Continental European Books in Early Modern England, 1500-1640: A New Approach Using Bibliographic Data Science (AWARD)

Project Details


This project challenges the equation of early modern English literary culture with English-language books printed in London by transforming our knowledge of foreign-language books published on the Continent available in England between 1500 and 1640. England was unusually dependent on the importation of books, but we still know relatively little about what those books were. The project will address this problem by combining information from a wide range of sources about the translation, importation, sale, and ownership of foreign books in early modern England. It thus highlights the multilingual and transnational dimension of literary culture across the whole of England in the 1500s and 1600s.

The project will create the largest and most comprehensive database with information about foreign books in early modern England. Its ground-breaking use of Bibliographic Data Science (BDS) makes it possible to combine existing datasets with divergent data models hosted on separate platforms, notably the largest database of 16th and 17th century English book owners, PLRE.Folger, and a catalogue of all translations printed in England before 1641, Renaissance Cultural Crossroads, and add important new data about the sale, ownership, and importation of books. BDS will further enable the addition of Linked Open Data about people, works, and places. Finally, BDS will allow us to perform sophisticated visualisation and analysis of the data (e.g., maps, networks, charts) that will create new insights into the key trends and developments in the circulation of foreign books in early modern England. The project’s interdisciplinary methods will be underpinned by an innovative partnership between humanities academics and library and data scientists from the Digital Development Team of the University of Manchester Library.

The database will enable ground-breaking analysis of the types of books printed abroad most popular in England and the effects of their language and where they were published. Was the fashion for Italian books during the Renaissance confined to literature, for example? Did English readers prefer books printed in Protestant cities like Geneva, even if the texts were not religious? The project will also consider how these patterns changed over time and varied depending on social background, gender, and place of residence. Did people who lived further away from London have access to a narrower range of foreign books, for instance? Did women read more books in French and men in Latin? The project further compares England to other parts of Europe to see whether its dependence on foreign-language books printed abroad affected its access to texts and ideas. In particular, it considers whether England’s marginal place in the European book market impacted on its access to the expanding knowledge about the rest of the world during a time of exploration and early colonisation. Did discoveries about the New World reach English readers more slowly because of England’s reliance on foreign books?

The project dataset will be made freely available for download so it can be reused and expanded and thus form the foundation for future scholarship in this area. A project website will enable users to query and visualise the dataset in a variety of ways. The findings of the project research will be shared through 4 journal articles and an interdisciplinary academic conference that will launch a research network on the application of Data Science to early modern Book History and Literary Studies. The project will also offer opportunities for impact and engagement with a range of audiences. A workshop on Bibliographic Data Science will encourage dialogue between academics and library scientists and technologists. Volunteers with an interest in books and their history can contribute transcriptions of booklists through a transcribathon and a Zooniverse Project and both beginners and experts hone their digital skills through a data visualisation workshop and hackathon.
Effective start/end date1/07/2431/12/25

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Digital Futures
  • John Rylands Research Institute and Library


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