STEMMA offers the first macro-level view of the circulation of early modern English poetry in manuscript between 1558 and 1660. It develops innovative computational models and quantitative methods for studying the social and material forces that informed literary culture. Such forces have been of increasing interest to scholars, who have nevertheless tended to address individual manuscripts, discrete and unique by their very nature, as case studies. In contrast, STEMMA takes a data-driven approach to identify patterns and trends at scale. At its centre is the poet John Donne, whose documented reluctance to circulate his verse makes the survival of at least 4,249 manuscripts of his work even more puzzling; the poems of his next most-circulated contemporary, Richard Corbet, survive in fewer than 1,000 witnesses. To understand how Donne’s poems reached such a wide readership, the project synthesizes six of the most comprehensive datasets about early modern English manuscripts and applies insights from social network analysis and graph theory to model the larger transcontinental communications system.

The project’s objectives are to provide the most comprehensive overview of the circulation of early modern English verse in manuscript to date; to combine, augment, and enrich the most important datasets in the field of early modern manuscript studies and return them as reusable, non-proprietary open data; to develop innovative, transferable, and extensible computational models and quantitative methods for analysing the circulation of early modern English verse in manuscript; to offer a thoroughly revised account of the production and circulation of literary manuscripts created after the introduction of print; to provoke a reassessment of historical metanarratives that privilege print and thus obscure the diverse textual agents who participated in early modern literary culture; and to facilitate new modes of research and discovery as well as global, diachronic, and transmedia comparisons.


Dr. Erin A. McCarthy FHEA

IRC Consolidator Laureate

Principal Investigator, STEMMA: Systems of Transmitting Early Modern Manuscript Verse, 1558–1660

University of Galway | @erinannmcc

Project Details

Year(s): 2022-2026

Funded By: Irish Research Council