Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700

Project Summary

This project is hosted by: Institute of English Studies

Research interests:
Manuscript studies
Project period:
01-Feb-2011 - 01-Feb-2011
Project summary:
The Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700 Project began in June 2005. This major resource is being compiled by Dr Peter Beal, FBA, Senior Research Fellow at IES and a former Director and English Manuscript Expert at Sotheby's. The database is designed, constructed and monitored by Dr John Lavagnino, Lecturer in English and Humanities Computing at King's College London. The Project's general overseer and principal advisor is Professor Henry Woudhuysen, Professor of English at University College London. The Project also has an international Advisory Board currently composed of seven other distinguished scholars.

CELM will be a freely accessible on-line record of surviving manuscript sources for over 200 major British authors of the period 1450-1700. It will incorporate descriptions of many thousands of manuscript texts of poems, plays, discourses, translations, etc., as well as notebooks, annotated printed books, corrected proofs, promptbooks, letters, documents and other related manuscript materials, many hitherto unrecorded, found in several hundred public and private collections world-wide. It will provide a new and productive research tool not only for those interested in particular authors and works, but for anyone interested in the literary culture of the early modern period, in manuscript production and dissemination as a social phenomenon, and in the history of literacy and readership.

This Project will not only create an integrated resource within defined parameters, but will establish the basis for massive future development and for research by others. Innumerable further authors and texts may eventually be incorporated, so that CELM will effectively develop into a manuscript STC . This searchable resource will make available a wealth of relevant detail so that wider interdisciplinary aspects and historical contexts of manuscript texts may be explored. These include social, literary and editorial questions raised by issues of authorship, genre, patronage, censorship, gender, locality of production, distribution, and the relationship of manuscript culture to print culture.

CELM will supersede Dr Beal's ground-breaking printed Index of English Literary Manuscripts (4 vols, 1980-93). Given the increased attention to writing by women in this period, so much of it embodied in manuscripts, the 72 or more additional early modern authors represented in CELM will include 60 female authors. With the extensive revisions to the coverage of the original authors, these inclusions will augment the Index 's depth, scope, usefulness and potential and provide the basis for a major new expansion of our knowledge of early modern manuscript culture.

With all its new information and search facilities, CELM will be a radical innovation, opening up new research possibilities and transforming the current methods and ways of thinking in the field. The database will make it possible, among other things, to establish connections based on evidence such as handwriting, dating and provenance between large numbers of different, widely scattered manuscripts. It will open up a huge range of generic resources (commonplace books, miscellanies, etc.) which lead the way to other authors, as well as to much unrecorded or anonymous writing. It will throw light on scribes, compilers, owners, and other participants in the history of the text, as well as on points of origin in specific cultural communities (provincial families, universities, inns of court, ecclesiastical circles, recusant circles, the royal court, parliament, etc.) and to coterie practices which so often lie behind literary commercialisation in this period. With its extensive programme of detailed 'tagging', CELM will allow users to search readily for authors, patrons, scholars, compilers, composers, etc. (with the ability to distinguish by gender), titles of works, first lines of poems and songs, and up-to-date locations, as well as many other elements of information which have not yet been readily available. Although initially and essentially author-centred, CELM will, paradoxically, lead ultimately to ever-widening categorisation, helping to break down the barriers between traditional 'literature' (poems, plays, fiction) and the wider flourishing of political polemic, speeches, sermons, academic performances, diaries, biographies, personal compilations, etc., produced by private citizens, merchants, politicians, lawyers, philosophers, clerics, annalists, antiquaries, students, and others who contributed no less actively to the intellectual life and history of the nation.

A publicly accessible website hosting the Catalogue will be made available in due course.