Books of Duchesses is a collaborative project run by Dr. S.C. Kaplan (Rice University) and Dr. Sarah Wilma Watson (Haverford College). It collects, organizes, and presents data related to late-medieval laywomen and their books. Through an interactive map of Europe, users are able to visualize networks of manuscripts, texts, and readers and explore the libraries and peregrinations of woman book owners.

The data collected in the project has the potential to shift scholarly paradigms by challenging narratives of national literary history and uncovering the active role played by women in creating, consuming literary and material culture and in circulating texts across national, geographic, and generational borders.

The geographic scope of the project is initially limited to England and French-speaking regions on the continent, including France and Burgundy. The time frame of the project is currently bounded between 1350 and 1550, a period of intense political, interfamilial, and interpersonal changes and exchanges due to the Hundred Years War and its aftermath.

The project is currently in an early stage of development. New data is being added every day and we are working to improve the user interface. If you have suggestions for the project, please contact us at booksofduchesses@gmail.com.

The project is generously supported by the Haverford Digital Scholarship Team, comprising Andy Janco supervising Freddie Gould.

For related publications, see S.C. Kaplan and Sarah Wilma Watson, “Books of Duchesses: Mapping Women Book Owners in Francophone Europe, 1350-1550: Initial Findings,” Journal of the Early Book Society 23 (forthcoming 2021).

Visitors are greeted by an interactive map of Europe. Purple pins appear on the map to identify locations where women book owners resided or traveled. Clicking on a specific purple pin causes a list of women to appear, accompanied by the dates of their time in that location. Each woman’s name is hyperlinked, allowing the visitor to click through to the owner’s individual page and learn more about the owner and her book collection.

While purple owner pins appear by default on the map, a user can also choose to display “Books.” Green pins will appear, identifying locations where books owned by women were made, stored, or transported. Clicking on a specific green pin causes a list of books to appear, accompanied by the dates when the books were at those locations. The books are also hyperlinked, allowing the user to click through to the book’s individual page and learn more about the book’s various owners and the texts it contains. Extant books are identified by their current library shelfmark while non-extant books (that is, books which no longer exist or cannot be definitively identified with a manuscript, such as those listed in medieval inventories or wills) are designated as NE 1, NE 2 etc.

The search bar to the left of the map allows the visitor to adjust the results that appear on the map. User can define a date range and/or search by Owner, Shelfmark, Text, Author, and Tag (Genre or Topic – Example: “Romance” or “Childbirth”). Results related to your search will appear as pins on the map and in list form below the map.