The Literary Encyclopedia Circular: October 2008

1. Editors

We are very pleased to announce that we have considerably extended our editorial tier in the course of this year. In particular we have been joined by

Czech literature: Clinton Machann (Texas A&M)
Early Modern English: Corinne Saunders and David Fuller (Durham)
Italian literature: Jo Ann Cavallo, assisted by Carla Bregman (Columbia)
Medieval mysticism: Robert Boenig (Texas A&M)
Modern Greek literature: Vassilis Manoussakis (Pelopennese)

And an entire team of scholars in African writing under the general direction of James Ogude (Witwatersrand)

SOUTH AFRICA Professor Bheki Peterson (University of the Witwatersrand) Professor Anne Gagiano (University of Stellenbosch) Professor Pumla Qobo (University of the Witwatersrand)
SOUTHERN AFRICA: Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Lesotho and Zambia Dr Robert Maponde (University of the Witwatersrand Dr Dan Ojwang (University of the Witwatersrand)
WEST AFRICA Professor Harry Garuba (University of Cape Town) Dr Tam-George (University of Cape Town) Dr Chris Odhiambo (Drama) (Moi University, Kenya)
EAST AND CENTRAL AFRICA Professor James Ogude (University of the Witwatersrand) Dr Dan Ojwang (University of the Witwatersrand) Dr Garnet Oluoch-Olunya (Kenyatta University, Kenya) Dr Chris Odhiambo (Drama) (Moi University, Kenya)

These additions to our editorial strength will enable us to ensure and improve coverage and scholarly quality.

2. Content Development

New Articles

Content development since the beginning of this year has been considerable, both in terms of publishing new articles and commissioning new ones. As of 11 October we had published 1003 articles since 1 January 2008; we had 2070 contributors enrolled and 1159 articles commissioned for publication. These figures indicate a marked increase on 2007.















Historical Framework

We have also been working to increase our “stub” listing of historical events, in particular employing Lucas Richert, a Canadian doctoral candidate at the University of London, to write short entries on Canadian and US history, and also employing other assistants to augment our coverage of European events in the period 700-1500. Editing this information is almost complete and it will be appearing in the Encyclopedia between now and December.

In tandem with this process we have been recording as many dd/mm/yyyy dates as we can find, aiming to produce a step change in the granularity of the information we can provide. This is evidently a very demanding but worthwhile task and one that will be occupying us for many years.

We have recently added a function allowing us to label entries as “Short Notes” – helping to clarify in the reader’s mind that such entries are not intended to be as comprehensive as other articles in the Encyclopedia .

Author Timelines

This area of the Encyclopedia is one or our most adventurous features (please go to to inspect) and has long term radical implications. By entering life events into our highly structured system it becomes possible to view up to three lives in detail side-by-side, and/or view lives in detailed relationship to the historical context. We are adding more and more “granularity” to this work with an eventual aim of having day-by-day correlation of lives and events. As this aspect of our work matures, it will be possible to answer questions which currently take months of labour: for example, “Who was writing what in May 1843?” and “Who was living and working in New York in 1956?”, and also to perceive possible relations between lives and historical contexts.

To date we have published detailed timelines for 30 authors: Alexander Pope, Ann Radcliffe, Charles Dickens, C. P. Snow, David Thoreau, Edgar Allan Poe, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Felicia Hemans, G. B. Shaw, Geoffrey Chaucer, George Eliot, Henry James, James Joyce, Jane Austen, John Dryden, John Gay, John Milton, John Steinbeck, Jonathan Swift, Joseph Conrad, Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, R. S. Thomas, S.T. Coleridge, Tennessee Williams, Vladimir Nabokov, Wilkie Collins, William Morris, William Wordsworth. Walter Scott is about to appear. We have commissioned another 24 author timelines, which we hope to publish by the end of the year/ beginning of 2009. We are delighted to have offers to compile these timelines (and please note that this is work which can be beneficially undertaken by research students, working under supervision.)

