Department of Special Collections, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford; Centre for Digital Scholarship, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford; and Cultures of Knowledge
The catalogues in this collection are based on metadata and transcriptions prepared by students from the University of Oxford who have attended workshops in manuscript and textual editing at the Bodleian’s Weston Library. These workshops, open to undergraduates and postgraduates of all disciplines, are part of a pilot initiative that explores the potential of Bodleian resources for cross-disciplinary, skills-based training in textual and digital scholarship. At each stand-alone session, student participants are introduced to special collections handling, palaeography, metadata creation and analysis, and digital research methodologies. Working from both original manuscripts and digital facsimiles they catalogue and transcribe unpublished letters from Bodleian collections that have been selected by curators for their relevance to more than one discipline and for their potential contribution to scholarship. This initiative is a partnership between the Bodleian’s Department of Special Collections, the Centre for Digital Scholarship, and the Cultures of Knowledge project.
Partners and Additional Contributors
The manuscript and textual editing workshops are part of wider initiatives to provide cross-disciplinary training using the Bodleian’s manuscript and digital resources, which are overseen respectively by Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections, and Pip Willcox, Head of the Centre for Digital Scholarship. The workshops take place at the Centre for Digital Scholarship in the Weston Library and are provided in collaboration with the Cultures of Knowledge project, which supports student training through digital fellowships and student contributions to Early Modern Letters Online.
Sessions are taught by Mike Webb, Curator of Early Modern Archives and Manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries; Miranda Lewis, Digital Editor at Early Modern Letters Online; and Pip Willcox. The letters are selected by Mike Webb and Chris Fletcher; the transcriptions are edited by Mike Webb; the online catalogues are curated and published by Miranda Lewis; and Bodleian blog posts and other media are overseen by Pip Willcox. An account of the first workshop in the series, written by Mike Webb, may be read here.
The programme was developed collaboratively by Bodleian and Cultures of Knowledge staff as a continuation of conversations that included a conference, ‘Speaking in Absence: Letters in the Digital Age’, at which the workshops were announced formally. The conference was organized by Olivia Thompson (Balliol Bodley-Scholar and DPhil candidate in Ancient History) and Helen Brown (DPhil candidate in English), who assist in the workshop set-up and design, and provide administrative, research, and technical support including orientation of the student participants. The spectacular view across Oxford reproduced below was taken by Olivia Thompson from the top floor of the Weston Library, and we thank her for her permission to include it on this page.
We would like to thank Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s Librarian, and Professor Howard Hotson, Director of Cultures of Knowledge, for their advice and support throughout the project, as well as staff at the Bodleian Libraries for invaluable assistance in the ongoing integration of this initiative into research programmes, especially Alexandra Franklin, Head of the Centre for the Study of the Book; Judith Siefring, Head of Digital Research; Carmen Bohne, Special Collections Administrator; and Emma Stanford, Digital Support and Community Engagement Officer.
We are immensely grateful for the generosity of the Balliol Interdisciplinary Institute (BII), which contributed to the costs of both the conference and the workshops. Thanks are due to many members of Balliol College for their support: Daniel Butt, Thomas Melham, Seamus Perry, Nicola Trott, and David Wallace, as well as the BII committee, in particular the project officers Ramtin Amin and Aria Johnston. We would also like to express our thanks to Professor Christopher Ricks, co-founder of the Boston Editorial Institute and former student at Balliol College, for his support of both the conference and related activities in the field of editing.
The conference ‘Speaking in Absence’ was the result of the 2015/16 annual Postgraduate Conference Competition organised by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH) and the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing (OCLW), based at Wolfson College, on the theme ‘life-writing in the digital age’. The event took place in partnership with the Bodleian Libraries and involved the participation of staff from Special Collections, Communications, Events, Exhibitions, and Facilities, many of whom remain involved in the workshops. Olivia and Helen would like to thank all those involved in making this opportunity and subsequent research activities possible, in particular the conference speakers and staff at TORCH, Wolfson College, and the Bodleian Libraries, whose names and affiliations may be found on the conference website.
