The Album Poem and Nineteenth-Century Manuscript Culture

People involved in this project

Principal investigator:

School(s) Humanities
Department(s) English
Dates 1 January 2012 - 31 December 2012
Funder(s) British Academy Mid Career Fellowship
Contact person Dr Sam Matthews

More about this project

This project challenges the standard model of the nineteenth century as the age of mass print media by examining the popular revival in domestic manuscript circulation of creative work, through the case of the album poem, an overlooked genre of occasional lyric poetry not destined for print. Based on a textual corpus derived from archival and database sources, the project develops an interpretive model drawn from theories of scribal publication, creative composition and French critique génétique. Case studies of known authors who specialised in the album poem (Robert Southey, Charles Lamb), networks of albums (the Wordsworth circle), and readerships demonstrate the album poem’s significance for revisionary perspectives on identity, gender and power relations.

A monograph and two articles disseminate the findings to a scholarly audience. The Album Poem and Nineteenth-Century Manuscript Culture includes chapters on: creative composition and the myth of improvisation; ‘first leaf’ poems commissioned to initiate a new album; album poetics and feminine identity; professional authors’ enterprising responses to being coerced into composition; the autograph’s cult status as a medium of identity and affect; the tension between domestic stasis and social mobility in the making, circulation, and reception of albums. In addition, the establishment of an international scholarly network and inaugural study day promotes the importance of this emerging research area; a public lecture and archive-centred workshop promote the work to a wider audience. A later public exhibition and website compare contemporary social networking to textual transmission within album culture.