This space is the repository for the papers, presentations (slides, videos, etc) that will form the basis of the CSDH-SCHN 2021 online conference, to take place May 30-June 3rd.

Striking a NERV: the case for Networking English Renaissance Verse (Greg Kneidel, Brent Nelson, Kyle Dase )

Full paper attached below

ABSTRACT: For the past half-century, literary scholars have been increasingly fascinated by the circulation of manuscript poetry in the English Renaissance. Monograph after monograph has shown that the manuscript archive offers fresh insights into the intentions of authors, the habits of readers, and the formation of literary canons. A handful of indispensable, publicly available online finding-aids are available to guide scholars, most notably Peter Beal’s Catalog of English Literary Manuscripts (, which lists approximately 40k items, and the Folger Shakespeare Library’s First-Line Index (, an assemblage of smaller databases that lists approximately 113k items, as well as a handful of more specialized data sets such as the Donne Variorum archive (which offers transcriptions of approximately 4k manuscript copies of individual Donne poems, along with a complete list of all those witnesses and their location in manuscripts). But, for a variety of reasons, the full potential of this data remains unrealized. Networking English Renaissance Verse (NERV) is a nascent digital humanities project that aims to marshal these data sets and make them available for various forms of advanced digital analysis. This will require several steps. The first step will be to regularize and rationalize the available data sets, which have considerable overlap but cover different authors and archives and use different (and sometimes inconsistent) reporting practices. The next step will be to develop tools to visualize this regularized data and to perform various types of network analysis on them. Since this data set will be extensible, a final step will be to expand it and then to link it to other extant research databases using LOD (Linked Open Data) technologies.

This paper will argue the value of a data-oriented approach in opening up new avenues of research and posing new questions in this growing area of manuscript studies. The pilot project we will present takes as its focus the poetry of John Donne, which represents 10% of the total entries in Beal’s catalogue. We use a widely available and accessible tool that is well known to this society—Voyant’s TermsBerry (—applied to a large data set representing the contents of verse miscellanies to ask such questions as, which poets were favoured by these collectors, how did poets cluster within the pages of these documents, and what do these visualizations tell us about the circulation of verse in manuscript in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England and the history and dynamics of canon formation.

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