Carlyle Letters Project Receives NEH Award

SJU, Duke University joint project given fifth consecutive award and largest to-date

Monday, December 3, 2012

by Olivia D'Atri '14

PHILADELPHIA (Nov. 28, 2012) — The Carlyle Letters Project has been awarded $270,000 from the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) Scholarly Editions Division for the period 2013-2016. David R. Sorensen, D.Phil., professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University and senior editor of The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, celebrates the award as well as the completion of the 40th volume of the Collected Letters this year.

“The award is a tribute to the editors on both sides of the Atlantic that perform this work in the face of dire economic circumstances — and it is a tribute to the National Endowment for the Humanities, to Duke University Press, and to Saint Joseph’s University that they continue to support and encourage us in this monumental publishing endeavor,” says Sorensen.

The Carlyle Letters Project provides great insight into nineteenth century Britain, presenting a rich understanding of Victorian literature and culture. Through his letters, essayist Carlyle is recognized as one of the most profound critics of liberal democracy. His wife Jane’s letters, on the other hand, represent a woman suffocated by her position in Victorian England who stakes a claim in society through her memorably incisive and satirical writing.

The collection, encompassing more than 12,000 letters, contains a myriad of correspondents who were well-known historical figures in both the Carlyle’s time and our own. This astounding list of writers, artists, philosophers and politicians includes Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Forster, Erasmus Darwin, Giuseppe Mazzini, John Stuart Mill and Charles Dickens.

Sorensen, who is also associate director of SJU’s Honors Program, has been working with the Carlyle Letters Project for over 14 years and continues to search for lost and unknown letters, his passion undiminished. “We’ve now reached 40 volumes and there are probably at least 10 more to publish,” Sorensen says. “How can one grow tired of such a world, in which two people from rather humble backgrounds attain celebrity not through wealth or status, but simply through the power of their own minds and personalities?”

According to Sorensen, the Carlyle Letters Online, which was made available to the public in 2007, has hyperlinked hundreds of names to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography so that students can easily move between the two sites, fleshing out the figures that they encounter in the letters.

"Under Dr. Sorensen's leadership, each new edition of The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle continues to meet the standards for accuracy and erudition established by his mentor and the founder of the project, the late Kenneth J. Fielding,” says Peter Norberg, Ph.D., chair and associate professor of English at Saint Joseph’s. “This most recent award from the NEH is a clear indication that the Carlyle Letters Project is setting the standard for scholarly editions in both print and digital formats. It is a remarkable accomplishment."

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