Project Description

The Stainforth Library of Women’s Writing

Slide2This project creates a digital model of the largest private library of books by women authors collected in the 19th century, owned by Francis John Stainforth (1797-1866). To rebuild Stainforth’s library as a searchable digital archive and assemble the books as they were shelved in his home, we will use the manuscript catalog he kept until his death in 1866 in which he painstakingly logged the author, title, edition, publisher, date, and shelf location of each item in his vast private collection. (Images and PDFs of this manuscript are publicly accessible in the CU Digital Library.) According to the manuscript catalog, this 6,000+-volume library held only works written by British and American women poets and playwrights. Stainforth also flipped the catalog on its spine and, in the back, jotted a “wish list” of approximately one thousand additional titles that he hoped to acquire; when he did obtain a copy, the title has a strikethrough in the wish list and an entry inserted in the main catalog.

Recreating this library as a publicly accessible online resource will offer access to works by five centuries of women authors, ranging from 15th-century writer Juliana Berners, to 18th-century African-American poet Phyllis Wheatley, to Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Though scholars of literary history may be familiar with one or all four of those writers and their famous works, there are thousands of titles in this library by women writers who are understudied, fairly unknown, un-anthologized, working class poets and playwrights who merit our attention. Together, the works in this library comprise a deep historical collection from which students, teachers, scholars, and the curious public will benefit greatly.

Until now, the list of books in Stainforth’s library has only been available in an edition that auctioneers Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge published in 1867: an annotated list of titles with lot numbers intended to dismantle the library for profit. Sotheby’s version omits Stainforth’s shelf-marks and wish list. Furthermore, the auctioneers drastically altered the organization and value that Stainforth’s manuscript and library attributed to each book in order to attract bidders for these items. Gale Digital Collections offers an electronic edition of Sotheby’s catalog, available only by subscription, with limited searchability and no linked texts, and Google Books offers a slightly more searchable edition for free. Though the Sotheby’s catalog conveys the legacy of Stainforth’s collection and tells us a lot about his archive, it does not present a complete image of his library or his knowledge of women’s writing in the literary marketplace. The digital Stainforth Library will correct this misrepresentation and help scholars ask, and with the help of computer analysis, answer questions about the circulation, value, organization, and collection of women’s writing in the nineteenth century. Data gathered from the Stainforth manuscript and additional sources will also, eventually, enable us to map the professional networks of the authors in Stainforth’s library, their publishers, and subscribers, as well model the organization of the books on each shelf of the 19th-century library.


Team Stainforth Collaborators

  • Deborah Hollis, Associate Professor, Archives and Special Collections, University Libraries, CU-Boulder (CU-B)
  • Kirstyn Leuner, Postdoctoral Fellow, Neukom Institute & English Dept., Dartmouth College
  • Holley Long, Associate Professor, Libraries Information Technology Department, University Libraries, CU-B
  • Ivy Schweitzer, Professor, English and Women’s and Gender Studies, Dartmouth College
  • Mary Flanagan, Professor of Film and Media Studies, Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities, Dartmouth College
  • CU Libraries Special Collections colleagues: Susan Guinn-Chipman; Chris Levine; Greg Robl
  • Dartmouth College Library
  • Research Assistant Editors: Michael Harris (PhD, Lecturer, Archives and Special Collections, University Libraries, CU-B), Deven Parker (PhD candidate, English, CU-B), Maria Semmens (MA candidate, MALS, Dartmouth)
  • Undergraduate assistants: Jordan Johnson, Louis Zeller
  • Former researchers: Kyle Bickoff, Erin Kingsley, Elizabeth Newsom

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *