Instructional Improvement Proposal, UCSB, 2005-2006

TO: Ronald W. Tobin, Associate Vice Chancellor February 17, 2005
FR: Patricia Fumerton
Director, English Department Early Modern Center
RE: Instructional Improvement Grant Proposal
Requested Amount: $31,176.81
CC: William Warner
Chair, English Department


The English Department’s Early Modern Center requests funds to advance its digital Ballad Archive in order to enhance undergraduate study of English literature and culture, 1500-1800. Building on the EMC’s enormous success with its online Picture Gallery of some 4,000 images, in three sizes, together with its digital Slideshow Feature, the EMC in early 2004 began its new, even more ambitious project of creating a digital archive of all extant early modern ballads, beginning with the important and difficult-to-access collection of Samuel Pepys. With an Instructional Improvement Grant for 2004-2005, together with federal, college, and faculty research funding, we have made serious headway on the ballad project: during the summer of 2004, all 1,775 of the Pepys ballads were digitized, extensively catalogued, and mounted online in three sizes in a searchable database. In the Fall of 2004, work was begun in two courses on writing informational essays about ballads as well as on transcribing, singing, and TEI/XML encoding the ballads. With a second Instructional Improvement Grant for 2005-2006, we can push past the halfway point toward fully archiving the Pepys ballads. The result will be a more complete ballad archive usable by early modern faculty in many courses, especially in the large English Department survey courses, 1500-1800.


The English Department’s Early Modern Center, established in 2000, is the first of the many such proclaimed “Centers” on the web to create a space for collaboration between faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates in the advancement of cultural studies of England, 1500-1800, through state-of-the-art computing resources. I should emphasize that the work of the Center (as of most of the English Department’s faculty these days) is to advance cultural studies, that is, studies of literature in the context of cultural phenomena (painting, music, politics, religion, and the like). Such cultural study characterizes the very cutting edge of literary criticism today and is, by definition, involved in an interdisciplinary enterprise that often involves other campus departments, such as Art History, History, and Music. What makes our Center unique is the sheer number of faculty in the English Department engaged in such studies of the early modern period (no less than 9), our timely extension of the term “early modern” to include Renaissance as well as Eighteenth Century, and our placing the faculty and their students together in a facility that puts at their disposal the most advanced electronic equipment and databases available in the profession to date. But we do not aim merely to provide a “lab” for computing and collaborative work. We aim to provide (and have already laid the groundwork for) a large and deep archive of electronic resources that will continue to grow and be used by faculty and students for years to come. Our web page can be found at Since parts of the site, such as the Picture Gallery, are password protected, I have created a temporary username and password for reviewers of this grant, so that you may view the full site when you login. The username you may use is “senate” and the password is “grant05.” The EMC’s Ballad Archive (not yet officially launched and thus not yet linked to the EMC’s main site) can be found at Since you may not have a computer in front of you as you read this proposal, I have also printed out key pages for the ballad site. These are included in Appendix B: the Ballad Archive “Home Page,” “Background Essays,” “Pepys Ballads,” “Cataloguing,” “Transcribing” (including sample transcriptions), “Sample Songs,” “TEI/XML,” “Other Ballad Sites” and “Search” (together with some sample search results and accompanying options, such as the option to view the ballad image in larger sizes and to link to a full citation page).

The Ballad Archive project builds upon the EMC’s success with its Picture Gallery, which was funded by previous Instructional Improvement Grants as well as by English Department and College funds. The idea behind the creation of this database was to house, in easily searchable form, all images used in courses and research by UCSB early modern faculty and graduate students. The English Department was and is in a unique position to do this because we alone, among the Humanities departments, have our own Server (Windows not Unix), which supports the sophisticated database program SQL Server 2000. It should be noted that, while LSIT would house images for a department or individual faculty member, it will not support and maintain a database. Our Server is maintained by a full-time staff person, Brian Reynolds, as well as by the faculty member Alan Liu and a small group of technologically-advanced graduate students. So the English Department has the special means to answer the pressing call for a searchable database of images. It should also be noted that the demand for such a database for use in instruction is high. Our images cannot simply be accessed from other sites on the web because they represent the corpus of images our individual faculty and students use in their individual courses. Our goal, first and foremost, then, was to build an archive of images that would be quickly searchable and specifically suited to UCSB English Department courses. We succeeded in doing that and much more. We also added an online Slideshow Feature, which includes within it a search engine that draws on the gallery database. This is an extraordinarily sophisticated interface, which allows instructors to create digital slideshows in a matter of minutes. Then, in the spirit of the EMC’s goal to share its resources with all UC faculty, we incorporated images of interested early modern faculty across the humanities, beginning with the large digitized collection of some 2,000 images held by Professor Sears McGee in the History Department. This process of extending and enhancing the Picture Gallery is ongoing.

The EMC’s English Ballad Archive will eventually be folded into its Picture Gallery with Slideshow Feature, since the ballad, especially the blackletter ballad of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is foremost a visual artifact. But ballads are also multi-media works, and that fact, together with their “lowly” popular status, gave them enormous cultural capital in their own time. In fact, ballads represented the largest percentage of published works in the early modern period. Printed on quickly degradable, cheap paper, decorated with worn woodcuts (so that they were pasted up on the cottage or alehouse walls as the poor man’s oil painting), and sung to popular tunes, they were sold on the streets in quantity along with other perishable items, such as fruit. Because of their cheapness and fragility, most early ballads have been lost. But there are still some 7,000-8,000 extant blackletter ballads (printed in “gothic” type) and some two or three times that number of “whiteletter” ballads (printed in roman type), a form which began to emerge c. 1650. The blackletter ballads are the most important of the early modern ballads for those interested in interdisciplinary studies because after 1700 not only does the ornate blackletter print disappear in favor of plain roman type, but also the number of woodcuts and other ornaments significantly decline (as does the size of the ballads, which often become little more than slips of paper). Despite their importance, however, blackletter ballads are scattered about in different collections and difficult – in some cases impossible – to access in their original format. About a third of the extant English ballads, 1500-1700, can be found in the Early English Books Online database (EEBO), to which UCSB subscribes. A large portion (from the Pepys collection) have been published in near-unreadable facsimiles, and another large portion (most importantly, the Roxburghe collection) are available in modern editions, which do not reproduce the original ornament of the ballad. Most of the rest of the ballads can only be found on microfilm.

The ambitious goal of our project is to make these scattered and only partially accessible ballads fully available to undergraduates by locating all of the ballads in a single online searchable database in their original format, with the ability to enlarge the text and ornament for easier viewing and reading. Our sights are first set on the two largest collections of blackletter ballads: the Pepys collection of 1,775 ballads (which reside at Magdalene College, Cambridge) and the Roxburghe collection of some 3,000 ballads (at the British Library, London). Since the Pepys is the most inaccessible collection (readers are no longer allowed access to the originals and the published facsimiles are difficult – at times impossible – to read), we began there. Using my own research monies, I purchased the complete microfilm set of the Pepys collection as well as the rights to mount these images online (I should add that such rights are a unique privilege: the Pepys Library refused online rights to EEBO). Drawing on the same personal research funds, in the summer of 2004 I contacted the company Softfile in Sacramento, and had the Pepys microfilm converted into high quality TIFF images as well as large jpg files. With an Instructional Improvement Grant for 2004-2005 of $10,000, I then organized a team of 5 graduate students who spent the summer adjusting the images in photoshop (Pepys often cut his ballads into two parts, and thus separate images had to be put back together to recreate the original look of the whole ballad; furthermore, because Pepys trimmed and then pasted his ballads into large albums, the Pepys page image needed to be cropped so as to eliminate wasted white space around the edges of the image, which were not part of the original ballad). While one graduate student research assistant worked on adjusting the digital images, another worked on creating a searchable database for the ballads, and another three research assistants catalogued the images. The cataloguing was time-consuming and extensive, including volume and page numbers for each ballad (e.g., 1.158-159) as well as title, date, tune(s), music, first lines, refrain(s), page size, condition of the page, number of columns, stanzas, and lines, rhyme scheme, meter, number of woodcuts, number of parts, imprint, publisher, printer, license, author (when known; usually a ballad is anonymous), related ballads (on the same subject), variants, Pepys category (Pepys collected his ballads in each volume into a recurring set of categories), and keywords. Yet another graduate student volunteered his time during the summer toward researching the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) so as to make sure our database was TEI compliant and thus capable of supporting an XML schema (crucial to ensure the longevity of the database and to make our project eligible for large external grants in the future, such as the NEH Reference Materials Grant, for which we plan to apply in July of this year).

At some point towards the end of the summer of 2004, we began to run out of funds and thus despaired of completing the cataloguing of the Pepys ballads and therefore attaining the bare basics of a useable database. At this point, Professor William Warner (a faculty member of both the Early Modern Center and the digital Transcriptions project) stepped in. Recognizing the important work being done on our archive and its potential impact on all UC campuses, Professor Warner made a one-time pledge of $4,700 to the project from his personal research funds. This additional funding allowed us to complete the cataloguing of the Pepys ballads in the summer as well as to hire for this year (2004-2005) the graduate student who had been researching TEI/XML and, further, to hire a workstudy graduate student through FAFSA (we pledged $800 to her $1,900 in federal funds). As Professor Warner recognized, his money was being well spent, and as he expected and hoped, it furthered cross-campus digital research. The EMC has just won a UCHRI grant of $8,000 to host a ballads conference in the winter of 2006, titled “Straws in the Wind: Ballads and Broadsides, 1500-1800.” The conference will feature scholars at every level of their careers (including some undergraduates) who have been working on this exciting new field of ballad study and will bring together faculty and students from the UCSB departments of English, Music, History, and Art History as well as faculty and students from other UC campuses. I am convinced that we would not have been granted such a prestigious award if we had not been given the seed money to advance the Ballad Archive through this year’s Instructional Improvement Grant.

Having mounted and catalogued the Pepys ballads, as well as created a searchable database for them (at by the end of the summer of 2004, I was well positioned to teach a graduate and an undergraduate seminar in the Fall of 2004 on Early Modern Ballad Culture, 1500-1800. The first half of these courses was devoted to reading a general sampling of ballads of the period together with the most important critical works on ballads (there was a flurry of such publications in the 90s, a sign that popular literature was becoming “hot”). During this first half of the courses, both undergraduates and graduates delivered oral reports, which became short background essays about ballad culture generally. The graduate students’ essays, once corrected by me, have been mounted on the archive website under “Background Essays” (see Appendix B). The essays include such topics as “Ballad Measure,” “Ballad Music,” Printing Practices and the Book Trade in Early Modern London,” “Papermaking,” “Blackletter Print,” “Woodcuts,” “The Stationers’ Company,” and “Chapbook Trade.” In the second half of the courses, both graduate students and undergraduates studied specifically the first volume of the Pepys ballads (some 550 pages of ballads). All students delivered oral reports and wrote essays about Pepys’ categories for the ballads, and those essays by the graduate students are also included on the website. Finally, each graduate student and undergraduate transcribed two blackletter ballads of their choosing from blackletter (or gothic) to roman font, observing strict guidelines, upon which we all agreed (see the website page “Transcriptions”). I and the EMC Fellow carefully checked these transcriptions, and all 34 of them will be mounted on the site once we have decided on the best way to mount them (a sample transcription can be found on the “Transcriptions” page of the site and printed in Appendix B). Our goal, as you can see, was to present “facsimile transcriptions” by which we mean the exact look of the ballad – with all its visual ornament – but with the print in readable roman type versus the very difficult-to-read blackletter type. As the EMC Fellow continues to experiment with the best way to mount the facsimile transcriptions, the graduate student who had researched TEI standards is now working on the way most efficiently to render our transcriptions into XML. Meanwhile, the process of transcription has continued. 5 out of the 14 undergraduates who took my ballad seminar in the Fall were so captivated by the process of transcription that they asked to continue such work this quarter for course credit as Independent Research Assistants. A 6 th undergraduate from the ballad course, who along with two others had chosen to sing one of her ballads in the course rather than transcribe it (see “Sample Songs” on the website), is currently working this quarter for course credit recording about 20 of the transcribed ballads, also as an Independent Research Assistant. Meanwhile, two graduate students from the Music Department have been hired to research the music for another 8-10 ballads, which they also will sing. By the end of the winter quarter we will have transcribed about 154 ballads and sung 30. By the end of the spring quarter, with the graduate student workstudy hours, we should have another 50 ballads transcribed. All 200 transcribed ballads and 30 songs will be mounted on the website by the end of the spring quarter, and all the transcribed ballads will also be converted by that time into XML.

