Saturday, 9 March 2019

Digital Features and Futures at the Annual Conference of the John Donne Society

This year's annual conference of the John Donne Society featured a special digital theme. We started the program with a keynote address by Ray Siemens (University of Victoria) on “Donne in the Open: Renaissance Studies and the Renewed Promise of Digital Scholarship”; and we ended the program with a panel discussion on “Digital Pedagogy,” featuring Brooke Conti (Cleveland State University) on “Teaching Donne’s Sermons with Digital Resources,” Elizabeth N. Bobo (University of Louisiana at Lafayette) on “Digital Sound in the Lyrics of Dylan and Donne,” and Kirsten Stirling (University of Lausanne) on “Teaching Early Modern Print Culture in the Digital Age.”

In the evening our our first day, we featured a session on “Digital Futures.” We began the evening with a recorded interview with Gary Stringer, talking about the role digital technologies and methods have played in the Donne Variorum project, focusing particularly on the development of the Digital Donne site. With this legacy in mind, a series of posters and five-minute lightning talks presented several digital projects related to Donne studies. The presenters have graciously allowed us to share their posters. (Access the full program here).

Prose Style in Donne’s Sermons: A Corpus Linguistics Approach

Hugh Adlington, with Michaela Mahlberg, Lorenzo Mastropierro, and Paul Thompson (University of Birmingham)



The Dalhousie Manuscripts Project: Navigating the Ethics of Digital Editing

Sarah Banschbach Valles and Sarah J. Sprouse (Texas Tech University)



Stylometry and Donne's Sermons

Kyle Dase (University of Saskatchewan)



GEMMS: Gateway to Early Modern Manuscript Sermons”

Anne James and Jeanne Shami (University of Regina)



Ignatius his Conclave and the Power of Word Cluster Searches

Sean H. McDowell (Seattle University)



The John Donne Society’s Digital Prose Project: A Report

Brent Nelson (University of Saskatchewan)




John R. Roberts Online John Donne Bibliography

Matthew Sherman (University of Bridgeport) and Jesse Sharpe (LeTourneau University)


Monday, 5 February 2018

New Donne Manuscript Discovery: The Hand of WA2

By Daniel Starza Smith (King's College London) and Matthew Payne (Westminster Abbey Library)

This blog post offers further information about the discovery at Westminster Abbey of a manuscript of Donne’s satirical library catalogue, known in English as The Courtier’s Library – see "Rediscovering John Donne’s Catalogus librorum satiricus," Review of English Studies ( As well as publishing full images of the manuscript, we note here some of its most distinctive palaeographical features. We welcome any suggestions about the scribe’s identity.

The hand is fluent and may show evidence of professional training. The text has been left- and right-aligned, and hyphens are used in both margins to signal word-breaks. The scribe often employs tittles over double-s, and his ampersand looks as if it is tilted slightly to the left.


B and D are formed in a similar fashion, beginning with a stroke down and to the left, then a sharp movement to the right; the rest of the letter is formed with a separate application of the pen, starting with a flourish to the left. I/J is formed with four strokes, including quite a heavy central cross. After a simple initial downward movement, the second and third strokes of N are more elaborate. M is notably dissimilar to N, consisting of three simple minims; the final one finishes with a short spur to the right. Majuscule P rests on a long horizontal foot, which begins with an upward flourish on the left; a vertical spur is also usually visible at the top of the letter, above the bowl. A spur can often be found to the upper-right of majuscule S, while V and W both feature a distinctive ‘kink’ in their initial down-stroke (also visible on the minuscule forms).


The scribe uses a mixture of Greek and secretary minuscule e. The ascender of d often bends far to the left before curling back under and to the right, sometimes but not always crossing through itself. The descender of g is rather distinctive: from the lower centre of the bowl, it travels briefly down and to the left, before bending sharply to the right and circling down and left, then passing upwards through itself to join to the next letter. (Descenders on minuscule y do not take this form.) The letter p is notable for starting with a sharp diagonal upwards flourish; the descender rises above the bowl, resulting in a short vertical line.


The word "sesqui=barbarus" (l. 140) has been altered.

A deleted first letter was a majuscule, or had an ascender, or both, although we cannot see another letter in the manuscript starting with a similar motion. The first s may not have been the scribe’s original intention. The double-hyphen has been written over a now-illegible letter which seems to have two minims, and might therefore be n or u. The i may have been altered from r, and although it is clearly dotted, there is also what looks like a grave accent above the letter, perhaps indicating some indecision or confusion on the scribe’s behalf. We can say, then, that "squ" and "barbarus," have both been written confidently, but that the scribe was uncertain about some other letters. The word "sesqui-barbarus," despite valiant attempts to English it, is not good Latin.1 It is notable that the other known surviving contemporary copy, CT2 (Trinity College, Cambridge, MS B. 14. 22 (James 307), or DnJ 4065 in CELM) features "St. quintarbarbarus," at this point. This nonsensical reading can now be explained as deriving from a defect in a common source.

