Editors’ Choice: The Bluestocking Corpus – Letters by Elizabeth Montagu, 1730s-1780s

This post for Women’s History Month 2020 explores the Bluestocking Corpus of Elizabeth Montagu’s letters, created by Anni Sairio.*

This first version of the Bluestocking Corpus consists of 243 manuscript letters, written by the ‘Queen of the Blues’ Elizabeth Montagu between the 1730s and the 1780s. Elizabeth Montagu (née Robinson, 1718-1800) was one of the key figures of the learning-oriented Bluestocking Circle in eighteenth-century England. She was a literary hostess, coal mine owner and patron of arts who published a popular essay in defense of Shakespeare against Voltaire’s criticism. In its current form the corpus contains 183,000 words

A warning: I know virtually nothing about Elizabeth or her circle, so everything that follows is likely to be a) obvious or worse b) infuriatingly stupid and wrong to better-informed researchers. But I wanted to take a look at the data Anni has so generously created and made available, and show some of the things that could be done with it.**

* The Bluestocking Corpus: Private Correspondence of Elizabeth Montagu, 1730s-1780s. First version. Edited by Anni Sairio, XML encoding by Ville Marttila. Department of Modern Languages, University of Helsinki. 2017. 28 March 2020. http://bluestocking.ling.helsinki.fi/

** Much of the post is based on examples that can be found in the invaluable Text Mining with R by Julia Silge and David Robinson.


There are 243 letters in the corpus, and 21 different recipients. I’ve extracted metadata from the marked-up letters, as well as a set of plain text versions for textmining.

Most letters were sent during the 1760s but the numbers are very variable from one year to the next. (This excludes 19 undated letters.)

There are some substantial differences between letters sent to women and to men. While there were 10 female and 11 male correspondents, Elizabeth sent 178 letters to women (ave 17.8 per recipient) and only 65 to men (5.9 per recipient). On average, letters to women were also longer (mean 705.5 words per letter cf. 675.3 for men; median 632.5 for women and 572.0 for men).

A further gendered difference can also be found in the type of correspondents (as tagged by Anni), notably the different balance of letters sent to family or friends.


Read the full post here.

This content was selected for Digital Humanities Now by Editor-in-Chief Corinne Wilkinson based on nominations by Editors-at-Large: