March 16, 2018

Shelley-Godwin Archive Aims to Help ‘Citizen Humanists’ Crowd Source Digital Humanities

Shelley-Godwin archive logoThe Shelley-Godwin Archive, a free online resource featuring the digitized manuscripts of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft, will include tools designed to encourage collaborative humanities research, similar to collaborative public projects in the sciences.

“What we want to do is create, in the archives, a platform for participatory curation and encoding of our manuscripts,” said Neil Fraistat, Project Director from the University of Maryland’s Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH). “One of the biggest problems that I can see in universities is that most undergraduates—including most humanities undergraduates—don’t even know that there is such a thing as humanities research.”

As a partnership between the New York Public Library, MITH, and Oxford University’s Bodleian Library, with contributions from the Huntington Library, the British Library, and the Houghton Library, the Shelley-Godwin archive for the first time brings together “the widely dispersed handwritten legacy of this uniquely gifted family of writers” in an online platform, the project’s website explains. The participating institutions are believed to possess over 90 percent of all known relevant manuscripts attributed to the four writers.

Collaborative online science projects are becoming more common, Fraistat said, citing Galaxy Zoo as one example. There, the public has the opportunity to explore a giant dataset from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, allowing astronomers to crowdsource the classification of millions of galaxies. The Shelley-Godwin Archive hopes to cultivate a similar spirit of collaboration, not only to bring new insights to the manuscripts, but also to raise awareness of humanities research more generally.

“There’s a huge population of what’s being called ‘citizen scientists,’” Fraistat explained. “And there are transcription platforms, and ways for them to interact with data—to curate the data. The question is, how can we involve the public in a way that helps to create citizen humanists?… We built this on an infrastructure that is meant to go far beyond simple access principles.”

Percy ShelleyRanging from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Romantic era poetry to Mary Wollstonecraft’s influential A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and from William Godwin’s writings on anarchism to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, these manuscripts could prove to be a successful starting point for such efforts, since they will appeal to varied constituencies. The manuscripts will make it easier to explore how the family influenced one another’s work, by examining the notes that Percy Shelley wrote in early copies of Frankenstein, for example. Through collaboration, “citizen humanists” can also help transcribe pages in the manuscripts that are currently available only as digital images of the handwritten pages, or even develop more authoritative versions of many of Percy Shelley’s poems.

Approximately one quarter of Percy Shelley’s poetic canon was published posthumously, Fraistat said, and many of these poems were incomplete. After his death, Mary Shelley did compile and prepare for publication an authoritative collection of posthumous poems, but her father-in-law, Sir Timothy Shelley, suppressed its publication. Mary Shelley had to wait until 1839—seventeen years after Percy’s death—to publish her first edition of his poetry. In the meantime, pirated versions of many of these poems had been circulating for almost two decades.

“She didn’t have enough copies of the first edition to mark them up for the printer, so instead, she depended on the texts of two different pirates as her base text. While she caught many errors that were in the pirated text, she also didn’t catch many. So the first authoritative edition of Percy Shelley’s poetry is riddled with problems.”

Complicating matters further, many people, including Mary, began pulling lines from his unfinished poems and sharing them as poetic fragments. In something like an 18th century version of a mashup or remix, creative editors began mixing and matching these fragments and publishing them as new works.

“Poems were being created that would have been news to Percy Shelley,” said Fraistat. “There’s even one egregious example of a sequence of three different Shelley editors who created a Shelley poem called ‘The Ocean Rolls Between Us’ from a letter that he wrote.”

For more than 100 years, it was almost impossible for interested parties to catch mistakes or fabrications in these published poems, because the manuscripts were not available to the public, and Shelley’s descendants kept tight rein on access. The manuscripts were ultimately donated to the Bodleian Library after World War II. Facsimiles of the manuscripts were prohibitively expensive for most libraries. As a free resource, the Shelley-Godwin Archive will finally allow a broad audience the opportunity to explore the manuscripts, along with concepts such as authorial intent, drafting and revision, and third-party editing.

“It’s really important for people to get back to the primary evidence of the notebooks themselves,” said Fraistat. “To see what’s actually in there. To think through for themselves what’s been done with these texts over history, and study also the composition process through which these poems went.”