1 Brown renders it as ‘The More-than-Half Uncivilized’; Simpson gives ‘A Foreigner-and-a-Half’.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

John Donne Jeopardy

John Donne made an appearance on Jeopardy! on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 (Show #7457). Here are the questions. The contestants were Doug Baker (a sustainability specialist from Tecumseh, Michigan), Ben Smolen (a writer from Los Angeles, California), and Lisa Schlitt (a microbiologist from Berwyn, Pennsylvania). How much would you have earned?

1) A Donne sonnet says this, "Be not proud" for "one short sleep past, we wake eternally, and" this "shall be no more" ($400)
Ben got this one. 

2) On this day, 1613, while traveling to Wales, Donne wrote a poem imagining the crucified Christ on the cross ($800)
Doug got this one.

3) In 1610 Donne criticized his former Catholic faith in "Pseudo-Martyr", which was dedicated to this king (DD: $600)
Doug missed this one. It was a daily double. Not sure what that means. Arguably, this was as much a monarchy question as a Donne question.

4) The first biography of Donne was by this "Compleat Angler" author & appeared as a preface to Donne's "LXXX Sermons" ($1,600)
Apparently, this was a “triple stumper,” meaning none of them got it.

5) The "No man is an island" passage continues, "Never send to know" this, later a book title ($2,000)
Another triple stumper

Interestingly, three of the five were about Donne's prose works, and none of them was answered correctly. Sigh. The answers are available at J!Archive.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Not a Poem

Readers of Donne have probably noticed more than once a reference to Donne's poem "No man is an Island." It happens a lot. Problem is, it is not a poem. It is not even a work of literature entire of itself. It belongs to a main: his prose work, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. It is a poetical piece of prose to be sure. And perhaps this is one positive reason to remark on this cultural phenomenon: it presents a ready opportunity in the classroom for a discussion about form and mode. Why don't we consider this poetry? So, for next time such a teachable moment is desired, here is a good starting point: this is the passage from Devotions, identified as "Poem #1" in a worksheet by Mensa for kids:

So, beyond posing a possible teachable moment, why else might we even remark on this regrettable instance of misinformation? Well, some of these Mensa kids might grow up to be literary editors and journalists. In a "Poetry Round Table" feature in the New York Times Sunday Book Review section published online on 22 December 2015, the question was posed to a collection of literary and media luminaries, "What's Your Favourite Poem?" One respondent (a television producer and president of HBO films) offered that her "favorite poem is John Donne, 'Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions: No Man Is an Island'." Perhaps this respondent was trying to make a point by naming this work of prose a "poem" (and giving it a new subtitle). Probably not. She refers to it a second time as a "poem," and without comment. And, perhaps more significantly (and alarmingly), the editor of the Sunday Book Review seemed not to notice. Lest we blame the Internet for degrading public literacy, it should be noted this feature was also published in print on 27 December 2015. So, to save this romp from becoming a rant, how about a proposal? A game sorts (worthy of Sisyphus perhaps) to clean up the Internet. Let's unmask these masquerading poems as not-poems with #notapoem. Follow us on Twitter @DonneProse to participate.

Monday, 20 June 2016

CFP: Space, Place and Image in Early Modern English Literature

The project on "Space, Place and Image in the Poetry and Prose of John Donne" at Université de Lausanne is hosting a conference, 11-13 May 2017, expanding their scope to include Early Modern English Literature (c. 1500-1700) more broadly. Confirmed keynote speakers are Dr. Mary Morrissey (University of Reading) and Professor Andrew McRae (University of Exeter). The conference will take place on the beautiful campus of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. For full details, see the full call for papers here.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Call for Papes: Donne and Certainty

Another all for papers! This one from Kate Narveson:

As out-going president of the John Donne Society, I'm in charge of putting together a panel for the MLA convention next January in Philadelphia. I invite you to submit brief abstracts for papers on any aspect of Donne’s poetry or prose that relates to the question of how Donne approached the problem of certainty or assurance. Papers might address the discourses Donne drew on (religious, philosophical, scientific, legal, etc.), the distinctive nature of the problem in particular contexts or commonalities among contexts, the resources available to him in particular genres, or patterns in the way he figured certainty. Please send title and abstract by Friday, March 11 to Kate Narveson (

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Looking ahead to 2017: the JDS call for papers

We are already looking forward to our next annual meeting of the John Donne Society. The 32nd Annual Conference of the Society will be held from Thursday, 16 February, to
Saturday, 18 February 2017 at The Lod and Carol Cook Conference Center at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. See the full call for papers below: