Introducing…The Victorian Collection at the Armstrong Browning Library: A Baylor Libraries Digital Collection

The Armstrong Browning Library is pleased to announce the release of The Victorian Collection online. This new digital collection contains over 3,000 letters and manuscripts connected to prominent and lesser known British and American figures and complements the Armstrong Browning Library’s unparalleled collection of materials relating to the Victorian poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Below is a Q&A with Dr. Melinda Creech, Graduate Research Assistant at the Armstrong Browning Library and the driving force behind this digitization project. In the interview, Dr. Creech discusses how this project came about and highlights some of her favorite items in the collection.

The Armstrong Browning Library will celebrate the release of this new digital collection with short presentations by Dr. Creech and Darryl Stuhr, Associate Director, Digital Preservation Services, Library and Academic Technology Services, on Thursday, November 29 at 3:30 pm in the Armstrong Browning Library Lecture Hall. A reception will follow in the Mary Armstrong Seminar Room.

Melinda Creech

Melinda Creech organizes and describes letters from the Armstrong Browning Library’s Victorian Collection

How did you become involved in the project to digitize the Victorian Collection and what role did you play in the project?

I first came to work at the Armstrong Browning Library in the summer of 2011. One of my first jobs was to transcribe the letters in the Kenyon/Frizell Album that had been purchased in June of that year. The album had one letter from Robert Browning to John Kenyon, and two letters from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to John Kenyon. John Kenyon, an English poet and philanthropist, was Elizabeth’s distant cousin and introduced her to Robert. He became their dear friend. However, in addition to these three letters, there were eighty-three other letters in the album. Several were from other notable authors of the nineteenth century: Dickens, Carlyle, and Thackeray. As I struggled to read the handwriting of so many correspondents, I began to realize that although they may not have had the notoriety of the Brownings, all these people had led interesting lives and had fascinating stories to tell.

I continued to pay attention to interesting Victorian letters that I ran across. This led to the creation of a several exhibits and blog posts, “Beyond the Brownings,” “Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers A Voice and a Face,” “Seeing Many Beautiful Things,” “They Asked for a Paper,” and “White Star Lines: Titanic Connections at the ABL.”

There was not a comprehensive list of the Victorian letters. I remember asking about how many Victorian letters were thought to be in the collection. When I was told about 500, I was surprised, based on my personal experience with the letters, and asked if I could  create a more comprehensive list of the Victorian letters, those not directly related to the Brownings. In the summer of 2014, I began the Victorian Letters Project. That summer Kara Long helped me to create a schema for collecting the metadata, and I spent the summer collecting the metadata from existing card catalogues, and continued adding letters discovered in albums, tipped into books, and hidden in other collections. In January of 2017, having collected all the metadata on almost 4000 letters, we began to make plans for digitizing the letters and manuscripts.

Sarah Rude

Sarah Rude digitizes letters from the Armstrong Browning Library’s Victorian Collection at the Riley Digitization Center

Who were some of your collaborators and what roles did they play in making this digital collection possible?

Jennifer Borderud, new director of the ABL, Darryl Stuhr, Assistant Director for Digital Projects, Allison Riley, Digitization Coordinator, and Kara Long, Metadata and Catalog Librarian, and I finalized plans for digitizing the Victorian Letters Collection at the ABL in January, and the work began. The letters had to be properly identified, transcribed, if necessary, housed, and transported to the Riley Digitization Center. I was not involved in the process at the Digitization Center, which involved scanning the letters, editing and saving the images, processing the images, archiving them, recording all the processes, and returning the letters to the ABL. Once the letters were returned they had to be checked in and returned to their storage area. Many graduate assistants and paid staff, both at the ABL and the Riley Digitization Center, were instrumental in the completion of the project. I’m not sure I can recall everyone, but here are some who helped: Darryl Stuhr, Allyson Riley, Michael Galindo, Katherine MacKenzie, Sarah Rude, B.J. Thome, Evangeline Eilers, Josh Pittman, and Meagan Anthony.

What aspects of the project were the most rewarding?

The most rewarding part of the project was bringing to light letters and manuscripts that had been hidden for a long time. Finding the Dowden letters was thrilling. Mrs. Dowden had been a correspondent of the Brownings and of Dr. Armstrong. She lived in Ireland during a time of great unrest in the early part of the twentieth century. After corresponding with Dr. Armstrong for a while, she decided that her letters would be safer at the ABL. She sent the letters of her husband, Edward Dowden, first, and eventually sent her letters also to Dr. Armstrong, with the stipulation that they were only to be published after her death. The letters, almost 400, are filled with contemporary literary criticism. Prof. Dowden was the first English literature professor in Ireland. The letters had been safely stored in the vault at the ABL, and were undisturbed, I think, until I opened the drawer in 2016.

I often write to scholars all over the world with questions about letters, and those questions have, in some cases, opened new avenues of research for them. Sometimes scholars responded to blogs that I had written about the Victorian Letters, and a lively correspondence grew between us. Those correspondents included a Dickens scholar in Ireland, a science historian in Germany, a religious biographer in Florida, a maritime museum curator in Greenwich, a Purefoy-Fitzgerald scholar at the Bodleian, Wordsworth and Carlyle scholars in Grasmere, and a Hopkins scholar in York.

What aspects of the project were the most challenging?

Four thousand letters are a lot of letters. Just collecting the metadata on that many letters seems an almost impossible job for one person to do. I suppose one of the most frustrating moments came after all 1100 letters that had been housed in the filing cabinets in the vault had been prepared, sent to digitization, returned, and refiled, when I received word that the scanning machine at the digitization center had not been working properly, and all the letters would have to be returned and scanned again. That was pretty discouraging, but the rescanning took a lot less time the second time around.

Percy Florence Shelley Letter

Letter from Percy Florence Shelley to Tom Taylor, dated 11 January 1871, in the Armstrong Browning Library’s Victorian Collection

What item or items in the collection are the most interesting to you?

There have been many, many interesting stories associated with the letters. I remember how excited I was one afternoon as I was making my way through a bundle of letters that were related to the cartoonist Tom Taylor. Most of the letters were letters of condolences to his wife after his death. However among the letters I found one signed “Percy Shelley.” A quick bit of research revealed the letter was from the poet’s son, Percy Florence Shelley, and unlocked a fascinating story about the plays he produced in a theater in his own house. There was a letter from the artist and writer John Ruskin to his protégé, Lilias Trotter, who became a life-long missionary to Algeria. This was timely, because we were showing a film about Lilias Trotter’s life here at the ABL at the time. Her biographer was thrilled to find this bit of correspondence between Ruskin and Lilias. There are letters from writers, artists, musicians, scientists, explorers, clergy (even Baptists), statesmen, soldiers, and even cricket players. There are many letters related to scientists and explorers, artists and musicians, clergymen and politicians, and actors and stage managers. My hope is that digitizing these letters, which are outside the purview of the literary world of the ABL, will provide scientists, artists, musicians, and historians a new glance into the life of someone in their particular field for whom they have a passion.

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For more information on the Victorian Collection:

Literary figures represented in the Victorian Collection are covered in the blog series: Beyond the Brownings

 

Rhyme and Reform Symposium

A group of children in dirty clothing, appearing to be from the 19th century

On October 4-5, 2018, the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University jointly hosted “Rhyme and Reform” with the University of Strathclyde and the University of Manchester. This symposium recognized the 175thanniversary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Cry of the Children” through a series of events that fostered a critical dialogue between the poem and representations of labor by Victorian working-class authors.

A man gestures to a projector screen with two people on a video conference while an audience looks on.

Dr. Joshua King opens the “Orphans of earthly love” exhibit at the ABL. Connor Watkins and Sakina Haji, students who helped design the exhibit, join via video-conferencing.

