Tag Archive for Browning Letters

(Digital Collections) “Unquestionably the Most Elaborate and Complete, of Any Which I Have Seen” – An Update on the Browning Letters Project


Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Hugh Stuart Boyd, May 28-29, 1828. Source for the quoted text we used for our blog title this week. See the full letter at http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/ab-letters/id/23271

If it’s Valentine’s Day, it must be time for another update on our most love-centric undertaking, the Browning Letters Project! Two years ago, we announced the unveiling of the first phase of the project, wherein 1,400 letters digitized from the collections of Baylor University’s Armstrong Browning Library and Wellesley College were placed online for the first time, including the “love letters” capturing Robert and Elizabeth’s courtship years (1845-1846).

Today, we’re excited to announce another major milestone: the addition of the entirety of Wellesley’s collection of correspondence, a total of 1,624 letters! This brings the total number of digitized letters to a shade over 4,500, the balance of which come from Armstrong Browning Library. All of the “phase III” Wellesley materials are full-text searchable, and the percentage of full-text capable items from ABL continues to grow, with a goal of reaching 100% searchability by May 31 of this year.

When we announced the addition of the love letters in 2012, we experienced more than 1,000,000 hits to our server in the course of a little under three days. While we’d certainly welcome a repeat performance this time, we’re equally interested in letting our readers – and users, and Browning scholars, and fans of 19th century correspondence in general – know that the next major phase of the project is complete. We’ve got our eyes on two other major collaborative partners (more to come when we can formally announce their participation!) but for now, this 4,500+ collection is already a major resource in the world of Victoriana, Browningiana and other related fields of study.

Bonus Content

To answer a user’s inquiry about reading the entire back-and-forth exchange between Robert and Elizabeth from their courtship phase in plain text, we added a link to a work published in 1900 titled The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett on the Project Gutenberg site. This will allow readers to follow their unfolding love story in a single, continuous website and makes for a nice complement to the high-quality images provided via the Browning Letters Project.

Also, here’s a great story put together by our campus media folks all about the latest news!

For more information on the Browning Letters Project, visit the collection’s homepage. To learn more about Baylor’s Armstrong Browning Library, visit their homepage. And to learn more about Wellesley College, visit their homepage


(Digital Collections) Baylor Faculty Members Secure Grant Funding for Digital Collections-Based Research Project

Professors William Weaver, PhD (left) and Greg Hamerly, PhD (right) secured grant funding to study the love letters of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning using computer algorithms. Their project will get underway this summer.

In a year filled with firsts for the Digital Projects Group, we’re excited to announce another. Two Baylor University faculty members – Dr. Greg Hamerly (Associate Professor, Computer Science) and Dr. William Weaver (Assistant Professor, Great Texts Program – Honors College) – shared the news with this week that they had received a URC grant for a joint project entitled “Critical Soliloquies: A Project of Electronic Discovery in the Browning Love Letters.” This project is the first-known research project based on items from one of our Digital Collections to receive grant funding, and it all centers on one of our most well-received collections.

The project is an ambitious blend of rhetorical evaluation and computer science, a combination that is a perfect fit for the digitized Victorian-era letters available via the Browning Letters Project. Dr. Weaver shared the abstract from the proposal, which describes the research project thusly:

For over a century, from their first publication in 1899, the love letters of Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning have won the hearts of readers. A near complete record of the poets’ courtship from 1845 to 1846, these letters include a substantial body of literary criticism. This criticism includes their assessments of each other’s works in progress and the works of major contemporary figures like Carlyle, Tennyson, and George Sand, not to mention numerous minor artists of the Victorian era. It would be possible and interesting, using transcribed editions of the letters, to excerpt and collect these critical writings.

This interdisciplinary project, between literary studies and computer science, attempts something more ambitious. Building on Baylor Library’s recent digitization of the 574 letters (published on Valentine’s Day 2012), we will create a database of critical and non-critical writing from the letters. Using tools for text classification, we will then test whether a computer can make reliable discriminations between the two classes of text. Such a tool could be extended to discover “critical soliloquies” (Elizabeth Barrett’s term) in this and other Victorian archives.

If using computer-based tools to analyze 19th century missives sounds like the ultimate steampunk/sci-fi fan fiction, you wouldn’t be too far from the truth. And no pair of researchers is better suited to tackle the task than professors Weaver and Hamerly, two men with great skill and expertise in two very different – but strangely complementary – areas of interest.

