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Beyond the Paper Chase: Building a Comprehensive Online Romantics Bibliography—A Progress Report*

Kyle Grimes, University of Alabama in Birmingham


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

Introduction

In March of 1998, shortly after my edition of William Honeís Political House that Jack Built appeared on Romantic Circles, the editors of that site presented me with a marvelous opportunity: to design, build, and then become the chief editor of a comprehensive online bibliography for the study of the later romantic writers. The basic idea for the project was wildly ambitious (as the schemes of technophile academics tend to be). For the first phase of the project, we would build a bibliography database capable of recording all the relevant reference and bibliographical data for sources ranging from the traditional journal articles and scholarly monographs to more heterogenous materials such as websites and CDs, articles in edited collections, chapters of books, dissertations, scholarly and teaching editions and so on. The Romantic Circles Bibliography, we hoped, would grow to become the most inclusive and thoroughly annotated core of bibliographical data assembled anywhere for the study of the romantics, and it would need to be founded on a well-designed and efficient database.

The sheer scope of the bibliography project makes it simply too large for any one person to complete; consequently, as the second phase of development, we were going to solicit other scholars to be responsible for maintaining particular subject areas. We would locate, for example, a Hemans specialist who would be responsible for making sure that all relevant Hemans-related materials were entered into the database; a Shelley specialist would do the same for Shelley scholarship; a Keatsian would deal with Keats scholarship; etc. In short, once the basic framework was in place and once that framework was accessible anywhere via the web, we would have an organic, collectively maintained bibliography for the free use of romantics scholars everywhere. Students and scholars could use the bibliography to locate and sort critical and historical materials, and the items themselves would be accompanied by a set of keywords and prose annotations that would enable much more precise and useful searches than more general-purpose library database programs typically allow. The basic bibliography search engine would be available as a page on Romantic Circles, and it would likely be surrounded, as occasion, interest, and enthusiasm warranted, by more specific topic- or author-based bibliographies produced by individual bibliographers.

As you may have gathered from the past-tense and subjunctive verbs in the previous paragraphs, the project has not yet met with unalloyed success, though, like a true Shelleyan-perfectibilitarian, I am still excited about the dreamy potential of the Romantic Circles Bibliography. Part of the difficulty I have been struggling with over the last few months has been, quite frankly, my own ignorance. When I undertook the project, I had only a rudimentary grasp on how to build web pages in HTMLóI had no knowledge of, let alone experience in, the design and construction databases. It goes without saying that I had no idea how a database could be wired to the net so as to be accessible to anyone with an up-to-specs browser. Naturally, Iíve stumbled into a number of blind alleys in my efforts to produce a workable model. Other difficulties have generally divided themselves into two categories: technical and conceptual. Iíll deal with these areas separately, even though, as will soon be apparent, they are closely intertwined.



*  These remarks have been prepared in order to provide the necessary background to a demonstration of the Romantic Circles Bibliography at the annual conference of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 13 August, 1999.  Any questions or comments should be directed to Kyle Grimes at the address provided below.  Many thanks.  [return]

Kyle Grimes
Department of English
UAB Station
Birmingham, AL 35294-1260
kgrimes@uab.edu
www.dpo.uab.edu/~kgrimes/


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