Alison Wiggins

Editing Bess of Hardwick’s Letters Online

2012 Seminar Series / Thursday 26 April, 2012


Dr Alison Wiggins (University of Glasgow), PI of the AHRC-funded Letters of Bess of Hardwick Project, describes the benefits and methodological challenges of digitizing this unique Renaissance correspondence, which consists of approximately 245 extant letters from and to Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (as Bess was also known). Using several examples drawn from the corpus, Wiggins argues that making all of the letters available in an open-access, fully searchable online edition will enable scholars to pursue a wide range of linguistic, sociological, and historical questions, and will allow them to arrive at a much more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the character of Bess herself, who has been variously depicted as a materialistic virago or as an admirable defender of women’s honour. Moving on to more methodological questions, Alison also explains that capturing and communicating significant information on the material and visual features of letters, such as the writer’s use of ‘significant space’, paper quality and size, the employment of colourful silk ribbons and flosses, seal choice, and the many varieties of folding, can be particularly difficult in a digital environment, which has a tendency to reify disembodied text at the expense of the letter-object. Alison describes solutions developed by her team (such as encoding each of the four recognized kinds of letter-fold – tuck and fold, slit and band, accordion, and sewn – within each letter’s XML to facilitate searching and filtering by plicature and packet type) that will be of great interest to other digital initiatives.

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