Project Introduction

The Shelley-Godwin Archive will provide the digitized manuscripts of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft, bringing together online for the first time ever the widely dispersed handwritten legacy of this uniquely gifted family of writers. The result of a partnership between the New York Public Library and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, in cooperation with Oxford’s Bodleian Library, the S-GA also includes key contributions from the Huntington Library, the British Library, and the Houghton Library. In total, these partner libraries contain over 90% of all known relevant manuscripts.

The innovative technical architecture of the S-GA builds on open standards and the principles of the linked data movement, and has been designed to support user curation in subsequent phases of the project. Rather than serving only as a point of access, the S-GA will thus function ultimately as a work-site for scholars, students, and the general public, whose contributions in the form of transcriptions, corrections, annotations, and TEI encoding will create a commons through which various discourse networks related to its texts intersect and interact.

The more immediate goal for the S-GA’s current first phase is to provide access to page images under open licenses of as many of these manuscripts as possible, in a series of public releases beginning with the Frankenstein Notebooks and followed by the fair-copy manuscripts of Prometheus Unbound. Typically, given the limits of funding and labor, the digitized manuscripts will be publicly released in one of three forms of development:

  • page images with transcriptions that are fully corrected and TEI-encoded (as with Frankenstein and Prometheus Unbound);
  • page images with transcriptions that have not yet been corrected (as will be the case for most of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s manuscripts at the Bodleian Library);
  • page images only.

The curatorial status of each page in the Archive is color-coded so that during the first phase users will understand the relative trustworthiness of transcriptions. In S-GA’s subsequent phases the color-coding will also serve as an indication of what type of curatorial work users might best contribute.

This kind of networked, distributed transcription and encoding has been pioneered during the S-GA’s first phase by a team of students in two graduate seminars at the University of Maryland and the University of Virginia, who transcribed and encoded roughly a third of the manuscript pages of Frankenstein. By scaling up such experiments in its next phase, the Archive will help to move humanities research into the classroom and out to the public so as to make students and “citizen humanists” active, knowledgeable, and critical participants in the great cultural migration now underway of our literary inheritance into digital form.

The Shelley-Godwin Archive has been made possible by a three-year Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant from the Preservation and Access division of the National Endowment for the Humanities and a generous grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

England’s First Family of Writers

Mary Wollstonecraft and her husband William Godwin, together with their daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley and her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, have been justly called “England’s first family of writers.” Working mostly alone, sometimes together, they produced a remarkable body of work that includes the manifesto to which almost all women’s movements since the late eighteenth century have traced their origins; a pioneering treatise seen as a cornerstone of philosophical anarchism; some of the most enduring and influential poetry in English; and, finally, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, a tale that has achieved the status of myth, haunting Western culture since its publication in 1818.

In all four lives the turbulence of the French Revolutionary period coincided with the relatively new profession of the writer. Godwin (1756-1836) established himself as one of the foremost philosophers of his generation with An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), a melioristic account that called for a gradual revolution in the world’s economy by abolishing property and marriage; human progress – “perfectibility,” he called it – he believed to be inevitable. At its publication it was hailed as a credible and thrilling account of how the world was bound to become a just and rational place. In 1794 Godwin published Caleb Williams, a still-enthralling novel embodying his philosophical ideas in fictive form, which proved even more popular than his political treatise. By 1794, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) too had made her name as a supporter of revolution, though she called for, famously, “a revolution in manners” – not simply etiquette but in the unequal relations among groups of men and, especially, between men and women. She had published pedagogical works, a novel, a history of the French Revolution (based on her immediate experience), A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790), supporting the Revolution, and her most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), still a milestone in the history of feminism, and still containing unmet demands.

The pair met for the second time soon after Wollstonecraft had returned to England from France; they quickly fell in love. Their marriage in March 1797 was a brilliant conjunction of literary royalty, but it was not to last long. In September, 1797, ten days after giving birth to a baby girl named for her, Mary Wollstonecraft died of puerperal fever. Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (later Shelley, 1797-1851), grew up knowing her mother’s history, reading her books, and seeing that her father revered her memory – Mary Wollstonecraft’s portrait hung in Godwin’s study and the new Mrs. Godwin, Mary Jane Clairmont, apparently joined the rest of the household in venerating her predecessor.