The Origins of Our Involvement

Weaver and Hamerly approached us about a year ago with the idea of using one of our digitized collections to perform computer-based evaluation of materials that were written by hand or set in type before the advent of computers. After a meeting with myself and Darryl Stuhr, Assistant Director for Digital Projects, we enthusiastically agreed to provide access to any digital assets that the professors might need to carry out their work.

For us, it was a natural fit between the wealth of information to be found in archival materials and the power and accuracy of evaluation performed by computers. And once the Browning Letters Project went online in February 2012, the opportunity to analyze the love story of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning proved too good to pass up.

What’s Next?

Dr. Weaver informs us that the first step is to assign students the task of creating a database and begin assigning annotations to the letters. He hopes to see this phase one of the project get underway in June. Successive steps would include the creation of the computer algorithms and processes for analyzing the data input by the students in phase one.

This cross-departmental, multi-discipline approach is the kind of research being conducted at universities across the country, where experts in several fields find new ways to play off each others’ strengths in pursuit of a new, shared goal. In this case, it is the quest to see if a computer can match a human’s critical analysis and evaluation of the written word. Will the machine find these distinctions between the “critical and non-critical writing,” or will it prove to elude even our most up-to-date technology? Will computer science open new doors in the rhetorical examination of our analogue past? And can the application of computing power make it easier for our scholars to delve deeper into the minds (and hearts) of two of Western culture’s greatest creators?

Stay tuned to this blog for updates!

For more information on Dr. Weaver’s work in the Baylor Great Texts program, visit his website. For more information on Dr. Hamerly and his work in Computer Science research, visit this website.  

(Digital Collections) A Post for the Statisticians in the Audience (Or, Who’s Been Looking at Our Stuff?)

The phenomenal success of the Browning Letters Project did more than just expose the world to the first digitized images of more than 1,400 pieces of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s correspondence. It also exposed the server that hosts the collection to more than 1,000,000 page views in just three days! In fact, over the course of a week, the collection was accessed more than 1.3 million times by researchers and curiosity seekers from around the world, including users in the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, India, Singapore and New Zealand.

Here’s what that kind of access assault looks like in graph form:

Darryl Stuhr, our Manager of Digitization Projects, gathered gigabytes’ worth of data on how many people accessed our Digital Collections during the week of the Browning Letters Project’s launch. He looked at what sites referred the most people to the collection (Wellesley College’s domain, Facebook, and the New York Times were the top three, with Google and Baylor coming in in the top 10), what times of day were the most popular for access (between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm on the day of launch), and what kind of domain referred the most users (domains ending in .edu accounted for 85% of visits).

The week of the Browning Letters Project also saw residual statistical increases, like:

–       9 new fans on our Facebook page (+13%)

–       331 hits on our blog (+212%)

–       1 television news interview (+100% from previous week)

Keeping track of information like who accesses our collections, when they do so, and where they come from can help us better target where we promote our collections, when to schedule regular maintenance on our server, and even when we’re being crawled by Google’s spider bots.

Of course, numbers aren’t the only way to quantify how our collections are impacting users around the world. Take this recent quote from George Raffensperger, a direct descendant of Henrietta Hardin Carter Harrrison, whose marginalia illustrations were featured in this post.

As a direct descendant (Henrietta Harrison is my great, great, great Grandmother), I was online looking over family history and came across your post. I enjoyed viewing these sketches very much. I have read that she was a fine artist and enjoyed creating decorations at her home at Tehuacana Retreat. Her artistic ability was passed on to my mother, Ruth Harrison Wood, and my children, who enjoy drawing and painting as well.
Thanks you for sharing these.
Best Regards,

However you choose to evaluate our collections, we hope you’re checking back often, as we’re adding new content on a daily basis. As a matter of fact, here’s one last number for you: within the next few days, our collections will be home to more than 165,000 items. Now that’s a number even the arithmophobics* among us can appreciate.

* Arithmophobia is the fear of numbers, as you no doubt guessed.

(Digital Collections) “How do I love thee?” Let Us Digitize the Ways!

They were written between two of the most famous names in Victorian poetry, spanning a famous courtship, an elopement to Italy, and a widower’s final years. They were preserved by two institutions of higher education in the United States, one a private liberal arts college in the Northeast, the other a private Baptist university in Texas. And now, for the first time, they are available online in the same digital collection for the world to experience.

Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are two of the most recognizable names in the world of poetry. Their work – like the partial line in our title, which comes from “Sonnets from the Portuguese” Number 43 by Elizabeth – is quoted by English majors and schoolchildren alike. Their storied romance is celebrated to this day as the uniting of two kindred souls brought together through mutual love of the poetic muse. And over the course of their lives, they wrote thousands of letters: to each other, to family members, to admirers and casual acquaintances alike.

Now, thanks to a collaboration between Baylor University’s Armstrong Browning Library and Wellesley College, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, we are excited to announce that 1,411 letters written by the Brownings are available online as a collection called The Browning Letters. This is the first time the digitized letters have been made available to the public via the Internet, and they represent the largest single digital repository of Browning correspondence in the world.

The Baylor-Wellesley Collaboration

The project came about through an interest expressed by Baylor’s Dean of Libraries and VP of Information Technology, Pattie Orr. Dean Orr, who came to Baylor after serving as director of user services at Wellesley, knew of the holdings of Browningiana at both institutions and initiated a conversation between the two that focused on creating a collaborative collection. After extensive talks between both parties, the agreement was made to include images of Wellesley’s letters in a digital collection created, hosted, and preserved at Baylor.

Wellesley’s major contribution to the collection – 573 letters – contain what are called the “Browning love letters,” a series of letters exchanged between the two poets from the earliest days of their courtship. In fact, the first letter written by Robert to Elizabeth, which begins with the line “I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,” is included in the collection, as is the final letter from their courtship, written by Elizabeth to Robert just prior to their embarkation to Italy in 1846. Wellesley submitted preservation copies of the letters to Baylor’s Digitization Projects Group, where staff and graduate students reformatted them into items for display and access in CONTENTdm, the software that houses and displays Baylor’s Digital Collections.

Elizabeth Barrett’s first letter to Robert Browning, January 11, 1845. Courtesy Wellesley College, Margaret Clapp Library, Special Collections via the Browning Letters Collection

Baylor’s Browningiana contribution to the collection has so far included more than 800 letters written by Robert Browning. Drawn from the Browning correspondence held at ABL, the letters represent almost one third of their total collection of approximately 2,800 letters. Rita S. Patteson, Director of Armstrong Browning Library, chose to begin the digitization of Baylor’s letters with the Robert Browning correspondence; the plan is to eventually digitize all of the letters at ABL, including those to Robert Browning and those written by and to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The Digitization Projects Group’s Efforts

For the staff at the DPG, a great deal of time and effort has gone into image reformatting, digitization, data management, and online display configuration for the 1,411 letters available on day one of public release. More than 200 combined staff and graduate student hours have been dedicated to the project since December, and the DPG has committed to preserving 340GB of data for the first phase of the project, with an estimated 1.2TB of total file space necessary to finish the project.

With every image in the collection requiring a complex blend of digitization, image editing, metadata cataloging and quality control checks, the investment in this project has been substantial, but the importance of giving worldwide access to these invaluable resources is of great importance to Browning scholars and casual fans alike. The team of DPG staff, graduate assistants and undergraduate students for The Browning Letters project included:

  • Darryl Stuhr, Manager of Digitization Projects: Project lead
  • Allyson Riley, Digitization Technology Support Specialist: Digitization and data mgmt.
  • Eric Ames, Curator of Digital Collections: Contextual research and user interface
  • Austin Schneider, Library Information Specialist III: Metadata cataloging
  • Hannah Mason, Rachel Carson and Natalie Fiegel, graduate assistants: Digitization and metadata
  • Katy Poteat and Kayla Zollinger, undergraduate student workers: Metadata mgmt.

The project team envisions future partners in the Browning Letters collection, as there are an estimated 11,500 pieces of Browning correspondence scattered across dozens of institutions around the world. The processes and systems put in place by the DPG during this phase of the project will ensure future collaborators have a smooth integration of their materials into the growing digital collection.

Digitizing and making the letters available is a huge step in the process, but we hope to unveil additional functionality for this collection in the near future. For now, we invite you to take a moment to discover the timeless story of Robert and Elizabeth’s lives as revealed through their voluminous correspondence.

View The Browning Letters at www.baylor.edu/lib/browningletters and visit www.browninglibrary.org for more information on the Brownings, their works, and the Victorian era.