Practicum: The Shelley-Godwin Archive

Hi everyone! This week I will be showing you how to use the Shelley-Godwin Archive. This online archive, created by the New York Public Library and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, catalogs over 90% of known handwritten manuscripts relating to the Shelley-Godwin family. It also features a relatively easy-to-use platform and search functions to make research a breeze. As someone who majored in English in undergrad with a strong focus on Romanticism and the Romantic poets, this archive was super interesting to explore!

Off the bat, the archive features 5 highlighted tabs on the top of the page for easy navigation– “Home”, “About”, “Explore the Archive”, “Search”, and “Using the Archive.” I will be going through each and explaining its contents in this post.

The five front tabs featured on the Shelley-Godwin Archive.

The home page serves as the main landing site for the archive and includes introductory information on the database’s contents. This page is a good place to start if you know you want to use the archive, but are not sure yet on what to look up.

On the left, the main page features a short “About the Archive” section that is a shortened version of the introduction posted under the “About” tab. It also features a link to the “Using the Archive” tab page and to a short introductory video on how to use the database. Finally, an “Explore the Archive” icon is posted underneath the “About the Archive” section. This takes you to the “Explore the Archive” tab, which will be discussed later on in this post.

A look at the archive’s home page

There are two areas where featured archive documents are suggested– on a top banner slider and to the right side of the page under a “Featured Works” section. While the top banner focuses more on drafts of works and information on each of the writers within the Shelley-Godwin family, the featured works section shows completed works of the authors (for example, Frankenstein or Prometheus Unbound). Clicking on one of these works will bring you to the writing’s corresponding dedicated database page. This page features a short background on the writing and a dropdown menu with documents relating to the work, as well as fair copies of the work itself.

The About tab explores more into the legacy of the Shelley-Godwin family and explains the reasoning behind the project. This page is a great place to visit if you want to learn more about the Shelley-Godwin family in general and their influence on English literature. Next, the technological infrastructure of the database is listed, as well as the reasoning behind the technological choices used.

The About page also lists contributors to the database as well as encoding contributors, or people who have worked on the technological side of maintaining the archive.

Under the “Explore the Archive” tab, users have the choice to browse the archive by work or by manuscript.

The Explore the Archive tab categorizes archive materials between “By Work” (left) and” By Manuscript” (right). Accessing a work by manuscript will show you page sequences in the order they are in in the actual manuscript, while accessing a page by work will show you pages in the order they appear in linear sequence the particular work (such as by acts or chapters). Clicking on a particular work (such as in the picture, Caleb Williams (William Godwin) or Bodleian MS, Abinger c.56) will bring you to the dedicated database page for that work.

Now, let’s explore these dedicated database pages a little more. As I stated before, each database page for a work includes a short introductory explanation of the work and its significance in the larger world of literature. On the bottom of a database page, you will find thumbnails of the manuscript’s scans. Clicking on these will bring you to a reader page, which will be explained in more detail later. On the right sidebar of the dedicated database pages are a plethora of possible helpful links depending on what text you are looking at. For example, academic resources corresponding to the work, reconstituted sequences that can be formed by linking several related manuscripts together to tell an overall story, or a link to other manuscripts a text is found in can be found here.

A closer look at the database pages. On the left, an introduction to the text and its significance is available. On the right sidebar (in red), helpful links to additional scholarly resources and corresponding manuscripts are posted. These links vary based on the text the database page is about.

Now let’s look at the reader pages. Clicking on a thumbnail of a manuscript scan will direct you to a reader page, which lines the manuscript’s scan up with a text translation.. There are also options on the top of the reader window. These options are “search translation”, zoom in and out (of scanned image), flip scanned image, “view image only” and”view text only.” On the top of the page, important information about the scan including the author, date written, title, state (draft/published), and institution where the manuscript is located is available.

The reader page for a scan from the Volume I draft of Frankenstein. This page allows the user to zoom in and out of the scan, search the text written, and view a typed translation of the scan.

As of the writing of this article, the search function, typically available by clicking on the “Search” tab, is no longer running as the website transitions to a new system. Because of this, browsing is limited to the tabs listed on the “Explore the Archive” page. However, based on the site’s introductory video, it seems like this function would have allowed users to search for specific manuscripts as well as search for particular words within a text.

Finally, the Using the Archive tab explains detailed instructions on how to use the database. If you are interested in exploring more about the Shelley-Godwin database, I would definitely suggest starting here! On this page there is a video that explains more in-depth instructions on using the archive as well as explanations on each of the site’s features.

