Image to Text: Mary Hamilton papers


News! Unlocking the Mary Hamilton Papers

This is the title of our new three-year project, which was awarded major AHRC funding in May 2019 and begins in December. Professor Hannah Barker (who will be managing it), Dr Sophie Coulombeau and the postdocs Tino Oudesluijs, Christine Wallis and Cassandra Ulph will be joining us on a wide-ranging literary-linguistic research project. All strands of this work will be based on a complete scholarly edition of Hamilton material in the Rylands and ten other repositories (beta version of edition due in 2021), with full-text search, a ‘personography’, a tagged and searchable linguistic corpus, digital viewer, and more. And naturally, in due course, a new website.

Image to Text: the Mary Hamilton Papers

You are now on the website of our current project, which has been presenting letters and other material from the Mary Hamilton Papers (archive GB 133 HAM) in the University of Manchester Library’s Special Collections, containing 2474 pieces of correspondence, 16 diaries and 6 manuscript volumes, and housed at the John Rylands Library on Deansgate. From summer 2019 we have also been adding Hamilton material from other collections.
MH miniature


From 2013-14 to 2017-18, students on the course unit ‘Modern English Language (1500-present)’ each transliterated two letters from the Rylands’ Hamilton collection and wrote a linguistic commentary. They were asked to reproduce the spelling and punctuation exactly, and to mark up their transliterations according to a subset of the copious TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) and XML (eXtensible Markup Language) guidelines. From 2014-15 they were joined by students from the University of Vigo, and from 2017, MA students from Uppsala University.

Each year a research assistant has been employed to check transliterations and tagging and complete the TEI markup. So far these RAs have been selected from students who have taken the Manchester course. George Bailey was RA in 2014. In that year only, each letter had been transliterated independently by two students, and the two versions were merged. George developed the first online presentation using XSL, CSS and JavaScript. Donald Morrison was RA in 2015, including for a substantial cluster of transliterations made by two dissertation students at Vigo in Spain. Donald contributed a large number of notes to the 2015 files. Isabella Formisano was RA in 2016, including for three letters transliterated at Vigo, and she too contributed many notes. Isabella continued as a research assistant in 2017, converting old transcriptions to XML. Sarah Connor was the RA in 2017 who prepared new files for online publication. Eva Huber did some unpaid work on a database of persons mentioned. Carla Seabra-Dacosta has rearranged a number of XML files in logical rather than manuscript order and is working on the tagging of original spellings and morphology and the forthcoming persons database. Georgia Tutt was RA in 2018, coping not just with editing letters but a continuing revision of the TEI markup.

After discussion among three project members, carefully edited letters are made available via the project’s table of Letters – 403 so far, plus many in preparation. The transliterations are presented on-screen in a form that allows easy comparison with the corresponding digitised image or with a normalised text. However, the full XML text and TEI header may be more suitable for further research, or an original-spelling or normalised plain-text version. The two TXT archives are freely available for non-profit use on completion of our simple online form, available here. Information on corpus and project can also be found in the Corpus Resource Database (CoRD).

Other Hamilton papers have been transliterated in a separate project at the University of Zurich under the direction of Professor Marianne Hundt; find out more on the University of Zurich website.


Since summer 2016, with the encouragement of the Library, we have been planning a significant expansion of the project, and in November 2016 we were awarded a seedcorn grant by the John Rylands Research Institute, allowing us to add to the corpus and improve the annotation and markup of existing files. Revision of markup continues, and presentation of letters on the website has been overhauled. Meanwhile we look forward to several collaborative contributions:

  • Further transliterations by Dr Erik Smitterberg’s MA students at Uppsala University – gratefully received June 2019, editing in progress.
  • Raw transcriptions of some of Charlotte Gunning’s letters by a student of Dr Anne Gardner’s at the University of Zurich.
  • Transliterations by a dissertation student at Vigo and students on a new ‘Undergraduate Scholars’ programme at Manchester – gratefully received April-June 2019.
  • Transliterations of letters in the Royal Archives by a Learning Through Research intern at Manchester – editing of first 70 items in progress.
  • Transliterations by Dr Kate Gibson of many letters in the series HAM/1/11. HAM/1/12 and HAM/1/13 – awaiting image creation and TEI/XML editing.
  • Upgrade of the image display to a digital image viewer.

History of the English Language at Manchester

From 2010, a number of final-year dissertation students in Linguistics and English Language edited folios of Middle English manuscripts held at the Rylands (not yet developed for online presentation), while from 2013, others transliterated letters as part of a coursework requirement. Students have worked mainly with digitised images (though many go to see the original documents too). Much of the material has never previously been edited or published, so students have the opportunity to make an original research contribution. Ideally, studying the history of English and working on ‘their’ text is a productive, two-way interaction.

Illustration from Anson & Anson (1925: frontispiece).