This project creates a digital model of what we believe to be 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 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.
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: a 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. (CU Libraries subscribes to this database that, despite its search limitations, is very useful for the development of this project.) 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 enable us to map the professional networks of the authors in Stainforth’s library, their publishers, and subscribers, as well as model the organization of the books on each shelf of the 19th-century library. Moreover, recreating this library as a publicly accessible 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 – a deep historical collection from which students, teachers, and scholars will benefit greatly.
For updates from Team Stainforth, follow our blog at: http://libpress.colorado.edu/stainforth/