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Forming a Dickens Corpus

Works by Charles Dickens

A key inspiration for creating Dickens Search was pure scholarly frustration with the scattered nature of online, printed, and even archival texts and materials authored by Charles Dickens. In the course of my research, I’ve often had to hunt for short stories and poems in a variety of places, such as Google Books, HathiTrust, Internet Archive, Gutenberg.org, or consult secondary criticism to see if a bibliography might possibly list the physical location of a source. Sometimes I try new tactics which are time-consuming and labour-intensive or hit a dead end, as when I discover that the last remaining copy of something was lost in WWII – a researcher’s worst nightmare! University and institutional libraries do have archival materials by Dickens in their Special Collections, but it is seemingly impossible to find a centralised list of where all the Dickens manuscripts are held across the world, though Graham Storey’s 1990 guide 'The Charles Dickens Research Collection' is a useful, if outdated, starting place.

After doing a search in WorldCat, Ulrich’s Periodicals, finding a comprehensive research guide to an individual institution's collection, or even scrolling endlessly down a library’s catalogue such as that of the New York Public Library in hopes of locating a needle in the haystack, sometimes I find the source I’m looking for. Then I must contact librarians in the right department, request scans, which sometimes I will need to pay for personally, and then wait for my order to be emailed. Compared to the laborious and painstaking work of previous generations of scholars who lacked any of these resources, I am extremely privileged in my research possibilities. However, not only is it still irritating to do a massive internet research trawl with no guarantee of a reward, but I definitely have realised during the COVID-19 pandemic how difficult it is to continue researching without the usual level of twenty-first century library assistance.

Thankfully, besides those already mentioned, many public-access Dickens projects or online resources already exist on the internet, which have helped scholars get by over the last year. These are all projects generally focusing on one genre or area of Dickens’s writing, such as his novels or correspondence. Notably, Dickens Journals Online (University of Buckingham) (May 2006-February 2012) features scans and transcriptions of Dickens’s periodicals Household Words, Household Words Narrative, Household Words Almanac, and All the Year Round. Ongoing and new projects include The Charles Dickens Letters Project, (The Dickens Fellowship, 2016- ), which, besides allowing the public to search and quote from letters discovered since 2002, will eventually form a new volume of the Pilgrim edition of The Letters of Charles Dickens.

Project Boz (Gordon Library WIP, 2012- ) has scanned and uploaded many of the serials of Dickens’s novels. CLiC Dickens (Uni Birmingham) (2013- ) allows for searching across Dickens’s novels and features corpus stylistics tools for literary assessment. Deciphering Dickens (Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, V&A Museum) (2017-) is transcribing Dickens’s manuscripts, working notes and proofs from the Forster Collection and, eventually, those held in other libraries and collections. The Dickens Code (Uni Leicester) (March 2021- ) seeks to unravel and transcribe Dickens’s mysterious shorthand manuscripts to access their well-kept secrets.

With the Omeka database Dickens Search, Emily Bell and I are trying to remove some of the continuing research roadblocks by creating something of a centralised digital repository, featuring scans of the original texts and links, human transcription, informative metadata, and allowing for cross-searching of Dickens’s poetry, short fiction, speeches, journalism, and novels (serials and first British editions). The experience continues to be exciting and deeply interesting, and I’m delighted to be researching, brainstorming, and working with Bell, who has served as Editor on the Charles Dickens Letters Project. At the moment, we’re drawing from pre-existing digital work, while also tracking down obscure resources now that libraries are reopening (hopefully the subject of a future post). Starting with poetry and short stories, we plan to add the speeches, plays, and novels by 2022. As the project continues, we’ll use this blog to document our progress, discuss editorial methodologies and decisions, and celebrate the journey of bringing Dickens texts together in one digital place for the benefit of global readers, teachers, and scholars.

How to Cite:

Craig, Lydia. 'Forming a Dickens Corpus.' Dickens Search. 9 July 2021. Accessed [date]. https://dickenssearch.com/forming-a-dickens-corpus.