The innovative symposium sought to bridge digital and physical spaces, with activities held at both the ABL and across the Atlantic at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. Dr. Joshua King (Assoc. Prof. of English and ABL scholar in residence) and ABL Director Jennifer Borderud were the lead organizers for the ABL site, and Prof. Kirstie Blair (U of Strathclyde) and Dr. Mike Sanders (U of Manchester) were the lead organizers for the Glasgow site.

Video-conferencing allowed the two sites to interact and share events, but the “Rhyme and Reform” website also hosted an online version of the physical exhibition at the ABL and allowed participants anywhere in the world to live stream the presentations. This exhibition remains available through the website, where it is now joined by recordings of events from both symposium sites.  This will allow scholars, teachers, and students to engage with “Rhyme and Reform” long after its official end.  One teacher has already written a blog about her class’s experience of “Rhyme and Reform.”

Jennifer Reid, singing

Jennifer Reid sings a nineteenth-century working-class ballad

One of the highlights of “Rhyme and Reform” was an arresting performance of narrative and balladry by Jennifer Reid and Dr. Mike Sanders depicting nineteenth-century working-class life in Manchester, England. You can hear a 15-minute excerpt of the performance here.

The symposium also included engaging and insightful talks by top scholars including Prof. Marjorie Stone (Dalhousie U) and Prof. Beverly Taylor (UNC), both leading experts on EBB, and Prof. Florence Boos (U of Iowa), an authority on Victorian working-class women poets. You can listen to their talks on the symposium website here. Be sure explore the “Sessions” tab on the website to find recordings of the other talks from both sides of the Atlantic.

A group of scholars sit together participating in a workshop

Prof. Marjorie Stone, Prof. Linda Hughes, Prof. Florence Boos (Front L-R), Dr. Melinda Creech, and Rachel Kilgore (Back L-R) participate in the ABL COVE workshop on EBB’s poem.

Both the University of Strathclyde and ABL sites participated in workshops on digital scholarship and teaching using COVE. They used the suite of the digital tools to collaboratively annotate EBB’s “The Cry of the Children,” with the intention of ultimately building an online scholarly edition of the poem.

EBB's poem "The Cry of the Children" annotated with different colored text boxes

The working annotations of EBB’s poem following the ABL’s and University of Stathclyde’s COVE workshops.

And finally, “Rhyme and Reform” also included a physical exhibit on “The Cry of the Children” at the ABL created by Dr. Joshua King’s spring 2018 Victorian Poetry senior seminar: “Orphans of earthly love: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Protest for Working Children.” The exhibition also appears online on the symposium website alongside an exhibition of working-class poetry from “Piston, Pen & Press,” an AHRC-funded project directed by Prof. Kirstie Blair and Dr. Mike Sanders on the literary cultures of industrial workers in the North of England and Scotland. Click here to visit the two online exhibitions and consider how their juxtaposition invites you to compare EBB’s “The Cry of the Children” with working-class verse.

Two juxtaposed photos of two boys working at looms in factories. One is from the present and one from the 19th century. Next to the photos is a QR code accompanied by the question "Can we hear The Cry of the Children in our world?

These two young boys working looms in factories—one in the nineteenth century and one in the present—appeared in the physical exhibit at the ABL. Viewers were encouraged to engage in the exhibit by scanning the QR code to “hear” echoes of “The Cry of the Children” in the present day.

The dual-site, digitally connected nature of this symposium allowed international collaboration and participation with limited travel and thus a reduced economic and environmental impact. Further, it opened access to the events across the world. You can see some of interactions among participants by viewing the hashtag #RhymeandReform on Twitter. Over just the two days, the symposium website received nearly 200 visitors from seven countries. Some of these included groups of faculty and students, such as the self-organized viewing by the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada. Thus, we estimate “Rhyme and Reform” engaged around 260 participants, the audience size of an annual conference for a mid-sized scholarly association.

A man and woman view a museum exhibit

Visitors view rare materials from the ABL at the “Orphans of earthly love” exhibit.

