Introduction: Learning from The Stainforth Library of Women Writers at MLA 2014

MLA 2014 Session #528: “Digital Humanities from the Ground Up”

For this exhibit, University of Colorado Boulder collaborators Deborah Hollis, Kirstyn Leuner, and Holley Long share how The Stainforth Library of Women Writers digital humanities project promotes collaborative, interdisciplinary research and learning for undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty scholars.

Deborah Hollis is Associate Professor and Associate Faculty Director of Special Collections; Kirstyn Leuner is a PhD candidate in the English Department finishing her dissertation, entitled “The Diorama and the Book in Late Romanticism”; and Holley Long is Associate Professor and Digital Initiatives Librarian in the Libraries Information Technology Department. This exhibit also features new research and mapping by Elizabeth Newsom, Adjunct Lecturer in Special Collections.

This digital archive project creates an electronic model of what may be the largest library of books by women authors collected in the mid-19th century, owned by Reverend Francis John Stainforth (1797-1866). Stainforth collected all of the works he could find by women poets and playwrights published between the 15th century and the mid-19th century. The project plays a central role in a chapter of Leuner’s dissertation called “The Diorama and the 19th-century Library.” However, collaborators conceive of this project primarily as an opportunity to uncover, broadly, what this collection of 6,000 books by women authors can teach students and researchers about 19th-century book culture, women’s writing, professional networks of women writers, as well as how to build a digital archive.

Specifically, this exhibit demonstrates what we can learn from tracing Elizabeth Cobbold’s poem “Ode on the Victory of Waterloo” (1815) across the various facets of the Stainforth Library project as well as the processes of building the Library. Here, you will find brief explanations or illustrations of the following aspects of our work:

  • Manuscript transcription for Cobbold’s entry
  • TEI encoding of her poem “Ode to the Victory of Waterloo”
  • Visualizing where Cobbold’s poem lived on Stainforth’s library bookshelves
  • Mapping Cobbold’s professional network
  • Example: use of the Stainforth Library as a pedagogical tool

We selected Cobbold’s “Ode on the Victory at Waterloo” for this display because it is not anthologized, it was written and published during Stainforth’s lifetime, we have a unique early copy of this poem in the Women Poets of the Romantic Period Collection at CU-Boulder, and finally, because Cobbold was a writer with a broad literary network that spanned disciplines—an attribute that makes her an especially compelling author to study and that shows the broad scope of women writers’ contributions to 19th-century book culture.

Pardon Our Progress
We urge you to bear in mind that this is a project in its early phases of development. We created this multi-faceted, non-traditional presentation in order to represent our processes and early products in a transparent fashion that reveals the breadth of our engagement as much as the rough edges of early methodologies that we are in the process of revising. This is a stage of a DH project that rarely gets air-time. At our workstation, we invite you to be a fly on the wall, so to speak, and listen or observe as collaborators from three different departments and at different stages of their careers learn from one another in recorded conversations, articulate their unique interests in the project, get to know their data set, imagine what they want to build with it, and draw up plans to begin. We welcome your feedback on our work, including ways that you would find this project-in-progress useful for your own research. Send us feedback at Tweet to us via Kirstyn Leuner’s Twitter account: @KLeuner.

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