Among Godwin’s admirers was the young political activist and author Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), who came to dine in 1812. The strength of Shelley’s political energy is astonishing by the standard of any era. In Julian and Maddalo he describes Julian, based on himself (with Maddalo a version of Lord Byron) as “passionately attached to those philosophical notions which assert the power of man over his own mind, and the immense improvements of which, by the extinction of certain moral superstitions human society may yet be susceptible. Without concealing the evil in the world, he is for ever speculating how good may be made superior.” In the early nineteenth century, during a long, bloody, and divisive war against Revolutionary and then Napoleonic France, the cost of such passionate attachments was very high. Before he was twenty-one, Shelley had been expelled from Oxford for promulgating his atheistic views, agitated for Irish independence in Dublin, and published political pamphlets (in both prose and verse) that gained him the attention of government spies. Despite his belief that marriage was, as Godwin had put it in 1793, “a monopoly, and the worst of monopolies,” he was already married, and he and his wife, Harriet Westbrook Shelley, became constant visitors to the Godwin ménage. Shelley’s ardent interest in Godwin’s philosophy ensured his welcome, and the money he supplied was also gladly accepted. When he and Mary Godwin met their mutual appeal proved irresistible. They eloped, taking with them Mary Godwin’s step-sister, Claire Clairmont, but leaving behind Shelley’s wife, then pregnant with their second child.

The trio was gone only six weeks, but some key patterns of their life together – which will be richly documented in the Archive – were set on the tour: they read and wrote (among other books, Mary Wollstonecraft’s account of her Scandinavian journey), nearly ran out of money, and saw as much as they could see. Travelling for a third time with Claire Clairmont (who had accompanied them to the shores of Lake Geneva in the summer of 1816), they left England in March 1818 not long after the anonymous publication of Frankenstein. Shelley would spend the rest of his life in Italy, famously drowning in July 1822, while sailing during a storm off Viareggio.

After Mary Shelley returned to England in 1823, her writing career continued without cease. Novels were always her greatest strength and she completed five more after Frankenstein; she also wrote short stories, biographies, travel works, and occasional journalism. While she never, unlike the other three members of the “first family,” felt irresistibly moved to action by her political beliefs, she nonetheless supported their causes: regarding her mother’s most famous work, for example, she remarked once “If I have never written to vindicate the rights of women, I have ever befriended women when oppressed.” Her efforts to publish Shelley’s works and maintain his memory through a biography were both thwarted for decades by his father Sir Timothy, with only the first brought to overt publication, although she insinuated large drafts of biographical writing into the notes of her edition. This and her later work to memorialize Godwin made her the guardian of the family’s fame.

If the unexamined life is not worth living, these four writers led immensely valuable lives. In all the genres they worked in – treatise, novel, drama, verse – they saw the world alive with new possibilities and new ways for human beings to live free of the command of necessity or tradition by entering the service of virtue, global political justice, and what Percy Shelley called “the spirit of Beauty” that “gives grace and truth to life’s unquiet dream.” They remain dangerous and necessary thinkers; readers need them now as much as ever if literature is to be able to do its job – that is, to see the world anew.Interest in the group and its remarkable archival legacy is growing ever stronger: new biographies and editions of Percy and Mary Shelley, of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin have been published in recent years; critical and scholarly work, in print and online, continues unabated and is matched in popular culture by the proliferation of films, novels, songs, and videos made about them and their works.


The Shelley-Godwin Archive is the ever-growing, collaborative product of many hands across a variety of institutions and disciplines. We gratefully acknowledge the work of these contributors below.