We encourage you to visit the “Rhyme and Reform” website yourself to take part in the symposium. And if you’re in the Waco, TX area, be sure to visit the physical exhibition at the Armstrong Browning Library, which will be on display on the main floor through April 1, 2019.

Melvin Schuetz for the Moon

Melvin Schuetz with his House Resolution. Photo by Carl Flynn.

Melvin Schuetz with his House Resolution. Photo by Carl Flynn.

Melvin Schuetz, the Armstrong Browning Library’s assistant to the curators, is having an amazing year!

The documentary he co-produced on space artist Chesley Bonestell, Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future, made its debut at the Newport Beach Film Festival in May and took home the Audience Award in the Art, Architecture, and Design category. The film then went on to win Best Documentary at the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival in San Diego, California, in July.  In October, Melvin received a resolution from the State of Texas congratulating him on the success of his documentary and commending him for his expertise and contributions to the film.

Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future will screen this Monday, October 29, at 7:00 pm at the Waco Hippodrome as part of Baylor Student Activities’ “Movie Mondays.” The screening is already SOLD OUT, but the trailer can be viewed below.

The Armstrong Browning Library is proud of Melvin for his hard work and success!

To learn more about Melvin, his interest in Bonestell and space, and his involvement with Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future, visit the following links:

Eric Ames. “Documentary Co-Producer Melvin Schuetz Talks Chesley Bonestell and ‘Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future.’” Promoting Discovery: Presenting Stories from the Baylor University Libraries. Updated May 31, 2018.

Carl Hoover. “Sci-fi documentary aided by Baylor assistant to curators gets Comic-Con screening.” Waco Tribune-Herald. July 19, 2018.

Carl Hoover. “Baylor library worker co-produces Comic-Con prize-winning documentary.” Waco Tribune-Herald. July 29, 2018.

Liesbeth Powers. “Bonestell Film Gains Momentum Throughout the Summer.” Baylor Media Communications. August 8, 2018.

Carl Hoover. “Space movies coming to Waco screens, plus ‘Neighbor,’ ‘RBG.’” Waco Tribune-Herald. August 22, 2108.

Waco Showing Scheduled for ABL Staff Member’s Award-Winning Documentary.” Baylor University Libraries. October 11, 2018.

Armstrong Browning Library Welcomes New Library Host

Kacie Collin, Library Host, Armstrong Browning Library

The Armstrong Browning Library is pleased to welcome Kacie Collin as a part-time library host. Kacie began working at the ABL in August. She works in the afternoons on the main floor of the library greeting visitors and providing tours. She also assists in the Gift Gallery and with special events. Kacie is new to Waco. She is originally from Washington State. She has a BA in History with minors in French and Biblical Studies from George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.

Why were you interested in working as a Library Host at the ABL?

As someone who is fresh out of undergrad with a history degree, I was often met with the question “so what are you going to do with that?” That question often puzzled me, as it has always seemed clear that a well-rounded knowledge of history and the historical method is something that transcends the classroom. History itself encompasses all the disciplines and draws people in – creating links between the larger narrative of mankind and an individual’s experience. I cannot tell you how many tours I have given where people resonate personally with a piece of art, with a poem, or call to mind a memory from their childhood – all from listening to stories from the past. This link between history and individual, and my ability to help convey it, is what drew me to pursue the Library Host position at Armstrong Browning Library.

What has been your favorite part of the job so far?

As a self-proclaimed history nerd, let me be the first to say that nothing brings me more joy than giving tours and helping to draw the listener in to the story of Dr. Armstrong, Robert, and Elizabeth. I have taken pleasure in doing my own research to find out fun facts about Robert Browning that I convey during the tour to add a bit of humor to the experience. For example, in the Research Hall, there is a painting of Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of good health. It belonged to Robert and it hung in his home in Casa Guidi. I take it upon myself to mention that as a testament to his robust health, it was said that “Browning could eat a pint of mayonnaise with a spoon, like ice cream, and then go horseback riding.” That one always gets a good chuckle.

What are your career goals and how might this position help you achieve those goals?

