Manuscript Pamphleteering in Early Stuart England

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: History and Cultures


This project will map a little-known literature of major importance. Before the outbreak of Civil War in 1642, England developed a large, influential and often radical pamphlet literature. Speeches, learned briefs, and scaffold apologies joined character assassinations, secret histories and conspiracy theories in a jumbled literary underground. Pamphlets were produced commercially and informally and circulated across the kingdom; they fascinated readers and influenced events. Large numbers of copies survive - probably in the tens of thousands - suggesting a significant readership. Nevertheless, this pamphlet literature is rarely mentioned and even more rarely analyzed by historians or literary critics, not least because it was written by hand rather than printed with movable type.
This project aims to survey the vast hidden archive of early Stuart England's manuscript pamphlets. In collaboration with the British Library, this project will construct a database of manuscript pamphlet texts, bibliographic information, and digital images. This will allow users to search transcriptions of the pamphlets; analyze the distribution of copies through time and space; and see how such materials were presented: large and small, elaborate and plain, professional and amateur. The project will conduct additional research in the private papers of Francis Russell, fourth earl of Bedford, who was a major political figure of the early Stuart era as well as a reader and collector of manuscript pamphlets.
The research has three main purposes. First, the project team and associated researchers will use the database to ask and answer fundamental questions about the content of early Stuart political ideas, the genres in which they were expressed, and the circulation of those ideas through the kingdom. Second, the studies produced by the project and the underlying dataset will be useful to historians, literary critics and scholars of political thought, providing a major new set of sources and a useful new set of research tools. Third, the project will prove useful to non-academic beneficiaries. Events at local archives, undertaken with the advice of the British Library, will raise the profile of the resource, and assist such archives and their users in capitalizing on manuscript pamphlets within their own collection; further, working in partnership with the Historical Association, the project will convene a Bristol-based group of secondary school teachers to help build a teaching resource for use in A-Level teaching, which will be available on the website and promoted by the Historical Association.
The PI, Noah Millstone, a historian, has published widely on early Stuart manuscript pamphleteering, including a 2016 monograph. The CI, Sebastiaan Verweij, is a literary critic who has written extensively on manuscript culture in the early seventeenth century and has significant experience as a research associate in digital humanities projects such the Oxford Edition of the Sermons of John Donne and Scriptorium, both funded by the AHRC. The project team will include a Research Assistant (RA) appointed by open recruitment. The PI and CI will also recruit senior scholars to act as an advisory board.
The project outputs will include the database itself (combining transcriptions of c.500 short texts, 1500 photographs, and associated bibliographic information), embedded in an information-rich website, which will include the teaching resource and a 5,000 word introduction; three 10,000-word peer-reviewed articles by the PI, CI and RA; the one-day symposium at the British Library; and three outreach events at local archives. The project will also serve as a foundation for future work, partly by providing a digital infrastructure that will allow for easy expansion of the dataset and database alongside other partners, and partly through further publications, notably a monograph by the CI on the manuscript collections of Woburn Abbey.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?
We believe this project will particularly benefit two different sorts of institutions. First, early modern copies of the manuscript pamphlets studied by this project are widely distributed in libraries and archives across the UK. Thanks to the project's activities and outputs, the archivists and librarians working in such collections will be able better to catalogue the materials they hold, to understand their connections to other materials held elsewhere, and to host additional researchers who will come to use the material. The British Library itself will be a major beneficiary of this kind; similar benefits will accrue to other archives whose collections are noted in the bibliographic portion of the database, and even to those with collections whose information is not included, as the database will assist them in cataloguing their collections and linking them to material elsewhere. Archive users will also benefit. Thanks to the project's activities, local history societies and local historians will become aware of the materials available nearby.
Second, the project's activities and outputs will be useful to secondary schools, where they will benefit both A-Level history teachers and students. All four exam boards have A-level modules that treat early Stuart history, but most provide very little resources to secondary school teachers beyond a list of textbooks. The recently launched AHRC-funded Stuarts Online has begun to address this problem; in emphasizing illicit pamphlets and the materiality of textual sources, this project offers a somewhat different perspective into Stuart political life. By producing a teaching resource, the project will help secondary school teachers provide students with a more primary source-rich, up-to-date approach to the early Stuart era.

How will they benefit from this research?
Libraries, archives, local historians: First, the project's database will help librarians and archivists catalogue their holdings. For those archives whose holdings are listed in the bibliographical data, the database will help draw attention to those holdings and draw in users working on early Stuart topics. We will maximize the extent of this impact by publicizing the database through the British Library's communication channels, by the BL colloquium, and by events at local archives across the UK directed at both archivists and local history societies.
Teachers and Students: The project website will have a teaching resource, formed around 2-3 example texts from the database along with accompanying photographs and ideas about how to use the resource in the classroom. The teaching resource will be produced in consultation with Bristol-area secondary school teachers, contacted with the help of the Historical Association. The teachers involved will benefit through an opportunity for professional development. The resource itself, once completed, will be available through the website and will be advertised through the Historical Association, who are willing to act as a long term host for the teaching resource. Used in the classroom, the teaching resource will enrich and deepen A-level teaching of the early Stuart era, benefiting both teachers and students.


10 25 50
Description Training and capacity building of local historians in Leicestershire
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Description Conference Funding Scheme
Amount £2,728 (GBP)
Organisation Past & Present 
Start 06/2018 
End 07/2018