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Digitizing Romanticism

Beyond the Paper Chase: Building a Comprehensive Online Romantics Bibliography
Part 3: Conceptual Issues

Kyle Grimes, University of Alabama in Birmingham

Prepared for "Digitizing Romanticism," Session chaired by Neil Fraistat, University of Maryland

In conceiving of the Bibliography itselfas distinguished from the technical wizardry that can potentially turn the concept into a functioning realitya number of questions come immediately to mind:What sort of information do we want the bibliography to record? What kind of searches will be most useful to students of the later romantics? How will the Bibliography fit into the overall plans and purposes of Romantic Circles? What contribution can a Romantic Circles Bibliography hope to make in a cyberspace increasingly populated with powerful research databases? Is the project worth pursuing? I am now convinced that the answer to such questions lies, first, in the sheer breadth of coverage, and, second, in the subject fields and keywords the Bibliography uses to catalog its contents. The former goal can be accomplished only through time and continued energy; the latter demands some more fundamental design decisions. In its present form, the database uses a table called the KeySet which, in effect, associates subject-area keywords with each bibliographical listing. But exactly what kinds of key words and search fields should be included in the KeySet?

The KeySet table in the current version of the Bibliography looks like this. The explanation of the various fields follows below.

Table 7: KeySet

Item ID #

Crit Approach

RC Keyword

Topic Person

Topic Work

Free Key







Some of the subject/field/keyword decisions represented here are very simple indeed. A quick survey of colleagues and graduate students in my own department revealed what was already intuitively obvious: When beginning a research project using electronic databases, researchers tend to begin with Author and Title searches. Thus, if a graduate student wants to study the critical history and psychological implications of Shelleys Alastor, that student is likely to begin searching using the keywords Shelley and Alastor rather than, say, psychology and literature. Naturally, I have built this tendency into the design of the database by including TopicPersons and TopicWorks as fields in the keyset table. When entering material into the database, the content for these fields is drawn from what are called lookup tables containing lists of TopicPersons and TopicWorks respectively. As noted above, this strategy insures consistencyand therefore more efficient searchingof contents. Another very simple, largely self-explanatory keyword category is the Free Key column wherein bibliographers can enter virtually any word or words that seem appropriate to the given item. [1] Such an approach takes advantage of the bibliographys standardized keyset while still making it possible to do more precise keyword searches.

The other two fields in the KeySet table perhaps demand some fuller explanation. First, the Critical Approach field offers a fairly general description of the items method and purpose. Like most of the other fields in the KeySet, the Critical Approach is drawn from a listin this case, a rather short listof possible entries. The central point of this field is to distinguish items presenting, say, New Historicist/Ideological readings from items offering on Formalist analyses from items with discussions of romanticism as a profession. (A complete list of the possible Critical Approach entries is available here.) The other column, RC Keywords, is perhaps the most complicated of all, and it will be subject to a major revision once the contents of the Bibliography grow to offer a more complete picture of the various subjects of romantics critical and historical writing. Nonetheless, the theory underlying the RC Keywords could use some explanation.

If an electronic database is going to offer useful, thorough and detailed searches of its contents, it stands to reason that one will need to generate a set of standardized search termsthe Library of Congress Subject Headings writ small, so to speak. What I have assembled at present is a kind of evolving list of romantics-related topoi. I began by scouring the Tables of Contents and Indexes of dozens of influential monographs on late-romantic writers and on romanticism itself. My aim was to see what sort of overlapping terminology the books used as subject descriptors. From this listit was originally about 300 items longI tried to generate a handful of more general subject areas. For example, most historical works discuss the Manchester Massacre, the Luddite uprisings, the French Revolution, and so forth. If these items were simply included in a list of some 300 items, it would be extremely difficult for any bibliographer to locate the most accurate keywords to describe a given bibliography entry. But if each item is prefixed with a more general category, then the list becomes far more manageable. Thus, the keywords are arranged alphabetically behind their more general subject-area labels:

  • History: Events: French Revolution
  • History: Events: Luddite uprisings
  • History: Events: Manchester Massacre

The result is a much more manageable set of keywords, that, with a little practice, is flexible enough to describe most of the items Ive cataloged thus far and yet general enough to yield meaningful and inclusive searches. The list of keywords is still evolving, but the basic logic of using a standardized set of Romantic Circles keywords will, I think, enable the Bibliography itself to function as a more precise search engine than any currently in existence.


1. One good use of the Free Key column, by the way, is to make more specific the entries in other keyword fields. For example, in order to keep the TopicWorks table to reasonable dimensions it seemed sensible to consider whole classes of works as a single entry. Thus, not all of Shelleys occasional lyric poems are separately listed; instead, there is a field item called Shelley, P.B.: Shorter poems and lyrics. If the bibliographer is recording a critical work that focuses primarily on Ozymandias, it would make sense to select Shelley, P.B.: Shorter poems and lyrics to enter into the Topic Work field and then type Ozymandias into the Free Key field. [return]

Return to the Digitizing Romanticism Homepage

Go to Fraistat, Digitizing Romanticism: Introduction

Go to Kelley and Sha, The Sister Arts Go Digital: The Romantic Circles Art Gallery

Go to Clery, The Corvey Project: Collaborative Excavation of the Professional Woman Writer, 1790-1840

Go to Crochunis and Eberle-Sintra, Editing Electronically Women Playwrights of the Romantic Period

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