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. One 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. Professor 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 fifty years. Her lifelong commitment extended past her retirement as an academic at Colby College through an exceptionally productive retirement; as Eileen once wrote, “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 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, Gary Simons, 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 were 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 twenty-fold. It has not only 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 included over 16,000 indexed articles and over 2,000 indexed contributors. In its new, searchable web format, it brought information directly to the desks of scholars all over the world.
Under the careful editorship of Gary Simons, the Curran Index continued to expand both the range of periodicals covered and the number of international collaborators whose attribution data has been incorporated into the Index. In 2017, verse was added from Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (1824-1840) and the English Review (1844-1853). 2017 also saw the Curran Index move into annuals, indexing verse and prose from Alaric Watt's Literary Souvenir / Cabinet of Modern Art (1825-1837) to the previously indexed Keepsake (1828-1857) and Scottish Annual (1836). The first weekly periodical was also added to the Curran, Once a Week (1859-1864). A second great, although perhaps not as widely recognized, Wellesley omission that was rectified in the 2017 update was its failure to address High Church critical thought and commentary.
In 2018, attributions for 4,500 articles from the Saturday Review were added to the Curran Index. The best sources for Saturday Review attributions have proven to be contributor-generated lists (some published, some unpublished), reprinted articles in collected volumes, biographies, and letters. In some cases, other scholars have gone through collections of letters and generated contributor bibliographies which have been, with appropriate citations, incorporated into the Curran Index.
In 2019, Gary Simons worked in collaboration with City University, London to incorporate attribution information for 26,000 reviews from The Athenaeum (1830-1900). He also worked with data gathered by Marysa Demoor at the University of Ghent to cover gaps in the data gathered from City.
2020 saw the Curran Index collaborate with Clare Horrocks and Valerie Stevenson at Liverpool John Moores University, to incorporate data from their landmark analysis of the Punch contributor ledgers. As of December 2020, 80,161 individual articles/items from Punch associated with one or more of 271 individual contributors have been added. Most of these articles are from the years 1849-1900, including almost 400 contributions by William Makepeace Thackeray for the years 1842-1848. Some Punch contributors were extraordinarily prolific: over 14,600 articles are attributed to Percival Leigh, and over 11,000 to Sir Francis Burnand. Material now in the Curran Index can support studies of Punch contributorship by age, gender, or other factors.
In December 2020, Gary Simons stepped down as editor of the Curran Index. Under his stewardship, the Curran Index has expanded substantially to include over 168,000 contributions to influential 19th-century British weeklies, monthlies, quarterlies, and annuals. In January 2021, Lara Atkin and Emily Bell took over as co-editors. The present editors plan to expand Gary’s work with external collaborators, with the ambition to make the Curran Index a central repository for attribution data that all periodicals researchers can contribute to. In addition to developing submission guides, we also plan to expand the geographical frame of the Curran Index to include British colonial periodicals, and will develop visualizations to foster new ways into the data.