A new interactive version of The Acts and Monuments by John Foxe has been published online by the University of Sheffield. This work, available at http://www.johnfoxe.org, is an ecclesiastical history that is regarded as an essential resource for researchers of English history, religion and literature.
The Acts and Monuments details the history of the Protestants who were executed for heresy in the sixteenth century. The text was instrumental in creating anti-Catholic sentiments which informed the prejudices of the English people and the public policy of English governments, from the reign of Elizabeth I to that of William IV – from 1560 to 1835.
The text is a foundation source for the history of the English Reformation and the late Medieval Church, as well as being a cornerstone resource for scholars of English literature and religion.
Originally conceived by Professor David Loades and accepted by the British Academy in 1992, the John Foxe project represents nearly 20 years of painstaking work from a team involving the University of Sheffield’s Department of History, the University of Bangor and the University of Sheffield’s Humanities Research Institute (HRI).
The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the British Academy with additional financial assistance from Aurelius Trust, the Pilgrim Trust and the Newton Trust. The conclusion is an online, interactive version of The Acts and Monuments which is set to transform the way students and scholars are able to access and understand the text.
Professor Mark Greengrass, who became the Director of the John Foxe project in 2004 when Professor Loades retired in order to focus his energies on the project’s scholarly apparatus as Editorial Director, explained the significance of the text: “Foxe’s Acts and Monuments was one of the largest and most ambitious printed books produced in the first century of English printing.
“With its complicated text, numerous engravings and editions, it was a monument to the transforming power of printing. Even more, it was intended as a monument to the Protestant reformation in England.
“We still find it difficult (unconsciously) not to interpret that event – its early history and its martyrs – through the eyes of John Foxe. That was what Foxe intended. He was a great polemicist. He knew how to use the power of print to create the image of a unique, providential and political event in English history.
“The book is a tribute to the power of scholarship, when linked to polemic, to erect a new historical orthodoxy. That orthodoxy contributed to securing Queen Elizabeth I on the throne. In due course, too, it helped to fashion a sense of what it was to be English.”
The project was an enormous undertaking and is of great interest to scholars in the UK and beyond. The conclusion of the project marks the end of almost 20 years of work for the project team. Professor Greengrass commented: “To work on this huge text has been an immense challenge. Its objective was to create an electronic edition of this complicated text, one that would create a scholarly environment that would support the research of scholars for this century. For the last decade, I have been the project’s ‘factotum’, managing its progress and securing the funding for its successful conclusion.”
The new online edition will provide a resource that will enable researchers to look further and deeper into the text and its implications than ever before. Professor Greengrass continued: “I like to think that the new edition will be a tool for students, answering questions that I have not even dreamt of asking, through the next century.
“The edition creates a unique environment for both researchers and students. Because of the rarity of early editions of the work, there are currently only a very few places in the world (perhaps no more than five) where all the editions are conveniently available in one place for research and comparison. Now they are all available, and capable of being searched electronically and compared, from anywhere in the world, at the click of a button.”
The text will also be of significant interest internationally, as Professor Greengrass explained: “Foxe is a figure of international significance. He spent several formative years of his life in Basel – something which the prefatory essays of the new edition go some way to explain.
“He wrote about continental as well as English martyrs. He saw himself participating in a great international movement, and not simply in an English context. The ability to search the text, view the images, consult translations of the Greek and Latin in the text, read the commentaries, follow up the identifications of over 5,000 individuals and places, will enable scholars to see and understand this text in totally new lights.”
Michael Pidd, HRI Digital Manager at the University of Sheffield’s Humanities Research Institute, said: “Bringing the John Foxe project to a successful conclusion has felt like piloting one of the world’s great container ships from rough, foreign seas into a safe port. It’s been immensely challenging for the HRI due to its size, complexity, duration and the ambition of its academic leaders. When the project’s transcription work began at the HRI in 1996 the web was still in its infancy and issues such as data preservation and sustainability were poorly understood. In this sense the history of the John Foxe project itself mirrors the transformation in our understanding of how to create, manage and deliver complex research data within an evolving technological environment.”
Source: University of Sheffield