On Tuesday night – July 31st – we held the official ‘soft’ launch of the database at the beautiful Portico Library right in the centre of Manchester. This was the day that saw the culmination of more than three years of planning, when the first one hundred Cotton Famine poems were made freely available to the public and scholars alike, complete with images, audio recordings, and text commentary for most of the pieces. So now, if you explore the bar at the top of this page, you can read texts (and read about texts, and listen to them) which have been effectively inaccessible for over one hundred and fifty years, gathered together for the first time.
The launch event was an absolute sell-out, with the free tickets being refused to callers who could no longer access them through Eventbrite for a couple of days before the event. Extra chairs had to be brought in and over a hundred people packed into the small central space beneath the classical dome of the library to hear myself, Dr Ruth Mather, and Jennifer Reid introduce, discuss, and perform the poetry which was such a vital part of the culture of this region during the darkest days of the industrial revolution. We were able demonstrate the database live and show how even this arbitrary selection of the hundreds of texts we already hold shows the cluster of publication through the worst Cotton Famine months of late-1862 / early-1863.
It was a shame that Professor Brian Maidment, who has been so central to this project as Co-Investigator, could not attend, but he had an unavoidable clash with a conference in Canada for the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals, of which he is president. This felt like the beginning of something which is expanding in various directions. Not only do we have hundreds more texts to add to the database, and hundreds more still to find in archives across the region, but the literary and historical implications of the body of work are now starting to become clearer. On the evening Ruth and I were approached by several people who had ideas and information which will take quite a lot of following up, and we are thrilled that so many people are as enthusiastic as we are about recovering the region’s real poetic heritage. Watch this space for updates on where Cotton Famine poetry is taking us. And of course, you can explore the world of Cotton Famine poetry yourself now. Do remember, this is an evolving resource with a growing cohort of contributors. If you have any corrections, comments, or suggestions, do not hesitate to message us through this site, or email myself at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Ruth at email@example.com.
We would like to thank Jennifer Reid for her amazing performance on the night, by turns funny and spine-tingling. We would also very much like to thank the Digital Humanities team at the University of Exeter for getting the site ready for the launch date, and the staff at the Portico Library for enabling the event to be such a resounding success.