We have thus taken a major step toward archiving the 1,775 Pepys ballads, in the fullest sense of the word “archiving.” The infrastructure for the database is now in place, including fully mounted and catalogued ballads, a fully functional website, with background essays on ballad culture and the Pepys ballads, as well as sample transcriptions, songs, and TEI/XML encoding. In the spring of this year, once we have perfected a system for efficiently mounting the transcribed ballads and XML encoding the ballads, we will be able to mount the (by then) 200 transcribed ballads as well as the 30 songs. In sum, by the end of this academic year, we will be perfectly positioned to make some serious advancement on the project. With another Instructional Improvement Grant for 2005-2006, we expect to be able to complete the transcription of half the Pepys ballads and to XML encode all of them (that’s another 790 ballads) as well as to complete another 170 recordings of Pepys ballad songs. This is labor intensive work. Transcription, we discovered, though enjoyed immensely by the students, is a timely process. Whether an undergraduate or a graduate student, it takes from 2 to 3 hours carefully to transcribe a ballad. As I and the EMC Fellow learned in checking the transcriptions, it is also mandatory – even with graduate students – for the transcriptions to be checked by someone else, since it is very easy to make mistakes. Checking a ballad transcription can take another 30-45 minutes. XML encoding a ballad takes about an additional hour. And researching ballad tunes, practicing the singing of the songs, and recording them in Kerr Hall, takes about 5 hours per ballad. We have huge numbers of graduate students and a handful of undergrads eager to embark upon this work, but we need significant funding if we are going to make serious progress on the project. The more progress we make and the more support we show from our home institution, the more chance we will have of successfully competing for a large external grant and the more our archive will be useful to faculty and graduate students in their research and teaching.

With further progress made on the Ballad Archive, and thus more ballad resources at my command, I plan to continue to teach undergraduate ballad courses, which clearly capture the imagination of undergraduates, while teaching them valuable skills about editing and webwork as well as critical and cultural analysis. The number of students that will be directly affected by such courses will not be huge: three such ballad courses might total some 100 students. But the product of these courses will be a Ballad Archive that could be used in teaching the English Department’s two introductory early modern lectures courses (of 200 students each), English 101 and 102, our many Shakespeare lecture courses (since Shakespeare frequently cites ballads in his plays), as well as other early modern classes interested in popular or lower-order culture. Before we had even launched the Ballad Archive website, Richard Helgerson drew upon it for his 101 lecture class of 200 students. Others have done the same, realizing that the archive provides access to a huge, hitherto inaccessible, teaching resource. Indeed, teachers at all levels of education will find much use of the Ballad Archive. For the first time teachers will be able easily to search extant early modern English ballads for curriculum materials on early popular culture. Because the ballads will be transcribed into modern roman print, fully searchable, and accompanied by background essays, they will be available as individual artifacts or as historical documents in courses of various kinds and at all levels. The relatively simple and direct language of the ballads makes it possible for even high school students to appreciate. To enhance their usefulness as curriculum materials, ballad images in the archive will eventually be printable in readable form, with full ornament, on 8 ½ x 11 paper (an option unavailable to date on any online site).

