History of the Curran Index

As the study of Victorian periodicals began to ripen in the 1950s, it became apparent that the 19th century practice of contributor anonymity hindered analysis. Wellesley IndexOne could determine what opinions and values were being expressed in reviews and articles, but not who were expressing these views, or which social, experiential, or cultural situations and perspectives they represented. Accordingly, under the leadership of Professor Walter Houghton at Wellesley College, the Wellesley Index project was initiated to attack this curtain of anonymity. Wellesley scholars sought to delineate the specific prose articles published in a number of carefully chosen Victorian periodicals and to identify the contributors responsible for these articles. In a pre-computer era this massive task spanned three decades: five large volumes were published under the auspices of the University of Toronto Press, beginning in 1966 and ending in 1989. Each of the first four volumes included both table-of-contents listings and contributor bibliographies for a number of monthlies and quarterlies; the fifth volume contained cumulative bibliographies for nearly 12,000 contributors. Depending on how one counts mergers and separations, 40 to 43 periodicals and nearly 89,000 articles were indexed. The significance of this project cannot be overestimated – Rosemary VanArsdel has aptly described the Wellesley Index as “one of the twentieth century’s great and enduring feats of the collaborative scholarship.”

During the 1990s a series of follow-up studies of additional periodicals and additions and corrections to the Wellesley Index by many scholars were published in the Victorian Periodicals Review. Eileen CurranProfessor Eileen Curran, who had played a prominent role in the Wellesley Index project, played a pivotal role in this continuing scholarship. Eileen was an exemplary analyst and scholar; she wrote judicious, insightful, and articulate prose that was and still is a delight to read. Her scholarship has long legs –scholars will rely on Eileen’s assessments and analyses indefinitely into the future and hopefully adhere to her high standards. After the last of her Wellesley Index “additions and corrections” articles was published in 2002, Eileen, with the support of inputs from the scholarly community, issued a series of further attribution updates on-line under the auspices of Patrick Leary’s Victorian Research Web -- hence, the Curran Index. Eileen was a central figure in shaping the field of attribution scholarship for over 50 years. Her lifelong commitment extended past her retirement as an academic at Colby College through an exceptionally productive retirement; as Eileen once wrote to the current editor, “one can never give up the hunt,” and she never did.

The Curran Index also owes a great debt to the well-known scholar and past president of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, Patrick Leary. Patrick LearyPatrick encouraged Eileen to continue her work and provided a publication forum when print publication was no longer practical. He was a staunch advocate for the innate value of attribution scholarship and helped bring Eileen and her work to the attention of a new generation of scholars. In 2013, after Dr. Curran’s death, Patrick recruited a new editor to take on the task and encouraged him to bring his own vision to the Curran Index. With Patrick’s guidance, a series of Curran Index updates have been issued from 2013 through 2017 and published on the Victoria Research Web; the Curran Index has realized rapid growth and secured increasing academic recognition; and the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals has provided financial support and become its institutional home. The index is named after Eileen, but Patrick is, at the very least, its godfather.

Since 2013 the Curran Index has grown 20-fold. It not only has continued to correct or complete Wellesley Index entries, but also – heavily relying on digital tools and services – has expanded into new areas: High Church quarterly reviews; periodicals emphasizing foreign interests or perspectives; a heretofore largely unexamined major London literary monthly of the 1830s and 1840s; periodical verse (which largely had been left out of the Wellesley Index); and the Annuals, a specialized gift-book periodical popular in the 1820s-1850s. The cumulative results of these post-Wellesley efforts, current up to the fall of 2017, include over 16,000 indexed articles and over 2,000 indexed contributors. In its new searchable web format it brings information directly to the laptops and desktops of scholars all over the world. The Index’s roots may be in the 1950s, but it is now a 21st-century tool for 21st-century scholars.

Gary Simons
Editor, Curran Index