The principal aims of WG4 are two-fold. One is to contribute to the refinement of a shared data model which includes common definitions of the physical features of the letter, its basic genres, and its modes of dissemination and preservation. The second is to plan and pilot a census of correspondence collections across Europe, and the infrastructure designed to support it.
The leader of WG4, Dr Elizabethanne Boran, is Librarian of the Edward Worth Library, Dublin, and the editor of the correspondence of James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh (1581–1656).
Amongst the main features of letters and collections requiring careful definition are the following:
- physical characteristics of letters (watermarks, folding, seals, ribbons, etc.);
- stages in letter composition (draft, fair copy, copy sent; autograph and scribal version);
- genres of learned letters (epistles dedicatory, letters to the reader, formal testimonials, official correspondence, newsletters, etc.);
- reciprocal relationships between letters and other documents and media (oral discussions, minutes, diaries, commonplace books, printed books, news media, scholarly journals, enclosures);
- modes of dissemination (forwarding, circulation, and reading by recipients; recipients’ copies and extracts);
- modes of collection and preservation, including:
- personal collections, auto-archived by correspondents themselves, with or without related material assembled by others (e.g. Leibniz-Archiv, Hannover);
- named collections, assembled by individual or corporate collectors (e.g. Waller Manuscript Collection, Uppsala);
- institutional collections of official, semi-official and related correspondence (e.g. Royal Society of London);
- letters preserved with non-epistolary material, whether manuscript or print (often overlooked in cataloguing and therefore difficult to track down: e.g. Josten, ed., Elias Ashmole);
- composite collections of manuscript correspondence, composed of several of the above categories (e.g. Bodleian Library, Oxford);
- collections of early modern correspondence printed during the period;
- subsequent scholarly editions of correspondence, in printed or digital form;
- dispersion and destruction (missing letters; deliberate destruction and theft; accidental or collateral loss or destruction; means of tracking provenance of collections and of individual letters).
The necessary precondition for the orderly collection of data on individual learned letters scattered across Europe is a census of the main collections of early modern learned correspondence.
Sourcing collections-level descriptions is a complex task, given the existence of relevant materials in manuscript, print, and digital form. A variety of methods must be developed for harvesting existing data and generating new descriptions, amongst which are the following:
- for existing data on early modern printed collections of correspondence:
- assemble existing bibliographies of early modern printed letter collections (e.g. Estermann);
- extract collections of printed letters from national historical bibliographies (e.g. STC, Wing, VD 16, VD 17, USTC, etc.);
- for existing finding aids (print and digital) for manuscript correspondence:
- assemble a bibliography of printed catalogues of early modern manuscript correspondence;
- consolidate understanding of scope and method of existing union catalogues of relevant mss material (e.g. CEN, Kalliope, e-manuscripta);
- assemble links to electronic catalogues and findings aids for major relevant manuscript collections (e.g. Leiden UB);
- for the scholarly crowd-sourcing of new catalogue-level descriptions, infrastructure and workflows must be devised and piloted, along the following lines:
- design webform to facilitate the efficient, collaborative inputting of collection-level descriptions of printed and manuscript correspondence into a common database;
- experiment with use of this infrastructure for scholarly crowd-sourcing;
- advertise the opportunity to contribute to this database via associations for archives, libraries, special collections, rare books, and relevant academic fields, potentially in each country across the COST Action;
- establish monitoring procedures for quality control and prioritization of data inputting and systems development.