Collections of letters worked on thus far during the sessions have included:
Six Letters written by Elizabeth Wagstaffe of Warwick to her husband, Timothy Wagstaffe, lawyer of Middle Temple, between 1616 and 1622.
These letters give a fascinating glimpse of the gentry in Warwick in the time of Shakespeare. It has been established from other sources that Timothy Wagstaffe was lord of the manor of Tachbrook near Warwick (and Elizabeth lady of the manor, therefore), as well as a lawyer in the Middle Temple. With Elizabeth running the household in the absence of her husband at the Inns of Court in London, they provide in particular an insight into the role of women in the early seventeenth century.
The letters, which range between 1616 and 1622, show that Elizabeth was supervising building works and managing builders and joiners making modifications to their home in Warwickshire. The work was not always going to plan. In 1619 we hear of the joiner who ‘hath bin heare very little’ and then only to ask for the 8 or 10 pounds owed him by Mr. Wagstaffe. Elizabeth sends news of the work to her husband, as well as specific instructions for errands in London; Timothy Wagstaffe is enjoined to buy ‘a good store of shewgar … against Christmas, for it is very deere heare’. In three of the letters we discover that Sir Bartholomew Hales is involved in the building work: ‘your buildinge woulde goe a great deale better forwardes, if you weare heare to looke unto it, for Sir Barthellmew Haelles doeth gett a waie your best workemen …’ (July 1620); ‘Sir Barthelemew Haeles was here this morninge, and went up into your newe roome … he will alter the staires … for he saith, hee will not have the best and fairest roome in your howse spoiled for a little corner in a cittchin …’ (Nov. 1622). Hales was a notable Warwickshire puritan, and lord of the manor of Snitterfield, the birthplace of William Shakespeare’s father John Shakespeare (c.1530–1601); Shakespeare’s uncle Henry occupied a farm on the manor.
The puritan connection may be significant. The first letter is dated 11 November 1616, and unlike the others, which are all written from Warwick, it is written from ‘Chamberhowse’. The letter mentions social events in the Thatcham area in Berkshire, including a wedding at which ‘Besse must be faine to weare her gowne with one sleeve’. Elizabeth is staying with her mother, and reports the doings of her cousin John Backhouse. This reveals that Elizabeth was the daughter of the puritan lawyer and politician, Nicholas Fuller (1543–1620), a famous critic of James I’s government who was imprisoned more than once for his views. Fuller married Sarah, daughter of Nicholas Backhouse, alderman and former sheriff of London, and in 1586 they set up home at Chamberhouse, near Thatcham (see the entry for Fuller in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Having stood down as an M.P., Fuller was still active in the last years of his life, attending meetings of the Gray’s Inn benchers until 19 November 1619, where no doubt he would have encountered Timothy Wagstaffe.
Six Letters to James Butler, marquess (later first duke) of Ormond, written in 1660 by three women: Ormond’s wife, Lady Elizabeth Butler, marchioness of Ormond (1615–1684), Lady Anne Digby, countess of Bristol (d. 1697), and Elizabeth Mordaunt, countess of Peterborough (1603–1671).
These letters were all written in the months of April to May 1660, a period of great drama in English history. In February Monck’s army arrived in London, and soon demanded the reinstatement of the MPs excluded in Pride’s Purge, the prelude to the execution of Charles I, of 1648. The Long Parliament called for its own dissolution and for free elections in March, leading to the Convention Parliament which voted for the Restoration of Charles II on 8 May 1660. On 25 May Charles II landed at Dover and made his triumphal entry into London four days later. This is the political background to the six letters written to Ormond, the former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland who was to be reinstated in that office in 1662. All the letters allude to the manoeuverings among prominent royalists in these momentous months. Four of the letters are from Lady Anne Digby, wife of the Catholic George Digby, second earl of Bristol (1612–1677), pleading her husband’s case among other matters. Two of the letters use pseudonyms for the main persons mentioned — Mrs Brown (the King), Mrs Carlton (Hyde), Mrs Eyres (the earl of Bristol) and Mrs Frances Persifall (Ormond) — whose identities are discoverable from the index to the Calendar of the Clarendon State Papers.
