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Centering Spenser: An Archaeologist’s Perspective
by Miller C. Prosser

Herron, Thomas, ed. Centering Spenser: A Digital Resource for Kilcolman Castle. East Carolina University, 2013.


Centering Spenser seeks “to study [Spenser’s] place in Munster near the center of the province and to better appreciate his works in relation to that situation.” Because this reviewer’s background lies in the archaeology and philology of the Ancient Near East, and not in English literature, this review concentrates on the value of Centering Spenser as a contribution to the burgeoning field of digital archaeology.

As explained in the Overview of the site, “The centerpiece of the website is a three-dimensional computerized recreation of the castle complex.” In addition to the three-dimensional materials, the site also provides introductory information about Spenser and his historical context. For the student or uninitiated, this background is helpful.

As a resource for the study of the archaeology of Kilcolman Castle, Centering Spenser is a secondary resource. It draws upon and links to archaeological research undertaken by others. From the Overview of the Purpose and Subject:

Much scholarly work has been done in the last generation on Spenser’s life and material circumstances, including the first-ever archaeological surveys and excavations at Kilcolman. Edmund Spenser: A Life (2012), by Andrew Hadfield, is the first comprehensive biography of the poet published in sixty-eight years. It is relied on heavily here, as are the archaeological studies of Kilcolman Castle by Eric Klingelhöfer and David Newman Johnson. The latter study appears in the invaluable Spenser Encyclopedia (1990), another regular source for information given here on a wide range of Spenser-related topics.

Archaeologists are typically left with destroyed and abandoned ruins to study. In the Late Bronze Age Levant, great and already ancient cities along the Mediterranean coast collapsed in flames as a regional network of social and economic connections frayed and eventually failed under the strain of shifting populations. Nearly 3,000 years later in County Cork Ireland, Kilcolman Castle experienced a somewhat different downfall. Edmund Spenser—author, agriculturalist, administrator—and his New English cohort fell victim to an internal rebellion of the local population. As explained in the Overview of the New English Community at Kilcolman:

Backed with arms and the law under Queen Elizabeth I’s authority, many of the New English sought to change a supposedly barbaric and “degenerate” Old English and Irish, Catholic culture around them into a “civilized” Protestant, (more) English one that would be more loyal and profitable to the English crown. Spenser makes this argument in A View while worrying about his own situation:  in 1596, around the time he composed the tract, a major rebellion in Ireland against the English crown, known as the Nine Years’ War, had already begun.  It would eventually burn Spenser out of Kilcolman. Spenser died soon after in London, in 1599. The Munster Plantation was re-established in the early seventeenth century and included Spenser’s immediate family and later descendants.

The castle, the county, the socio-political environment, the author, and his work are all taken into consideration in Centering Spenser. But as already mentioned, the centerpiece of the site is meant to be the three-dimensional reconstruction of the castle complex where Spenser lived for roughly a decade.

The three-dimensional reconstruction consists of a virtual tour, an interactive tour, object descriptions, an image gallery, and a page of diagrams. The virtual tour is limited to a series of four flash videos captured from virtual reality modeling software, each about 15-20 seconds long. The interactive tour presents ten images captured from the modeling software with key spots to click and navigate to more information. Some images have only one or two key spots. The page of object descriptions presents a bullet list of a few dozen objects organized by area of the castle complex. The links on this page navigate to some of the same pages that are the destination of links from the interactive tour. Most of the objects are illustrated with three-dimensional reconstructions. The image gallery presents a series of 87 static images generated from the modeling software. These images, presented with the final cross-cut diagrams of the tower, give a good overview of the spatial organization of the estate.

While the three-dimensional models are beautifully rendered and informative, the site lacks any interface by which the user could freely navigate the castle complex in three dimensions. Having lodged this potential criticism, one must add quickly that the state of virtual reality technology is still in its infancy and providing a truly interactive experience is quite difficult. Even some of the best-funded projects still require specialized software to run and cannot easily be shared online. They also tend to be rather unstable and resource intensive. Archaeologists continue to adopt advanced digital imaging tools, from basic photogrammetry to more creative uses of virtual reality gaming engines. See for example the work being done by the Kalavasos and Maroni Built Environments Project (KAMBE), a joint project of the University of British Columbia and Cornell University under the direction of Dr. Kevin Fisher and Dr. Sturt Manning. One expects that virtual reality environments will become more common, interactive, heuristic, and probative in the near future. More than the three-dimensional videos, the many object descriptions are perhaps the most compelling contribution of Centering Spenser. It is on these pages that the archaeological, historical, and literary materials coalesce to provide a valuable description of the context of the castle and the author. 

Overall, it seems that the reconstruction of Kilcolman follows quite closely the conclusions presented by archaeologist Eric Klingelhöfer.[1] The crosscut diagrams, the crenellated roof, and the unadorned plastered walls (136-7) are just a few examples of archaeological observations included in the reconstruction. As is necessary in any such reconstruction, some speculation is to be expected. According to Klingelhöfer, it seems possible to speculate that the bawn area of the castle complex was enclosed with a garden (143). The reconstruction accepts this suggestion. Because the reconstruction is primarily visual in the form of virtual reality videos and still images, it is not possible to evaluate the accuracy of some of the reconstructions. To verify specific measurements, one would need a detailed top plan, the type of representative line drawing that records architectural features and material culture finds on a measured grid system. But in the context of this website, such a detailed layout may not be necessary. To give one example of an uncertain reconstruction, Klingelhöfer estimates that the Great Hall would have measured 16m x 8m. The room appears to be too wide in the reconstructed overhead image. But perhaps the reconstruction would fall within the acceptable variance based on the estimated dimensions of the halls (142). The selection of objects presented on the site must be considered illustrative and not comprehensive. Centering Spenser is not an archaeological report, but even so it seems odd that it lacks any mention of “the earliest North Devon gravel-tempered ware to be found outside of England,” the appearance of which Klingelhöfer characterizes as noteworthy (144).

In all, Centering Spenser presents a carefully speculative reconstruction of Kilcolman Castle that helps to illuminate this decade of the author’s life among the New English in Ireland.


Miller C. Prosser
University of Chicago



[1] Klingelhöfer, Eric, et alia. “Edmund Spenser at Kilcolman Castle: The Archaeological Evidence.” Post-Medieval Archaeology 39.1 (2005): 133–54. 



  • henry water 1 year ago

    It is really interesting to get acquainted with the point of view of an archaeologist, and it is even better to look at archaeological photos. I know a resource where you can find cheetah images and many other stock photos from which you can make a description

    Link / Reply

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Cite as:

Miller C. Prosser, "Centering Spenser: An Archaeologist’s Perspective," Spenser Review 44.2.35 (Fall 2014). Accessed April 16th, 2024.
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