About the Digital Victorian Periodical Poetry Project

The Victorian era was flooded with poetry. The exploding market for serial print, where most Victorians read poems, meant that periodicals (including annuals, magazines, and newspapers) were the main poetry publishers. And the periodical poetry was extensive and varied. The goal of the Digital Victorian Periodical Poetry Project (DVPP), generously funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant (2017-2023) is to uncover, collate, and analyze a large body of periodical poetry, based on a generous and varied range of Victorian periodical print in the University of Victoria’s Special Collections.
Our guiding questions are to ask: What was the most read Victorian poetry? How do the literary, formal, and material features of periodical poetry challenge scholarly taxonomies of genre, prosody, and print culture? How does Victorian periodical poetry offer a more historically nuanced literary history? DVPP allows users to conduct quantitative analysis of literary texts in order to challenge traditional literary histories, by giving ways of searching evidence of literary change over time (e.g. rhyme innovations, types of authorship, genre trends, developments in illustration, changes to publication practices).
DVPP offers three inter-related projects: a digital index of all periodical poems and poetry translations in English across full runs of 21 periodicals, magazines, and newspapers; a digital edition of representative periodical poetry, encoded for poetic and material features; a personography based on poets, translators, and illustrators.
We give a variety of ways to access the material: search pages, a facsimile viewer to browse poem images, indices of transcribed poems and of all poems in the corpus, and hyper links between material allowing for easy cross-referencing throughout the site.
What do we count as a poem? The DVPP corpus is based on poems published across a wide variety of 21 periodicals, magazines, and newspapers, based on the print collections of the University of Victoria’s Special Collections. We begin in April 1817, with the first issue of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, and conclude at the end of 1901. DVPP also includes full poems published within prose contributions as well as poetry translations into English (embracing a generous definition of translated poetry). We indicate if a poem is published in a series by designating separate but connected poems as related (such as a sonnet sequence, poems published within the same prose contributions, multi-part poems published over separate issues). The poems include editorial notes giving, for example, variant poem signatures, attribution research, and other key information. DVPP includes periodical page images for all poems and their illustrations, which are accessible from the individual poem pages and the facsimile browser. At the time of writing, there are 16030 poems and translations in the digital index.
What do we count as a poetry illustration? We define a poem as illustrated if it is published with illustrative and decorative material that readers would understand to accompany the poem, even if not overtly signalled in the periodical as directly related (such as facing page illustrations). All illustrated poems are encoded for a variety of illustrative elements and also have figure descriptions, with the metadata accessible from the individual poem pages. Illustrations are searchable in the Search for poems page, and illustrators are included in the personography and findable in the Search for people page.
Which people do we include? The personography includes person records for all poets, translators, and illustrators related to the DVPP poem corpus, including metadata and editorial notes with biographical summaries (which are more extensive for lesser known figures). Currently there are almost 4,000 person records, including many pseudonymous people whom we have been unable to identify. Note that we use the placeholder record Unsigned for translators and illustrators unnamed on the poem’s periodical page and where we have been unable to discover the identity of the person. (Unsigned poems, where no poet is named in periodical page, are findable in the Search for poems page). We plan a future grant application to further research and expand the personography.
What’s in the digital edition? Whereas the DVPP digital index has metadata and notes across all the poems published in the full run of each periodical title, the digital edition is based on as close to a representative sample of poems as we could identify: poems published at the start of each decade year (1820 to 1900), as well as some poems scattered through the project. Currently we have 2216 poems in the digital edition. Along with poem transcriptions, our encoding includes markup in TEI XML for poetic features (such as rhyme and refrains) and material features (illustration type, components, and placement) as well as a semantic description of all illustrations. Note that, while resources do not allow for all of the 16030 poems to be transcribed and encoded for poetical features, we have marked up every illustrated poem for its visual attributes. Poems in the digital edition can be accessed through the edition’s index page, and the Search for poems page enables wide variety of complex searches across the edition (the filters that refer only to poetry in the edition are indicated with an asterisk). Our encoding documentation is available for review.
Attribution research. We have conducted extensive attribution research to identify unsigned and pseudonymous poems, translations, and illustrations, and this information is included in the poem and person editorial notes, along with full citations. We also explain degrees of certainty about attribution. Our research includes publishers’ archives (such as the Chambers’s publishing papers at the National Library of Scotland) as well as other historical primary material such as census records. Where available, we cite the attribution research of other scholars, including adding our corrections.
Please refer to the following project resources:
Dr. Alison Chapman