Online scholarly archive edited by WCU professor goes live

Brent Kinser, assistant professor of English at Western Carolina University, is the coordinating editor of the recently launched online version of one of the most comprehensive literary archives of the 19th century – “The Carlyle Letters Online: A Victorian Cultural Reference.”

Brent Kinser

Brent Kinser

The online collection at carlyleletters.org is a searchable, digitized version of the print volumes of “The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle,” which Kinser (at right) also edits through his work with Duke University Press, publisher of both the print and online editions.

“I’ve been working on this for six years, and to see the online version reach the launch phase is exciting,” said Kinser.

The collection features thousands of letters written by Scottish author and historian Thomas Carlyle (1795–1881) and his wife, Jane Welsh Carlyle (1801-1866), to more than 600 recipients throughout the world.

“In the Carlyles you have two people who were at the very center of literary London,” said Kinser. “The people they wrote to, in combination with the people and the events they wrote about, create a magnificent window into the 19th century. They gave their own views on what was happening in the world, such as the Crimean War and the latest novel by Dickens. They also wrote about the challenges of everyday life, from their clothing to their beloved dog, Nero. Their letters show us something other than the myth of the dour, Victorian person. It is the human qualities in their letters make this a very interesting resource.”

Kinser helped guide the online project from early discussions of how to “tag” and “link” related letters within the historic collection for ease of searching and research, to the hiring of HighWire Press, a division of Stanford University Libraries, to build the digital home for “The Carlyle Letters Online.”

“One of my early jobs was to make sure that every reference in the collection to another letter in the collection functioned as a hyperlink to connect the user to that letter,” said Kinser. “There was an immense quagmire of editorial problems that had to be solved, and the technology to support the kind of online database we wanted to create was not available when we first started.”

New letters continue to be recovered, and letters are still being prepared for publication in the print volumes and online, said Kinser.

“We have a good bit to go,” he said. “We have encoded and tagged about 6,500 letters, and the whole collection is about 10,000 letters.”

In part due to grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Delmas Foundation, “The Carlyle Letters Online” is currently available at carlyleletters.org at no charge.