Stainforth Database Project Description

I. The project aims to turn a manuscript catalog of a 19th-c. gentleman’s private library into a digital archive that recreates that private library. The library contains only books authored by women.

Throughout his life, Rev. Stainforth (1797-1866) collected an unprecedented archive of over 6,000 works by female authors and housed these books in his private library. CU-Boulder Libraries holds the original manuscript of The Catalogue of the Library of Female Authors (1866) by F. J. Stainforth (1797-1866), a detailed record of his enormous library of women-authored books published between 1546 and 1866—one of the largest 19th-century collections of women’s writing. Featuring an array of nationalities, genres, topics, and publication dates, Stainforth’s collection raises questions about how women’s writing was circulated, valued, collected, organized, and displayed in the nineteenth century.  The range of Stainforth’s library includes works from 17th-century author Aphra Behn (1640-1689), African American 18th-century author Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), and Victorian-era author Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861); genres represented in the collection include poetry, plays, novels, essays, letters, and more.

The Catalogue documents not only the private library of women authors but also includes a wish list of titles that Stainforth sought to complete his collection. Thus, researchers can study not only what was in the library, but what was not collected as well as how and when those works were acquired.

The Stainforth Catalogue is but one title in the CU-Boulder Libraries Women Poets of the Romantic Period (WPRP) Collection — a collection that I have spent a tremendous amount of time with as a Researcher in CU Libraries Special Collections.

II. What we are doing with the Catalogue: turning it into a database and a digital archive through transcription, text encoding, and data collection

  1. First, the project team will transcribe the Stainforth Catalogue into the database. This is the stage we are currently working on and we have already transcribed the first 100 pages of the manuscript Catalog. Once we finish transcribing the manuscript into the database, we will create TEI-encoded XML files for texts in the Catalogue and will use pre-encoded XML files where these works have already been published online and their encoding is available. During this phase, team members will also conduct research on the writers to uncover biographical information and significant geographical points, as well as relevant data about their printers, publishers, and patrons.

III. What we will do with the database: visualize the data

The team will use this data to produce 2 main visualizations:

  1. A virtual reproduction of Stainforth’s library, as it was organized according to his shelfmarks (these are included in his manuscript with each title in the left-hand column)

  2. A graph of the professional network of the authors in Stainforth’s library that we will create using social network analysis of the connections between authors, editors, printers, and publishers

Reassembling the library according to the shelfmarks in the manuscript will enable the study of how women’s writing was collected, organized, and archived by Stainforth. The works in his Catalogue are ordered alphabetically by author, for the most part. Each entry contains a shelfmark and the shelfmarks are not consecutive in the alphabetical list, which indicates that he organized his books in another fashion. Collecting, organizing, and displaying one’s private collection was a popular hobby in the nineteenth century, especially for those with disposable income, such as Rev. Stainforth. Knowing the organization of this collection, and why Stainforth would want to reorganize it and “display” it in his Catalog differently than it appeared on the shelf, may reveal important information about how these books were obtained, used, and valued by their collector, as well as how he wanted his library to be treated after he died.

Graphing the professional network associated with each book in his list — publishers, printers, authors, editors, translators, and subscribers — will suggest a network of circulation for that book and will indicate trends in professional relationships that women writers had in the book market. Visualizing these networks creates an image of the community of published women writers across a variety of genres and nationalities — a significant data set. It will also enable us to think about what kinds of works did not participate in these networks and what avenues of access their were to successful circulation of women’s writing.


Additional Links to The Stainforth Database Project (in progress):

  • Find the unreleased Stainforth Database Project website here (this is a work-in-progress).
  • Find PDF images of the complete Stainforth Catalog manuscript here, courtesy of CU-Boulder Libraries.

A few questions:

1. Does anyone know where I can find more information specifically about collections of women’s writing in the nineteenth century or eighteenth century? I would like to find libraries to compare Stainforth’s with.

2. Stainforth biographical information: we need to learn more about the collector. Perchance, has anyone studied Rev. Stainforth? We have some information on this collector — what is easy to find — but I am not-so-secretly hoping that one day a Tweet or a blog post will conjure a Stainforth expert (if there is one out there) to comment or reply to a post.

Stay tuned for more blogging — I will report on our Seed Grant application and our presentation at MLA 14 next year.