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A Chelsea Interior (1857), by Robert Scott Tait - Courtesy of Carlyle’s House, Chelsea, and the National Trust (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carlyles-house/).

John Ruskin in His Study at Brantwood, Dawn, 1882, watercolor by W. G. Collingwood; by kind permission of The Ruskin Museum, Coniston, Cumbria, LA21 8DU, UK; www.ruskinmuseum.com

Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden Wales © 2014.

Michael Field’s study at Reigate (c. 1890-98): reproduced by kind permission of the copyright holders, Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmian O'Neil, and The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford (MS. Eng. misc. c. 304, fol. 22).

About the Consortium

Founded in 2011, the Victorian Lives and Letters Consortium (VLLC) is a membership-based, not-for-profit organization composed of teachers, scholars, programmers, librarians, students, and enthusiasts devoted to the challenge of creating interactive digital archives of life-writing extending from the coronation of Queen Victoria to the outbreak of World War I. The goal of the VLLC project consists of two major components: 1) the digital scanning of hidden, dispersed, and physically fragile archives that would be impossible to reproduce other than in digital form and 2) the design and development of a unified content management system and a flexible online platform to accommodate multiple approaches to building searchable, interoperable, and peer-reviewed electronic scholarly editions of the archives.

Beyond the task of simply re-creating analog archives in digital environments, the VLLC seeks to test in new ways Thomas Carlyle’s observation in his essay “On History” (1830) that “Social Life is the aggregate of all the individual . . . Lives who constitute history; History is the essence of innumerable Biographies.” Admitting the impossibility of achieving a complete reading of the “Prophetic Manuscript” of the past, Carlyle calls on historians to render at least a “poor approximation” of it. The digital revolution has created fresh possibilities for understanding human experience. A distinctly new “approximation” can now be realized by representing the Victorian past as an interconnected web of personal letters, diaries, journals, and notebooks. The VLLC intends to create a new generation of scholarly digital editions that will highlight the complex interaction between private lives and public personas in Victorian society. Four archives—each with unique qualities as well as overlapping attributes—have been chosen to illustrate this dynamic interplay between Victorian interiors and exteriors.

The Four Founding Archives

The inspiration and model for the VLLC is the ongoing open-access Carlyle Letters Online (CLO; (http://carlyleletters.dukejournals.org/) published by Duke University Press and supported by the National Endowment of the Humanities since 2007. This collection, which comprises over 7,000 letters, provides an intimate account of the Victorian era from the vantage point of two of its most fiercely individualistic inhabitants. The Carlyle letters will be joined by three other archives, none of which has been published either digitally or in print: William Ewart Gladstone’s papers and personal correspondence, held by Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, Wales; John Ruskin’s diary-notebooks, held by the Ruskin Library and Research Centre at the University of Lancaster; and the diary notebooks of Michael Field, held by the British Library at St. Pancras. The individual home pages, available via the “VLLC Sites” button in the header, provide more complete information.

“Rooms with a View”

The VLLC was founded upon the conviction that, in the words of G. M. Young, the “real central theme of history is not what happened, but what people felt about it when it was happening.” The first four archives of the VLLC constitute a first step in an evolutionary and organic process. As the framework of the VLLC expands, new archives of both well and lesser known figures will be added, including art and social critics, politicians, activists, poets, novelists, dramatists, aesthetes, and reformers. VLLC users will have the opportunity to engage with both notable and obscure archives, many of which have been hidden or ignored. Personal folders and other features will enable them to conceive, create, and organize archives by saving content to personal folders, giving them their own “rooms with a view.”

A Chelsea Interior (1857), by Robert Scott Tait - Courtesy of Carlyle’s House, Chelsea, and the National Trust (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carlyles-house/).

John Ruskin in His Study at Brantwood, Dawn, 1882, watercolor by W. G. Collingwood; by kind permission of The Ruskin Museum, Coniston, Cumbria, LA21 8DU, UK; www.ruskinmuseum.com

Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden Wales © 2014.

Michael Field’s study at Reigate (c. 1890-98): reproduced by kind permission of the copyright holders, Leonie Sturge-Moore and Charmian O'Neil, and The Bodleian Libraries, The University of Oxford (MS. Eng. misc. c. 304, fol. 22).