Digital Mitford: About the Project


Mary Russell Mitford

Maintained by: Elisa E. Beshero-Bondar (ebb8 at pitt.edu) Creative Commons LicenseLast modified:

Methods and Practice:

Twenty-one active and consulting editors are now working together to develop a comprehensive scholarly archive of Mary Russell Mitford’s works and letters. The team will prepare the first-ever openly accessible, chronologically organized scholarly archive of Mitford’s literary works and letters in digital form, with scholarly annotations and headnotes, extensive prosopography, and site-navigation tools that correlate references to people, places, and events across the full range of Mitford’s texts. In the long term, we hope to produce a comprehensive scholarly archive of Mitford’s complete works and over 2,000 letters. By creating the first-ever accurate transcriptions of Mitford’s correspondence from her years of greatest productivity, the Digital Mitford Archive will freely and fully publish letters previously available only in manuscript form in obscure archives or in bowdlerized published forms. A chronologically structured Digital Mitford Archive will broadly serve educators, literary scholars, historians, and the reading public in illuminating transatlantic publishing and theater networks to this point unexplored in our literary history of the nineteenth century. That no such edition yet exists almost certainly reflects the challenging extent of a task that could not be completed without the assistance of a large and diversely specialized team of scholars. The Digital Mitford project is organized to bring a large group together and annually or semi-annually to invite and involve new editors and student assistants from multiple colleges and universities.

To launch the archive, the project team’s first stage is to transcribe, edit, annotate, and digitally represent a cross-section of Mitford’s writings from the 1820s, a body of work that forms the foundation of her international reputation. The Digital Mitford team’s first “test bed” phase of work over the next three years (2014-2017) engages the editing of

  1. Mitford’s literary and personal correspondence from 1819-1825, the period when she first planned, discussed, and composed her most successful plays and the sketches.
  2. Mitford’s historical dramas drafted in the 1820s: Julian, Foscari, Rienzi, and Charles the First;
  3. The first volume of Mitford’s popular collection of prose sketches Our Village of 1824.

This test bed phase represents a complete and significant freestanding effort in its own right. While our work on the test bed will help us to formalize our editing rules and coding guidelines for the long-range project, our editing of the hybrid cross-section of Mitford’s texts from the 1820s will demonstrate hitherto unexplored intersections among Mitford’s letters, her prose fiction, and her verse tragedies during the decade in which her reputation as a dramatist and as a periodical contributor and publisher of fiction was growing in the English-speaking world. Our research of manuscripts and un-digitized periodicals will render versions of several of Mitford’s texts available to readers for the first time, or for the first time since their initial publication in the 1820s. Given Mitford’s success with both drama and prose fiction in the 1820s, the cross-section of materials from multiple genres in our test bed will help bring to light significant evidence of the overlap of literary expectations and generic forms commonly associated with “Romantic” versus “Victorian” periods in nineteenth-century literary studies.

Digital text encoding and construction of the online Digital Mitford archive will permit efficient correlation of prosopography information and comparative analysis of variant texts, as well as abilities to process metadata from encoded, keyed texts. Our coding work is internal and shared among the project team, and all project team members are working in TEI under the supervision and guidance of the principal editor, Elisa Beshero-Bondar. The site design, too, is hand-coded with CSS and Javascript by the principal editor. The Digital Mitford project team edits texts in eXtensible Markup Language (XML) applying the long-term international standard for editing documents in the humanities and history defined by the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and their current P5 guidelines. The TEI’s guidelines include tools for marking and compiling contextual information in central places—an efficient system of indexing—so that our TEI coding not only presents texts for reading, but also tags and identifies contextual information systematically. Thus, our editing team marks prosopographical data (the names of historical people, places and events) as well as titles of literary texts and names of fictional characters by Mitford and other writers referenced in the archive. We extract our prosopography markup from editing each text to develop a detailed, centralized file listing contextual information. We then ensure that each reference to a particular individual (often with variable names) throughout the archive points to a single entry in our centralized list of persons (or “personography”) that includes a complete and standard name, details on birth and death, significant life events, relation to Mitford, and other pertinent information including relationships with other people, literary texts, fictional characters, events, and places. We are thus tapping into the potential of the TEI as a mechanism not only for archiving the content and structure of Mitford’s texts but also for compiling and connecting contexts and metadata across thousands of files.

