On a day when I should have been in Manchester presenting a paper on Bodleian Student Editions at a workshop organized by the The Lives and Afterlives of Letters Network (but, due to widespread travel disruptions in England as winter extends its tentacles into spring, I am not), it seems a perfect moment to pause and reflect upon the serendipity and coincidence that have been at play within EMLO and at the Cultures of Knowledge project over the past week.
EMLO began by publishing just a week ago enhanced metadata for a small catalogue of the correspondence of Elizabeth Elstob. The manuscripts of this Anglo-Saxon scholar’s correspondence with the antiquarian George Ballard have been in the care of the Bodleian Libraries from the year following Ballard’s death in 1755, and the metadata for these letters have been tucked inside EMLO, courtesy of the Bodleian card catalogue, since 2010. However, Elstob’s letters to Ballard have been worked on more recently by the scholar Dr Dawn Hollis, who has generated transcriptions for the correspondence between the two friends, edited these texts, and published a ‘small’ edition in the Dutch journal LIAS.[1. Dawn Hollis, ‘On the Margins of Scholarship: the Letters of Elizabeth Elstob to George Ballard, 1735–1753’, Lias, vol. 42, 2 (2015), pp. 167–268.]
Lias: the Journal of Early Modern Intellectual Culture and its Sources is a peer-reviewed publication which takes its name from the Dutch work for ‘file’; it is committed to publishing primary sources that relate to the intellectual and cultural history of early modern Europe. The journal was established to provide a platform for sources that are relatively short in length. And it is in the pages of this journal that Hollis’s edition of the Elstob-Ballard correspondence may be consulted, either by subscription or through the purchase of a single hard-copy issue; and should users be within a subscribing institution, links to the downloadable text are provided from each relevant letter record in EMLO. The journal’s editor-in-chief, Dirk van Miert, is Assistant Professor of Early Modern Cultural History at the University of Utrecht, where he specializes in the history of knowledge. And it is the second time in as many weeks that I have been posting his name, for here lies one of this week’s many coincidences: eagle-eyes may have spotted that Professor van Miert has been in Oxford to present a paper at the Early Modern Intellectual History seminar organized by Dr Dmitri Levitin and Sir Noel Malcolm. Professor van Miert’s talk bore the riveting title ‘The “Hairy War” (1640–50) and the historicization of the Bible: the role of philology in a public debate on men wearing long hair in the Dutch Republic’, and post delivery (before he had been given so much as the opportunity to catch his breath, let alone check his own hair!), Professor van Miert was requisitioned for an ‘EMLO Gathering’ in the History Faculty in the form of a pop-up Q&A session (see my previous post) concerning his work as co-editor on The Correspondence of Joseph Justus Scaliger, which was published by Librairie Droz, Geneva, in 2012.
Here we encounter another coincidence: this pop-up Q&A session offered the opportunity to learn more about scholarly editing both to students who have signed up to the Bodleian Student Editions workshops and to EMLO’s loyal, hard-working Digital Fellows who help prepare epistolary metadata for upload into the union catalogue. Bodleian Student Editions, which began in 2016, built on the initiative EMLO had started the previous year with Oxford second-year undergraduates who were taking the Further Subject ‘Writing in the early modern period’ taught by Professor Giora Sternberg. These Further Subject undergraduates worked with a small sub-set of EMLO’s existing metadata contained within the Bodleian card catalogue: they checked and enhanced dates, authors, recipients, origins, destinations, and shelfmarks of letters (for, as we know all too well, this sizeable catalogue is not always as reliable as might be wished) and, as they studied the manuscripts in the Bodleian’s special collections, they created a number of transcriptions. Long-standing followers of this blog may recall some of the announcements of the resulting student-generated catalogues: one for Elizabeth Compton, for example, another for Sarah Chapone (who was, in turn, a good friend to Elizabeth Elstob). Now, this week, students have been in action again with Bodleian Student Editions and Thursday witnessed the concluding workshop for this Hilary term and the transcription of a third batch of Penelope Maitland’s letters to her friend Charlotte [née Perry] West. (Charlotte turned out to be the daughter of Sampson Perry, proprietor of the radical journal The Argus.) Once again, student editors continued throughout the day to capture metadata, transcribe text, and footnote the letters’ contents. This was just one of the aspects of the Bodleian Student Editions scheme I was due to speak about at the Manchester workshop, which had been conceived to explore various approaches to the editing of texts. Thankfully the workshop will not become a snow casualty and it is likely to be rescheduled for a date in May.
Thus a single week has produced a myriad of unexpected twists and, instead of travelling home from Manchester tonight, I am contemplating a remarkable plait of intertwined catalogues (each built upon the foundations of metadata taken from the Bodleian’s collections, and each contributing to the Early Modern Women’s Letters Online [WEMLO] cluster, something to be celebrated as we move towards 8 March and International Women’s Day). And of course, thanks to Professor van Miert, I am left pondering in addition the subject of hair!