Digital Humanities for the History of Emotions: Broadside Ballads & Beyond

It’s been an exciting week at the University of Sydney thinking about emotions. Professor Patricia Fumerton is vising from the University of California, Santa Barbara, as a guest of the CHE http://www.english.ucsb.edu/people/fumerton-patricia. On Monday evening Patricia gave a public lecture which was live-streamed by the CHE: ‘Broadside Ballads and Tactical Publics, “The Lady and the Blackamoor”, 1570-1789’. Starting her presentation with a late eighteenth-century American newsclipping—of a slave murdering his master and the master’s family before killing himself—she traced this ‘news story’ back to its sixteenth-century origins as a ballad.

Patricia is the Director of the English Broadside Ballad Archive (EBBA) at UCSB http://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/, and she used the site to show a few Early Modern versions of the printed broadside and to play a modern recording of the ballad. Taking us through the ballad’s manifestations in various broadside prints as well as its sung form, Patricia argued that the ballad of ‘The Lady and the Blackamoor’ was not necessarily about race in the Early Modern period.  Instead, she talked about how the ballad might have resonated emotionally with different groups of audiences, and used these emotional implications to help locate the Early Modern senses or themes of the ballad.

University of Glasgow Library, Euing Ballad 197, ‘A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord, and a Vertuous Lady, with the untimely end of their two children, wickedly performed by a Heathenish Blacka-moor their servant, the like never heard of befor’ (1658-1664?) Ballad Sheet
University of Glasgow Library, Euing Ballad 197, ‘A Lamentable ballad of the tragical end of a Gallant Lord, and a Vertuous Lady, with the untimely end of their two children, wickedly performed by a Heathenish Blacka-moor their servant, the like never heard of befor’ (1658-1664?) Ballad Sheet facsimile from the English Broadside Ballad Archive (EBBA 31955)

By showing different versions of the ballad’s imprinted woodcut, as well as highlighting changing typescripts and other bibliographic details of the printed broadside, Patricia showed how the form of the broadside shifted the ballad’s symbolism and meaning over time—down to the very stripping of image and change from blackletter to Roman text in its appearance in an eighteenth-century American newspaper. This talk was a fascinating introduction to what is in store for scholars of the history of emotions, Early Modern media, and English ballads in Patricia’s forthcoming book The Moving Matter of Broadside Ballads: The Lady and the Blackamoor (University of Chicago Press).

Patricia then gave a masterclass on Tuesday, ‘The Digital Recovery of Moving Media: EBBA and the Early English Broadside Ballad’, presented by ‘Putting Periodization to Use: Testing the Limits of Early Modernity’, an interdisciplinary research group (of which CHE postdoc Una McIlvenna is a member) funded by the University of Sydney Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences Collaborative Research Scheme. Postgraduate students and faculty members from English, History, and Music listened as Patricia explained the rationale behind the way the EBBA website works.

What I found most fascinating was the way in which the EBBA team has created a digital experience of the broadside ballads which somewhat replicates the way that these objects operated in the Early Modern world and in their afterlives as they were collected by scholars and antiquarians. The broadsides were ‘piecemeal’ or collage-style objects, consisting of woodcut imprint, blackletter text, title, and prescribed tune—and each of these pieces could be interchanged within a single ballad and across different ballads.  Accordingly, the EBBA website allows researchers to see the broadside in various forms, to hear the ballads sung, and to search across images, tunes, titles, and text to grasp the rich diversity of this medium. I know this online archive has been invaluable for CHE postdoc Una McIlvenna’s project on Early Modern execution ballads, but the form of the website and the way in which it presents its materials can be instructive for history of emotions scholars working in a range of disciplines and periods, and particularly for those interested in digital humanities.

Online archives, digital editions, and websites serving as a locus for studies on particular authors or texts have flourished in the last decade. I assume that almost every CHE researcher is using online sources in some form—the digitization of some of our primary sources is, I presume, what makes many of our projects on the history of emotions in Europe 1100-1800 feasible while working from Australia.

I wonder what online collections and websites have other history of emotions scholars found useful for your work? And are there features of the sites themselves that have enriched the kind of history of emotions research that you do?

Posted by Rebecca F. McNamara

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