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9 May 2018: Summary Report for Women Travel Writers, 1780-1840

The British Academy funded project, 'Women Travel Writers, 1780-1840: Communities of Authorship', is now completed, although work on the database continues. Below is a summary report of the research and its findings:

The research was carried out largely according to plan and on schedule. In consultation with the Principal Investigator, Benjamin Colbert, the database web designer developed a refreshed home page with a drop-down navigation bar. An augmented search page now allows users to search specific roles, such as editor or translator, and new categories of 'gender' and 'original language' have prepared the way for the addition translations by women. A new browse page gives added visibility to writers, illustrators, publishers, and printers, and the News & Events page keeps users abreast of project developments and allows posts to be shared on social media. Tagging gives greater visibility on search engines such as Google. An Updates feature embeds the history of entry changes, particularly useful for entries that have undergone revision as a result of new research.

Previous to the commencement of the project, Colbert had identified 91 creators (including authors, contributors, editors, compilers, and translators) for whom relevant archival materials were located in repositories to be visited. Of these, 45 were of special interest as writers about whom little was known, the majority of whom were unrepresented in extant biographical sources including the Dictionary of National Biography. Subsequent research was divided into preliminary and archival research.

Preliminary research involved compiling a profile for individual creators using online and library-based tools. Bibliographical research established all the works written (in any genre) by the creator; reviews and notices of relevant work(s); relevant paratextual material including prefaces and notes; contemporaneous biographies; commercial, social, and biographical notices, including births, marriages, and deaths in newspapers and periodicals; and any extant criticism and biography in subsequent scholarship up until the present. The travel writings themselves along with any autobiographical writings were also sources of information. In the absence of further accessible archival material or in the case of creators sufficiently well known, biographies were written based on these sources alone.

Archival research involved visiting collections containing manuscript material and rare books relevant to creators of special interest as well as more well-known creators where there were gaps or inconsistencies in accepted biographies. Visits to the British Library yielded the majority of this material, with holdings from the Royal Literary Fund, the Richard Bentley papers, and the India Office Records proving especially fruitful. The London Institution librarian William Upcott’s 4-volume manuscript collection, ‘Distinguished Women’ (c. 1824), also provided sources for writers of interest, including Letitia Byrne, Anne Grant, Mary Holderness, and Ellis Cornelia Knight, among others. Additional visits to the John Murray Archive of the National Library of Scotland, the Bodleian Library, the National Archives, and the Wellcome Trust Archives were also undertaken to inspect key documents.

The final phase of the research involved the collation of archival and print sources and the writing up of individual biographies. By the end of the award period the database had reached a stable end point. Additions and corrections will be ongoing as new evidence surfaces, but for practical user access, the database is now complete.

Fifteen new authors (including editorial roles not previously identified in existing bibliographical research) and eight titles were added to the database. One author/title was found to be based on a spurious identification and eliminated. 110 new biographies were written (78 women; 32 men), the majority drawing on original archival research.

Highlights include the discovery of the female author (‘Miss’ Dornbush) and male editor (Thomas Faulkner) of the source text used by Byron in Don Juan, Canto 3, for his oriental ‘furniture’, hitherto mistakenly attributed to her sister or brother-in-law, Richard Tully (National Archives); the first biographical account of Catherine Kearsley, travel writer, publisher, and proprietor of the Widow Welch’s Female Pills, a going concern until the 1960s (Wellcome Trust Archives); the identification of the hitherto unknown female translator of Letters from the Caucusus, Louise Drummond-Hay, as well as the editorial role of her husband, E.W.A. Drummond-Hay (Murray Archive, Nat. Lib. Scot.); and the new identification of ‘Lady Murray’, author of two privately printed travelogues on Holland and Italy, as Anne Elizabeth Cholmley (Lady) Murray, née Phipps, 1788—1848.