Leah Knight and Wendy Wall, gen. eds., The Pulter Project: Poet in the Making. 2018. http://pulterproject.northwestern.edu
The Pulter Project is an ambitious, open-ended online scholarly edition that aims not only to bring attention to an understudied manuscript poetry collection, but also to the act of editing and analysing poetry in a complex digital environment. The subject of this project is a manuscript of poems written by Hester Pulter (1605 – 1679), currently housed at the Brotherton Library at Leeds University. The single bound manuscript contains 120 poems by Pulter, fair-copied in another hand and corrected in what has been identified as Pulter’s own hand. Pulter ‘was a woman of multiple identities’, among them royalist, wife and mother of fifteen (‘About Hester Pulter’). Her poetry deals with many of the political upheavals of the 1640s, as well as questions of faith and religious matters, and personal subjects like grief for the death of a child.
The project was conceived by Wendy Wall and Leah Knight following a 2015 workshop at the annual Shakespeare Association of America conference. The workshop provided both evidence of the rich potential of Pulter’s manuscript and a ready pool of contributors. The project aims itself at a wide audience, ‘Students and teachers at all levels, specialist scholars, and a larger reading and writing public will value different aspects of the project’ (‘About the project’). As a project that truly takes advantage of its medium, users can dive into the poems, or begin by reading introductions to Hester Pulter’s life, her manuscript or the project. The authors suggest that readers new to Pulter’s works might begin with the elemental editions, while ‘Curations’ (described below) would be particularly helpful to educators.
While Wall and Knight supply the ‘elemental editions’ for many of the poems (‘deliberately pared down’ editions, with regularised spelling and minimal notes), an impressive range of experts provide ‘amplified editions’ that ‘foreground different aspects of Pulter’s verse’ (‘About the project’). Readers have the option of switching between the two editions, as well as facsimile images of the manuscript provided by the Brotherton Library and transcripts made by Wall and Knight. While not every poem has every feature yet, the trajectory is promising. The editions are accompanied by headnotes, editorial notes and transcription notes to provide additional information. ‘Of Night and Morning’, Pulter’s shortest complete poem, can stand as an example of the different editions:
Night’s like the grave, wherein we lie forlorn;
The blesséd Resurrection’s like the morn,
When, leaving sin and darkness, these our eyes
Shall see the sun of righteousness arise
In glory, conquering death and night,
That we may live in everlasting light.
The elemental edition, by Knight and Wall, provides a definition of ‘Resurrection’ and notes the pun on sun/son in the fourth line’s reference to Jesus. Tara Lyons’s amplified edition goes further, explicating the first line and connecting it to several other Pulter poems (allowing an interesting networked navigation, if the reader desires). Lyons provides biblical references for the two phrases picked out by Knight and Wall, as well as several additional points in the poem that represent Pulter’s nuanced theology. There are two main ways of encountering these versions of the poems: the ‘Reading Tool’, which users encounter if they click the ‘poems’ link on the main landing page, and a ‘Comparison Tool’ available under ‘Discoveries’ on the same landing page.
In addition to the poems themselves, users can explore a wide variety of contextualising materials: ‘Curations’ relate to individual poems, providing an ‘array of verbal and visual materials that invite contemplation of different ways in which a particular poem might be contextualized’ including sources, analogues or relevant cultural phenomena. Poem 2, ‘An Invitation to the Country’, for example, is matched by Liza Blake with other examples of pastoral invitation literature, such as Katherine Philips’ ‘Invitation to the Country’; Country house poems by Amelia Lanyer, Philips and Ben Jonson; and examples of political poetry by Richard Lovelace, Alexander Brome and Andrew Marvell. ‘Explorations’, on the other hand, bring together a series of Pulter’s poems to explore themes and broader connections. Frances E. Dolan provides an Exploration on ‘Hester Pulter and the Blazon in early modern England’ that would be a valuable addition to an early modern survey syllabus. Finally, a section on ‘Scholarship’ (also under the ‘Discoveries’ section) includes a more traditional bibliography of scholarly projects—dissertations, theses, articles and more—that have grown from studying Pulter.
The ability to switch between editions in the ‘Reading Tool’ highlights one of the few challenges of the project—the way it handles images. While it’s easy to see how to switch between Elemental and Amplified editions in the main reading view, the facsimile image is signalled by a faint page-icon to the left of the text. It’s beige-on-beige colouring makes it easy to miss. One could be forgiven in thinking the ‘manuscript’ button is broken until one realises it turns off a tiny icon. Clicking this icon loads a beautifully shot image, but the ‘zoom’ promised by the project is a round magnifier feature, rather than a full-page zoom. Luckily the scribal hand for this manuscript is a very clear italic, or this method of close examination might be frustrating. The zoom is only available on the Brotherton Library images, however. Images in the ‘Curations’ or ‘Explorations’ sections seem to have no ability to zoom at all.
The dynamic reading experience for the poems and their contextualising headnotes and annotations in the ‘Comparison Tool’ is provided by the Versioning Machine software developed by the University of Maryland. The Versioning Machine as well as a ‘Reading Tool’ designed for the project by the Media and Design Studio at Northwestern University are both (laudably) available through generous licenses (the entire site is licensed under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 license, except where otherwise noted, such as the Versioning Machine’s GNU General Public license). Northwestern University’s Digital Humanities Liaison, Josh Honn, and technical web developers Sergei Kalugin and Matthew Taylor, are prominently credited. Indeed, the credits section, titled ‘Who is involved?’ is a model for clear and transparent credit in a diverse and ambitious digital scholarly project.
The project invites further contributions, requesting contributions and corrections from its readers. Many poems still do not have amplified editions, and Knight and Wall invite translations, modernisations, old-spelling editions, multimedia editions and ‘experimentally annotated editions’. They are also open to further ‘Curations’ and ‘Explorations’ that provide context for individual or groups of poems, respectively. Additions go through an editorial process, including a proposal, and in the case of Amplified Editions, two rounds of feedback and peer-review. The high level of editorial involvement is clear from the quality and consistency of the materials already included. The editors frame their request for corrections ‘in the spirit of early modern publishing’—where editors often promised corrections in the subsequent edition for any errors brought to their attention, only one does not have to wait.
The content is rigorously edited, yet approachable to users new to early modern poetry, digital humanities or editing. The project leaders have worked hard to make this a project as much about the process of editing and linking texts as it is about the nuances of Pulter’s verse. This is a remarkable project and one that should be held up as an exemplar of scholarly rigour, radical transparency, and thoughtful project design.
Meaghan J. Brown
Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America