Romantic Web Communities

One of the great advantages we have as scholars is the opportunity to form communities beyond our institutions — not just at annual conferences in remote locales, but also in ongoing conversations on the web. These online communities are fora for scholarly dialogue and informal queries, requests for crowdfunding special projects and historical sites, and repositories of archival material. Here’s a brief roundup of selected sites, listservs, and communities available to Romanticists (and if you know of more, please get in touch!).
Academic listservs:
(1) NASSR List — the list of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (subscription required). The list is frequented by many major scholars in the field, but also graduate students and junior faculty; this is a particularly excellent resource for answers to obscure and arcane historical questions, and for links to major awards and opportunities in the field. Continue reading “Romantic Web Communities”

Archival Research: The Poetic Personalities Of Keats And His Circle

Participants on the Heath.  Not all of us, but quite a few!
May 3, 2014: Keats and His Circle Conference participants on Hampstead Heath. Not all of us, but quite a few!

Hello and happy summer!  Since I last blogged, I passed my Ph.D. comprehensive exams and spent two weeks in England.  I presented at the Keats and his Circle conference along with my fellow blogger, Arden Hegele, and of course the conference was everything a Keatsian (or Romanticist) could wish it to be. Our weekend at Wentworth Place came complete with three days of really smart and innovative Keats studies, phenomenal featured lectures, and a “Keats walk” through Hampstead. But what I will talk about today is what I learned in the week after the conference. Continue reading “Archival Research: The Poetic Personalities Of Keats And His Circle”

New Collection: Libraries and Archives


New York Public Library

This post announces a new Collection of posts that we are building on the NGSC Blog on working in archives and libraries. The Collection strives to create a place where we continue to share our experiences and questions about applying for fellowships and conducting research in libraries or archives that have holdings of interest to Romanticists.
We are working on a way to redesign our front page to feature a few Collections of posts, but for now it’s best to use the Categories drop-down on the right side menu. Look for Libraries & Archives.
Here is what is in our blog’s Libraries and Archives Collection so far:

  1. Kelli Jasper has a great introductory post on the early Spring Semester (January through March) as the season for applying for research fellowships to libraries, including the Newberry, the Huntington, and the Beinecke.
  2. Michele Speitz wrote a post about her adviser’s recommendations and her time researching at The Huntington Library. The part about this post that sticks with me the most is how to get your writing done while on fellowship reading in an archive. What a great reminder that time does not stop while we’re basking in the aura of primary source material.
  3. I’ve written a couple of posts about working in CU Libraries Archives and Special Collections on the Women Poets of the Romantic Period Collection and a little introduction to the Stainforth manuscript. I’m intimately familiar with our collection here at CU, so please send any questions you have my way.
  4. Jacob Leveton–our resident Romanticist art historian–posted on how to use the Yale Center for British Art while working with a William Blake manuscript–the sole complete copy of Jerusalem, no less!
  5. Jacob also posted on how to use the Art Institute of Chicago Prints and Drawings Department. While it looks like he used his research trip to study George Stubbs’ piece “Horse Frightened by a Lion” (1777) and other works featuring horses, there’s a lot more there.
  6. Kelli wrote another post that I will be using to help me navigate researching at the British Library. I am planning to research and “dissertate” there this summer from late May through mid-June.

Forthcoming for this Collection: I am drafting one post on working in the Musées d’Art et D’Histoire and another one on the BGE (Bibliothèque de Génève) in Geneva, Switzerland. Each of those institutions/libraries had their own conveniences and challenges related to research.
Do you have plans to work in a library or archive soon? Maybe a summer research fellowship or a research trip abroad scheduled? Or have you worked in a library or archive that has particularly wonderful materials for Romanticism research that you would like to report on? I’m thinking that perhaps we should write about home institutions as well — they all have a lot to offer that tends to be less visible because right under our noses.

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

The Women Poets of the Romantic Period (WPRP) exhibit, called “Landmarks,” is just a few weeks away from opening in CU Libraries. The opening is set to coincide with the June 7 start of the 20th-Anniversary British Women Writers Conference, an international professional-level conference that I am co-organizing this year. When we’re done curating the WPRP exhibit, we’ll have an in-house exhibit in 8 enormous cases in the Rare Book Room as well as an online exhibit of around 20 scanned works and extended explanatory captions, photographs, and a video production. I’ve been feeling less like a dissertating PhD student and more like a contestant on Project Runway lately, working with fabric, mylar, props like shells and even a preserved spider, a museum exhibit designer, photographers, a period music consultant, and even videographers. The cast of collaborators is long and brings together librarians; graduate students in English, musicology, and museum studies; undergraduate library assistants; computer scientists and media artists; literary and art historians; and more. And thanks to the extremely friendly and collegial tone set by Debbie Hollis, the head of CU Libraries Archives and Special Collections, we are happy and very busy collaborators.
At this point, the cases are full and designed and objects are most likely in their final places, though I will no doubt futz with them more as we near the exhibit opening. My current task is to compose the script for the photographer/videographer of the exhibit and to serve as the general editor of the large collection of captions that will describe these objects online and in the video. In other words, I’m documenting the argument that I want the objects on display to make. Or rather, as I’ve found, I’m documenting the argument that the objects on display create. (I will publish these on my blog when they are complete and my collaborators are ready to release them.)
When making arguments with objects in cases, the objects, like Keats’ Grecian Urn, are anything but silent. The objects seem to arrange themselves first and the argument reveals itself afterward. This process is more physical and far less of the purely cerebral process that I have grown so used to with writing essays or dissertating. Trying to make the objects’ display conform to the argument I imagined for them did not work for me. After working with them for a year, I’ve been influenced as much by the physical and visual qualities of these books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and letters as I have by their textual content. I have spent far more time working with some of them than with others — for example, I painstakingly transcribed Mary Cockle’s letter and then worked with Susan Guinn-Chipman, another colleague in Special Collections, to piece together the parts that were difficult to read. Due to the time spent handling and reading these artifacts in cradles, in the stacks, on shelves, and on tables in Special Collections, and also the occasions I used them to teach my undergraduate literature classes, I have been influenced by their physical properties and arrangements in space and these traits have influenced my attentions and the argument I feel that the exhibit makes.

My argument for this exhibit, therefore, is based heavily on physical constraints and visual properties of the exhibit as well as my research gathered from reading these literary artifacts and thinking about them in the context of the Romantic literary era. Curating the exhibit was a mixed process of object placement based on:

  • the 200+ works in the collection that I read from June 2011 through January 2012 (my reading list was based on numerous factors, including titles and spines that grabbed my attention, ability to find them on the shelves, recommendations from other scholars, personal interests, and more)
  • pragmatism (certain objects only fit in certain cases)
  • aesthetics (certain objects only show well in certain cases)
  • my personal research interests (visual media, travel writing, the picturesque, and the gothic)
  • the arc of my desired argument as the path from one case or section to the next
  • the arc of the argument that the objects, when placed in the display cases, created and that influenced the argument I set out to make.
  • other factors I’m unintentionally leaving out

For example, the argument that I set out to make was focused on the collection as one that lent itself to the study of travel writing in the Romantic era, how print traveled, and what that had to do with women authors and complex relationships between form and gender in print culture. However, when placing objects in the front of the exhibit, in the cases closest to the door, I realized that the exhibit is as much about changing ideas of what constitutes the domestic as it is about that which lies beyond the home. This realization grew out of thinking about the Stainforth’s position in the case next to the literary annual with the beaded cover, and after pulling the Taylors’ Rhymes for the Nursery out of this case to place elsewhere. This led me to rethink the thematic organization of the exhibit. Originally, there were just two categories–natural destinations and social destinations–but these quickly expanded into three to include the domestic as our starting place. Furthermore, between the domestic and natural destinations, I noticed a collection of works, including the Taylors’ numerous works of children’s literature, that engage the Gothic aesthetic and provide a link between home, nature, and social destinations. I settled on four categories and a flow from book objects representing the domestic and home, to the gothic, to nature, and finally to social destinations and social movements. (Of course, many of these books could be placed in multiple categories.)
Perhaps a good question to ask is: where is the argument in this exhibit? Does it emanate from the objects’ placements, the path of the visitor/viewer through the exhibit, or my textual explanations of the relationships between these objects and their home in the greater collection? How does the digital exhibit and collection influence or affect the in-house exhibit, and vice versa? And what about the additional documentary components of video and photography of the exhibit? It’s a lot to curate and even more to interpret. I admit that from where I stand right now, I’m lost in the process and on deadline, to boot.
As we know, readers and interpreters will read and interpret how they will; one cannot force readers’ paths of critical attention any more than I can control which case visitors to this exhibit will want to look at first. The case by the door is the obvious choice, but who knows, a viewer may be drawn to the red cloth in the Gothic case in the back of the room, or the promise of the spider specimen hidden therein. Despite my lack of control, I will offer my exhibit argument as a way to thoughtfully present a microcosm of the magnificent ~500-work WPRP collection. The argument and the path from case to case will, in theory, lead scholars, readers, and visitors into the collection either in the Rare Book Room or online and will draw renewed attention to Romantic-era women poets who are have changed print culture and literary history.
[Author’s note: this post was originally published on my research blog:]

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

STAINFORTH, FRANCIS JOHN, d. 1866. Catalogue [in a later hand] of the library of female authors of the Rev. J. Fr. Stainforth. [S.l., s.n., n.d.: before 1866]. 4to, 373 leaves. Spine title: Catalogue of Stainforth’s Library. WPRP 290.
Two weeks ago, I “met” the Stainforth, and my life hasn’t been the same since. Debbie Hollis, my wonderful boss and Assoc. Professor/Faculty Director of Special Collections at Norlin Library, had this book all set up in a cradle for me when I arrived in the reading room to start my weekly work on the Women Poets of the Romantic Period (WPRP) collection. Apparently, I’m late to the table in knowing about “the Stainforth” (that’s how Hollis refers to it) — but now that we’ve met, I understand the importance of this work. And I will add that this book is currently, as in *right now*, being scanned so that digital images of the handwritten pages will be available, open-access, for anyone to use, study, write about, or peruse for pleasure. As soon as it’s available, I will post a link to the electronic work.
I should add that for this 2011-2012 academic year, I’m a researcher for the WPRP collection at CU and will be reading, curating an in-house exhibit for the BWWC 2012 conference (June 7-10), and also curating a digital exhibit with the collection. I look forward to my WPRP research hours every week and have already learned a great deal from Special Collections staff and from the collection itself.
The Stainforth is a hand-written catalog that Rev. Stainforth created and that represents his library as it grew until his death. Special Collections’ information sheet that is included with the volume provides some helpful background for this book:
“Stainforth, for his time, was a most unusual book collector: his interest lay in the works of British and American female poets and dramatists. By the time of his death in 1866, he had amassed more than 6,000 works. The books are listed alphabetically on the rectos, and with additions on the facing pages. Stainforth’s collection provides what must be the single most comprehensive bibliographical record of English-speaking female poets and dramatists up to 1866. He owned remarkably large representations of many writers, and many celebrated rarities. . . . Not content with simply acquiring as many different titles as he could obtain, Stainforth meticulously went about procuring every edition of every title; of Mrs. Hemans’ National lyrics, to take just one example, he owned 9 editions published in London, Dublin, Philadelphia and Paris. It seems likely that he lived part of his life in America, as it would have been impossible to have amassed so many American books without actually spending time there. The books were dispersed over six days in July 1867 by Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge, who described the collection as an ‘extraordinary library, unique of its kind… This celebrated and unrivalled series of the poetical compositions of British and American female writers, exhibiting in a complete form the growth and progress of the genius of woman in the department of poetry, has been selected, with great zeal, industry, and toil, with a view to rescue our fair poetesses from oblivion… The completest collection that could possibly be formed… an assemblage without precedent… unique, as no other of similar pretensions is known.’ The British Museum, acting through the bookseller Boone, was a major buyer; the British Library copy of the sale catalogue is fully marked with their purchases and the prices they paid.”
Why am I so excited about the Stainforth? Mostly because I have a lot of questions about it.
It’s a database of Romantic women writers and their works, but how complete of a database is this? It even looks like a database the way that it is so neatly formatted in columns on the page. And I’m a fool for textual data! If his catalog really does represent “the single most comprehensive bibliographical record of English-speaking female poets and dramatists up to 1866,” it would be amazing to process that data and learn more about authorship, publishing, distribution of works in various genres, and the circulation of works by women writers in particular. And even if the catalog turns out to be less comprehensive than advertised, it will be interesting to discover what categories of works Stainforth privileges by including them in his collection, and of course, what works didn’t make the cut. I also wonder who had access to his collection, and if his collection had any bearing upon readership of certain works or authors?
The organization of the book is fascinating. Stainforth organized his catalog alphabetically by genre, NOT by shelf-mark (these are included in the left-most column on each page). So, I can just see him (or his assistant) running around his library floors to gather titles and put his books in a new order just for this book. (Which leads me to wonder: how were his books organized on the shelf?) And as I flipped all the way through the book admiring his elegant penmanship and browsing his listings, I had an Indiana Jones moment:
About 3/4 of the way through the volume, his holdings entries stop, followed by some blank pages. After the blank pages, the writing appears upside-down. If you flip the book over to its back cover, you find that Stainforth starts a second kind of notebook here: it’s his acquisitions wish list, and it’s also organized by genre. His wish list consist of approx 870 entries for books he was looking for, and he crossed out about half of them as he acquired them for his collection.
How long did his cataloging project take? And wasn’t it a bit risky to keep the wish list for such a vast archive in the same book as the holdings list — what if he needed more pages for the holdings than the book contained? Did he regularly lend out any of these books, as in a circulating library? Is his collection partial to certain years, publishers, authors, or genres? If he did have a collection of male authors (and I would imagine that he did), why create a separate catalog of women authors–why not list them all in a master bibliography?
I don’t have many answers, just questions at this point. Right now, I’m using the Stainforth as a point of departure for a collaborative project that interrogates the intersection of materiality and metadata in 18th- and 19th-century digital texts. My only conclusion is that I am grateful for the suggestion of the Special Collections staff to look at this work, and for their initiative in scanning it. And for a Christmas present, can we please have it keyed? 🙂