I should add that our end goal is free access of our archive to all. As mentioned previously the Pepys Library, which has withheld permission to reproduce its ballads from the Early English Books Online (EEBO), has granted such permission to the EMC, for the reasonable fee of 500 pounds sterling. With this important permission success, we hope more easily to obtain reproduction permissions from the British Library and other holders of early modern ballads as well, so that our Ballad Archive can be made freely available in the very fullest sense. (Until we have such permission, we shall password protect ballads other than the Pepys, as we currently do all the images in the EMC’s Picture Gallery.) The end product will thus provide scholars and teachers with, in the truest sense of the word, access: access in a single location to an as yet often unreachable resource, both textually, visually, aurally, and culturally. We will in the process open up new avenues for scholarship and teaching hitherto unavailable in early modern and modern studies.

As I hope is evident, the Ballad Archive has the potential to reach and affect in significant ways the instruction of thousands of undergraduates at UCSB. In terms of the early modern courses affected within the English Department alone, they include the 5 large lecture courses (of 200 students each) – English 15: Introduction to Shakespeare; English 101: English Literature from Medieval Period to 1650; English 102: English and American Literature from 1650 to 1789; English 105A: Early Shakespeare; and English 105B: Later Shakespeare – as well as the many courses of 35 students and the senior seminars of 15. As Professor McGee’s supporting email indicates (included in Appendix A), he envisages that the Ballad Archive, in combination with the Picture Gallery, will provide material for use in his large lecture history classes at UCSB: History 4B, Western Civilization, 1050-1715 (over 300 students) and History 140A, Tudor Britain, and History 140B, Stuart Britain (from 50-70 students each) – courses he regularly repeats. Other professors from other departments at UCSB and from other UC campuses speak with equal enthusiasm about the numbers of undergraduates that will be affected. Without exaggeration, the impact of the Ballad Archive on undergraduate teaching is enormous and growing.

I have included letters of enthusiasm for our Ballad Archive in Appendix A from Professor Helgerson and Mac Test (a graduate student), both in the English Department, UCSB; Professor Frances E. Dolan in the English Department, UC-Davis; Professor Don Wayne in the Department of Literature, UC-San Diego; Professors Sears McGee and Anita Guerrini in the History Department, UCSB; Professor Deborah Harkness in the History Department, USC (formerly of UC-Davis); Professor Ann Jensen Adams in Art History, UCSB; Professor Tim Cooley in the Music Department, UCSB; and Shawn Martin, Project Librarian for the Early English Books Online at the University of Michigan.


The Early Modern Center asked in its evaluations of ballad courses for students to judge the success of the course and to suggest possible improvements in material and especially in the use of its digital resources. Two ballad courses were taught in Fall 2004 (a graduate course and an undergraduate upper division seminar). Both courses studied ballad culture generally and, utilizing the Pepys Ballad Archive, studied and transcribed ballads (some undergraduates also sung ballads). Both courses were extremely popular: the graduate course was given the highest ranking of a 1.0. The undergraduate course received an impressive 1.1. Furthermore, 6 of the 14 undergraduates were so enthusiastic about the course that they asked to continue transcribing and singing ballads in independent studies this quarter. As the Ballad Archive reaches the half-way point to completion (which can happen by the end of the next academic year, with an Instructional Improvement Grant), we plan to invite experts in the field of archiving, such as Juliet Fleming at Brown University, to review our procedures for creating the database.