  • Elizabeth C. Denlinger, Principal Investigator and Project Director
  • Neil Fraistat, Principal Investigator and Project Director
  • Trevor Munoz, Text Encoding Lead
  • Travis Brown, Technical Lead
  • David Brookshire, Managing Editor for Encoding and Transcriptions
  • Raffaele Viglianti, Software Developer
  • James Smith, Shared Canvas Lead
  • Kirsten Keister, Graphic Designer
  • Christina Lambert, Business Manager
  • Jennifer Guiliano, Project Manager
  • Stephanie Sapienza, Project Manager
  • Amanda Visconti, Graduate Assistant
  • Nitya Vashishtha, Technical Assistant
  • Evan Wang, Technical Assistant
  • Doug Reside, Technical Advisor
  • Joseph Dalton, Applications Developer
  • Charles Carter, Metadata Developer
  • Eric Shows, Digital Photographer
  • Rosa Armendariz, Manager of Special Funds
  • Susannah Bingham Buck, Intern, Metadata
  • Cheryl Minhua Chao, Grant Analyst
  • Terrance D'Ambrosio, Manager, Digital Imaging Unit
  • Michelle Gordon, Director, Application Development
  • Abigail Meisterman, Metadata Specialist
  • Angela Montefinise, Public Relations
  • Sean Nortz, Intern, Metadata
  • Eric Philcox, Manager, Digital Imaging Unit
  • Patricia Rader, Metadata Coordinator
  • Eric Shows, Assistant Manager, Digital Imaging Unit
  • Trevor Thornton, Senior Applications Developer
  • Vanessa Viruet, Associate Manager, Foundation and Government Grants
  • Justin Washington, Financial Analyst
  • James Allan, Bodleian Enterprise Unit
  • Nick Cistone, Imaging Services Unit
  • Erin Cooper, Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services
  • Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections
  • Helen Gilio, Imaging Services Unit
  • Neil Jefferies, Project Manager
  • Christine Madsen, Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services
  • Richard Ovenden, Deputy Keeper, Bodleian Libraries
  • Michael Popham, Head of Digital Initiatives
  • Samantha Sherbourne, Imaging Services Unit
  • David Tomkins, Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services
  • Linda Townsend, Bodleian Enterprise Unit
  • Jamie Andrews, Head of Modern Literary Manuscripts
  • Rachel Foss, Lead Curator, Modern Literary Manuscripts
  • Chris Lee, Studio Manager, Imaging Services
  • Tony Grant, Photographer
  • Leslie Morris, Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts
  • Robin Wendler, Library Technical Services
  • Harvard Library Imaging Services, Photography
  • Brooke Black, Chief Cataloger, Manuscripts
  • Mario Einaudi, Kemble Digital Projects Librarian
  • Sue Hodson, Curator, Literary Manuscripts
  • Natalie Russell, Assistant Curator of Literary Manuscripts
  • John Sullivan, Chief Photographer
  • Maria Sienkiewicz, Group Archivist, Barclays Group Archives
  • Wendell Piez, Consultant
  • Josh Wilner, Usability Testing Consultant

Encoding Contributors

Mary Claffey
Dov Frede
University of Maryland
Under the supervision of Neil Fraistat

Jen Ausden
Michael Gossett
Amanda Giff
Clifford Hichar
Nigel Lepianka
Phil Stewart
LaRonika Thomas
Jessica Worley
University of Virginia
Under the supervision of Andrew Stauffer

Eliza Fox
Sarah Storti
Tess Goodman
Christina Sohn
Dana Wheeles

Advisory Board

We are delighted to welcome the following distinguished scholars, technologists and cultural heritage professionals to our Advisory Board:

Stephen Behrendt
University Professor and George Holmes Distinguished Professor of English
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Julie Carlson
Professor, Department of English
University of California, Santa Barbara

Pamela Clemit
Professor in the Department of English Studies
Durham University

Nora Crook
Emerita Professor, Department of English, Communication, Film and Media
Anglia Ruskin University

Doucet Devin Fischer
Co-Editor, Shelley and His Circle
Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle
New York Public Library

Chris Fletcher
Keeper of Special Collections, Bodleian Library
University of Oxford

Steven E. Jones
Co-Director, Center for Textual Studies and Digital Humanities
Professor of English
Loyola University, Chicago

Jerome J. McGann
University Professor, John Stewart Bryan Professor
University of Virginia
Leslie Morris
Curator, Modern Books & Manuscripts, Houghton Library
Harvard College

Richard Ovenden
Keeper of Special Collections and Associate Director of Bodleian Library
University of Oxford

Mark Philp
University Lecturer in Politics and Tutorial Fellow, Oriel College
University of Oxford

Charles E. Robinson
Professor Emeritus, Department of English
University of Delaware

Michael Rossington
Senior Lecturer in Romantic Literature, School of English Literature, Language & Linguistics
Newcastle University

William St Clair
Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies, School of Advanced Study
University of London

Andrew Stauffer
Associate Professor, Department of English
University of Virginia

Janet Todd
Herbert JC Grierson Professor of English Literature
University of Aberdeen

Lisa Vargo
Associate Professor, Department of English
University of Saskatchewan

Technological Infrastructure

The technical infrastructure of the Shelley-Godwin Archive builds on linked data principles and emerging standards such as the Shared Canvas data model and the Text Encoding Initiative's Genetic Editions vocabulary. It is designed to support a participatory platform where scholars, students, and the general public will be able to engage in the curation and annotation of the Archive's contents.

The Archive's transcriptions and software applications and libraries are currently published on GitHub, a popular commercial host for projects that use the Git version control system.

  • TEI transcriptions and other data
  • Shared Canvas viewer and search service
  • Shared Canvas manifest generation

All content and code in these repositories is available under open licenses (the Apache License, Version 2.0 and the Creative Commons Attribution license). Please see the licensing information in each individual repository for additional details.

Shared Canvas and Linked Open Data

Shared Canvas is a new data model designed to facilitate the description and presentation of physical artifacts—usually textual—in the emerging linked open data ecosystem. The model is based on the concept of annotation, which it uses both to associate media files with an abstract canvas representing an artifact, and to enable anyone on the web to describe, discuss, and reuse suitably licensed archival materials and digital facsimile editions. By allowing visitors to create connections to secondary scholarship, social media, or even scenes in movies, projects built on Shared Canvas attempt to break down the walls that have traditionally enclosed digital archives and editions.

Linked open data or content is published and licensed so that “anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it—subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike,” (from http://opendefinition.org/) with the additional requirement that when an entity such as a person, a place, or thing that has a recognizable identity is referenced in the data, the reference is made using a well-known identifier—called a universal resource identifier, or “URI”—that can be shared between projects. Together, the linking and openness allow conformant sets of data to be combined into new data sets that work together, allowing anyone to publish their own data as an augmentation of an existing published data set without requiring extensive reformulation of the information before it can be used by anyone else.

The Shared Canvas data model was developed within the context of the study of medieval manuscripts to provide a way for all of the representations of a manuscript to co-exist in an openly addressable and shareable form. A relatively well-known example of this is the tenth-century Archimedes Palimpsest. Each of the pages in the palimpsest was imaged using a number of different wavelengths of light to bring out different characteristics of the parchment and ink. For example, some inks are visible under one set of wavelengths while other inks are visible under a different set. Because the original writing and the newer writing in the palimpsest used different inks, the images made using different wavelengths allow the scholar to see each ink without having to consciously ignore the other ink. In some cases, the ink has faded so much that it is no longer visible to the naked eye. The Shared Canvas data model brings together all of these different images of a single page by considering each image to be an annotation about the page instead of a surrogate for the page. The Shared Canvas website has a viewer that demonstrates how the imaging wavelengths can be selected for a page.

Text Encoding Initiative

The Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) provides a standard for encoding machine-readable texts according to the needs of scholarly communities in the humanities. The TEI counts among its users and curators scholars from a range of fields, including linguistics, history, musicology, and literary studies. These users adopt the vocabulary provided by the TEI because of its ability to make machine-readable not only the “text,” but also the scholarship around it, by modeling ambiguity and interpretation. As a result, the TEI has become an established standard in the Digital Humanities, with a growing scholarly community that has maintained and developed it for almost thirty years.

The TEI has had an especially notable impact on scholarly editing. Almost all digital scholarly editions of literary works encode their text, apparatus, and editorial emendations in TEI. It is thus unsurprising that textual scholars are often directly involved in the development of the TEI guidelines and help develop it to reflect wider trends in textual editing. Recently, the TEI has introduced a vocabulary to embed transcription as part of a facsimile edition, which allows an editor to describe a written surface by identifying zones of writing and their relationships. This module was created by scholars working on genetic editions, which represent the evolution of a literary work by examining the writing process as it is physically manifested on the page. Genetic editing is a well established discipline in continental Europe (particularly in France and Germany); in the English-speaking world there are fewer genetic editions, of which H. W. Gabler’s 1984 edition of Joyce’s Ulysses is arguably the most exemplary.

