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 focuses on laywomen and therefore excludes books owned by enclosed religious women and female religious institutions. At the moment, the core of the data concerns aristocratic laywomen, as this information is the most readily available. In the future, the scope of the project will expand to include women from other social classes, additional geographic and linguistic regions in and beyond Europe, and data from the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries.

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 2020).

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.

The project’s research methodology is designed to accommodate the inherent ambiguity of women’s book ownership without sacrificing accuracy.

The project includes both extant and non-extant books and both confirmed and possible instances of book ownership. Each instance of ownership is further defined by noting the type of evidence used to connect owner and book (inscription, inventory, coat of arms etc.).

The project also accommodates ambiguity in textual identification. It is not always possible to identify a text found in a non-extant book. For example, a non-extant manuscript described as “a French book” in a woman’s inventory will be cataloged as including an “Unidentified French Text.” On other occasions, we make an educated guess about a text found in a non-extant book. For example, we identify the “boke with the pistilles of Othea” willed by Ann Stafford to Margaret Beaufort as Stephen Scrope’s translation of Christine de Pizan’s Epistre Othea.

Finally, we include both precise and approximate information about the geographical locations of women book owners. In some cases we are able to record the exact day, month, and year when a woman was at a particular location. In other cases we make an educated guess about a woman’s whereabouts at a particular time. We choose to include this ambiguous data in order to make more women book owners visible on the map.

If you would like to suggest a modification to the data included in the project please contact us at booksofduchesses@gmail.com.