The Correspondence of Thomas Pennant: Methodology


Curious Travellers editions provides an online edition of selections from the correspondence of Thomas Pennant. Scattered among various archives and libraries and hitherto largely inaccessible to readers, the letters offer crucial insights into the creation of Pennant's Scottish and Welsh tours. In a reflection of the scope of the tours, they bring together correspondents within the British Isles and beyond to discuss subjects as diverse as natural history, the book trade, antiquarianism, visual culture and topography. At the same time, the letters offer us a window onto the excitements and practicalities encountered by Pennant and his fellow ‘curious travellers’.

The following editorial guidelines were produced by Dr Alex Deans (Research Associate), with input from Dr Mary-Ann Constantine (PI), Dr Nigel Leask (Co-I), Dr Luca Guariento (Web Developer) and Dr Ffion Mair Jones (Research Associate).

Edition Contents

Letters between Thomas Pennant and his correspondents are distributed across approximately 20 individual repositories, and occur in a variety of manifestations, although the majority take the form of holograph letters. Curious Travellers editions displays annotated transcriptions of over five hundred letters both to and from Pennant, with a range of search facilities and supporting editorial material. The focus of the selection is on letters that have some bearing on Pennant’s tours, or related matters concerning natural history, antiquarianism, or visual documentation.

Each document has its own individual record in the project database, containing metadata (information such as its author and recipient and their locations, date, and source). XML tagging records particular areas of interest, such as people and place names, books, manuscripts and art works mentioned. Our policy on this is explained in more detail later in this document.

Basis of Textual Policy

While recognizing the importance of reflecting the state of the copy-texts, we also aim to produce an edition in which fidelity to the sources is reconciled with clarity for modern readers, including the general public, students and specialist scholars.

Our textual/editorial policy is based, with some adaptation and variations, on that devised by Dr David Shuttleton for the AHRC-funded project The Consultation Letters of Dr William Cullen (1710-1790) at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. This was influenced by Thomas Keymer and Peter Sabor’s Cambridge Edition of the Correspondence of Samuel Richardson (2014), Lars Troide’s The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney (6 vols., Oxford University Press, 1988–), and Bruce Redford’s edition of The Letters of Samuel Johnson (5 vols., Princeton University Press, 1992–4); and David Fairer’s edition of The Correspondence of Thomas Warton (University of Georgia Press, 1995). We have also referred to the methodology of the The Collected Letters of Robert Southey, published by Romantic Circles.

The XML schema used for our transcriptions is derived from current Textual Encoding Initiative (TEI) guidelines. Our general policy is to reproduce all of the original letter text, including the original paragraphing, punctuation, neologisms, authorial punctuation, contractions, abbreviations, superscripts, underlinings, deletions, numberings, symbols, marginalia and endorsements. Wherever practicable, this extends to any later additions in the form of headings or early cross-referencing notes. Period spellings, misspellings, and grammatical solecisms are retained; however, TEI <sic></sic> tags are used where apparent authorial slips or slips could be mistaken for transcription or editorial errors, e.g. in the case of needlessly repeated words. Postal addresses and details of franks and stamps are also marked up, but enclosures and images are treated at the editors' discretion.

We do not always reproduce the precise visual appearance of the original manuscripts in terms of layout. If any text continues down the side of a page, for example, we have treated it as part of a continuous paragraph. While we preserve existing paragraph breaks and do not impose paragraphing on a document that lacks it, our paragraphs themselves are standardised in being separated by line breaks and lacking indentation. We do not retain line or page breaks, as these in general reflect the physical dimensions of the original letters and carry little meaning in the context of the typed transcriptions. For this reason, words split over multiple lines or pages in the original letters have been represented as spelled in the manuscript, but with spaces and hyphenation removed. Similarly, ‘catch words’ occurring at the bottom of pages where the letter continues to the next side have been omitted. In the case of poems or songs, the lineation of the manuscript has been retained. Where necessary, editorial notes have been inserted in footnotes at the end of the documents, in order to distinguish them from authorial notes.

Our more detailed policy on particular matters of transcription follows below:

Expansions and contractions

As David Fairer observes in his edition of Warton, ‘obsolete abbreviations are by far the largest obstacle to the readability of a text’. The naturalised transcriptions therefore expand or normalise all abbreviations not in standard use today: for example, ‘ye’ and ‘yt’ (where the ‘y’ is strictly speaking a thorn) are expanded to ‘the’ and ‘that’. Abbreviations that are self-explanatory, clear from the context in which they appear, or occur very frequently – e.g. ‘yr’ for ‘your’ – are retained.

Some different rules apply for specific issues:

Document information in the database record The record for each document, person, place, books or manuscript, and art work contains information in specific fields. These reflect categories used in the correspondence database Early Modern Letters Online (EMLO) and signal the compatibility of Curious Travellers editions with EMLO for purposes of further research across multiple fields of interest.


Scholarly editions in book-form

Scholarly editions (electronic)

Miscellaneous reference