This contextual markup will support our goal to generate indexes and search features as well as to produce charts, network diagrams, maps, and other useful visualizations to navigate and document patterns of information in the Mitford corpus, an extensive archive of many different kinds of texts. We hope, for example, to develop network graphs as clickable site-navigation tools that will help direct our readers to the important intersections illuminated in the prosopography: to connect the worlds of Mitford’s correspondence, her historical tragedies, and her prose fiction sketches in Our Village.

Beginning with our test bed of Mitford’s writings from the 1820s, the Digital Mitford project will for the first time make authoritative versions of her literary writings available to scholars, students, and general readers. Where more than one version of these works is available in print or in manuscript, the Digital Mitford editors are keying accurate digital transcriptions of each within the same TEI file, using versioning markup in our text encoding to make available multiple reading views that help to illuminate points of variation. Thus, the manuscript of Charles the First rejected by the Examiner of Plays in 1825 is presented and compared with the first printed version of the play following its performance in 1834, while versions of individual sketches from Our Village are prepared in comparison with their first publications in periodicals such as the Lady’s Magazine. These digital versioning techniques will allow scholars and general readers to access and study rare, relatively inaccessible versions of texts, such as un-digitized periodicals and manuscript plays archived in the British Library or the Larpent Collection at the Huntington Library, and will provide important context on publication history that is lacking in the currently available digital surrogates posted publicly on Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, and Google Books. Introductory headnotes to each literary text in the Digital Mitford Archive will trace the work’s genesis as well as its performance and/or publication and republication history. In our first stages of editing, the Digital Mitford team is transcribing manuscript letters from photo facsimiles (as permitted thus far by the Reading Central Library and the John Rylands Library), while comparing published literary texts with manuscript facsimiles posted on proprietary databases or made available through university subscriptions to Gale’s database of Nineteenth-Century Collections Online (NCCO).

Working within the TEI language, we generate project-specific schema rules in Schematron to customize our contextual markup of named entities: people, places, events, texts, artistic productions. Please see The Digital Mitford Codebook for the details of our current coding guidelines and templates for coding letters, poetry, plays, prose texts, editorial annotations, and headnotes. Project team members propose revisions and post comments to the live, editable Google document version of the codebook.

Permissions:

We are in process of requesting permissions to produce digital surrogates of Mitford’s manuscripts on our site, and we are placing a priority on producing text transcriptions to generate a searchable database of Mitford’s extensive correspondence—thousands of letters now housed in many archives on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world. We are pleased to have secured the permission of the Reading Central Library and The John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester to reproduce their large collections of Mitford’s letters and personal papers.

Acknowledgments:

Elisa Beshero-Bondar would like to thank Julia Flanders and Syd Bauman of the Women Writers Project for their advice and encouragement, as well as their excellent instruction in their workshop on TEI for manuscript encoding and in an NEH-supported workshop on XSL transformation in 2012. Elisa is very grateful indeed to David Birnbaum, colleague and friend at the Oakland campus of the University of Pittsburgh, for inviting her, together with Gregory Bondar and her student assistant Megan Hughes, to take part in his 15-week course in Humanities Computing, and for offering generous guidance on creating effective digital resources and solving problems with code, including XML, XPath, XSLT, working with regular expressions, RelaxNG and Schematron, SVG, CSS, and JavaScript. David’s class launched our sister project, Digital Archives and Pacific Cultures, the basis for our Digital Humanities course at Pitt-Greensburg. To be a student again for 15 weeks was indeed an adventure, and has absolutely made this Digital Mitford project possible. Finally, she wishes to thank Nicholas Joukovsky, former dissertation advisor and ever-supportive mentor and friend, who taught her something of the science of scholarly editing in years of assisting with his edition of The Letters of Thomas Love Peacock (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001).