3. Software Developments

There have been considerable improvements to our software environment in the last six months:

a) New look, new searches, timelines resolved

Earlier this year Robert produced a new design which radically clarified the visual appearance, removing the left-hand menu bar and replacing it with a horizontal display. In the process we augmented the range of search possibilities to include “any headword” and also simplified how the options are presented. Through the summer various other small changes have been made, for example enabling readers to generate “works and events” searches just by clicking a link in any article, the facility to send us a message reporting any perceived error in an article. Some display issues in the author timeline display have also been resolved; more improvements will be made as we move to dd/mm/yyyy dates across the coming months.

b) Metalib

We have become Metalib compliant: this enables The Literary Encyclopedia to be included in global searches of online resources which are subscribed to by Metalib users, which we believe includes most medium to large universities in the English-speaking world.

c) Athens, Shibboleth SLI (Single Log In)

It is now possible for members of subscribing institutions in the UK to login with their standard university login details via the Athens SLI interface. This is made possible by our installation of Shibboleth user-authentification – a fiendish business, as any expert in this area will confirm. Any institution that is part of a Shibboleth consortium will be able to ask us to set up this form of login process for them.

d) Recommended Reading

We launched our process of adding annotated recommended reading in June but early users found the sequence of screens for adding books at times confusing. Stephen has now revised the process and we hope the new version will be a pleasure to use. Certainly it is very much better.

e) Contributor accounts interface

We have enabled contributors to see a list of the articles they have published, and also resolved the glitches that were giving false displays. Within weeks this part of the contributor interface will display your individual shareholding in the publication.

f) Hyperwords in-text searches

We have installed Hyperwords searches within the Encyclopedia, enabling users to click on any word and open a menu listing various kinds of searches they can perform. This resolves a particular difficulty we have long sought to redress – achieving dynamic internal cross-referencing (i.e. when we complete a new article we do not need to work back through all previously published articles entering cross references).

4. New Agreement

The Agreement we have been working under was last revised by common consent in 2004. As we have recently added software for the creation of individual author chronologies (“lifelines”) and recommend reading, we need to add clauses so that the value of such contributions are reflected in our shareholding. We therefore propose adding the following clauses to this effect.

3.42. Annotated recommendations added via the recommended reading database will be credited at 0.5 shares per item, i.e. 10 shares for 20 items.
3.43. Author chronologies (timelines) will be credited at the rate of 0.2 shares per data row (i.e. 10 shares per 50 data rows).

The entire document can be viewed by logging in and then clicking this link:

The new clauses are in blue.

We assume these proposals will be uncontroversial but should any contributor wish to raise objections, queries or counter-proposals we will be very happy to enter discussions and produce a new circular on this matter. If there is no call for such circulation, we will formally amend our collective agreement on 1 November 2008.

5. Financial and Commercial

The Current Context

As shareholders in this enterprise, at this time of crisis contributors and editors will no doubt be pleased to hear our financial situation remains such as to ensure the continued growth of the publication. There can, however, be little doubt that higher-education budgets will start suffering from the transferred costs of deleveraging speculative debt in 2009. Quite how this will affect our own situation is hard to predict -- it is possible that the wind might blow in our favour. It will be particularly informative to see how Gale Cengage Learning fares: the Thomson Corporation sold Thomson Learning (which includes Gale and Nelson Canada) to two hedge funds, Apax Partners and Omers Capital Partners, in July 2007 for $7.75bn (for further information please see Following this purchase Gale Cengage bought Houghton Mifflin’s College publishing division for $750m in December 2007. The fate of Apax now depends on just how much leverage they have taken on, and on how many of their investors are forced to withdraw capital. (Last year Apax has – or had – a portfolio valued at around $30bn including many telecoms stakes and Tommy Hilfiger.) Our own sense, as intellectuals, is that the academic world has not yet become aware of just how extensively scholarly intellectual property has been incorporated by such huge multinationals in the last eight years.

Relations with other scholarly publishers

From October 2007 to July 2008 we had discussions with a scholarly publisher about a marketing arrangement for the Literary Encyclopedia but finally we were unable to agree terms which sufficiently respected the interests of our contributors. The process was, however, instructive and had at least two valuable outcomes: firstly the publisher confirmed our own estimates of potential revenues by 2012; secondly the discussions have led us to explore possible relationships with another established press. We can say no more at the moment, but we will certainly keep you informed.

Seeking More Institutional Subscriptions

Our primary aim remains to expand the number of institutions subscribing to The Literary Encyclopedia and to this end we are making an introductory offer which enables new subscribers to enjoy the first year of subscription without charge. If you would like us to make this offer known to your librarian, please send the librarian’s name and email address to

Free Institutional Subscriptions for the Underdeveloped World

After consultation with our Editors, we have begun a policy of making free subscriptions to countries where the per capita income is below the world average. Institutions to benefit from this supply include the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, Birzeit University in the West Bank, Palestine; Peradeniya University, Sri Lanka; and the Luciana Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania. We will be expanding this list as and when we can, and within the limits of our resources, maintaining a rough balance between free supplies and paid supplies. We hope colleagues will share our pleasure in being able to contribute in this way to educational opportunities in less privileged countries.

6. Action Points for Contributors

1) If you have not already added your personal profile to the site, please do so. Personal profiles can be viewed by readers by clicking on author by-lines. They very much help to raise the scholarly credibility of the publication and indicate this is a living network, not a dead repository.

To add your profile, login then click this link:

2) Free Supplies

As a matter of global ethics, The Literary Encyclopedia is supplied without charge to institutions in countries where the income per capita is below the world average. If you have friends in any qualifying country, please bring this offer to their attention.

3) Subscriptions: Ask your librarian to request a trial or, again, send the librarian’s name and email address to When contacting a librarian, the immediate question will be “how is this different / better than what we have from Gale, EBSCO, OUP?” In a nutshell

  • new material not previously printed
  • good editorial control
  • not a confusing array of materials of variable quality and purpose: in many large databases, cross-indexing is evidently a problem, as is the quality and unevenness of actual entries, much of the material is out of date, and of the kind that would just have done service in a printed volume where the reader is trained to realise that only so much can be said on each writer and topic, for reasons of page-size, volume-size etc.
  • not just a smaller version of the DNB and Dictionary of Literary Biography – also has thousands of works profiles, entries on topics, philosophies and theories, a profoundly historical structure, a commitment to furthering coverage of international literatures; and a very large bibliography of literary works (over 23,000 to date) provided not as lists, but via a database application that correlates them with historical events, or other works of the same genre coming from the same country, and so on: please see our advanced searches and timelines.
  • very high degree of integration designed to relate literature and culture
  • constantly growing, updating and improving
  • now adding annotated recommended reading which will be automatically linked to SFX and JSTOR. Since our Recommended Reading application is a proper database (comprising 7 related tables and rich metadata for all items cited) it will also allow sophisticated searching, for example, for “criticism on English novels written by women 1795-1797”
  • a model of scholarly publishing, dynamic and contributor-owned: not owned by a hedge fund

4) Add as much annotated recommendations as you can

5) If you have written on a living author, please revisit and revise the entry on an annual basis.

6) If you are researching a particular author, please consider creating a detailed chronology for us (making one of these “author lifelines” always reveals details one had not appreciated).

7) Actively promote the use of the Encyclopedia in class, recommending it to your students and colleagues, placing it on your reading lists and institutional web-pages relating to the courses/ seminars you conduct. It is seminal that the ever-richer content we are building is used to its full capacity, by students of subscribing and non-subscribing institutions alike (large user pool means a continuing interest to renew the subscription or a potential incentive to subscribe)

Drs Robert Clark and Cristina Sandru
12 October 2008