars, teachers, and the curious public to use these texts in innovative ways to do cultural historical work that would be too time consuming using page images alone. Furthermore, I think it is particularly important to share encoded xml files once they are generated. This way, the data in the digital collection can be manipulated by computing humanists who want to process it in ways perhaps not anticipated by the original project curators.
4. These projects encourage cross-disciplinary scholarly communication by bringing librarians, book historians, and literature scholars together.
The Twitter feed for this project is a great place to consider how these projects influence and create scholarly communication. My analysis of the #wprp tweets alone suggests that the collection of WPRP projects encourages different kinds of scholars to work together on the same project material. The collections bring together the practices of traditional literary research, book history and physical bibliography, pedagogy, and library science. Each electronic component of the project strives to create direct web links to the other components and thereby foster interdisciplinary communication between, for example, book historian and literature teachers. Even the least “DH” components of the WPRP work, like the in-house exhibit we curated, brought researchers, teachers, and readers together — notably at the 20th Anniversary British Women Writers Conference — and inspired dialogue threads that extended from the Rare Book Room into electronic forums. One way in which the WPRP project can grow in a new direction is to think about how scholars, teachers, and students can contribute to parts of the electronic collection and communicate directly with other contributors or interested parties. How might we do this?
5. They encourage creative digital pedagogy that teaches students how form, content, and historical context work together to create a book’s meaning. They also provide opportunities for students who work for the library to collaborate on this project by scanning, encoding, transcribing, indexing, or other activities. As one IDHDU Fellow commented yesterday, these projects demonstrate to students in concrete ways how our reception of information is always mediated–even information we glean from a book, a technology that is so common and well-known that we are often blind to its complexities.
6. I add to Spiro’s list that DH projects are, by definition, somewhat “meta” and encourage the very exercise that I engage with right here: considering the ever-changing definition of what DH work is and what it does. The WPRP Project accomplishes this in part by being a constellation of different kinds of projects — from an in-house exhibit, to a relational database, to pedagogical tools like the video and student-curated digital exhibits — that beg the question: how do these projects fit together and how is this network useful? (This is both an advantage of the project but also something we are still working on in terms of giving the cluster of projects a clear, well-defined, and easy to find singular home.) Some of the sub-projects are the first of their kind for CU’s Special Collections — notably, the Stainforth database — but others are not. The concert of these projects working together through linking and through creating a central “home” for them on the CU Libraries website calls attention to the work that they do together and will also, we predict, ensure that they are used more often if simply because they can easily be found. They also ask developers and users to notice their “sister” digital projects and archives that preceded them on the web — like the UC Davis British Women Romantic Poets Digital Archive, The Poetess Archive, and other archives in 18thConnect and  NINES, and to wonder how these collections could be brought together to increase the amount of processable textual data and progress the recovery and study of 18th- and 19th-century women writers’ works that have been nearly occluded from literary history.
Please visit our WPRP projects in process and let us know what feedback, questions, and ideas you have. You may send feedback to me (Kirstyn.Leuner@colorado.edu) or to Deborah.Hollis@colorado.edu. We look forward to hearing from you.

Collaborator Credits and Thanks

Special thanks to our fleet of CU Libraries colleagues, including (in alpha order):

James Ascher, Assistant Professor and Rare Book Cataloger

Amanda H. Brown, Senior Instructor, Special Collections Instruction Librarian

Joe Consenza, student assistant/Libraries Media Services

Susan Guinn-Chipman, Ph.D., Research and Teaching Associate, Special Collections

Gor Djiganian, student assistant, Libraries IT

Michael Dulock, Assistant Professor / Metadata Librarian

Danielle Forte, M.A. candidate, Museum and Field Studies

Michael Harris, Ph.D. candidate, Music

Naomi Heiser, Map Library Cataloging Manager

Deborah Hollis, Associate Professor/Associate Faculty Director of Archives and Special Collections

Andrew Kaczmarek, student assistant/Libraries Media Services

Chris Levine, Library Technician, Special Collections

Holley Long, Associate Professor / Digital Initiatives Librarian

Elizabeth Newsom, Instructor Adjunct

Lauren Ottaviano, Preservation Dept.

Ilene Raynes, Map Library Operations Manager

Michael Riberdy, Media Services Coordinator, CU Libraries

Greg Robl, Library Technician, Special Collections

Andrew Violet, Exhibits Coordinator and Graphic Designer, Planning and Promotions

Jingge Xie, student assistant/Libraries Media Services

The Work-In-Progress group in the CU-Boulder English Dept.

Finally, I would like to thank IDHDU for the opportunity to participate in this Fellowship. I am also so grateful to my dissertation committee – Jeff Cox, Lori Emerson, Jill Heydt-Stevenson, Laura Mandell, and Paul Youngquist — for their enthusiastic ongoing support of my DH work.


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