The Shelley-Godwin Archive is one of the early adopters of this new module of the TEI, as is particularly fitting for a manuscript archive. Transcribers record the appearance of the text on the page, as well as identify authorial revisions or even interventions by different hands, an especially important distinction in those manuscripts where Mary and Percy Shelley worked together. This type of encoding enables the presentation of multiple views of the text on the fly, including diplomatic transcriptions faithful to the page image, a clear reading text showing the end result of revisions to each page, and text written only by Mary or Percy Shelley.

Read more about our use of TEI in Encoding the S-GA.

Encoding the S-GA

All manuscript images in the Shelley-Godwin Archive will eventually be accompanied by an XML-encoded transcription using a customized, but conformant, version of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) guidelines. The encoding schema is based upon the newly developed genetic editing module and is designed to capture important information about the state of the physical manuscript document, enabling researchers, editors, and students to pursue a variety of scholarly investigations. Our genetic encoding captures each stage of the composition process, tracing the revisionary evolution of primary manuscripts from rough draft to fair copy. The added value of a genetically encoded transcription is thus far greater than a basic diplomatic transcription that only displays the text as it appears on the page without any embedded contextual information. Users can see and search for additions, deletions, substitutions, retracings, insertions, transpositions, shifts in hand, displacements, paratextual notes, and other variables related to the composition process. Users will also ultimately have the option of comparing redacted reading texts (generated from the encoded manuscript transcriptions) against digitized first-edition print versions, enhancing scholars' and students’ understanding of an author’s creative process from draft to print.

Genetic encoding, however, takes time; each manuscript image in the Archive is therefore assigned a color-coded symbol that indicates the state of the encoded transcription. There are three levels:

A red symbol indicates that no encoded transcription is yet available.
A yellow symbol indicates that a basic diplomatic transcription has been created but has not yet been vetted.
A green symbol indicates that the transcription has been fully encoded and vetted.

Manuscript images will be added to the Archive in phased public releases, and the Shelley-Godwin Archive will continue to evolve during the transcription and encoding process.

Below is a list of the core TEI elements, attributes, and values used in our genetic encoding schema:

Element Attributes Values
<surface> graphic  "xxx"
partOf "xxx"
<zone> type "main" "left_margin" "library" "top" "pagination"
rotate "90" "180" "270"
corresp "#xxx"
rend "bordered"
<line> rend "center" "right" "left" "indent1" "indent2" "indent3" "indent4" "indent5"
xml:id "xxx"
<del> rend "strikethrough" "smear" "vertical_line" "overwritten"   "unmarked" "erased"
instant "true" "false"
next "#xxx"
<delSpan/> spanTo "#xxx"
rend "strikethrough" "vertical_line"
<add> place "superlinear" "sublinear" "intralinear" "interlinear"
hand "#pbs" "#mws"  "#mw" "#wg" "#comp" "#library"
next "#xxx"
xml:id "xxx"
type "alternative"
<addSpan/> place "interlinear" "superlinear" "sublinear"
spanTo "#xxx"
hand "#pbs" "#mws" "#mw" "#wg" "#comp" "#library"
xml:id "xxx"
<mod> type "addition" "substitution" "restore" "overwrite"
<mod/> type "addition" "substitution" "restore" "overwrite"
spanTo "#xxx"
<retrace> cause "clarify" "fix"
hand "#pbs" "#mws" "#comp" "#mw" "#wg"
<restore> type "stetdots" "smear_strikethrough" "underline"
<handShift/> new "#pbs" "#mws" "#mw" "#wg" "#comp" "#library"
medium "pen" "pencil"
<metamark> function "count" "insert" "separate" "paragraph" "transpose" "sequence" "displacement"
<anchor/> xml:id "xxx"
<ptr/> target "#xxx"
<milestone/> unit "tei:p" "tei:note" "tei:speaker" "tei:act" "tei:scene" "tei:stage" "tei:poem""tei:l" "tei:lg" "tei:canto" "tei:stanza" "tei:date""tei:salute" "tei:head"
spanTo "#xxx"
<hi> rend "sup" "underline"
reason "illegible" "case"
unit "chars"
extent "xx"
<space/> unit "chars"
extent "xx"
type "inkblot" "tear" "cut"
<alt/> targets "#xxx #xxx"
mode "exclusive"
weights "0.5 0.5"