In the future, I would like to be a university professor and teach theology and church history. In a position such as that, one must be able to synthesize research in order to make it accessible to those listening. That means knowing what information most pertains to one’s audience, and understanding the importance of voice control and projection. I cannot think of a better position than mine at ABL to help prepare me for such a career.

Rhyme and Reform Symposium: An Instructor’s Perspective

By Meagan Anthony, English Ph.D. Candidate, Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

On October 4th and 5th, the Armstrong Browning Library co-hosted our first hybrid symposium, Rhyme and Reform: Victorian Working-Class Poets and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “The Cry of the Children”, along with the University of Strathclyde and the University of Manchester. This multi-site, digitally-networked symposium about Victorian portrayals of industrial labor and verse coincided with the 175th anniversary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Cry of the Children,” which protested the abuse of child workers in British mines and factories. Rhyme and Reform’s schedule of events included in-person and live-streamed presentations, on-site workshops featuring the digital editing tool COVE, and an exhibition. Below, Armstrong Browning Library’s Graduate Research Assistant, Meagan Anthony writes about her decision to bring her English course to the opening reception of Rhyme and Reform’s exhibit.

*****

As an instructor, I think linking classroom discussion with real world events is an important tool for students to transition classroom ideas into their everyday lives. This semester I am teaching the FAS (Freshman Academic Seminar) Protest Writing and Civil Disobedience.  We began looking at the protest writing of the American Independence Movement and will continue up to the #MeToo Movement and March for Our Lives.

Students from Meagan Anthony's English class interact with the Rhyme and Reform exhibit.

Students from Meagan Anthony’s English class interact with the Rhyme and Reform exhibit.

Coincidentally, the week Rhyme and Reform took place, my class was reading about the protest writing of the American tenement dwellers and factory workers. The symposium fit in with our discussion perfectly. Not only could the students see how other scholars presented work regarding protest literature, but they were able to see and experience that the issues with working and living conditions in 19th century America were not limited to America, or that century. Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry also offered the students a new genre for discussion. Our active questions included: How does the genre of protest writing effect the message? What rhetorical techniques are unique to certain genres and which are shared by others? By what past text is this author influenced? How would readers have responded to this text at the time? How should we respond to it?

Meagan Anthony leads her class in a discussion of the Rhyme and Reform exhibit.

Meagan Anthony leads her class in a discussion of the Rhyme and Reform exhibit.

My class thoroughly enjoyed their experience at the ABL and noted that the few classmates who were unable to make class that day had truly missed out. Events like Rhyme and Reform help us to keep literature and historical writing relevant and living. Throughout the semester my class will engage with many instances of injustice and reform through historical texts and literature in order to come to the understanding that these issues are cyclical. We are not experiencing new forms of oppression or disenfranchisement; we are simply experiencing new waves of conflict. Looking back at former protest voices aids us by showing where we have come from and envisioning what our next steps should be.

Armstrong Browning Library Welcomes New Curator

Laura J. French, Associate Librarian and Curator, Armstrong Browning Library

We are pleased to welcome Laura J. French as associate librarian and curator of the Armstrong Browning Library. Laura joined the ABL in May, bringing with her significant experience in reference, instruction, and outreach. Before joining the ABL, she held positions as Special Collections and Digital Archives Librarian at California State University, Stanislaus; as Instruction and User Services Librarian, also at CSU, Stanislaus; and as Interim Librarian for Rare Books and Literary Manuscripts at the University of Maryland, College Park. Previously, Laura taught English and Social Sciences at the secondary level. Laura earned her BA in History with a minor in Literature from High Point University in North Carolina, and her MA in Medieval History from California State University, Sacramento. Laura completed all coursework toward an MA in Education with a concentration in Curriculum and Instruction and earned her MLS from the University of Maryland, College Park.

How did you become interested in librarianship?

