Open Access: The Carlyle Letters Online

We have created a series of five blog posts covering Open Access at Duke University Press. Today’s post features The Carlyle Letters Online, a digital archive based on the Duke-Edinburgh edition of The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle.

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The Carlyle Letters Online (CLO) provides free access to the letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, an outstanding resource in Victorian literature, philosophy, and culture. During their marriage and throughout the middle of the nineteenth century, the couple wrote over 10,000 letters to a circle of well-respected contemporaries, such as Charles Dickens, John Stuart Mill, George Eliot, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Gaskell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. After a multiyear development process, the letters debuted digitally in 2006 and have remained open access, averaging nearly 20,000 unique views a month since its move to a new platform.

Features of the platform
In July 2016 the CLO migrated to a new platform hosted by the University of South Carolina Center for Digital Humanities (USC-CDH). This platform included new features such as an updated look, a tweaked letter viewer, and the ability to enlarge certain images and words for easier engagement with the content.  Users also have immediate access to the raw XML code of each letter on this new platform. These features provide readers, especially those involved with the digital humanities, with a more streamlined reading experience. The new platform employs both whole-word searching (which searches exact phrases) and fuzzy searching (which finds matches when users misspell words or enter only partial words). Using these two search options, users can filter letters by volume, date, recipient, and subject.
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The Future of the CLO

The move to USC-CDH’s platform has created the opportunity to display manuscript images, a feature that will soon be available on the site through a new manuscript image viewer as opposed to PDF attachments. The Rare Books Library at Columbia University is also digitizing the Carlyle family photograph albums, which will soon be hosted alongside the letters on the new platform.

Meanwhile, the completion of the print edition of the Carlyle Project looms on the horizon, and with it the digitation of the letters. But while the last volume of the letters is projected to be added to the CLO in 2021, the CLO project will not end there. Coordinating editor Brent Kinser hopes to see the CLO evolve to meet the needs of its users and of changing technology, paving the way for other digital databases on Victorian life to thrive, such as the Victorian Lives and Letters Consortium.

“In the post-truth age of fake news, anyone interested in the pursuit of truth and knowledge and wisdom needs to double their efforts to envision, build, and maintain sites that offer new ways of exploring the past and the present, which Carlyle dubbed ‘the conflux of two eternities,’ both of which help to shape the future,” Kinser says. “Truth may be out of fashion, but if it goes forever, we are, all of us, lost. But as Carlyle once said, ‘The World is the Place of Hope.’ Let us be of good hope. Efforts such as the CLO have an important part to play. The results need to be made available to as many people in as many places as possible. That means open access.”

Stay up to date with the Carlyles on Twitter by following @carlyleletters.

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