Wendy Wall, Leah Knight, & MAD Studio Resurrect Work of 17th Century Poet

For you are of a variable condition
As well as I, and shall ere long dissolve;
Glory not, then, in interposition,
For into other elements revolve

               ~ from “The Eclipse”

Today, Northwestern proudly adds a new piece of digital scholarship freely accessible on the web to anyone interested in early modern poetry, in how women might be included in the stories that we tell of the past, or in how editing can shape our view of a writer. Spearheaded by Weinberg professor Wendy Wall and Leah Knight from Brock University in Canada, The Pulter Project: Poet in the Making serves as a living archive of the poems of Hester Pulter.

the Pulter Project

Hester Pulter (1605-1678) was a contemporary of Shakespeare, and a prolific and accomplished poet by any measure. One can be excused for not previously hearing about her: women poets of that time were not published nearly as much as men, and consequently, many of their works have been lost to history. However, in a fortuitous twist of fate, Pulter's surviving manuscript was discovered in an archive at the University of Leeds in 1996.

“Pulter’s fascinating poems demonstrate that a woman living on a remote estate in 17th-century England was conversant with cutting-edge scientific theories in astronomy and physics,” said Wall. “Her case study raises the question: perhaps there were many more female artists and intellectuals from the past whose contributions have not been recognized simply because their works disappeared. Leah Knight and I wanted to make her work accessible by creating an experimental digital laboratory where readers can ‘remake’ Pulter’s religious devotions, elegies, and political protest poetry.”

Not simply a digital collection of Pulter’s verse, the site includes contributions from a team of editors, scholars, reviewers, advisors, and curators from countries across the Anglophone world, assembled and presented by the skilled technical work of Northwestern’s Media and Design Studio. Each poem is offered with multiple versions – some edited, some not – to allow readers the space to have a work expertly contextualized for them, or to come in with fresh eyes and draw their own conclusions. Through this dual presentation, the site itself becomes a tool for testing how the digital format can materialize innovative principles of editing by allowing readers to engage with multiple, different representations and readings of Pulter’s work.

The Pulter Project website includes:
  • Elemental Editions, for readers who seek to read with minimal interruption and with only basic notes;
  • Amplified Editions, which provide additional and potentially contrasting contextualization and commentary;
  • Ways to compare editions, side by side, for a deeper dive into the material. Juxtaposing the manuscript, transcriptions, and various editorial approaches shows how a single poem’s significance can multiply and how a modern edition is “made;”
  • Curations, which offer an array of verbal and visual materials that invite readers to contemplate how poems might be contextualized;
  • Explorations, which look beyond individual poems to frame Pulter’s works as a whole in different ways.

The Pulter Project comparison tool

The Pulter Project comparison tool

Dive into the highly readable archive of a great, under-read poet at http://pulterproject.northwestern.edu.