I became interested in librarianship because of challenges I faced as a high school social science and English language arts teacher. I would search the internet for digital versions of primary sources that I could use in my classes. While I found many interesting digital collections, the content rarely aligned to content standards. If I could find digitized primary sources aligned to content standards, frequently the images were file sizes too small to create reproducible facsimiles and many could not be downloaded at all. So it was dissatisfaction with the then current state of many digital collections and a desire to help teachers interested in teaching with primary sources which prompted my interest in librarianship.

Describe your role at the Armstrong Browning Library and what interests you most about the position?

Dr. Sebastian Langdell's English 2301 course visited the Armstrong Browning Library in September to explore 18th Century printings of Shakespeare's play "The Tempest."

Laura French introduces students in Dr. Sebastian Langdell’s English 2301 course to the ABL’s 18th-century printings of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”

As a curator at the Armstrong Browning Library I provide access to and promote the use of the library’s nineteenth-century research materials. I offer research support to individuals with questions about Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and their circle. The part of my responsibilities which I find most engaging is the collaborative work I do with Baylor faculty designing instruction sessions utilizing the ABL’s resources to enhance student learning experiences. Attempting to increase awareness on campus, in the local community, and within scholarly circles of the ABL’s resources is the most creatively challenging aspect of my work.

Describe a project on which you are currently working and a project you hope to begin the near future?

Currently, I am working on an exhibit manual. This will be a tool for ABL employees and interns to offer guidance for individuals putting together an exhibit for the first time and reminders for those putting up their fiftieth. It will have some resources to help individuals curating an exhibit at the ABL keep track of the parts of an exhibit, locate supplies, and identify employees in other departments who have key roles in exhibit curation at Baylor Libraries.

Next, I will work on documentation for the ABL’s instruction program. I would like to be able to provide faculty with a description of the types of instruction that the ABL offers and ensure that all faculty are aware of their options when in comes to requesting instruction sessions utilizing the ABL’s research collections.

Armstrong Browning Library Welcomes Three-Month Research Fellow

By Meagan Anthony, ABL Graduate Research Assistant and PhD candidate, Department of English

Professor Clare Simmons, ABL Three-Month Research Fellow for 2018

On Friday, September 7, the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) welcomed Professor Clare Simmons to Baylor with a reception held in the ABL’s Cox Reception Hall where she was introduced by Dr. Joshua King, Margarett Root Browning Chair in Robert Browning and Victorian Studies, and Jennifer Borderud, Director of the ABL. Professor Simmons is the ABL’s Three-Month Research Fellow for the fall of 2018. The library offers this research fellowship every year to established and recognized scholars of nineteenth-century studies from outside Baylor. This fellowship is offered as a means to support in-residence research for scholars to advance a major project using ABL’s unparalleled resources connected to the Brownings and other influential authors from the nineteenth-century.

Professor Clare Simmons with faculty from Baylor’s English Department

Professor Simmons is one of the foremost scholars of nineteenth-century medievalism. Her extensive publications include books as well as scholarly articles and demonstrate her dedication to the use of archival materials. Professor Simmons’s past publications contribute to our understanding of how nineteenth-century Britain used conception of the medieval period in their texts, and she illuminates how the British people conceptualized their own history and national identity. Additionally, as the director of undergraduate studies for the Ohio State English Department, she has shared her passion for literature with the next generation of scholars through interactive workshops and engaging presentations.

In her three-month residency at the ABL, Professor Simmons will be conducting research to complete a book on “festive medievalism” in nineteenth-century literature and culture. As well as researching, Professor Simmons will be interacting with Baylor students and faculty through presentations and workshops. Consequently, on Friday, September 21, Professor Simmons will be presenting a workshop titled “Publishing Your First Article and Submitting to Conferences.” This presentation will be from 3:30-4:30 pm in the Armstrong Browning Library’s Seminar Room. Toward the end of her residency, on November 16, Professor Simmons will give a talk encapsulating the results of her research during her fellowship at the Armstrong Browning Library. The focus of this talk will center on the festivities of the Christmas season.