The countess of Peterborough, widow of John Mordaunt, first earl of Peterborough, refers to her son’s involvement in the royalist risings of 1648. Henry Mordaunt had been a Parliamentarian at the outbreak of the Civil War, but switched sides in 1643, and in July 1648 was part of a group involved in the failed attempt to seize Reigate in Surrey for the king, being badly wounded in the process. Elizabeth Butler’s letter recommends the bearer, Captain Power, to Ormond’s favour. The ‘breaking news’ of the Restoration has reached her, ‘the good Neuse Haveinge made mee allmost as wilde, as it has Done many wisser Persons.’ The letters not only provide a window into an extraordinary moment in British history, they are in themselves interesting specimens of womens’ writing of the period. The scripts and spelling reveal that while literate and intelligent, these women have not received the formal grounding in writing that would have been provided to men of their social status.
The letters are in the collection known as the Carte papers, which comprises vast collections of original papers from various sources amassed by the historian Thomas Carte (1686–1754). More than 110 volumes of this collection comprise the papers of James Butler, first duke of Ormond (1610–1688), Lord Lieutenant of Ireland three times between 1643 and 1685, collected in preparation for Carte’s biography of the duke, published in 1735–6.
The manuscript letters that make up this catalogue are held in the collections of the Bodleian Libraries.
Scope of Catalogue
The manuscript and textual editing workshops introduce students of all levels to cross-disciplinary expertise and illustrate the immediate positive impact on scholarly practice achieved by focus on original collections in combination with analysis, dissemination provided by digital tools and media, and the wide-ranging applicability of digital research methods.
Participants in these workshops include both undergraduates and postgraduates in English, History, Classics, Archaeology, History of Art, Modern Languages, Oriental Studies, Music, and Biology. The sessions are organised and taught by curatorial and technical staff and are structured to give students of all disciplines and years an introduction to the basic underlying skills required to embark upon a critical edition of any type of text. Participants are encouraged to attend further events at both the Centre of the Study for the Book and the Centre for Digital Scholarship, and to take advantage of other training opportunities provided in digital methodologies such as the Text Encoding Initiative.
This year’s workshops are a pilot series of standalone sessions, which focus on documentary material of the early modern period. The incorporation of the metadata and transcriptions into Early Modern Letters Online, linked to a digital facsimile of the letters, makes more material from Bodleian collections immediately accessible to scholars and connects it with other, diverse sources of the period from other repositories. It is hoped that the programme can be extended in some form to other Bodleian collections, and that the workshops might become part of a wider programme of training and networking activities based on analogue and digital textual scholarship.
In the course of each workshop, participants are shown how their contribution to EMLO is situated within the wider context of digital humanities research through an overview of different methods of digitization — from imaging to OCR [Optical Character Recognition] — and an introduction to other factors influencing accessibility, such as search, licensing, and sustainability. Each workshop offers an insight into how the materials hosted in EMLO could be enhanced and analysed at a later stage through other digital methodologies such as encoding, visualization, and geographic information systems (GIS). Finally, suggestions are made regarding resources and training through which participants can obtain the skills required to carry out such work themselves.
Relevant resources and initiatives
Cultures of Knowledge, University of Oxford
Mapping the Republic of Letters, Stanford University
Related Bodleian Libraries digital projects
Sources of further information and training at Oxford
The Centre for Digital Scholarship hosts workshops, seminars, and drop-in sessions offering guidance on a wide variety of interdisciplinary digital methodologies.
The Bodleian Centre for the Study of the Book hosts Visiting Fellowships for scholars who wish to conduct research based on the Bodleian Libraries’ special collections. It coordinates teaching with the collections for readers both within and outside the university, and offers a wide-ranging programme of events related to book history, showcasing the research of the Visiting Fellows, projects linked to the centre, and activities of the Bibliography Room.