The archive is currently available to the public in beta release, which enables the public to explore all of the known manuscripts of Frankenstein. The many manuscripts that have been transcribed are fully searchable, with filters to limit searches by source, work, author, and type of revision. Many pages allow a user to view a digitized copy of the manuscript itself alongside an easily readable transcription. Radio buttons allow users to limit their view to text by Mary Shelley or notes by Percy Shelley. Frankenstein was a particularly appropriate choice for the archive’s beta launch on October 31, but new content and functions, beginning with annotation features and drafts of Prometheus Unbound, will continue to be added until the online archive is complete.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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  1. Frankenstein… it always a horror for the kids, a scientific approach to alive the dead man by the electricity. when i was a child i saw Frankenstein movie..

  2. The Shelley-Godwin Archive has got off to a bad start with Charles Robinson’s *Frankenstein Notebooks*, which put forward the thoroughly discredited handwriting-authorship fallacy — the fallacious belief that all of the words in Mary Shelley’s handwriting were composed by her, and that the only words composed by Percy Bysshe Shelley himself are those in his own handwriting. This fallacy is falsified by the simple and indisputable knowledge that Mary routinely acted
    as copyist for Shelley and other authors. There exist manuscripts where all of the words are in Mary’s handwriting, but none were composed by her.

    The handwriting-authorship fallacy should never have been believed or propounded in the first place, and it has been refuted repeatedly. The entire third chapter of my book, The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein (2007) deals with it. A letter of mine rebutting it appeared in *The Chronicle Review* in 2008. In 1996, over a decade before me, the *Times Literary Supplement* published a letter from Phyllis Zimmerman, which cogently exposed the handwriting-authorship

    Neil Fraistat knows very well the role that Mary played as Shelley’s copyist. I quote:

    “Mary Shelley transcribed for the press most or all of Acts I-III [of *Prometheus Unbound*] between September 5 and 12, 1819, and all of Act IV in mid-December 1819. *As was his usual practice*, Shelley appears to have corrected the press transcripts, making a series of small final revisions to prepare the poem for the press.” [Emphasis added.] (*Shelley’s Poetry and Prose*, Norton Critical Edition, Second Edition, 2002, edited by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat, p. 204)

    There we have it: Mary would prepare a nearly final draft from Shelley’s handwritten drafts and from dictation. Then Shelley, as “usual practice”, would make corrections and revisions for the
    press copy. This is what we see in the *Frankenstein Notebooks*: the 4000 or so words in Shelley’s handwriting are his nearly final corrections and revisions to his own composition.

    Although no manuscripts exist for many of Shelley’s works, the “usual practice” (Mary transcribes and Shelley revises and corrects) was followed, according to Reiman and Fraistat, for the
    following: “The Mask of Anarchy” (pp. 315-316), “Peter Bell the Third” (p. 358), “The Witch of Atlas” (p. 366), “The Cenci” (p.139), “The Sensitive Plant” (p. 286), and “The Mask of Anarchy”
    (p. 316).

    I believe that I have thoroughly dealt with the arguments for Mary Shelley’s authorship of *Frankenstein* in *TMWWF*. When viewed knowledgeably, the handwriting evidence in the
    *Frankenstein Notebooks* points to Shelley’s authorship, not to that of his second wife and amanuensis, Mary.

    John Lauritsen, Independent Scholar.
    Author: The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein (2007).
    Editor: Plato, The Banquet, tr. Percy Bysshe Shelley (2001).
    Oresteia: The Medwin-Shelley Translation (2011).
    Prometheus, tr. Medwin & Shelley + Shelley’s Prometheus
    Unbound (2011).

  3. William Enright says:

    “Library Discards Find New Life in Sustainable Insulation” November 11, 2013. Dalhousie University is using old journals to insulate walls because the journals are growing “exponentially.” My mother graduated Dal in the early 20th century and if she had taken better care of herself, she would be 105 years old this year. She would be glad to point out that exponential is not just growth but an increasing rate of growth, and the journal collection is not growing at all, much less exponentially. In a few years, all will be digital. Later in the article, the process is said to be a “very unique solution.” Unique means the only one, and there are no degrees of uniqueness.