Learn more about Professor Clare Simmons here. Learn more about the ABL’s Three-Month Research Fellowship here.

Rhyme and Reform: Victorian Working-Class Poets and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Cry of the Children”

a multi-site, digitally networked symposium organized by
the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University (US)
and the Universities of Strathclyde and Manchester (UK)

October 4-5, 2018
To register and learn more, please visit
baylor.edu/library/rhymeandreform

Many know that Victorian factories and mines were dangerous places to work, but how often do we really consider the human lives and stories they shaped?  What was it like to be a child working in these places? How did workers write about their conditions? How did authors on the outside respond to reports of labor abuse? Can these stories still speak to our times?

Please join us in considering these questions at “Rhyme and Reform” as we investigate Victorian portrayals of industrial labor in verse and narrative.  This multi-site, digitally linked series of events will be hosted by the Armstrong Browning Library in partnership with the University of Strathclyde in Scotland and the University of Manchester in England.

“Rhyme and Reform” marks the 175th anniversary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Cry of the Children,” which protested the abuse of child workers in British mines and factories.

This symposium will put “The Cry of the Children” and representations of labor by Victorian working-class authors in conversation through scholarly presentations, performances of laboring-class balladry, interactive workshops, and a combination of physical and digital exhibitions by scholars and students.

The centerpiece of these exhibitions is “‘Orphans of earthly love’: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Protest for Working Children,” which was designed by undergraduates in my recent Victorian Poetry seminar at the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL). This exhibition will open at the ABL on the first day of “Rhyme and Reform.”  We would be especially delighted for Benefactors of the library to join us for this occasion, when students from the class will attend—in person and digitally—to discuss their work.  A version of this exhibition will also be on the event site, where it will be accompanied by displays about working-class poetry supplied by the “Piston, Pen & Press” project, which highlights the literary cultures of workers in nineteenth-century industrial Scotland and northern England.  This project is sponsored by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council, and led by faculty and staff at the University of Strathclyde, the University of Manchester, and the National Railway Museum (York, UK).

Through “Rhyme and Reform,” we hope to illuminate the contexts, concerns, and ongoing relevance of Victorian depictions of industrial labor. Calling these subjects “relevant” might seem a stretch.  Most who witness this conference will probably have no personal experience of mines or factories, which have largely moved out of eyesight in “first-world” countries.  Yet our wardrobes and powerplants still depend upon their often-inhumane operation around the globe, and far more children endure slavery and forced labor today than in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s time.  Furthermore, people everywhere are feeling the effects of another legacy from Britain’s industrial age, dependency on fossil fuels.  How we respond to this inheritance will define our shared future.

This symposium seeks to contribute to that response by experimenting with a more sustainable form of international conferencing and collaboration.  Rather than flying everyone to one site, it will digitally link two event centers across the Atlantic, use a digital suite of tools called COVE to create a cooperative annotation of “Cry of the Children,” and invite participants around the world to access exhibitions and live-streamed presentations through the event website.

I warmly encourage you to visit this website to review the schedule and make time in yours to attend.  If you are unable to join us physically, please make a note to return to the website during the symposium for streamed and prerecorded events.

Dr. Joshua King
Associate Professor of English, Baylor University
Margarett Root Brown Chair in Robert Browning and Victorian Studies
Armstrong Browning Library

In the Footsteps of the Brownings in Italy

By Jennifer Borderud, Associate Director and Access and Outreach Librarian

Josh and Jennifer Borderud in front of the Pantheon, Rome

Josh and Jennifer Borderud in front of the Pantheon, Rome

On this day—June 29—in 1861, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in Florence, Italy, and was buried two days later in the English Cemetery there. In March of this year—2016—my husband Josh and I had the opportunity to travel to Italy, the place Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning called home during their 15 years of marriage, with faculty, students, and friends of Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. The nine-day trip, which included stops in Rome, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Florence, was part of a course on early Roman Christianity taught by our good friend Dr. Joel Weaver.

The itinerary was full with guided tours of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and the Catacombs of St. Sebastian in Rome; St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City; the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum at the foot of Mount Vesuvius; and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Piazza della Signoria, and the Accademia Gallery in Florence. Despite the ambitious agenda, my husband and I (and at times an interested seminarian or two) used the free time we were given in Rome and Florence to seek out sites related to the Brownings and their circle.

Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Richard Horne on display at the Keats-Shelley House

Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Richard Horne on display at the Keats-Shelley House

In Rome, we visited the Keats-Shelley House, a museum dedicated to the English Romantic poets who were enamored with and influenced by Rome. John Keats died in this house in 1821 in a room on the second floor overlooking the Spanish Steps. On display throughout the house were books, manuscripts, and other items relating to the lives and works of Byron, Shelley, and Keats. There were items relating to the Brownings as well.

After our visit to the museum, a short walk took us to the doorstep of Bocca di Leone 43, where the Brownings lived during extended winter stays in Rome. A plaque at the corner of the street commemorates the Brownings’ residency.

Via Bocca di Leone, Rome

Via Bocca di Leone, Rome

Angel of Grief by William Wetmore Story, Non-Catholic Cemetery, Rome

Angel of Grief by William Wetmore Story, Non-Catholic Cemetery, Rome

Heading quickly back toward the Spanish Steps, we had just enough time to take a taxi to Rome’s Non-Catholic Cemetery (Il Cimitero Acattolico di Roma). Located adjacent to the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, the Non-Catholic Cemetery is the burial place of both John Keats and Percy Shelley. American sculptor and Browning friend William Wetmore Story and his wife Emelyn are also buried there. I had seen photographs of the grave stone Story designed for his wife, called the Angel of Grief, and was particularly interested in seeing it in person. It was stunningly beautiful. Not long after we returned to Waco from Italy, I learned that a replica of Story’s Angel of Grief could be found in Waco’s Oakwood Cemetery, practically in my own backyard.

We only spent a day and a half in Florence, but we had just enough free time to make two important stops. After walking across the Ponte Vecchio, we found our way to Casa Guidi, the Brownings’ primary home in Italy, which has been restored to look as it did when the Brownings lived there. We stood in the salon where Elizabeth spent time writing Casa Guidi Windows and Aurora Leigh, and we walked along the balcony where Robert and Elizabeth would take walks and where Elizabeth watched processions celebrating political victories.

Casa Guidi, Piazza San Felice 8, Florence

Entrance to Casa Guidi at Piazza San Felice 8, Florence

Jennifer Borderud with Julia Bolton Holloway (left) and a Roma woman who takes care of the cemetery (center)

Jennifer Borderud with Julia Bolton Holloway (left) and a Roma woman who takes care of the cemetery (center)

We did not have time to visit the nearby Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, which were frequented by the Brownings. However, we did visit the Protestant Cemetery (Cimitero degli Inglesi), where we met Julia Bolton Holloway, the custodian of the cemetery, who works with the Roma people to maintain the cemetery and grounds. We also laid flowers on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s grave to honor her life and work.

Laying flowers on Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Grave

Laying flowers on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Grave

We had a wonderful week, and while there are more Browning sites to see, we understand why they loved Italy. We also made sure to rub the bronze boar’s snout in the Mercato Nuovo to ensure our return to Florence and another opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the Brownings.

Thank you to Dr. Joel Weaver and Dr. Steve Reid and to the students and friends of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary for letting us explore Italy with you.

Faculty, students, and friends of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Vatican City, 8 March 2016

Faculty, students, and friends of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Vatican City, 8 March 2016

 

 

Text Mining the Brownings’ Love Letters

With love in the air as Valentine’s Day quickly approaches, Digital Scholarship Liaison Librarian Megan Martinsen decided to text mine the love letters of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning to see what discoveries she might make about the Brownings’ romance using digital tools. What she found she described in a recent blog post as “interesting, staggering, and heartwarming.” Read Megan’s full post here, and find the Brownings’ love letters with full transcriptions on the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections website.