Overall, the Shelley-Godwin Archive is an excellent place to research and explore more about the works of the Shelley-Godwin family. While the archive is definitely still an ongoing project, it still is an easy-to-use online resource for taking a closer look at these manuscripts. If you are a fan of Romanticism or just a literature lover in general, it’s certainly a treat to spend some time exploring the site!

–Claudia Faith Santa Anna


Among the major preservation strategies raised in Rinehart & Ippolito’s Re-Collection, re-use and reinterpretation are the most tantalizing, and seemingly most radical. The fear of somehow being untrue to the spirit of a work, or to an artist’s intent, make these approaches look riskier than others. A few writings on digital sound and moving image hint at what it means to de-center the artist in preservation and looking to users for cues.

In Jason Eppink’s history of and interview with The Signal about GIFs, we see work consistently distanced from its creators. This is in part because the origins of images aren’t so easy to trace on the internet and in part because, as Eppink says in the interview, “There’s still very little to gain from making GIFs.” He goes on to say, “We expect the image to have an author because of the fundamental relationship of authorship to the economics of producing cultural artifacts. But today images are as cheap and prolific as the air that we utter our words with.” GIFs, to Eppink, manifest the near erasure of authorship by use and reuse. He offers an extreme vision of looking beyond artists for the primary stakeholders in preserving digital art. It makes me wonder if the gain in GIFs might lie in distribution: like how one of the interviewees in this Off Book video about YouTube describes people sharing funny internet things as “wanting them associated with their identity.” And sometimes social capital morphs into something higher-risk, as with feuds over meme-sharing and -stealing on Instagram.


Here’s a bit from Jonathan Sterne’s chapter “Format Theory” that I took as further reason not to focus too narrowly on creators and intention: “Because these kinds of codes [underlying formats] are not publicly discussed or even apparent to end-users, they often take on a sheen of ontology when they are more precisely the product of contingency” (p. 8). In other words, things aren’t necessarily made a certain way out of values- or meaning-based reasons. What contingency kludges together, specific use can improve or infuse with meaning. I was also struck by the contrast Sterne draws between the “ubiquitous,” “banal,” and “pedestrian” presence of MP3s and the passage he quotes from Lisa Gitelman ending, “Specificity is the key.” Pervasive technology might mean shared experiences, but not identical ones. Maybe format theory is best served by comparative studies or format / use genealogies, highlighting divergence as well as trends. There are local and individual variations, and variations on those variations — GIFs on GIFS on GIFs.

The pieces mentioned here intersect, in my mind, with a talk Jarrett Drake gave this week about archival description. He argues that archival practice is due to stop privileging provenance and move towards a new organizing principle (or principles). Provenance is about creatorship; valuing it above everything else results in archival description that centers records creators and the relationships between them. Archivists might propose to “collect more broadly,” but inviting the oppressed and underrepresented to participate in oppressive systems does little to effect change. How, instead, to open participation in rebuilding and reworking archival principles? His answer, deliberately not providing an answer:

“The truly transformative principle that is needed for archival practice and archival description cannot come from one person or from one invite-only forum, but such a principle necessarily must develop organically, slowly, and anti-oppressively with a radical cross-section of academic, disciplinary, racial, ethnic, gender, cultural and class backgrounds represented. In this sense, a new foundational archival principle, should it be worth anything, must be developed beyond the bounds of the archival profession.”

In other words, it’s not about being in the room where it happens, but about opening up the room and the process.


Reading this while thinking about sound and moving image distributed via browsers and apps, the collapse of user and creator categories is a major factor that could shape new kinds of archival description. YouTube is celebrated not only as a “wild west” of user-uploaded video, but also as fertile ground for new brands and businesses. How users relate to digital objects, user-creators, YouTube production companies, and each other seem to be the most important aspects to capture. It also seems worth exploring how digital objects relate to one another with or without the intervention of people. None of these phenomena can be adequately reflected in provenance-focused archival description, making digital art curation a more valuable site than ever for experimentation and enrichment.

significance shifts

As we explore the more granular planning involved in digital art curation, we repeatedly encounter the idea that significance shifts. Whether it’s evolving re-interpretations of artworks in Re-Collection, the strange history of a video game platform in Racing the Beam, or the fluid readability and scope of Agrippa (as detailed in Mechanisms), it’s becoming clear that preservation over time involves multiple solutions in response to multiple meanings, use cases, and instances of any given artwork.

Continue reading “significance shifts”