No Room in History?

Making Room in History takes its title from an observation in Richard Cox’s 1689 Hibernia Anglicana. Speaking of Ireland, Cox remarks:

It is strange that this Noble Kingdom, and the Affairs of it, should find no room in History, but remain so very obscure, that not only the Inhabitants know little or nothing of what has paſſed in their own Country; but even England, a Learned and Inquiſitive Nation, skilful beyond comparison in the Histories of all other Countries, is nevertheless but very imperfectly informed in the Story of Ireland, though it be a Kingdom subordinate to England, and of the highest importance to it. (n. pag.)

My research is very much concerned with the question of which texts, traditions, and genres are allowed to have “room” in history—and of how early modern historical texts shaped the national identities of the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland. Making Room in History represents my attempt to encode some answers to these questions into early modern national histories themselves, representing through markup the various ways that writers label and taxonomize texts, make claims about history and poetry, and invoke historical and legendary materials to construct arguments about sovereignty.

Cox’s claims about all of the previous histories of Ireland—that they do not merit the title of “History” at all—as well as his his expression of surprise that England should be so ill informed on the past of this “subordinate” kingdom, indicate both the stakes and the rhetoric of early modern disciplinary assertions. Cox’s particular charges against the texts that made up Ireland’s historical record—that they are incoherent, inaccurate, and incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction–are characteristic of many early modern writers’ complaints about their sources, especially those that were penned by medieval chroniclers. The purpose Cox gives for his work in enabling England to understand this important subordinate kingdom and secure its re-conquest demonstrates an explicit political focus often apparent in early modern national histories, which were generally designed to produce national identities and establish claims of sovereignty.

Cox was one of a great many writers staking claims about the proper concerns and methods of history in order to control national narratives and influence the sovereignty of the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland. Despite the prevalence of disciplinary gatekeeping such as Cox’s, a great many writers also constructed their national histories as texts able to support a range of genres, including medieval legends and what Cox dismisses as “very silly Fictions.” Early modern historical and literary texts are thus quite complex, as writers deliberately transgressed the field’s boundaries even as they were in the process of establishing them.

Making Room in History

To capture some measure of this complexity, I have developed a TEI customization based on my previous research and begun test encoding of an initial set of texts, working with the TEI-encoded files recently released by the EEBO-TCP partnership. Once I have completed this first phase of encoding, I will refine my customization and documentation and publish the encoded texts through the TEI Archive, Publishing, and Access Service.

Encoding History in Richard Cox's Hibernia Anglicana

Encoding Room for History in Richard Cox’s Hibernia Anglicana

In addition to enabling research into the persons and texts referenced in early modern national histories by producing a bibliography and a personography (a standardized and encoded record of persons), I am using customized encoding to track the terms that early modern writers used to describe their own texts, their contemporaries’, and their sources. This encoding will bring out the range and density of terms early modern writers used to characterize texts and reflect the importance of taxonomy for historical discourse. I am also marking up individual narratives of past events and using selected attributes to give more information on their contextualizations, engagements with sovereignty and empire, and disciplinary formulations. Through these encoding features, and several others, I plan to create a corpus of texts that will offer a fully searchable database of early modern engagements with history, textuality, disciplinarity, sovereignty, and national identity. 

Project Goals

First, I am hoping that Making Room in History will serve as an example of what can be accomplished with the newly-released EEBO-TCP texts using theory-driven TEI markup. In broader terms, I also hope to build a more complete picture of early modern historiographic culture by fostering analysis grounded in a substantial set of texts and textual phenomena.

A key argument in my research is that because early modern writers deliberately constructed history as a discipline that could support a range of genres—including medieval historiographies and fictional materials—interdisciplinary and cross-period scholarship best reflects early modern representations of the past. Therefore, another important goal of this project is to build on the interdisciplinary momentum of the digital humanities to support work across disciplinary conventions and around genre and period divisions.

Through this project, I am hoping to expose patterns in early modern citation, intertextuality, disciplinary formations, and so on, highlighting trends across a number of different texts and producing a schema that itself will be a model of how these texts worked. Finally, I hope to offer an entry point to early modern textuality, fostering future research and discovery, with numerous pedagogical and exploration possibilities once the encoded texts are published.