Saturday, 30 March 2013

Romanticism on the web: Two essential sites

During the course of my work on The Next Time(line) project over the past few weeks, I've come across two great websites for Romanticists: 'British Fiction 1800-1829' and 'UK RED'. I'm always keen to encourage my students to explore Romanticism on the web, and both of these sites have gone straight onto the 'electronic resources' section of my undergraduate Romanticism reading list. Simultaneously scholarly and user friendly, these sites are noteworthy because they cater for a variety of needs; whether you simply require a small and specific piece of information, or want to spend more time exploring an author in greater depth, there will be something there for you.

British Fiction 1800-1829

During one of our recent REACT workshops, I got chatting to Dr Anthony Mandal, who is a Senior Lecturer in English at Cardiff, and whose Books and Print Sandbox project, Jekyll 2.0, is absolutely fascinating and well worth a look. Another project on which Anthony has worked is the British Fiction 1800-1829 database, a fantastic - and completely free - web resource from Cardiff University which covers the production, circulation, and reception of fiction written in the second half of the Romantic period. The database holds bibliographical records of 2,272 works of fiction written by approximately 900 authors, and also contains some fascinating contemporary supporting materials such as letters by authors and readers, reviews, newspaper advertisements, anecdotal information, circulating-library catalogues, and subscription lists.

Of course, the first book I looked up on this database was Mary Shelley's The Last Man, and despite being in the fourth year of a PhD on Last Man texts I was really pleased to find a couple of references which I haven't come across before. Alongside some familiar references to the novel from Mary Shelley's own letters, I found observations on The Last Man from the correspondence of Washington Irving, Mary Leadbeater, and Lady Louisa Stuart. The list of advertisements for the novel was comprehensive and clearly set out, and the information from circulating-library catalogues was similarly well presented and useful.

Without very much effort at all, undergraduates can use this site to enhance their understanding of an author or specific text, quickly accessing information about the contemporary reception  and availability of a huge number of works. Likewise, postgraduates and other researchers should find it a helpful starting point when approaching a work of fiction from this period. From Jane Austen to Sophia F. Ziegenhirt, this database covers both canonical names and lesser-known authors, and offers some really nice features, such as the ability to browse by publisher. This is definitely one to bookmark; I'm just annoyed I didn't find it sooner!


'A Young Girl Reading' by Fragonard (1776)
As part of my role as Research Assistant on The Next Time(line), I've been collecting a lot of contextual data surrounding Wordsworth's production of The Prelude (in its many forms) to go into our prototype app. Wordsworth was a prolific reader, and I've become particularly interested in the impact of his reading in the years 1785-1805 on his writing. Alongside Duncan Wu's superbly researched books on this subject, I've found the website UK RED very useful. This online database, compiled by the Open University, covers the experience of reading in Britain from 1450 to 1945, aiming to 'capture the reading tastes and habits of the famous and the ordinary, the young and the old, men and women'.

Like 'British Fiction 1800-1829', 'UK RED' can be either searched or browsed, and subjects can be looked up as both readers and authors; in other words, I can look at what Wordsworth was reading or, alternatively, I can see who was reading Wordsworth. The downside to this resource is that the data is currently not standardised so, for example, you'd be advised to search 'Austin' as well as 'Austen' in order to access all the information available. Having said that, 'UK RED' is a really rich resource, so is well worth the effort. It goes way beyond published fiction and poetry, covering a range of literature from playbills and tickets to graffiti and prison records; it also has some useful features, such as the ability to compile a marked list and save it as a PDF. I hope that you find something here to interest you!

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