History of the Project

The project to publish Foxe's Book of Martyrs has lasted almost twenty years (1992-2009), an indicator of its scale and complexity. During that long period, the project evolved in response to three major components: technical developments in the elaboration, delivery and conservation of electronic materials online, our development knowledge of Foxe's text and his methods of working, and different ways of approaching the annotation of a text which itself differs in its nature, and how much Foxe chose to alter it in the different editions prepared during his lifetime. This edition therefore reflects the project's evolution over that twenty year period.

The project began in 1992 when Professor David Loades, then Professor of History at the University of Wales, Bangor, put a research proposal to the British Academy. His intention was to produce a new edition of John Foxe's Acts and Monuments of the English Martyrs. The intended product was a printed work in several volumes, based on the 1583 text, with an in-depth critical commentary, and textual variations from the first three editions (1563, 1570, 1576) duly noted and interpolated as necessary.

Several arguments supported this proposal. Firstly the imperfections of the great Cattley/Townsend edition of 1837-43 had long been recognised. It had been savagely attacked at the time of its publication by S. R. Maitland, and although many of Maitland's criticisms were subsequently shown to have been exaggerated or unjust, some of his mud had stuck. The edition had been produced with the express intention of defending Foxe's truthfulness as an historian and founding father of the Church of England. As a result some of his errors and misstatements were elided or downplayed, and new translations of some of the Latin documents which he had used were silently intruded. Although it was a fairly accurate transcript of the 1583 edition, it was impossible for the reader to discover in any systematic way what the earlier texts had said - and the differences were sometimes substantial. The commentary, although learned in some respects, was biased, and in terms of reformation scholarship, over a hundred and fifty years out of date. Nevertheless Cattley/Townsend remained the standard text in use, either in its original form or its revised versions of 1870 and 1877, because few libraries possessed original editions and the black letter print was difficult for the uninitiated to read. Secondly, although microfilms of all the four original editions were available, and were adequate for general use, they too had their imperfections. No surviving original copy was perfect, and that included the ones which had been used for filming. Woodcut illustrations had frequently been removed, and pages were missing, particularly from the index and preliminaries. Moreover the processes of photography had caused marginalia to be cut of, or to disappear into the gutter, and bleedthrough had made some passages illegible. Thirdly a number of bowdlerised and abbreviated editions had been published in the twentieth century, particularly in the United States, and although there was little danger of these deceiving serious scholars, the proposal suggested that the time was ripe for the full text to reappear with a modern commentary.

The British Academy accepted these arguments, but judged that the project was too large and onerous for a single scholar to complete within a reasonable timespan (or at all), and agreed to pursue it as an official Academy Project. Professor Loades was appointed Director, and initially selected and chaired the Project committee which was to manage the work on behalf of the Academy. It was soon realised, however, that it was inappropriate for the Director to chair a committee to which he was responsible, and Professor Patrick Collinson (who was a Fellow of the Academy) was appointed chairman. The Project Committee in its turn was required to report to the Academy's own Research Committee (CARP). Dr. David Newcombe was appointed as the full time research assistant, and work commenced in September 1993. Most of the first year was spent in assessing the scale and complexity of the work, and in making a print-out of the 1583 edition from microfilm for working purposes, as the University Library at Bangor (where the project was initially based) possessed no edition earlier than 1641.

By the end of the first year it had become apparent that the original plan, although workable, was inadequate. The Committee decided to switch its objective from a print edition to CD-ROM, which in turn would make a variorum edition feasible, embracing all the four original texts. The committee also decided to build up an international team of specialists who would be qualified to oversee specific aspects of the work. Some interim targets were identified: a conference in support of the project, was proposed for 1995; and a facsimile edition of the 1583 text to be produced on CD-ROM. It had already been decided that the main edition would be in a transcribed typeface, although retaining the format and punctuation of the original. Mr. Julian Roberts (Bodleian Library, Oxford), Professor Claire Cross (University of York) and Professor John King (Ohio State University) joined the project committee. The conference was duly held at Magdalene College, Cambridge in July 1995, generously supported by the Trevelyan Trust. About forty scholars attended, from Canada, the United States and New Zealand as well as from the United Kingdom, and the proceedings were published in the St. Andrews Reformation History Series by Ashgate Press in 1997, under the title John Foxe and the English Reformation.

In 1996 Professor Loades retired from his position at Bangor, and the project was relocated to the Humanities Research Institute of the University of Sheffield. By this time the work of identifying persons and sources in Foxe's texts was well advanced, but the commentary was embryonic and the transcription of text was still at an early stage. Professor Norman Blake, the Director of the Humanities Research Institute joined the Project Committee. Shortly after the move, the Academy expressed some concern that the progress of the project was too slow, because the complexity and difficulty of the task was becoming more apparent with every month of work. The Committee agreed to divide the project into two phases. The first was defined as the material covered by Books 10-12 of the 1583 edition - that is the reign of Mary. At that point it was believed that that could be achieved by the year 2000, and that the whole project would be finished by 2003. Two part-time transcribers were appointed and the work accelerated in consequence. A grant from the Aurelius Trust, obtained through the British Academy, helped to obtain necessary computers, and the Institute then provided the servicing for them. Professor Colin Matthew resigned from the committee, and Dr. Margaret Aston and Professor J. B. Trapp joined it. With help from the Academy a second conference was held at Jesus College Oxford in July 1997, with a similar range and number of attendees as the first, and the proceedings were published by Ashgate in 1999 as John Foxe: An Historical Perspective.

In 1998 the financing of Humanities Research was restructured with the creation of the Arts and Humanities Research Board. The existing funding of the Project was guaranteed, and the committee was invited to make a supplementary bid. Professor Mark Greengrass joined the committee, representing the History Department of the University of Sheffield, to which the Project was attached. The supplementary bid was successful, and from September 1999 the budget of the project was doubled. This grant was for five years, on the assumption that the original timetable would be adhered to, and the project would be complete by 2004. The two transcribers were given full time contracts, and money was allocated for the payment of fees to specialist advisers. At the same time Dr. Newcombe's contract came to an end and he stepped down. Dr. Thomas Freeman was appointed in his place. Although still a British Academy Project, and reporting to the Academy Research Committee, the project was now additionally responsible to the AHRB. In 1999 also a third conference was held. This was hosted by Professor King at the Ohio State University, and attracted about 140 scholars, most of them from the United States. The proceedings of this conference were published by Ashgate in 2001 under the title John Foxe and his World.

By the time that the first Annual Report under the new regulations was submitted to AHRB in 2000, it had become apparent that the timetable which had been adopted in 1996, and included in the 1998 bid was unrealistic. The commentaries, particularly on the textual variations, were proving to be more complex than had been hitherto intended. A revised timetable was proposed, whereby Phase One, covering the years 1553-58 would be completed by the end of the current funding period (2004), while Phase Two (the rest) would become the subject of a second bid, to be completed by 2008. It was proposed that the full transcripts of all four texts would also be completed by 2004. The report embodying these proposals was accepted. Professor Blake retired from his position as Director of the Sheffield Institute, and from the committee, and his place as Director was taken by Professor Greengrass. A fourth and final conference was held in July 2001 at Boston College in Lincolnshire (Boston being John Foxe's birthplace), and the proceedings were published by Ashgate in 2004 under the title John Foxe: At Home and Abroad. At Boston Professor Collinson stepped down from the Chairmanship of the Committee, although not from membership, and Professor Greengrass was appointed in his place.

A facsimile edition, which had been in gestation since 1996, was finally completed and published by Oxford University Press in 2001. This had been made possible by the fact that Professor Collinson was willing to lend his personal copy of the original edition, and to allow it to be unbound and flat-scanned. This work was undertaken using the British Library equipment at Boston Spa, and the missing pages were made good from the British Library's own copy, using a process of digital photography. This work was jointly edited by Dr. Newcombe and Dr. Michael Pidd, at that time the computer officer of the Sheffield Institute. This was (and remains) the only complete and perfect copy of the 1583 text in its original format. Its publication also meant that the online edition could concentrate on transcriptions and commentaries without linking facsimiles to the transcriptions which, at least in respect of the 1583 edition, had already been published.

Phase One of the Project was completed and published online in July 2004. The technical work for this phase was largely undertaken by Christine Mackseper in the HRI. It included 12 prefatory essays, compiled by scholars working on aspects of John Foxe studies, commentaries on all the text and images for books 10-12, extensive translations of Latin and Greek sources, and a study of the glosses that Foxe chose to use in the various editions - ones which reveal his pedagogical and polemical purposes. At the same time, relevant materials from the Cattley-Pratt edition were also included as a separate layer of commentary. There was a searchable bibliography and list of officers in the Tudor state and church mentioned by Foxe. HRI Online, the publishing instrument of the Sheffield Humanities Research Institute was, and remains, the publisher. For curatorial conservation, all the data from that phase was also submitted, along with appropriate data descriptions, to the History Data Archive in Essex, where it still remains.

Phase Two began in September 2005 and terminated three years later. The work was undertaken by a team that was reduced in scale. In the laborious and difficult searching for individuals mentioned by Foxe in the first part of the edition, Dr Joy Lloyd was indefatigable. Indeed, this latter phase would not have been possible without her scrupulous attention to detail and to the coordination of all the various materials that we assembled. Dr Thomas Freeman continued to work on the editorial commentaries, this time with the help of some commissioned commentaries from skilled interpreters of the material in question. Their role was very significant in our being able to make progress in this second phase as will become clear if you scan the commentaries provided for the text to books 6-9. No edition, however, is ever complete, still less definitive. This is as true of an online edition as of one published in traditional media. We have tried to adapt our commentary to reflect where we think the problems of interpretation most require it, but that has meant compromises that may well not stand the test of time in all cases.

The Online edition of 2004 was technically modified in 2006. The only change that users noticed was the addition of a further prefatory essay but, in reality, quite extensive changes were implemented behind the scenes to maintain the stability and integrity of what had become a very complex edifice. These changes were masterminded in-house by Ed Mackenzie. The construction of the final edition was undertaken in 2009 and the early months of 2010 through the dedication and skill of Michael Pidd, the HRI Digital Manager. This has involved the ingestion of all the materials produced by the project into a database and the subsequent redesign and rescripting of all the presentational pages in such a way that the varying layers of commentary through the different books of the edition are available as appropriate. The result has meant, however, that some features that were available in the first edition were necessarily discontinued. This includes the searchable bibliography of works relating to Foxe and also the searchable list of officers in the Tudor state and church mentioned by Foxe. We have also abandoned our efforts to trace the whereabouts of all known examples of the editions of Foxe's Acts and Monuments in his lifetime. The resulting edition is curated electronically on a mirrored server in the University of Sheffield. It will be clear from the list of acknowledgements to this edition how much the achievement of this edition is a collaborative one. It has been achieved thanks to the efforts of many people, and with extensive public funding from the Arts and Humanities Board/Council, and the continued support of the British Academy and the University of Sheffield. Their support is gratefully acknowledged.

David Loades
Mark Greengrass

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